The hard route to becoming a City lawyer
King & Wood Mallesons solicitor Jeremy Consitt — who’ll be speaking at our latest free careers advice event later this month — spent 15 years working his way up from the bottom
I never expected to work in the City; as a student I always wanted to work in the provinces. Part of that is being from Wales. There’s a Welsh word ‘hiraeth’, which doesn’t directly translate but loosely means ‘homesickness’. And it sums up how I felt upon graduating in law from the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol in 1999. Perhaps, though, I was afraid of applying to big law firms in London with a degree from UWE.
At first getting a job in law was very hard. I did the then Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and knew it wouldn’t be a case for me of instantly getting a pupillage. So I went back home and managed to secure a job in a paralegal-type role with a struggling printing company that receivers were attempting to prevent from going out of business. There I was required to draft an employment contract from scratch (in the days before having internet access), and my career as an employment lawyer began.
Using that experience I managed to secure a position with DAS, a legal expenses insurance company, where I worked for four years as a paralegal. In that time I was able to cross-qualify as a solicitor with the experience I had gained exempting me from a training contract or pupillage. Crucially, I got to do all my own advocacy, which I loved. Although I might have done it differently in hindsight, the bar course actually set me up quite well in this respect, helping me develop skills that Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates hadn’t had time to hone. I certainly don’t have any regrets about the route I have taken.
In 2005 I joined legal aid firm Harding Evans’ employment law department as a solicitor, and via a succession of moves to firms offering progressively better opportunities I ended up in 2011 being headhunted by Doyle Clayton, a small City of London law firm advising largely bluechips that also has an office in Reading. After a period of commuting I left Wales.
By this stage I had begun to develop a good reputation and strong client base. Still, I was surprised — and sceptical — when King & Wood Mallesons contacted me last year and invited me to lunch. But their offer to help develop a cost effective employment law product marketed at global clients was too interesting to refuse. So I moved again. One of the things that King & Wood Mallesons most valued was the early experience I’d had with small claims and acting for individuals, which meant that I knew how to do work cost efficiently. It is funny how life works out.
I’m still at a relatively early point of my career, being aged 37, but what I have learned on my odd journey is the importance of working hard to create breaks for yourself — and then taking them when they come along. As you do, your confidence builds one step at a time, and you begin to enjoy the scenery en route.
The other thing is the importance of being passionate about what you do. Ever since having given up as a seven-year-old on my dream to become a coach driver in favour of an ambition to be the next Perry Mason, I had always wanted to be a lawyer. I still love it, particularly the people-element of the job.
Finally, feeling that I have always had something to prove has also helped me. I am the youngest of four children (the other three are considerably older), but was the first person in the entire family to have studied A-levels, never mind to have gone to university. My parents came from tough backgrounds, but they worked hard to make sure I had a good education and worked hard at school — always using the Perry Mason character (and later Kavanagh QC) as a carrot to dangle before me as to what I might achieve.
My parents’ pride on that night I was called to the bar in 2000 in a world completely alien to them, I suppose, is what really began to spur me on. The memory of my late mum boasting to her friends that one of her sons became a barrister and works for a massive City law firm brings a tear to my eye. Perhaps that has driven me — a sense of achieving what they never could have dreamed possible.
Jeremy Consitt is a solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons. He will be speaking at ‘Alternatives for wannabe barristers: the City, in-house and academia’ at Inner Temple on 21 June. Get your free tickets here.
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