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Thriving careers, vibrant culture: Why Manchester is a magnet for aspiring lawyers

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By The Careers Team on

Catherine Morgan, ULaw employability group manager, discusses her varied career and what aspiring Mancunian lawyers can expect from a career in the city

“I’ve been at The University of Law (ULaw) now for almost 15 years!” says Catherine Morgan, The University of Law’s employability group manager, reflecting on her career journey so far. Having qualified into property law in the early 2000s, Morgan tells Legal Cheek Careers about her move into the employability space. “I loved my clients and my team in private practice, but the nature of transactional work didn’t really inspire me,” she explains. “I wanted to move into a role that was centred around my passion: people.”

Having worked in employability for ULaw for more than 14 years at the point of speaking, it’s clear that helping students develop their career prospects is very much her ‘bag’. “I just love working with students, and without sounding corny, it really is a highlight of my job. I’m now in a position where I’ve seen ULaw students go from undergraduates all the way up to law firm partners!” Morgan enthuses. “I’m very much a people person, which feeds into why I love my current job. When I was in private practice, talking about partnership at my then firm catalysed me into reassessing my career trajectory  — it was now or never to make a career change,” she says. “And I haven’t looked back since.”

Being based at ULaw’s busy Manchester campus for most of her career, we asked Morgan for her thoughts on choosing this Northern city as a launch pad. “The city itself is so vibrant; it’s a city that is really going places,” she begins. Having moved to Manchester in 2000, Morgan tells us that it’s a completely different city these days, one which has been through a serious evolution. “It feels like a city that’s moving forward; you can see it in the buildings, the investments in the city, and the people. Manchester people are incredible — you can actually have a chat to somebody in a queue or in the street!” she jokes. “It’s a very welcoming place, and it’s also this vibrancy and dynamism that makes it an incredible place to start a career in the legal industry.”

Speaking on the unique opportunities for law students in Manchester, Morgan details the diversity of offerings in the city. “In Manchester, you get the best of both worlds. You have the big international and national law firms with all of their exciting deals and clients, as well as high calibre work, without having to compromise on culture”. Having worked both in the industry itself, and in direct contact with many firms at ULaw, Morgan says, “I’ve found that most firms here are made up of genuinely nice, normal people”.

Find out more about studying for the LLB at ULaw

She goes on to explain: “In Manchester, you get the benefit of that regional, Northern culture and feel, but with the backing of an international or national firm and the quality of the work that comes with that. It feels more collaborative, like a meritocracy and that your voice can be heard on all levels, in my experience.”

Talking to us about the “exponential growth” of Manchester’s legal industry, she details the consequent growth in opportunity for aspiring lawyers that has come along with it. “You’ve got the likes of Magic and Silver Circle firms like Freshfields and BCLP, and we’re so lucky here that we’ve also got fantastic boutique corporate/commercial firms too. This is because partners previously practicing in the capital have set up their own firms later in their careers. This ambition and entrepreneurial spirit is so evident in the Manchester legal industry,” she explains. “And this diversity in offering for aspiring lawyers is a huge draw.”

It’s not just the diversity of opportunity that Morgan is keen to highlight, but also the diversity of its people. “It’s such a cultural melting pot, which lifts the city and makes it feel very inclusive. The backgrounds of our ULaw Manchester students are incredibly diverse, from international students to Oxbridge graduates, and 18-year-olds who’ve never left the area,” she says. “This is also being reflected in the legal industry. The firms I am working with in Manchester are very focused on widening participation and ensuring that their lawyers are reflective of their client base,” she tells us.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Ahead of speaking at Legal Cheek’s Secrets to Success Manchester event on 18th June, we ask Morgan what the team at ULaw Manchester is doing to ensure the success of its students in the city. “The best thing I can do for our students is to the throw them in the path of as many lawyers as possible. Our alumni are very generous, and since we’ve educated probably over half the lawyers in Manchester, there’s a wealth of alumni that want to engage with our students,” she explains. “We’re geared up at ULaw to have that access to the legal industry. It’s through talking and networking with lawyers that we can set our students up for success.” Through the mentoring scheme at ULaw Manchester, students also have direct access to lawyers who mostly work in the area of law that each individual is interested in, Morgan explains. “This is just one of the ways we are educating our students around the legal profession,” she says.

ULaw’s Manchester campus sits at the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly station and the Northern Quarter. “It’s brilliant for shopping!” Morgan says, speaking on the best bits of the campus. “But also, a significant portion of our students live at home, so it’s located brilliantly for accessibility.” More importantly, she tells us, “There’s a great relationship between the staff and the students here. The academic staff aren’t hidden away at the top of an ivory tower; the building is designed for approachability,” she says. “The campus is actually designed to emulate a law firm, because at ULaw, we aim to be the transition between being a student and starting professional life.” Encouraging a professional mindset isn’t just a factor of ULaw’s courses, Morgan says — it is also reflected in the campus.

Bringing the interview to a close, we ask Morgan which commercial awareness topics she believes applicants should have on their radar ahead of training contract and vac scheme interviews. “Everybody is talking about AI, it’s everywhere! But, I think more widely, students should be making themselves aware of legal tech generally and the reliance on tech in the industries that they’re interested in,” she reveals. “Secondly, the diversification of law firms into business hubs which offer holistic services in corporate governance, financial advice and consulting, for example, is a big shift in the current legal market.” On her advice for aspiring lawyers, she adds, “You need to be commercially aware in general because you’re ultimately being employed by a business. So, you need to understand how to make money, and how you are going to add value to a firm.”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Catherine Morgan will be speaking at ‘Secrets to Success Manchester — with Squire Patton Boggs, Pinsent Masons, Fletchers, Express Solicitors and ULaw’, an in-person student event taking place on Tuesday 18th June. Apply now to attend.

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