This past summer in Bangkok I got the chance to meet renowned economist Dr. Simon Evenett. During a lunch break a colleague asked for his views on the key to a successful career. Dr. Evenett mused that throughout his career, the people who he noticed rising the highest were those who had a unique skill that separated them from their peers. Put differently, if you possess a skill that is both useful and unique, your value as an employee will rise substantially.
Many law students perceive their skill-set far too narrowly, which can drastically inhibit professional development. A successful career in any field – including law – requires competence outside the core functions of the profession. Legal skills are of utmost importance in the legal professions, but they are not the Holy Grail.
Firm partners need to master the skills of management, budgeting, employee retention, and sales just to name a few. More junior employees can prove their worthiness by mastering these skills in other settings. If anything, expertise gained in a unique area prior to employment will get you assigned to any related project that happens to come across your firm’s radar.
Don’t write any opportunity off, just because it’s ‘non-legal’
It would be wrong to assume that by taking employment in a non-legal setting that your legal skills will not be utilised. In today’s world, expertise comes at a cost. Even large organisations may not have an in-house legal team, and outsourcing can be expensive. A junior worker who can provide basic legal advice can be very helpful in these situations. I recently completed a placement in the Trade and Investment division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Before starting I had assumed I would focus primarily on development related projects. By the end of my first week, I was helping draft the Treaty Establishing the Micronesian Trade and Economic Committee. At time this article was written, the treaty (including provisions I wrote) has been signed by three Heads of State. I gained my most impressive legal experience while surrounded by economists.
My advice to new law students is to think of your career as a pyramid. Right now, you’re building the first few layers. If you want to make your pyramid structurally stable, you need to make sure your first layers are the widest. Gain as many areas of experience as you can, and remember, time is on your side. You have plenty of opportunity to specialise and build those top layers. Right now just focus on that base, when you are building the final piece, you’ll be grateful you did.
Thanks go to our writer Scott Howe [LinkedIn], a current student on the GELLB1 programme at the City Law School. Prior to coming to London, Scott travelled all over the world completing internships at the Canadian Red Cross, Amnesty International Sydney and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Scott worked as a Business Development Consultant in Kenya whilst becoming an entrepreneur. He is working as an Associate Expert at Bridging the Gap Foundation Asia in tandem with his law studies.