ULaw Campus Dean Zoe King offers her advice on tackling applications, commercial awareness and interviews
Having started out as a commercial solicitor, Zoe King made the move to legal education a few years into her career, and there was no looking back.
Now Campus Dean of The University of Law’s Bristol and Exeter campuses, King sat down with Legal Cheek Careers ahead of her appearance at today’s in-person event, to discuss applications, Bristol’s legal scene and how to get the most out of networking and workshop events this autumn.
To start off, can you tell me a little bit about your career thus far?
I trained and qualified at a large commercial firm in Bristol focusing on transactional work. After qualification I remained at the same firm, completing a secondment to a client during my time in practice. I then moved across to being a tutor at The University of Law, and later became the Programme and Student Lead for the Undergraduate and Conversion Programmes and now Campus Dean for Bristol and Exeter.
Having spent time in private practice, what are the skills you think students should be highlighting in their vacation scheme and training contract applications?
Lawyers have to work in teams where excellent client service is expected and each person in the team has a crucial part to play. There are lots of transferable skills from study or pro bono or paid work that can be highlighted, such as a willingness to listen to feedback and adapt; seeking to take opportunities as they arise; an ability to manage time effectively and prioritise tasks; and proactively and positively communicating within a team.
With so much information available about each firm it can be challenging to demonstrate that your interest in applying is genuine and not derived solely from articles or statistics online. What is that extra bit that you suggest students focus on to make their application successful?
Wherever possible, students should attend in-person or virtual events where they can meet representatives of the firm. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate a consistent interest in the firm, and to ask questions which may be more difficult to research on the website. Also consider carefully why it is that they want to apply to the firm and try to demonstrate a commitment to the location/type of firm. Take time to re-draft and proof-read the actual application and make your answers demonstrably bespoke to the firm – the time taken over the application can speak volumes about the applicant’s interest and attention to detail.
What factors should students focus on when deciding what firms to apply to?
It depends on what is most important to the individual. It may be that the location is key, or the opportunities to work in a particular area of law. If it is the latter, it is important to look at how many partners or lawyers are listed on the website as practicing in that area as that can be a good indicator of whether there will be any seats or newly-qualified roles available in that department.
Having practised in Bristol, would you recommend it to students who are contemplating which city they should start their career in?
Bristol is a great city with unique festivals, activities and a creative and collaborative culture. It has great connections to the South-West, South Wales and plenty of opportunities to get into stunning scenery by bus or train from the city centre. From a career viewpoint, there are firms which are at the forefront of legal developments, working on high-profile legal issues and cases, a very active Legal Tech sector, and opportunities to gain a good level of responsibility and visibility within the firms. The Bristol Law Society is also really active, and firms have meaningful CSR and community engagement initiatives.
What are some commercial awareness topics that students should be tracking in these coming months?
Cybersecurity and the increasing use by clients and law firms of Legal Tech including automation, smart contracts and artificial intelligence continues to be a relevant topic with implications for the daily tasks of solicitors and opportunities for law firms to gain competitive advantages through improving service levels, offering new services and cost efficiency. The commercial awareness topics relevant to particular firms will depend on the area of law — the law firm’s blogs and updates or the Law Society Gazette or some of the upcoming Legal Cheek events are a good source of information!
What is your top tip when it comes to dealing with interview jitters?
Smile — it relaxes you and helps to set a good tone for the interview. If you have an opportunity to do a practice interview with the Careers team, book the practice with enough time to consider and act on the feedback given to help make you feel prepared and confident for the real interview.
Lastly, what should students do to get the most out of workshops and networking events?
Students should research the firms attending and then participate and ask questions at the event. Try to remember the names of the firms and representatives attending and take notes so you can give specific details about the event on application forms or at interviews. Tailor the questions for the person you are speaking to — the questions for a lawyer could ask about the upcoming legal developments or usual daily tasks; whereas the questions for someone within the recruitment and resourcing team could be about what the firm really values in applicants and opportunities for training or qualification into particular departments.
Zoe King will be speaking at ‘In-person workshops and networking in Bristol — with Burges Salmon, RPC, TLT and ULaw’ taking place TODAY (26 October). Apply now to attend.
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