Background preparation – Elizabeth Cruikshank and Penny Cooper

Getting an edge


You’ve done your due diligence and submitted your training applications. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with the business of the LPC while you are waiting for the invitations to interview to roll in. But don’t waste this opportunity to give your interview that extra edge.

You want law firms to be interested in you, but they also want to feel that you are truly interested in them. The impression that most law firms want to give is that they are solid enterprises, concerned with the problems of their clients but with few real difficulties of their own. Look beneath the surface, however, and you will find that legal decisions and government policy may be giving them real cause for concern. During interview you will sometimes be asked questions that apparently have nothing to do with your CV or your motivations for becoming a lawyer.

Personal or general?

Some concerns may be very abstruse or peculiar to an individual law firm. Anticipating questions concerning the formatting of documents or the most soothing paint colour for meeting rooms is well nigh impossible, but if partners try to draw you into such a discussion it’s usually an indication that they are currently the subject of hot dispute within the firm. Your best response is not to leap in with an off the cuff comment, but to buy some time by asking for more information on the formats or colours under consideration. It is after all what you would be doing as a qualified solicitor – gathering information about your client’s position before offering advice.

On the other hand some matters are of real concern to many different law firms. To get a flavour of what is exercising law firm managements, keep an eye on journals such as the Law Society Gazette, the Solicitors’ Journal and the Lawyer. RollonFriday is fun and will deliver their embarrassments as well as the latest gossip on recruitment and salaries, but it rarely deals with “the serious stuff.”

Legal Aid

Uncertainty about the future of Legal Aid gives many, although not all, High Street firms real shivers of concern and the Law Society recently took judicial review proceedings to challenge the Legal Services Commission’s family tender exercise. The Law Society has been successful in having the LSC’s failure to give advance notice of the requirement for panel membership declared unlawful. The High Court also declared unlawful the decision not to award contracts in four categories of family, housing and family, children only and child abduction, thus effectively quashing the award of any of those contracts.

High Street firms will fall into one of three categories – not a Legal Aid firm, a Legal Aid firm which was successful in the tender process or a Legal Aid firm which was not successful. The implications of the High Court decision will be of much more consequence to the latter two than the first, but the first will also have opinions on the so-called “advice deserts” and the Government’s apparent intention to engineer a reduction of the number of very small Legal Aid firms in the interests of cost saving.

As many commentators have pointed out, the High Court decision is not the end of the matter, but merely a “stay of execution” as it is now open to the LSC to review its assessment criteria and to give the proper advance notice. So if you are called for interview at a High Street firm make sure that you have some information (and even views) on the Legal Aid tender process.

Immigration cap

The Law Society has also been involved in making a submission to the Home Office on its proposal to limit the numbers of highly skilled non-EU individuals who are permitted to work in the UK. The Law Society argues that these proposals, which may make it very difficult for large international UK law firms to employ non-EU lawyers or trainees, will threaten the UK’s position as a prominent legal centre.

It’s tempting to take the view that any measure which restricts the competition for already scarce training places or employment must be good news. But take a minute to think about it. The ability to employ internationally qualified lawyers confers several benefits on large UK law firms. Obviously is it easier for firms to give advice on the legal aspects of transactions in other jurisdictions to clients based in the UK if they have the relevant foreign lawyers to hand. Substantial firms which have offices in several jurisdictions use secondments to give their lawyers alternative legal experience and an understanding of other cultures, but also very importantly they recognise this as a way of cementing relationships between the different offices.

Understand their motivations whether you agree with them or not, so that if the topic comes up at interview your opinion is a balanced one. And remember if you have any language skills – and some free time – now might be just the time to sharpen them.

Elizabeth Cruickshank and Professor Penny Cooper of The City Law School are the authors of ‘All you need to know about being a Trainee Solicitor’ (Longtail, 2008) and together with Boma Ozobia of “Survival Manual for New Wigs” (Odade 2010).

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