I’m not like, a regular lawyer. I’m a cool lawyer.

You know I will use any chance I can get to sneak in a mean girls quote and no quote could be more perfect than for discussing the hierarchy of law firms and what this means for your future and first impressions of them.

What are all the different names for firms about?

In the UK firms tend to be described or describe themselves (note, they might describe themselves differently from how they are viewed) by five different terms.

US firms

you guessed it – these can be US firms that have opened an office in the UK, or merged with a British firm

Magic circle firms

this name was actually coined by legal journalists to describe the up and coming set of firms. Since the 1990s the five firms that have been allocated this term are Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Linkaters and Slaughter & May

Silver circle

initially used to describe the firms chasing the magic circle ones, it has officially included Ashurst, BCLP, Herbert Smith Freehills, Macfarlanes and Travers Smith. However, some of the silver circle firms aren’t fans of being pitched as ‘below’ magic circle firms when often they do is just as cutting edge and of equal quality. There are also a large number of firms who have grown to catch up with the silver circle gang who aren’t included – these include CMS, Norton Rose Fulbright, Dentons, Simmons & Simmons and Clyde & Co. As a result, some people have suggested that these terms are not as relevant to the British legal world as before.

International

you’ve got it – this means they are an international firm, and therefore have office bases in multiple locations across the world.

High street

these are firms normally based on high streets across the country. They deal with a range of practices but normally deal with private individuals rather than corporations which is different to US, magic circle, silver circle and inner city firms will work.

National

these are law firms that handle legal matters arising surrounding businesses, corporations and other kinds of clients in the UK only. They vary in shapes and sizes – some will specialise purely in employment law, others may specialise in many different areas.

So…why do people put so much pressure on the kind of firm you go to?

More than ever, our world is a competitive one, be that about business, lifestyle or training contracts. People want to go to the places that they view as top of the range, whether that’s because of the type of work it does, the pay check that comes with it, the want for an academic challenge or because you’ve been sold the firm gym or canteen perks (trust me this happens more often than not 😂).

Every day I get messages from people who feel under pressure to apply to the cool, big firms others at their uni are, or who keep being rejected from the same tier of firms and don’t want to look at others. Magic circle and silver firms are great firms, there is no doubt about it; they provide world class training, cutting edge work, but, the type of work and environment they offer is not for everyone.

When you’re applying to firms it’s so important to take a step back and look at what’s best suited for you. Often the kind of firm you will get a TC at has nothing to do with you being better or worse than your peers, but about you being a different kind of person.

It’s so easy to be taken in by flashy offices, big pay checks, the Legal 500 rankings, but the people I know who enjoy their roles most are the ones who are at firms they feel at a par with.

Some large firms are a lot less intimate than other firms, but they all vary, so applying for vac schemes can help you find out about the kind of feel you get in different places, and the way that you work best.

Some firms really pride themselves in being hugely collegiate and more about team working, whereas others are looking for people who are happy to take the initiative more often. This is something you can find out by applying to a range of different firms – even if you’ve got your heart set on one particular tier. Branching out not only increases your chances of getting a TC, but you might even surprise yourself on an assessment day and realise you love the feel of a firm that you hadn’t first considered. And many people from ALL kinds of firms have gone on to be partners in the firms they trained at, as well as some moving to other firms of all different sizes – sometimes to smaller firms, sometimes to bigger ones. Wherever you train will hold you in good stead for the future, whatever your career goals are.

So my biggest advice is – don’t let comparisons, or rejections, convince you that you’re not good enough. It’s not about being not good enough. It’s about whether you’re trying to fit a square into a circle, or a triangle into a star. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit, sometimes it’s just that you need to grow a bit to fit the bill. The best way to know what firm is good for you, and not just what others think would be good for you, is to know yourself; the way you work, the way you interact with people, the things that you’re interested in and that you’re growing to be confident in. Regardless of what firm you’re at, you’re going to ace it as a lawyer and you’re def going to be a cool lawyer. Don’t let comparison be the thief of joy and take that away from you. You got this 💕🌷

The LLM Programme

The mentoring programme has launched!

Everyday I get messages from people asking me to review their application, send them CV templates, and talk through their options with them for law.

I try to share as much as I can on my blog, but sometimes answering all these messages is impossible.

As a result, I opened up 5 places for aspiring lawyers to join the newly launched mentoring programme. However, I had a huge number of applicants, so I decided to launch the virtual LLM programme on my blog.

How will the virtual programme work?

Each post in the programme will be targeted at a specific audience, from first and second year students, final year and graduates, to law and non-law students.

The posts will be focused on personal advice depending on what your situation is.

The posts will cover topics that are part of the personalised mentor programme including:

– how to handle applications

– working on your personal development to ace your performance at interviews and assessment centres

– things to look for to improve your applications after rejections

– developing your commercial awareness

– how you can increase your chances of getting into law

Does this sound like something you’re interested in?

Then subscribe to my blog using the subscribe link beneath this post…

London Young Lawyers Ambassador

I am excited to announce that I have become an ambassador for the London Young Lawyers group, an organisation which connects law students, trainees and junior lawyers through networking opportunities and different types of events.

In the past month I have attended two events organised by LYLG which were completely different but equally fun and interesting.

The first was a panel discussion on LawTech and how it is disrupting the legal industry. The panel was made up of technology experts, lawyers (and ex-lawyers!) who are all using technology in innovative ways to prepare firms for the future.

The second event I went to was the Summer Boat Party! The setting was amazing, cruising down the Thames seeing all the London landmarks as the sun set, as well as meeting huge numbers of legal professionals from all different areas of work. I got to talk to barristers’ clerks, paralegals, NQ lawyers, other trainees and aspiring lawyers, and it was a really nice environment to get to know new people and their different experiences in law.

As an ambassador I’m really looking forward to sharing (and hopefully helping to organise!) some new events that will be useful for law students, paralegals and future trainees!

Keep your eyes peeled and you can sign up to LYLG mailing list here so you never miss out on future events!

Selling Your Soul for Law? A Bit Archaic

I’m sure that anyone who has told, well, anyone about wanting to be a lawyer has been told something like ‘you’ll be selling your soul to the corporate world’ or ‘ I hope you’re ready to give up all your social life’.

I am pretty sure that no person applies to a magic circle firm and expects to clock off at 5pm everyday. But just in case, if you mention the well known firm you are applying to, someone you know or meet will make absolutely sure you are under no false illusions about how much work training to be a lawyer is.

And so it begs the question..Do I have to sell my soul, my life and my uni years to get into law?

First things first, selling your soul is a very drastic analogy and one that requires a much more thought through blog post on Socrates idea of the soul. A simple answer is: becoming a corporate lawyer is not as drastic as selling your soul.

I think for a long time people have seen (and some still do) see corporations – law firms included – as the money guzzling, environment destroying, workaholic institutions of the 20th and 21st centuries. Whilst there is a long way to go on this, law, business and corporations are changing the way they view the world and their own worlds and are looking to address these issues on a scale unseen prior. More and more firms are pledging to be carbon neutral, actively contributing to social responsibility outside of the conventional pro bono remit, and are addressing the stereotype that all lawyers are overworked.

Law is hard work, undoubtedly, and anyone that signs up does that knowing that some days they may be staying late to deal with a pressing issue that has arisen. But, at the same time, more and more firms are looking to help balance the work/life situation more than before. If you’re unsure about the kind of hours you are committing to as a trainee, there are three main ways to find out:

1. What is the size of the firm? This is not always accurate, but often the bigger the firm the more hefty the hours.

2. Talk to actual trainees and lawyers at these firms. Sure, cynics will tell you that they are all prepped to tell you they get to leave early on Fridays, but often you,l be able to have a really honest conversation that allows you to work out whether you’d manage the working schedule.

3. Chambers Students. This online source has a ton of information including surveys taken of trainees and their experiences so this is the place to go for firm specific information.

How committed do I actually need to be to get into law?

As law is competitive, a lot of people become very focused during their uni years on getting a TC. I don’t think you need to know you wanted to go into law from first year to be a lawyer. Lots of people decide in second or third year, or even after they graduate. That’s really normal, so don’t panic. When law firms want to see commitment they want to see a few different things.

First, that you have an interest in the area of law you apply to. If you’re looking at family law, that could be through childcare you did or volunteering at youth clubs. If you’re looking at commercial law, you could demonstrate that interest through a part time job you had in a business, or a topic you chose to study or write about at university. I think the idea that you need to throw away any fun or flexibility of your uni years is nonsense – the important thing is that you are making the most of them. By that I mean finding out about what you’re interested in. Joining societies, getting to know new people, as well as reading around topics, and using your summers to do things that you enjoy and will benefit you regardless of what career you take. Whether you undertake a summer job, or an essay competition or volunteering, any experience is useful for demonstrating different skills you have acquired and different areas you are knowledgable in and able to talk about. I get a lot of messages from people in first and second years who have’t had any legal work experience and are stressed by others getting it – try not to panic, because huge numbers of people get onto Vac schemes or TCs with transferable skills from non-legal jobs and experiences. The strongest candidates will be the ones who can show that they used their time and experiences to prepare them for the future and future roles. Firms want to see that you take an interest on your own personal and professional development, whether that is through reading, getting a job or attending extra lectures or events on things you are keen to learn about.

On to the final question…

If I don’t get a TC by graduation…is my law dream over?

If you are coming to the end of uni and don’t have a TC in place, things can seem uncertain and scary.

But, whilst it may feel like a lot of people get TCs whilst still at uni, huge numbers of TC offers are actually allocated to masters and GDL students, as well as career changers. If it really is your dream to become a lawyer that does not end if you are still looking for a TC after graduation – it’s just important that you focus on your own personal development and how this can help you in your future career in law. Many people take up paralegal positions or internships prior to getting a TC, and remember that there are loads of new and upcoming jobs in law such as legal engineers and legal technologists that are looking for law graduates too. It is likely that one day they will be doing the same work as ‘conventional’ lawyers and possibly more in demand than your average TC trained lawyer. So keep all these things in mind!

Reading logs – the key to remembering what you read

How do I remember important things from what I read about law, politics and commercial awareness?

1.Keep a reading log. Write down what you are reading about and what the source is (eg Book name and author name, or news theme, source and date) and then use TWO colours to divide the information. Pick one colour to write down important key points of information/ideas/themes that you think are interesting or vital to understanding what is going on. Don’t copy and write huge chunks of text – instead try to reword what you’ve read and keep it to a minimum as this will make it easier to remember. With your second colour, write your thoughts on what you have read, whether you agree or disagree, how this relates to other things you have read.

A reading log is a good idea because you can write notes about the bits that have stood out for you in what you are reading. The best way to remember it is to then add your own personal thoughts on it. For example, how does what you have read relate to another piece of law, or another book you’ve read? What are your opinions on the subject from a wider perspective and how has what you have read influenced that? This not only helps you to remember important information but it also teaches you the vital skill of critical thinking. I’m currently using a gorgeous Ratio notebook from Rama Publishing which I love, in which I write the date I started and finished the book, key themes and ideas I’ve taken from the book in one colour, and then my own thoughts in another colour.

It’s also handy to note down references – just simple ones, for your own use – in case you should ever want to refer back to that piece again. Normally I write the literature title and author at the top of the page and then just put the page numbers next to any key ideas.

Writing your own thoughts and critical opinions in a different colour also helps you to refer back if you want to link some old thoughts you had with new ones. I find this a really useful way to write a visually appealing and practical reading log that aids me in the long term. I also think relating what you have read to new issues or debates is the best way to remember things because you’re more likely to be able talk about things that you can bring into something relevant.

For example, in one of my classes this year I kept a reading log for a class where we had been discussing legal issues surrounding terrorism which overlapped with another class I was studying on how religion and race is portrayed in the media and what the regulations surrounding this are. Because I’d kept a thorough and organised log I was able to quickly find the information I needed and draw links between both classes. This also helped knock an essay I did up to a first – you get more marks for showing you have used critical thinking and extensive wider reading and contrasting and comparing this information. My reading log helped me do that and made it a lot easier to do.

I remember at first year of uni I just write random notes with no references on separate pieces of paper and I always lost them and struggled to find the reference to evidence my point when I brought it up in class – so regardless of whether you are a first year, final year, or graduate, a log is definitely the way forward.

2.Read summaries and book reviews if you’re struggling to find the time to read large pieces of information. If you are able to summarise and skim read things yourself, that is also a very useful skill that you will need to practice as a lawyer, but for now there are plenty of summaries and reviews on the internet for you to make getting extra reading done a little easier.

My top sources for news summaries is the LinkedIn Daily Rundown and you can find plenty of book reviews on academic sites such as JStor.

3.Find things to read about that you are interested in! During our uni days and careers we do have to read some less than interesting pieces, but if you can find topics you are genuinely interested in you are more likely to remember it! Try starting a book club or debating group to discuss different ideas and issues as for many people hearing other people’s views helps them to remember and make sense of what they have read.

Handling Case Studies

Quick Case Study FAQ

1. What is a case study?

A case study is when you are given a potential business scenario and asked to assess it for a particular outcome. These completely vary from firm to firm, with only some firms incorporating them into interviews whilst others don’t use them.

2. What kind of case studies can I expect?

Examples of potential case studies are:

A. You are given a fact sheet on two different companies looking to merge. Write a summary/presentation assessing the merger for your firm’s partners.

B. Your firm is looking to move office. You are given a document containing different office spaces and another document detailing what the firm requires from an office, Analyse the information and create a presentation to the partners detailing which office you think is most suitable for the firm to relocate to.

Confused about how to handle these? You’ve come to the right place

Some key points to think about when you receive the information and start reading about it:

– Identify the issues that need to be addressed depending on what the brief says
– Consider what information you do and don’t have
– Outline the objectives/desirable outcomes
– Generate ideas and alternative solutions depending on the brief.

What you need to show:
– That you know how to think critically about information you are given
– That you are commercially minded/aware
– You are able to quickly pull relevant information from large pieces of text

If you are asked to write up a brief or solution to the case study in full, or to present your findings, follow this structure:

Intro
Overview of situation, identification of key issues that you are going to be addressing

Main 
Present and analyse the issues
Detail possible solution(s), and show you have weighed up the strengths, weaknesses and risk factors of your solution(s)

Conclusion 
Summarise your main findings/solutions
Identify and justify your strategy/solution that you have proposed/decided is strongest, either by comparing to the other possible solutions or providing good evidence

Unsure how to assess the scenario you have been given?

Use SWOT

STRENGTHS
WEAKNESSES
OPPORTUNITIES
THREATS

Strengths 
Examples:
– Specialist expertise 
– Reputation
– Location
– Something that adds value

Weaknesses
– Debt 
– Too many competitors, project undifferentiated from its competitors 
– Too complex
– Clashing business ideas/workplace cultures

Opportunities
– Developing/emerging market
– Mergers, joint ventures, strategic alliances
– New international market
– Market vacated by an ineffective competitor 

Threats
– New legislature, codes of compliance (eg if doing business in a new country, new jurisdiction)
– New competitor 

An effective analysis summarises and explains the information that is needed to establish realistic business strategies and milestones, and to detect holes or risks in the business plan.

Final tip: A lot of this stuff is about common sense so don’t panic if it seems like a lot of information. If you’ve studied law and/or read up for your commercial awareness you will understand the kind of things that are logical to look for if you’re presented with a case study! I always used to remember the SWOT method just in case I froze up or panicked in the moment and couldn’t remember what to look for.

Commercial Awareness: What you actually need to know

Commercial awareness can feel like you’re falling into a deep and dark pit of never-ending news, politics, and business memos...🏴‍☠️

But don’t panic! This post will help you understand what it is you actually need to know about commercial awareness.

Topics that will most probably come up (get reading up on these 😎)

Brexit

What You Need To Know:

How the different potential outcomes will affect law firms, businesses, economies, in particular if there is a no deal 🙀. Look at what law firms and businesses are doing to preempt Brexit eg moving business back to the US, opening offices in Dublin. As this topic is changing all the time, just make sure you’re up to date on what has happened at the time of your interview.

Challenges facing the legal industry

What You Need To Know:

Brexit can be used as an example, but there are other issues to! Have a read about what partners are saying are the biggest challenges for their firms (a quick google and you’ll find some great articles). Some examples are decreasing client loyalty, ensuring they are meeting gender and diversity quotas, preventing lawyer ‘burn out’, and more.

Technology

What You Need To Know:

How law tech and legal tech are changing law – they are making work more efficient but also have the potential to decrease the number of lawyers that actually need to be employed in firms. You can find on law firm websites the different ways that they are incorporating lawtech into their day to day business. It is best to be specific for the firm as you can show you are well researched and aware of what your chosen firm is doing to keep up with technological innovations.

US-China Trade War

What You Need To Know:

This is important if you are applying to US or international firms. Look at how this could affect trade between certain countries, technology regulations and the laws being brought up surrounding national security and how these all interplay. This is highly publicised so you’ll easily be able to find lots of information on this.

How much more do I need to know?

I suggest picking around two to three topics separate from the above that you keep following in the news. Make sure you are interested in the topics, and try to pick ones that are relevant to your firm.

There are three ways you can look at whether a commercial interest is relevant to your firm:

1. Regions: if your firm works in a particular region, take a look at issues relevant to doing business in that region.

2. Specialisms: eg finance – look at current big mergers, latest companies to go into administration

3. Law firm blogs: Law firm blogs will tell you the information they are most concerned about, the cases they are currently working on, and the information they currently want their clients to be updated on.

Where can I find the best commercial awareness updates?

  • LinkedIn Daily Rundown

Follow this on LinkedIn – it provides summaries of the most important news and insights of the day. You can select different streams which cover different regions for example the UK, the US or Europe.

  • The Financial Times

I read the FT most weekends when I can to get an idea of what is going on in the business and finance world. This gives the latest news in more detail which is super useful for when you get asked about issues at interview.

  • Law Firm Blogs!

Generally, law firms have their own blogs in which they put updates about commercial issues going on and the repercussions of these. Check if the law firm you are applying to has one and make sure to have a read through it.

Some examples of these are:

https://hsfnotes.com/

http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/knowledge/blogs/

http://www.elexica.com/en/blog

  •  Visual Capitalist

I follow the visual capitalist on LinkedIn because I love their infographics on economics and politics. They are so easy to understand and so aesthetically pleasing that you actually enjoy learning and absorbing the information they are giving you.

Note: To anyone who is reading this and doesn’t have LinkedIn – you can get updates from ALL FOUR of these sources on your LinkedIn feed so easily by following them so you never miss an update. I 100% recommend having a LinkedIn account.

Also if you have a tad of cash to splash – I really recommend reading The Economist. It is my fave mag but super pricey and not all unis have free copies, unlike newspapers which you can usually find somewhere for free.

Vac Scheme Secrets: What the Firm is Looking For

Vac schemes can seem really pressurised as you are thrown into a new working environment, constantly meeting new people and contending with new tasks you might never have done before. I am sharing the top five things law firms are looking for in you for you to focus on when you get to your vac scheme to ensure that you are getting yourself across as best as you can in the hope of getting a TC offer!

1. Your use of common sense and initiative

When you’re given tasks you will be expected to use your common sense and initiative to do things. I have heard many partners talk about the beauty of google meaning newbies need to ask less and less questions because there is a huge amount of information they can find online. If you’ve got a task you’re unsure about, see what information you can find on the firm portal if you have access to it, and on the internet. Often a quick google explains the clause you’re looking for in a contract, or helps you to assess whether the law applies to a company you’re looking at. Try to demonstrate that you’ve shown initiative by giving tasks a go and researching them before you decide you need to answer further questions. It’s absolutely fine to ask questions and need further guidance on a task, but firms are looking for evidence that you can get on and solve issues and research tasks yourself.

2. Your ability to apply yourself to anything and everything

Sure, you may be given some tasks that you feel are very easy or basic, or maybe you’ve been given a task that seems impossibly hard. The important thing is to give everything a go and with the same enthusiasm. Again, don’t be afraid to ask extra questions to help you clarify what you’re supposed to do, but make sure you’re enthusiastic about everything you’re given to do. Make sure you do it to the best of your ability and double check it for any typos or silly mistakes. You will be graded on how good your work is so make sure you don’t slip up just because you’re less interested in a certain task. Unfortunately, there are some mundane tasks that all lawyers have to complete, so you’ll need to make sure you’re there for the more standard simple work as well as the exciting stuff.

3. Your engagement with the firm and the people you meet there

Most grad recruitment teams will organise a range of events and socials to help you get to know the firm, team-build and network. At these events make an effort to work the room and talk to as many people as you can – it can be tempting to stick with the new friends you’ve made or the one person you’ve got to know well in your department but the firm will be looking to see how well you interact with other people, in particular with the partners who may have a direct say in whether they think you’re fit for a training contract.

If you’re a little bit nervous/shy when it comes to these kinds of events (which I can be!), I have two main tips:

Don’t be afraid to break into a group of people you don’t know. Start by saying something like ‘hi I don’t think we have met, but I thought I would come and introduce myself’. They are there so you can talk to them so make the most of it!

Prepare some questions in case the conversation is a little dry/awkward to start. Things like ‘what department are you in?’ ‘What made you want to qualify into financial services?’ Or whatever department they said they were in. Some other basic questions to ask are about what do they like about the law firm, what are their thoughts in a current legal issue. If you’ve read something interesting that relates to the department they are working with, bring it up! Now’s your change to rack their brain on an interesting and relevant issue whilst also showing them that you are interesting and commercially aware. (If you need more help with preparing questions for interviews and networking, check back later this week for a post on Partner Question Time)

4. Your reliability and punctuality

This applies to assessment centres and interviews too – there is nothing worse than turning up late to things, whether that’s the start of the working day or a networking lunch the firm planned for you. If you feel like you have a lot of work and aren’t surd how to fit in all the events try to prioritise what you need to do and consider coming in a bit earlier the next day to tie up any backlog you might have. You want to show the firm that you are reliable, organised and able to both time keep and time manage. On my vac scheme a girl turned up 30 minutes late and although she was a strong candidate I did notice that she didn’t get any further with her application, in particular as she missed the first introductions with grad recruitment and the current trainees.

5. Remember – at the vac scheme you are permanently on interview.

It can seem stressful, and I want you to feel able to relax a bit at the interview, but it is important that you remain alert and professional at all times whether that is in the office or out for a team building mini golf event with the graduate recruitment event. They want to see that you are approachable, can mix with a variety of people, but also that you know there are some professional/personal boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. This isn’t as strict as it sounds – basic suggestions are to limit what you drink at events (or risk becoming the infamous vac schemer who threw up on a trainee’s shoes), treat everyone respectfully and with the same amount of friendliness. If you feel you don’t get in with another one of the candidates – don’t let it show. Don’t gossip about them – you can’t be sure who it will get back to. Be as friendly to them as the rest of the candidates as you don’t want to give off any hostile vibes which might be felt by the grad recruitment team. And remember, some of these are very likely to be future trainees with you so you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with them! Sometimes first impressions aren’t always right – someone you weren’t sure about in the vac scheme might end up being your best work buddy during your trainee years. Keep those doors open.

Finally, try to enjoy it. As vac schemes go you will likely be very busy, attending events about the different things going on in the firm, meeting new people all the time, juggling a variety of tasks and probably getting to eat a lot of food (my personal vac scheme weakness was the hot choc machine 🤫😫). 100% make the most of it, bask in the moments when you have your nerves under control and picture yourself there. Who knows, this might be the first week of your new job, and new life as a trainee lawyer.