Norton Rose Fulbright tax lawyer Andrew Roycroft — who’ll be speaking at ‘How to survive in a changing legal market — Legal Cheek at Gray’s Inn’ — thinks his career may have begun differently if he was starting out in today’s hyper-competitive graduate job market
Going from the tax bar to the tax department of a global legal practice wasn’t a huge transition. The yellow and orange books — now in seven volumes, containing the various tax acts — would remain my main reference point. And the largely advisory nature of the work would continue unchanged, even if the surroundings were different, most notably the 18 months I spent working in Palo Alto and Chicago.
But I’m pleased that I began my career at the bar — despite my time there being relatively brief. As with many aspects of life, if you experience things from a different perspective it equips you well for where you end up.
If I were entering the legal profession now, being the first person in my family to have gone to university, the early stage of my career probably would have taken a different course. I not only didn’t have to pay tuition fees, but I got a grant from my local authority to study.
Even with pupillage awards and some generous scholarships, the bar’s self-employed model involves a greater degree of risk. You look at law firms, accountancy or industry, on the other hand, and there is the guarantee of a steady salary. It depends on your character as well as your background, but I suspect that I might well have been pushed in a different direction if I had been graduating today.
Of course, just securing a good graduate job is a huge challenge nowadays. It’s incredibly difficult to get to either the bar or a leading law firm unless you have top academics and a CV that shows you have achieved things outside of the academic sphere. The latter is a change from my day, no doubt.
Still, there are things that students can do to improve their chances of success considerably. Rather than just look to showcase extra-curricular achievements for the sake of it, they should think in terms of how those activities demonstrate skills which translate into the workplace (such as showing initiative).
It doesn’t matter if it’s through sports, or volunteering work abroad or through pro bono work here in the UK. And it certainly doesn’t have to be legally-related. What we want to see is a person who has a ‘get up and go’ attitude.
Another characteristic of candidates who stand out is that they have done their research, really taking the time to understand what sort of practice Norton Rose Fulbright has and what we do; understanding our industry focus, for example, is vital.
One of the defining characteristics of a lawyer in a global legal practice, whatever their specialist area, is an ability to give advice in a way that takes into account commercial considerations.
The 18 months I spent working in the US earlier on in my career helped me a lot in this respect. I saw the very client-focused and practical style of American attorneys at a time before it had really caught on over here, and the experience made me a better lawyer.
Now, although I’m mostly based in London, the work I do is almost all multi-jurisdictional. The role of my colleagues and I is to provide the tax advice on international deals — many of which are very complex. Therefore a good command of — and passion for — black letter law is as important in this area as any other.
So, to a certain extent, the stereotype of the tax law specialist holds true. Certainly, being a tax lawyer has a culture of its own.
Andrew Roycroft is a partner in Norton Rose Fulbright‘s tax team in London. He will be speaking at Legal Cheek‘s latest free careers advice event, ‘How to survive — and even thrive — in a changing legal market’, on the evening of Tuesday 21 October.
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