Consultant, Holman Fenwick Willan, London
Parents, teachers and grades to get on to the Law and German course at Trinity College, Dublin nudged me gently towards law. I certainly did not envisage that I would make my career as an insurance lawyer in the City. I watched too many episodes of Inspector Morse and had no idea what a career in law really entailed. I trained here in London rather than Dublin simply because trainee salaries were higher.
The two years I spent training at DJ Freeman (as it then was) were, without doubt, the best introduction to life in the City I could have hoped for. The advantage of training in a mid-sized City firm is that you are expected to deal with clients and assume responsibility for your own matters from day one, and I was privileged to work with some brilliant lawyers.
Transferring from private practice to ‘regulator’ (as senior legal adviser at the Financial Services Authority) and back again has been something of a rollercoaster. I find it much easier these days to swap hats, but the roles demand very different skill sets. The understanding of the views either side of the fence has, without doubt, been invaluable in the development of my practice today. My time at the FSA required me to delve into technical areas of the law to a degree not encountered in private practice.
The days of a seven-year linear path to partnership have gone – but a flexible approach to your career is, in my experience, a good thing: the transfer of legal skills across practice areas and industries is both acceptable and desired. The London firms, in particular, continue to face a number of challenges in the years ahead, not least talent retention. To survive and flourish, firms will need to anticipate and embrace change.
There may not be too many lawyers but there are certainly too many law students. I think it is a sad state of affairs to have more and more students paying thousands of pounds to complete their postgraduate qualifications in a world where the number of training contracts is reducing every year. It’s a great career but it no longer carries with it the security it once did.
I advise students to get as much work experience as possible before making the commitment, not least because acquiring the requisite academic qualifications is a significant financial outlay. Life is far removed from TV shows like Ally McBeal or The Good Wife – in reality, the job demands many long nights, cancelled dates and sacrifices along the way, and I’d say the pressure firms place on individual lawyers is increasing.