There's no doubt about it, starting a career in law is tough. The sector is fiercely competitive, and your academic knowledge will only carry you so far. To stand out to employers, my advice would be to try and seek out legal work experience wherever you can so you can get a feel for the work and the environment you will eventually be working in.
Could you first introduce yourself?
I currently work as Legal Counsel in a growing Fintech company called TradeIX. TradeIX operates the Marco Polo Network, a globally distributed trade and supply chain finance network which is built using blockchain technology. My day-to-day role includes reviewing and negotiating customer contracts, supplier contracts and advising the business on a variety of legal matters.
Could you tell us about your experience in your legal journey so far?
I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Politics with Law at Aston University before completing the Graduate Diploma in Law to convert my undergraduate degree into a full law degree. Following this, I began studying for the Legal Practice Course, however, I decided to study the LPC part-time over two years which enabled me to gain relevant industry experience.
Whilst completing my LPC, I worked in local government as a Legal Assistant before progressing to Principal Legal Assistant working for a few years before I secured a training contract in-house, at Coventry City Council. During my training contract, I had seats in employment and litigation, property and planning, family law and my final seat was in commercial contracts.
My training contract was varied and allowed me to learn invaluable skills in the short space of two years. Within the first three months of my training contract, I was thrown in the deep end and was asked to attend the magistrates court to make an application on behalf of the council. Going headfirst into advocacy allowed me to zone into my communication skills. I was also required to do a presentation to a number of external lawyers, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to grow my experience. I also got involved in legal research on many different areas of law, which was highly beneficial to my legal development.
As I approached the end of my two-year training period, I didn’t feel fulfilled that most of my legal experiences were within the public sector. I therefore decided upon qualification that it was the right time to make the move to the private sector; a challenge which was relishing. It was important for me to stay in-house as that is the environment, I felt I thrived in most, and I secured a Legal Counsel role at a private software company. It was an enormous challenge moving to a new environment whilst having just qualified, but I had a highly supportive manager and colleagues who helped settle me into my new role as a qualified lawyer, specialising in commercial contracts. Having this support behind me allowed me to quickly and efficiently get involved in reviewing and amending contracts whilst advising clients on various commercial matters.
What advice would you give to current law students seeking to pursue a legal career?
There's no doubt about it, starting a career in law is tough. The sector is fiercely competitive, and your academic knowledge will only carry you so far. To stand out to employers, my advice would be to try and seek out legal work experience wherever you can so you can get a feel for the work and the environment you will eventually be working in, whether that is through vacation schemes or voluntary work experience.
This will allow you to gain an understanding of what it is like working as a lawyer day-to-day and enable you to build relationships with legal professionals.
How did your paralegal experience and volunteering aid you in your journey of becoming a solicitor?
I had done a few placements in private practice, but I knew that I needed to have some solid legal experience behind me in order to help me in my long-term goal of getting a training contract. That is why I decided to study the LPC part-time, over two years, so I could gain industry experience along the way. I started the LPC I and also began work experience in a local authority doing voluntary work initially and after a few months, they offered me a paralegal position. This was a fantastic opportunity to gain practical experience in a busy legal department.
The LPC is the theory of being a lawyer and I was able to put what I was learning in the LPC into practice at work. This is what solidified my decision even further and confirmed to me that I had made the right choice of having a career in law. It was very challenging at times balancing studying and working full- time and certain sacrifices, (particularly to my social life!) had to be made. I had to learn how to manage my time effectively over the two years it took to complete the LPC. The legal experience I gained eventually helped me to secure a training contract.
What advice would you give to students applying for training contracts and LPC’s?
You need to be organised in your job search. Think about where you might like to apply to well in advance to stand the best chance of making a successful application. Keep an open mind about where to apply as there is always a lot of focus at career fairs on training contracts in private practice, but not enough on training contracts in-house in a company or a local council.
The working environments are quite different, for example, there are often billable hours targets in private practice which are monitored through recording time spent every day on active client matters, however this is uncommon when working in-house, so it is good to speak to other legal professionals to get an idea of where you see yourself and what working environment you would prefer.
Could you give an insight into what it is like to work full-time in the legal field?
The working hours in-house are fairly regular compared to private practice where the hours you work can be a bit more unpredictable. Some firms and practice areas may be more predictable than others, so it's worth considering this before choosing an area to specialise in.
Typical tasks for me include meetings and calls with my internal clients, contract negotiations with customers, drafting and circulating legal advice via email, legal research, internal training on new areas of law and liaising with other stakeholders in the business as to how best to manage some of our more challenging customers. I really enjoy working in-house as you can get much more involved in matters and see the impact of your advice and work. You can also work closely with your internal clients as one team.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you graduated?
There are many aspects of my corporate life which I wish I had known before graduating, however, the value of experience stands out the most. Experience allows you to gain prior insight into whether or not a certain career path is right for you. Having this knowledge not only gives you awareness of the correct path, but also gives you discipline and drive due to knowing exactly what you are working towards.
This experience is not only beneficial for giving discipline, but it also enables you to gain a significant amount of exposure and build up your network of contacts. Amalgamating these factors together has highlighted the importance of gaining experience early on and always striving to live outside your comfort zone.