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Top quality work with great work/life balance: Lawyers make the case for the North West

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A panel of experts explain why the region’s thriving legal scene should be on students’ radar

At Legal Cheek and The University of Law’s (ULaw) latest virtual event, ‘Secrets to Success North West’, a panel of lawyers from Brabners, Exchange Chambers, Aaron & Partners and Hillyer McKeown as well as legal education experts from ULaw, shared their thoughts on the North West legal scene, the future of work amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and provided tips for applications at their firms and chambers.

The event marked the launch of ULaw’s partnership with the University of Chester to deliver the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Master of Arts in Law (MA Law) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at their Chester campus.

The speakers

Rupert Gill, corporate partner at Brabners
Trudi Moore, barrister at Exchange Chambers
Paul Hennity, employment associate at Aaron & Partners
Justine Watkinson, partner and head of employment at Hillyer McKeown
Amanda Hedayati, dean of ULaw Manchester
Claire Leslie, careers manager at ULaw Chester

Life as a lawyer in the North West

As an epicentre for law and business, sport and culture, the North West should be on all budding lawyers’ radar. “The North West has lots of large companies and so the quality of the work and business in the area is comparable to London, but the cost of living is much cheaper,” said Justine Watkinson, partner and head of employment law at Hillyer McKeown. Watkinson went on to share that in mid-sized law firms like Hillyer McKeown and the others present at the event, “you are not so much a cog in a machine, you get quite a lot of exposure early on” which doesn’t often present itself as much as it would in a larger firm with a sizeable trainee intake.

Exchange Chambers barrister Trudi Moore advocated further for the quality of work in the North West region. Originally from the South, Moore moved to the North West for university and has stayed since. “From the junior end of the bar, there is a lot of good work,” she shared with the audience of over 150 students. “There has not been a single point since I started where my diary has been empty.”

Aaron & Partners employment associate Paul Hennity added that another benefit to being a lawyer in the North West is the camaraderie and collegiate atmosphere. Moore echoed this view, saying that even though Exchange is split across three northern cities, “everyone does all they can to support each other… whenever I have needed help there is always someone there”.

The future of work

As lockdown restrictions ease, discussion turned to the opportunities and challenges facing law firms in the years ahead.

Hennity said we could see clients, who are increasingly cost conscious, question where they do business. They may opt for firms with a significant regional presence over City of London firms with higher rates. In terms of recruitment, he questioned whether it would even be necessary to be based where a firm is.

Find out more about studying the SQE at ULaw

Gill touched on remote-working and said that “it is about getting the balance right between people getting the benefits from working from home whilst at the same time not losing the advantages of having the team close”.

Moore shared predictions for the future of the regional bar. She reckons there will continue to be a mix of in-person and remote hearings. Whilst being able to work remotely has strengthened her practice in that she’s able to appear in courts much further afield, she explained being up and down the country is “the beauty of practice, you are on trains meeting different people”.

Careers advice

Claire Leslie, careers manager at ULaw Chester, provided helpful tips for those pursuing a career in law in the Covid-19 era:

1. Really think about what you want to do — don’t be pressurised to go down a certain route
2. Do not panic about missing work experience — it has been limited for everyone
3. Look out for virtual schemes such as the upcoming Legal Cheek-ULaw Summer Virtual Vacation Scheme 2021 and law firm virtual programmes
4. Emphasise the skills gained from extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs
5. Think about what you have got rather than what you haven’t got

The panel also provided specific tips for pursuing a career in regions outside of London:

1. Be open minded about your future practice area(s) — “it’s important from the outset to not start off your career with tunnel vision but to keep your options open”, Moore advised
2. Show passion, a genuine interest in and a connection to the region where you are applying, not just the firm or chambers
3. Have patience — most people’s journeys into law are not instant — you will be developing on your journey
4. Don’t underestimate your wider skills — it’s the other skills you bring which will really make you stand out
5. Concentrate on your own achievements and personal attributes that make you an attractive candidate — don’t compare yourself!

Finally, ULaw Manchester campus dean and former employment lawyer, Amanda Hedayati, encouraged the audience that in forging a career in the North West, “there is a pathway to have a really enriching career balanced with a life as well”.

Find out more about studying the SQE at ULaw

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