Sam Clague couldn’t get a TC, so he started a paralegal recruitment business — and law firms quickly became interested in his entrepreneurial spirit
When Sam Clague finished the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the University of Law’s Guildford branch in 2010 things weren’t looking great for him.
The Durham University economics and business graduate, who converted to law via the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), hadn’t been able to secure a training contract in advance and gambled that he would find one during the LPC.
But in a recession hit market, in which many top law firms imposed hiring freezes, no offers were forthcoming. And Clague found himself joining the thousands of other law graduates fighting it out for a lowly paralegal position that would hopefully lead somewhere.
“It was hard to get a job as a paralegal let alone a training contract,” he recalls, adding that he managed to cobble together enough legal experience through volunteering to work for free at law firms to eventually land several paid paralegal roles. But it soon dawned on Clague that this wasn’t the right path for him.
“I was never top of the class at law school and law didn’t come naturally to me,” he says
What he noticed, though, as he navigated his way through a host of legal recruitment agencies during his scrap to land work was how the process of paralegal hiring wasn’t particularly well-conducted.
Law firms, Clague reckoned, were missing out on good candidates because of overly rigid experience requirements and a failure to present their job adverts in a way that emphasised what they could offer to talented wannabe lawyers. Plus, this was a growth area, with paralegal numbers forecast to rise as firms scale back the hiring of trainees in favour of cheaper, more flexible employment models.
So Clague decided to have a go at the recruitment business himself, quitting his latest paralegal gig to set up shop from his parents’ spare bedroom in Reading. “I just had a phone and an Excel spreadsheet,” he recalls. The first call he made from his makeshift office was to a magic circle firm partner.
“I tried to convince him that I was the best paralegal recruiter in London and the south east,” he remembers. “He politely said ‘thanks but no thanks’.”
Four years on and it’s a very different story: Clague’s business, the Stephen James Partnership (which takes its name from the first names of the first two candidates who sent him CVs), has a host of leading City firms on its books and now employs five people across two offices in the City of London and Reading. The Stephen James Partnership’s latest paralegal positions can be found on Legal Cheek‘s new job site, Legal Cheek Jobs.
“We have been fortunate to see a large increase in demand for our services,” says Clague, who even himself has been surprised in the sharp growth in the hiring of paralegals of late among City firms as the economy recovers.
“What we’re seeing now is firms who are beginning to hire trainees through their paralegal pool, which is a trend that I think will increase.”
Firms that publicly operate in this way include Clarke Willmott and DAC Beachroft, while a host of others extending right up to the magic circle informally bulk up their trainee intake with paralegals.
Of course, for every paralegal who makes it into a training contract, there are many who don’t. Clague counts several of his law school peers in this group, who, despite impressive CVs, still find themselves paralegalling four years after they graduated. He advises candidates:
“As a rule if you are in a paralegal position for two years you should know your position in the market: if you are getting interviews for training contracts, you are probably almost there; if not, it’s best to change your approach or revisit your career options.”
Often that means targeting smaller or regional firms rather than focusing purely on the larger London firms, adds Clague, with the most important thing to “do your TC at a reputable place” at which point new opportunities may arise down the line.
Clague knows all about this principle: since starting the Stephen James Partnership he has received — and politely turned down — training contract offers from several leading firms. “It’s nice, but I have found something which I really enjoy,” he says.
Listen to Sam Clague in conversation with Legal Cheek editor Alex Aldridge and work experience student Hannah Levy in the podcast below.
Check out the Stephen James’ Partnerships latest paralegal positions on Legal Cheek Jobs.