Aspiring lawyers can get ahead by keeping abreast of developments in the legal profession, last week’s London Law Fair heard.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen has told aspiring lawyers that it took 40 handwritten letters – it was the pre-computer era – along with 40 photocopied CVs to secure his first interview for a training contract.
This from a man who has risen to become president of the representative body for solicitors – so what chance for the rest?
Eventually, Caplen told the London Law Fair at Chancery Lane last week, he had interviews with two firms and was rejected by both of them. ‘I was getting desperate by then,’ he confesses. He persevered and managed to secure a third interview. ‘I had done work experience with a firm of accountants,’ he explained, ‘and firm number three was looking for a trainee who knew what an audit was and so they took me on.’
What is Caplen’s message for aspiring lawyers? ‘Perseverance,’ he says. ‘Keep on trying and don’t lose heart.
‘The law is a rewarding and varied career. You could find yourself helping build the highest building in the world. Or you could be representing someone at a police station. But it is not easy to get your foot on to the career ladder. My advice is to get work experience that is relevant to the job and makes you stand out from the crowd.’
As an observer, I am certainly rooting for the aspiring lawyers who attended the fair. They came in all ages - one or two looked to be in their 50s - and also in all ethnicities. There seemed to be rather more women than men, but then there are always more law graduate women emerging from universities than their male counterparts.
Trouble is, the women tend to fall off the radar rather quickly (which is another subject for another day), leaving the male, pale and stale to occupy the profession’s upper echelons.
The stall of City firm Simmons & Simmons attracted much interest, and not just because of the generous array of freebies it was handing out. One such freebie was a lined notebook that featured on its cover ‘hints and tips’ on applying to a law firm.
‘Preparation is key,’ it declared, as is ‘attention to detail’. Understand what the law firm to which you are applying is looking for, and remember ‘it’s not just about the academics… [the firm] looks for well-rounded people’.
This is all useful stuff and a credit to a firm that clearly takes new lawyers’ careers seriously.
Legal aid firm Deighton Pierce Glynn also had a stand, the absence of banners and giveaways perhaps indicative of this rather more financially straitened sector of the profession.
One of the firm’s founders, Polly Glynn, told the Gazette that a new lawyer needed utter commitment to social justice to venture into such an at-risk sector. Pleasingly, Glynn and her team quickly became busy with aspiring lawyers asking for more information on how to make a difference in society.
And now a plug for this esteemed journal. The Gazette stand never had a quiet moment. Kirsty Wright, our digital publishing manager, who worked on the stand all day, said: ‘The visitors were clued-up and well-prepped, aware that to make an impact at interview they needed to know what was going on in the legal world. They went off fired with enthusiasm to read our website.’
And so they should!
Caplen’s remarks came from his opening address to the law fair, organised by the London Law Fair Consortium, which comprises the Law Society, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), CILEx Law School, and the universities of East London, London South Bank, London Metropolitan, Westminster, Middlesex and Hertfordshire.
Jonathan Rayner is Gazette staff writer