This month’s interview for the Academic Corner is carried out by second-year undergraduate Christianah Babajide. Over the summer holidays, she interviewed David Amos on the transformation of law, the LPC and shares his golden advice for future lawyers.
David Amos joined The City Law School in 2013. He is the Associate Dean (External Engagement) and was previously the Course Director for the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Currently, he is a member of the SRA’s Authorisation and Validation panel for the LPC. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.
I left university after my history degree, I worked as a historian for a while and then worked in a library. I got to the point where I was thinking about the next step; I was constantly surrounded by intelligent lawyers who seemed satisfied with their line of work and subsequently became role models. My mum was also quite pleased when I became a lawyer!
What made you choose the Solicitor route?
I did give some thought to becoming a barrister but there was a possibility I wouldn’t get a job at the end of it, which was a risk I could not take. Being a barrister seemed quite remote to me. I knew there was job security if I went down the solicitor route. In my days, everyone who finished their qualification was guaranteed to get a training contract. With hindsight, becoming a lawyer has been the best thing I ever did; I have done things I never thought I would get the chance to do. I know becoming a solicitor is much more competitive than it was back in my days but I would still advise students to go for it. There are still opportunities out there, you just have to work a little harder to take advantage of them
In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a Solicitor?
You’ve got to be prepared to continually learn, not just because the law is constantly changing but also because you will have new experiences. Each time you do something, it might be slightly different and you’ve got to learn from that really. The other important quality is perseverance. Don’t ever give up. I am quite stubborn, if I get my teeth in something, I never give up.
When I used to take cases to court, I wasn’t intimidating but I would grind the other side down and they knew I would never give up. The last important quality is being sociable. In the legal profession, there’s a big social element to it, there is a lot of interaction with your colleagues and clients so you must be a sociable person and know how to network. It’s all about human beings and maintaining relationships. People expect you to be a good technical lawyer but they also want you to get on well with people. These three skills are very important if you want to be a successful solicitor.
If you could change one thing about the legal sector, what would it be?
I would make it more open and accessible particularly to women and individuals from a BAME background. Neither of my parents went to university, I was the only boy from my school in my year to go to university and the only time I had met a lawyer was because I had a housing problem. With my background, the law was quite alien to me, I don’t feel that now because I am obviously part of it. You can’t have a system where Law is alien to people so there’s that side of it. There’s also the numerous hurdles you must go through to get a job in the law. This means a lot of talent isn’t found. Back in my days, we didn’t have to do all the things law students are doing now.
The people that are coming into the legal profession now, there are a great deal more women and individuals from ethnic minorities: it’s a lot more diverse. However, when you get to senior levels, it’s the same as it ever was. That has got to change. There’s a real waste of talent if women and individuals from the BAME community cannot reach these senior levels in the legal sphere. It means people aren’t getting equality. There needs to be a far more conscious effort to accept difference.
Name a key moment in your career.
As a solicitor and as a teacher at City I’ve got some memorable moments, but it’s the small things that matter. For example, I acted for a client as a solicitor who went on a training course for the construction industry. He had an accident where he lost his eye; in those days, you could get legal aid in those cases. I applied for legal aid on his behalf as he wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise and they turned it down. So, I appealed the decision and went along and argued it out and he received a legal aid certificate eventually. It’s little moments like that where you unlock the door for a client to get something they are entitled to. As a teacher, seeing the progression in somebody’s life is my idea of a memorable moment.
Can Information Technology be used as a driver for change to educate citizens of their rights and entitlements? If so, how?
Definitely, if it’s managed right, this is really going to help people. The internet has made it easier to get familiar with the law. The problem is, the knowledge the public can access is thrown out there without any filter so people can be given the wrong or false idea of things in lots of ways. Things have changed for the better as when I was at school, we didn’t have any computers, only books. I remember when one of the partners in the firm said to me, “I just got my first email.” And I asked him, “what’s an email?” If information technology can be used in a way that doesn’t substitute for the human element, then it should be fine.
How can future lawyers help themselves to become commercially minded lawyers?
Whichever area of law you want to go into, you’ve got to look at the broader context in which the law operates; what people are trying to achieve in law. In order to make yourself more commercially minded, just look at the situation the client is in and the broader world they live in. Until you understand that, you’ll never be commercially minded or represent your client to the best of your ability. Commercial awareness is all about thinking about the other person and what they want. For current law students; I would advise them to try and get involved in lots of different experiences, ask questions, be inquisitive and listen to what others say. Get advice from as many people as you can, and pay attention to what they say. There is no substitute for reading – if you want to be successful at networking, you have to be able to engage with the other person. This will involve a bit of research, understanding of their interests and the sort of things they might want to talk about. This might mean you talk about yourself sparingly, but focus on encouraging them to talk about themselves (and try to say the odd thing that is intelligent in response!).
What do you think would surprise most students about the LPC?
It’s quite a different course to the LLB and is very practical. There is nothing on there that is too challenging intellectually but you must show commitment to it and get into the way of working as a legal professional. So, treat the LPC as the first stage of your legal career. There are no great surprises in the LPC but what you do see is students grow as individuals, there’s a certain level of maturity where you realise this is what it means to be a lawyer. It’s a change of mindset.
How important is it for students to get involved in extra-curricular activities?
It is fundamental for all sorts of reasons. When anyone gets to university, they should see their time there as a time to grow as an individual and get involved in extracurricular activities. The legal field is very competitive and involvement in extracurricular activities is something law firms will expect, so getting stuck in helps you sculpt the portfolio you need to become a lawyer. From my personal experience, I did a lot of union work representing people and public speaking. When I went to a law firm interview; one of the things they were interested in was the extracurricular activity I had been involved in. They told me they really liked my profile and thought I would be a good fit for the firm. That’s what helped me get my training contract. The academics were there but it was my extra-curricular activities that marked me out. Getting involved in these activities also provided me with key transferable skills which I could put to good use during my training contract.
What does the LPC at City Law School offer students that isn’t offered anywhere else?
The key thing is the level of support you get on the course. The materials and the way it prepares students individually is just brilliant. They do a lot of work on an individual basis to get you to be as good as you can be, teaching-wise and outside of the classroom. This course does do people a lot of good and it does point people in the right direction. There is a lot to get from the LPC at The City Law School, the academics work really hard with the students.
- Favourite snack? Chocolate cake.
- Favourite cuisine? I am a vegetarian but I do quite like spicy food such as Thai/Indian food.
- Describe yourself in 3 words? Enthusiastic, hardworking and quiet.
Many thanks as ever to Christianah Babajide for this excellent interview!