Three weeks into my GDL and I was starting to feel the mounting pressure of making choices as to which direction my career would go, starting with the big question; Solicitor or Barrister? Proving currently unanswerable, the alternative “Careers with a Law Degree Event” would, I hoped, provide me some further insight into what I could do with my law qualification.
The panel of speakers, six in total, included a Barrister from South Square, a Corporate Secretariat, a member of the legal counsel for RBS Markets and International Banking, and a playwright. What I was most interested in discerning was how each of the panel got to where they are; what various routes had they all taken? The residual theme was that they had all been adaptable, and had in many cases come into positions by chance. The importance of making and using contacts wherever possible was stressed.
To begin, Daniel von Lucius talked about his position in RBS and the commercial side of Law. As City GDL alumni, I was very interested to hear his story. For a job like his, you need to be able to constantly review a dynamic and changing market; an academic view of the Law is not suited to this work. Specifically, his work involved derivatives – products that derive value from something else. He loved the fact that his job was very international and diverse, allowing him to work with an interesting range of people. The fast pace of his work – he provides “market leading services in debt financing, risk management and transaction services” – sounded exciting. It was definitely a job more suited to those who have some affinity for numbers, and for people unafraid to face new challenges on an almost daily basis.
Next Michelle Holt, who gained her law degree in 2006, spoke of her role as VP Corporate Secretariat for Barclay’s. Having avidly pursued a career at the Bar, the financial risk eventually proved too great and she decided to take a different approach. The Secretariat role was up-and-coming following new legislation which required any company to have a secretary under the Companies Act. These had to be either chartered secretaries or qualified solicitors/barristers. Her job entails managing people, setting up meetings and managing portfolios. She described the work as “interesting and varied” and she has to deal with a large number of people; the work even sounded somewhat pastoral at points. She enjoyed the team leader aspects of her job as well as the corporate restricting and simplification which takes place.
Taking a slightly unexpected turn, Ness Lyons told us of her career as a playwright. After doing her LPC at the College of Law in York, she worked as a paralegal for a defamation firm, before completing her training contract and going on to spend six years as a qualified, practising solicitor in employment law. Lyons described this as an ever-changing area to work in, interesting because of the focus on people. She lauded the transferrable skills that working in Law gave her and said that they have helped in her role as a playwright – particularly with regard to submitting for commissions, organisation and plotting. One key reason for making the transition into writing (she has been a creative writer from a young age, having won a national competition with a friend aged 16) was that she wanted the flexible hours after having children. She is now completing an MA in Creative Writing at City (Playwriting and Screenwriting), which is accredited by the film and TV industry.
Robert Macdonald was called to the Bar at Middle Temple but had difficulties in securing a pupillage. He then clerked for a High Court Judge specialising in white collar crime. He now works in Financial Crime Compliance for HSBC. Another global bank, he described his role as very broad, looking at both UK and US regulations and advising a range of clients including private equity firms. He said that problem solving skills are very important in his job, and he also has the opportunity to travel, as part of his work is testing the procedures of companies from all over the world.
Staying with the international markets theme, Edward Alia had been passionate about international law for a long time, and tried to get an associate job in New York in 2008. Unfortunately for him, this coincided with the fall of Lehman Brothers and the financial crash which greatly impacted his hopes of getting a job. He eventually found his footing and now works for the Legal and Regulations department for CME Group. He loves the links with EU and public international law, and said that his work is very academic. You need resilience for this kind of role, and the hours are very long, but he was clearly passionate about it.
Finally, Toby Brown was the Barrister of the group. He started out with a biology degree and then went on to the GDL and the BPTC. He was talented and fortunate enough to secure a pupillage straight out of the course and specialised in crime, family and civil law. However, he became dissatisfied after a while and took 5 years out to do charity work in the Middle East and in prisons across Africa. He then re-trained and went into commercial law. To be a Barrister in general, he said, you’ve got to want to be a sole trader and work very hard. He also stressed that a back-up is vital; it’s so tough to get a pupillage. Once in Chambers, however, he said the system is very meritocratic and there’s lots of opportunities to do pro-bono work and give back in a very positive way.
After all of the talks, the panel stayed on for the food and drink and answered questions informally. The main points I took from the evening were to be open and adaptable because no career path is set in stone. Being determined, hard working and making connections with people could end up leading you down a road you had never envisaged.
Many thanks to current GDL student Jennifer Barnett for writing this piece about the Careers with a Law Degree event.