Future Thinking for Future Lawyers: The Brief – Michael Kokkinoftas

“NOT a Barrister? NOT the end of the world!”

Michael and Thomas at Legal Futures event

On 30th January, four former City Law students discussed their career paths following graduation. The evening commenced with former City GDL and LPC student, Jo Joyce, who generously gave the audience an insight into her weekly routine at commercial law firm Shoosmiths. “Urgent corporate support, burning client problems, new customer checks” and so on all sounds quite orthodox in a life of an up and coming solicitor. Early starts to the Monday morning that don’t end until 3AM on Tuesday, did not really shock anyone. Neither did Wednesday’s exhausting off-peak journey to Birmingham for a pressing meeting!

But it was not until she mentioned her initial craving to become a Barrister that the audience was suddenly all ears. It was right then, in that specific moment, when the audience and undoubtedly I, myself started to panic. Is it not obvious that we spend a fortune on education and accommodation as students? Why should our careers take a completely different route to what we initially aspired? Still, our many questions regarding the justice of this remain rhetorical.

Nevertheless, she states that you have to be “prepared to let yourself be moved in different legal careers”. Explaining that it was through her work experience that she completed at Shoosmiths that opened doors and allowed her to excel. Although it was not what she initially set out to do, perseverance rewarded her as she was then offered a Training Contract in 2007 (when law firms were still capable of splashing cash!). She ended her talk leaving us spectators with a lot of food for thought:

“Think where you are going and keep yourself focused. Be prepared to embrace change because not everything follows through and you can’t plan everything.

Ed Harman who is a Financial Ombudsman [watchdog and financial adviser] then took to the stage by introducing how he ended up in a completely different career sector then what he primarily set out to be: a solicitor. A politics graduate from Durham University and then a GDL student at City, the audience could not help but feel sympathy for Harman as he mentioned the “countless rejections” he received from Law Firms when applying for the Training Contract.

Fortunately, Grietje Baars then offered the audience relief by initiating her speech with a light-hearted brief of her law posse from University. She described the wide range of different careers they are now following after graduating law school.

After completing her GDL Grietje qualified as a solicitor and also worked in the commercial firm, Bird & Bird. Combining her academic work with several years of legal practice in the Human Rights and international humanitarian law field; she then completed an LL.M in Public International Law at UCL. She chose to work on an academic side, teaching and guiding undergraduate students.

No evening complete without a freebie!

In her speech she depicted a discussion with a law undergrad that all of us can probably relate to: a student who enjoys technology and students who love social networking sites. Her message is short but brilliant: If you’re ‘technology crazy’ then why not aspire to work as a lawyer for ‘Apple’? Moreover, if you like spending your day on Facebook then why not go into the legal sphere of the social media?

After all, Jo Joyce’s journey to Birmingham was actually because of an IP infringement case concerning social media just like Facebook! Social Networking is an exciting new world, which means it’s a massive growth area for legal disputes!

Tip: Imagination can sometimes be more important than knowledge.

In my opinion, the mood of the night changed dramatically when Charlotte Proudman, a Barrister at 1 Mitre Court Buildings took over the stage. Her speech was about why to choose this demanding but ever so rewarding career path. The catalyst to her journey was really when she dealt with Iranian and Kurdish rights concerning forced marriage, as well as working in the HR Commission in Pakistan where she rescued women. A graduate of both City University and Cambridge, Proudman is a specialist in Family Law working for “the best interests of child[ren]” which to her is a great relief as she is also reviewing cases which deal with child abduction scenarios.

Her words formed concise points. Her message was beyond stimulating.. “Find a niche area of expertise and define yourself as an expert”. She advised the audience to get involved with as much Pro Bono work, internships and volunteering on a wider level as possible in order to become better rounded individuals. I am adamant that this is definitely advice, which our LLB books do not mention often enough. Expanding ourselves is just as important as the required reading for our lectures!

Overall, the several alternative careers for Legal Graduates is something that every Law student is entitled to take a long thought about. In the words of Hardman, once you stop “wasting time” and stop “blaming the universe” by following a path that might not always be most suitable for you then “weight will lift off your shoulders”.

After all: “Tough times don’t last forever.”

Thanks to Michael for this review of the Legal Futures event held at The City Law School on 30th January. Anyone interested in finding out more about Charlotte Proudman can read the Lawbore interview with her in September 2011.

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