The College of Legal Practice programme committee member Bhavisha Mistry on how aspiring lawyers can overcome the hurdles she faced when in their shoes
Ever wondered how to get over initial hurdles when starting out in the legal profession and how to set yourself up for success?
We caught up with Bhavisha Mistry, programme committee member at The College of Legal Practice, which offers modular, online practice-based legal training to students and organisations in the UK. She’s also the chair of The Law Society of England and Wales’ In-house Division Committee. Mistry organises events to support and give advice to young lawyers overcoming hurdles she faced when she was in their shoes.
If she could go back in time to meet her younger self, this is what she would say:
1. Apply to work at firms that fit your personal values
The job market is so competitive that it’s not always easy to make your CV stand out even if you tailor your application to the company. When researching law firms or companies, try to choose one that fits with your personal interests. This will help your personality and career goals shine when you’re being interviewed for a training contract or job position. From having hired people myself, I now know that quite often the right candidate isn’t chosen simply because of their good grades and their qualifications, but because they’re the right ‘fit’ for the firm.
2. Develop your soft skills and ability to build professional relationships
One of the advantages of the upcoming Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is that any relevant work experience counts towards your qualification. This is an excellent opportunity to develop the soft skills you need in order to do well in the workplace. Having the ability to communicate and build relationships with colleagues and clients is fundamental so that you become a well-rounded lawyer and not just someone who masters the technical aspects of law. The College of Legal Practice’s SQE preparation courses cater to this as they are focused on practical aspects and give students the flexibility to work at the same time and develop skills whilst they study.
3. Seek out mentors and role models
When carrying out unpaid work experience or working as a paralegal, try to learn from your colleagues and those who are more senior than you. If you have the chance to work with a supportive boss or are given the opportunity to ask advice from one of your supervisors on your SQE course, these are great ways to learn from those who have more experience than you do. I didn’t have a formal mentor, but I used my experiences to learn off the people I worked with or who were part of my wider network. You may not realise at the time how valuable that advice is or how useful it is to build relationships with people from a variety of fields.
4. Have confidence in your abilities
When I first started out in law, I didn’t have much confidence in myself. If I could turn back the clock, I would tell my younger self to believe in my abilities. I developed a lot of experience and knowledge by doing paralegal roles in between my studies and that gave me the technical and practical experience I would need once I qualified. One advantage of being able to study the SQE through an online training provider like The College of Legal Practice is that you are more able to focus on your own learning journey rather than falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others in your classroom.
Feeling confident about your chosen path to qualification is really important and looking back, I wish I had worried less about the financial commitment of my training. Being able to afford the training to become a lawyer may no longer be a barrier for some because of the cost and the flexible nature of the SQE course provided by The College of Legal Practice — allowing you to study alongside a part-time job AND it counts towards your qualification — something which did not exist when I was younger.
5. Network, network, network!
Being successful in law is not just about the training and mastering the technical side, it’s just as important to be part of a strong network of peers, colleagues and industry professionals. This is something I had to work hard at doing and I wish I’d done it more in the early stages of my career now I realise how valuable it has been to tap into my network when I’ve needed support, tips or a job reference.
One of the benefits of doing an online course through an organisation such as The College of Legal Practice is that you get access to a great support bubble and community of learners particularly in the early stages of your career. This shouldn’t be underestimated because you can meet and interact with an even wider pool of like-minded individuals which can give you a real boost especially when you have doubts about the right path to take or where you might be going wrong when applying for jobs or training contracts. You can also take part in virtual events and share tips and resources to further enhance your learning journey. The College’s commitment to providing expert supervisor practitioners is so vital to developing the real-life skills needed to work in the profession.
Many aspiring solicitors are now in the process of applying to take their next step towards qualification at a time when the SQE is providing a catalyst for change. This means that now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to ensure your legal training journey is one designed to suit your needs. Your future self will thank you for it.
Bhavisha Mistry is general counsel and company secretary for pharmaceutical group Mawdsleys. She is also a programme committee member for The College of Legal Practice and chair of The Law Society of England and Wales’ In-house Division Committee.
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