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‘Seeking a job outside law ironically put me on the path to qualifying as a lawyer’

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By The Careers Team on

Unable to secure a training contract during the financial crisis, LPC graduate Priya Krishan landed an associate role at JP Morgan in London — and qualified as a New York lawyer

Ahead of our ‘Alternative routes to becoming a lawyer’ event this Thursday evening in London — you can apply for one of the handful of remaining places here — we caught up with Priya Krishan to hear about her journey from Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduate and paralegal without a training contract to New York-qualified lawyer at JP Morgan in London

Legal Cheek Careers: How did you get a job with JP Morgan?

Priya Krishan: I was working as a banking paralegal at Shoosmiths’ Reading office and gained a lot of invaluable legal experience pre-financial crisis and after the financial crisis hit in 2008. However, after a couple of years, it became clear I was unlikely to obtain a training contract with the firm, so I began looking for suitable roles outside private practice and, eventually, after three years at Shoomsiths, I was offered an associate role as a contract negotiator at JP Morgan in London.

By this stage, I had gained substantive legal experience across real estate finance, corporate law and banking law, alongside a masters which I obtained in international finance law from the University of Westminster and, prior to that, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) qualification and an LLB from Oxford Brookes. So, although I hadn’t yet qualified as a solicitor, I had become a strong applicant for a professional role within financial services.

Still, I hadn’t expected to have gone from working in a legal support role at a national firm outside of London, to be working for a global financial institution based in the City. Looking back, it was at a time when the big banks were expanding their in-house legal functions and I suppose I just grabbed the opportunity and managed to present myself to my potential employer in the best light possible.

It was amazing working there: diverse, multicultural, constantly on calls with people working all over the world, while having to think about the law in a very commercial way. I learnt more in those four years than in the rest of my professional working life up to that point. I was keen to learn more, network with colleagues and peers in legal, other support functions and within the business and develop my skills to progress my career within JP Morgan.

Legal Cheek Careers: How did doing the New York Bar Exam come about?

Priya Krishan: With JP Morgan being headquartered in the US, a lot of the contracts which I was asked to review and/or negotiate, within agreed parameters set by management, were governed by New York law so it made sense for me to gain the qualification. In recognition of my skill, talent and effort, senior management promoted me to vice president and agreed to sponsor me by paying for the bar review course so that I could get ready to sit the bar exam and become a licensed attorney. The bar review course took place at Barbri International in London on Friday evenings and Saturdays. With support from management, I was able to continue to work at JP Morgan and study party-time for the New York bar.

Basically I had no life for six months. But I enjoyed the course: the lectures were pre-recorded and delivered by US legal practitioners who delivered lectures in a manner that was easily understood by bar exam candidates outside of the US, particularly the lectures on US-centric laws like constitutional law and federal procedure, and they made good use of hypotheticals to consolidate bar exam candidates’ learning of the legal principles. The bar review course also integrated practical assignments based on past exam papers to help candidates improve their bar exam technique. There was a camaraderie among the students, who were from all sorts of different backgrounds which gave me the incentive to turn up to class rather than listening to lectures online from home.

While all the study in preparation of the bar exam was in London, I was required to travel out to New York three times — to sit the main bar exam, then to sit the ethics exam and then finally to get admitted to the bar — but at the end of the process I was a qualified US attorney and JP Morgan promoted me to the rank of assistant general counsel.

At times, I did struggle to stay on top of my studies given my work and family commitments but I was committed to the bar review course and my main motivation, which was to successfully pass the bar exam in the first sitting and qualify as a US attorney, kept me going, especially as senior management had sponsored me and given me time off to travel out to the US to sit the bar exam. They had expected me to do well and I did not want to let them or myself down.

Legal Cheek Careers: Why did you also decide to become a solicitor?

Priya Krishan: When I took the opportunity to sit the New York bar exam to qualify as a US Attorney-at-Law, I found myself on my way to finally realising my early career aspirations — qualify as a solicitor. It made more sense to me to become dual-qualified after bar admission in New York. I did not want to try to apply for a traditional training contract at a private law firm again as I no longer saw this as a suitable option for me given that I was working in a vice president role at JP Morgan.

There was also no opportunity at the bank at that time to train to qualify as a solicitor as they did not have a form of training contract scheme in place. The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) was really the only option available to me to become dual qualified within a reasonable time. The QLTS meant more assessments and exams but having done the LPC I was exempt from many of them (the first stage of the QLTS tested candidates on the substantive law).

The fact that I had been working in law for a number of years really helped with the second stage of the QLTS, which tests candidates on their practical lawyering skills — in other words, legal research, drafting, client interviewing and advocacy. I decided not to take any additional tuition as I was confident that I was able to prepare for the assessments myself through private study. The downside of the second stage of the QLTS, however, was the cost of the assignments, which was approximately £3,500.

Once I had qualified as a solicitor, I decided to take a bit of a break from practising law and the banking industry — I had been with JP Morgan for over four years and accomplished much during my time at the bank. I am now currently working as director of legal education for Barbri International, helping other candidates prepare to sit the bar exam in New York and California (open only to candidates licensed to practice in their home jurisdiction). I am also currently considering other academic interests, including lecturing and tutor roles, which are being made available to me since becoming dual-qualified. Looking ahead, I may well end up working in an international law firm or another commercial bank in the future, so it made sense for me to dual-qualify.

Legal Cheek Careers: To date in your career is there anything you would have done differently?

Priya Krishan: When I graduated from Oxford Brookes, I stayed in my home town which put me at a disadvantage given that I was trying to secure a training contract locally. There were a limited number of training contracts available and I did not do enough to promote myself while I was studying for my law degree or after graduation, despite the fact that I was gaining practical legal experience and continuing with further academic study by completing the LPC while applying for training contracts.

I was equally frustrated when I invested a lot of time, energy and effort as a banking paralegal at Shoosmiths which did not result in a training contract but prompted me to look elsewhere for opportunities elsewhere. It was only when I started to look for in-house commercial and legal roles in the City that I started to overcome the challenges I faced during the early part of my legal career.

Looking back, I did not have the same opportunities students have today to work abroad in the Middle East or Asia, for example, and I did not consider alternative options to the legal profession such as working in insurance, compliance or regulation to gain a wider breadth of professional experience and commercial understanding.

Having said that, many in the legal profession struggled during the financial crisis in 2008 and thereafter and I was extremely fortunate to have kept my job at Shoosmiths and to successfully land a job within JP Morgan. Accordingly, I don’t have any regrets: I can see that I was building towards something, even if it didn’t always feel that way at the time.

Legal Cheek Careers: What is your advice to recent law graduates and law students graduating this academic year?

Priya Krishan: Alongside looking at all experience as a stepping stone, it would be to keep an open mind and think outside the box. It is important each person takes the lead in his or her career. I’m not going to advise anyone on what course to do or not to strengthen their potential to enter the legal profession. But what I will say is that there is more than one route into the legal profession, and that once you get into an organisation there can be more room to manoeuvre than you expect. Networking is equally important to practical experience, and further academic study can help as long as it is aligned with a person’s long term goals and aspirations.

Obviously it is worth working hard to secure a training contract during your degree, but it is not the end of the world if you don’t. There are lots of good opportunities out there, especially at banks and other institutions that may not come with the title of solicitor, but are very well suited to law graduates. And you never know where they will lead. It’s ironic that when I decided to consciously seek roles outside law that is what put me on the path to qualifying as a lawyer.

Priya Krishan will be speaking at ‘Alternative routes to becoming a lawyer: How law students can make it into the legal profession without doing a training contract’ on Thursday evening in London. You can apply for one of the handful of remaining places here.