What it’s like to work at a global law firm while also studying for an LLB
The hardest part is managing your time
During the evenings in Mayer Brown‘s London office, David Elikwu can often be found, head down, beavering away just like the handful of other lawyers who populate most City workplaces after dark.
But while Elikwu’s colleagues are dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s on the latest big cases and deals, the young legal apprentice is hard at study on his LLB, which he is doing part-time at ULaw while working full-time at the firm as part of its groundbreaking earn-while-you-learn programme. He explains:
I try not to do any uni work during the day, but having finished my work I often stay late in the office to study. The firm is fine with that. It means there are less distractions than when I am at home.
Elikwu, 21, is currently based in Mayer Brown’s information centre, having started his “articled apprenticeship” in September as one of two non-graduates on the scheme that feeds into the firm’s training contract. In six years he will be a fully-qualified solicitor earning the firm’s NQ salary, which currently stands at £69,000.
Currently, though, Elikwu is getting by on the London Living Wage and living with his parents in Barnet, north London, so he can make ends meet. Despite the tight finances and long hours — alongside all the course work he has seminars every Tuesday and Thursday evening and online lectures at the weekend — he is enjoying himself.
I’m learning a lot,” he tells Legal Cheek Careers. “Right now my job is mainly legal research, which is an important skill for lawyers to grasp. So the day job very much ties into my studies outside work.
So far, the biggest impression made upon Elikwu by the experience has been its international nature.
You realise how much of a global firm this is,” he explains. “Last week, for example, I had to find a specific piece of legislation from Uganda, research mining law in Nigeria and find out how specific types of contracts were being used in Iran and Turkey.
The international presence of Mayer Brown — with its largest office in Chicago and a sizeable London presence — is part of what drew Elikwu to the firm. Before bagging one of the coveted apprentice places, the Nigerian-born Londoner — who speaks passable Mandarin after studying it as part of his International Baccalaureate — had spent several months in Shanghai working as a paralegal at another global law firm.
I’d love to work abroad again in the future,” he says, “but for now I am very happy to focus on work here and my law degree.
Elikwu’s Chinese odyssey took place during a restless year he spent at City University — before deciding to discontinue his studies — which also saw him do a lengthy stint at Google in London as part of the company’s ‘Top Black Talent Programme’. By his own admission, after putting in a strong academic performance at school, Elikwu felt rather unsettled during his brief time at City, where he also studied law.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, which is probably why I did various other things,” he reflects. “I was conscious that I was putting myself into debt and knew the competition to secure a training contract, which was my ambition, was intense. So I thought that I might be better off working. In the end I decided to leave and got a job in recruitment in the City.
A couple of months later he heard about the Mayer Brown position — through Legal Cheek — and the rest is history.
Now, on a path that is both vocational and academic, and perhaps most importantly leads directly to a TC, Elikwu is where he wants to be — even if that means a lot of work.
It’s not so much the workload,” he explains, “More managing your time and being organised. Seminars come around very quickly!
While also containing his fellow Mayer Brown apprentice Rosie Harrison, Elikwu’s study group at ULaw has students of a broad range of ages who all are working. One is at Boeing, another at TalkTalk, while a further student is a personal assistant at neighbouring law firm Allen & Overy. Elikwu comments:
While it’s not like being a conventional undergraduate, it’s friendly. We have a WhatsApp group and often socialise together.
The other bunch of people who Elikwu spends a lot of time with are Mayer Brown’s first year trainees, who started at the same time as he and Harrison. “We do a lot of our firm training together, often eat together at lunch and the firm puts on regular events for us,” he explains.
Looking ahead, the rookie is determined to become a solicitor but is open-minded about which practice area he will specialise in.
Six months ago if you had asked me what I wanted to do it would have been litigation. But now having seen a law firm in action I would actually say there are lots of practice areas that appeal to me,” he says. “Construction, with all these big infrastructure projects, would be a great area to work in, as would finance or even insurance, which features some fascinating cases.
Applications for Mayer Brown’s 2016 legal apprentice scheme opened this month and close at the end of March. Apply here.