ULaw’s Matt Tomlinson discusses the opportunities on offer for students in the city’s ever-growing legal market, ahead of his appearance at Thursday’s virtual careers event
With the increased emphasis on remote working, brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more opportunities are opening up for students and junior lawyers outside of London.
A clear example of this is the North East, which has seen increased investment in recent years, particularly in relation to Newcastle-based tech hubs. As such, Matt Tomlinson, dean of The University of Law’s (ULaw) Leeds and Sheffield campuses, comments that Newcastle has become “a centre of potential growth”, thus adding to the vibrancy of its existing legal scene. Already, Newcastle is home to some big players in the legal field, such as Womble Bond Dickinson, Eversheds Sutherland, Norton Rose Fulbright and Muckle LLP, to name but a few.
Tomlinson also notes that Teesside’s freeport status may play a role in the surge in commercial trade activity that has been predicted post-Brexit. Combine this with the heavy investment in tech seen in recent years and the quality of legal work available in the region, Newcastle appears to very promising for would-be lawyers.
In light of the city’s “impressive legal market”, ULaw has recently announced its decision to establish its seventh satellite campus at Newcastle University. Tomlinson explains how the new training partnership with the Russell Group institution will work, as well as why it is of “mutual benefit” to both ULaw and students in the region.
This collaborative arrangement with Newcastle University means that ULaw is able to offer its postgraduate courses, including its new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) preparation courses, to those currently studying at Newcastle University, who may wish to continue their legal education in the familiar surroundings of their university’s law school, but also will likely prove very attractive to others studying at other universities in the region.
The growth of the region offers an incentive for ULaw to make its courses readily available to those in the North East — and the benefits are by no means one-way. Tomlinson notes that there is a “whole market to service” in Newcastle and its surrounding areas, consisting of both law firms looking to hire fresh talent from within the city, as well as students keen to continue their legal education in a city that has become their home. Tomlinson notes:
“What better than to have the opportunity for a student, having completed their three-year law degree at the university, to stay for a fourth year? They already have established friendships, a strong network and familiarity with the city. This arrangement gives them the best of both worlds.”
Whilst Newcastle University will be hosting the training partnership, as well as offering support and employability services, ULaw will be taking the lead in teaching content, as experts in the practical application of law. Having all been in practice previously, ULaw’s tutors are able to equip students with the practical skills necessary for qualification.
Tomlinson himself originally trained at DLA Piper, before moving on to work at other international and regional law firms. He explains that although he enjoyed his time in practice, he grew to realise that he enjoyed a more “creative” aspect of work that he didn’t always have in practice. After gaining some experience as a lecturer, he soon decided that the move to legal education would be more fitting for him: “I believed that it would be a career pathway I would really enjoy, and I’ve not been wrong!”
Reflecting upon the challenges that have faced the legal industry as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, Tomlinson notes the proven ability of law firms to adapt well to a flexible working model, thereby leading to significant support for its continuation post-pandemic. Further, Tomlinson recognises that the remote working revolution may have brought about “increased appetite to explore different opportunities” for many lawyers.
Having said this, Tomlinson highlights that “the shift we’ve seen on the back of Covid, where you see a lot of migration out of the City of London, has to filter down to the generation that is coming through”. With talk of a post-pandemic ‘hybrid model’ and many businesses looking to shrink their office spaces and transition to shared working hubs, Tomlinson warns that the importance of in-person, office work must not be forgotten. For trainees and junior lawyers in particular, working solely from home may mean that the quality of training and the ability to form solid networks with other lawyers and trainees could be impacted.
Although the future working model of the legal world, and wider industries, is perhaps still uncertain, Tomlinson is optimistic that ULaw will be reopening its doors soon. For Tomlinson, the benefits of face-to-face teaching and access to facilities cannot be underestimated, and so he is looking forward to welcoming students back on campus, as soon as it is safe to do so.
Matt Tomlinson will be speaking alongside lawyers from the Newcastle offices of Norton Rose Fulbright, Womble Bond Dickinson, Muckle LLP, as well as an academic from Newcastle University at ‘Secrets to Success Newcastle’, a virtual student event taking place this week, on Thursday 22 April. You can apply for one of the final few, and free, places to attend.
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