There are now 10 times the number of qualified solicitors than 30 years ago. With a widening pool of talent competition is becoming fierce. Graduates are used to hearing this in regards to training contracts, however how many students think about what challenges they’ll face once they’ve turned up to the office?
Craig Sharpe, Business Development Manager at Darlingtons LLP recently gave an interesting talk at City, University of London sharing his insight gained over 30 years in the sector. He highlighted four things that are vital to thriving long term in the law industry:
- Bring your personality to work
- Understand the importance of networking
- Build successful relationships
- Prepare to manage clients
Bring your personality to work
It is now possible to know more about the law firms you are applying to than ever before. Think carefully about how your personality might fit in if you secure a training contract.
For many students this will mean developing “self-knowledge” and an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Remember a career in law will be as much about where you work as it will be about the type of work you will do.
Bigger is not necessarily better when looking for that perfect fit. There might be a strict hierarchy in a large firm which means you will have to wait longer to be given responsibility with clients. Smaller firms may offer you more opportunity to shine. If you can back yourself to win over clients and bring in business make sure there are opportunities within the firm to get recognised for these skills.
Building a network
Understand that law is a business too. You will need to confidently approach clients and “sell” your expertise to them. The best way to think about how you can sell yourself is to remember people buy people.
Successful lawyers will be able to generate demand for their advice by using their personality to build relationships. Whether you are dealing with a billion-dollar M&A or helping a client buy their first home remember you are advising people!
Craig placed a huge importance on getting to know decision makers and influencers to succeed. As a law student there are a host of events you can attend to sharpen your networking skills. Work on adapting your approach between fellow students, trainees and qualified lawyers you meet along the way.
Luckily, lawyers have a set of skills which most people don’t possess. At some point in their life everyone will have to turn to a lawyer.
Craig pointed out however that clients are becoming increasingly sceptical about the role lawyers play in the development of their business. A lawyer may be an option of last resort, when the company is in trouble or they need something technical doing quickly.
Lawyers need to work harder at being trusted advisors. This comes from good client relationships. Finding the sweet spot between providing a quality professional service and having that “likeability” that will either bring the back or empower them to make a recommendation.
Think carefully about how you can develop the skills which will help you foster good client relationships Do not think a legal professional needs to have a “lawyer persona” – it’s more important to be authentic for clients to trust and like you.
We now operate in a world of “Googlisation” meaning lawyers no longer have the monopoly on legal knowledge. Clients will have fixed ideas about what they need before they even get through the door. This is increasingly making the lawyer-client relationship difficult to negotiate.
Bringing together the points above think about how as a trainee you are going to handle difficult situations. Be prepared to answer questions about this in interviews. The one thing Craig emphasised above all else was the resilience required to survive a career in law. The ability to handle pressure will stand you in good stead in your first few years in law.
Overall, partner your legal knowledge with personality, authenticity and confidence to win over clients. Securing a training contract is just the start of a career in law – make sure you’re equipped for the job.
Thanks to Joshua Edwards for this review of Craig’s session. Josh is a student on the GDL at The City Law School.