Portsmouth Law School

student reflection

First Year Student Theresa Dukumor reflects on a recent careers lecture

This is summary and reflection of a seminar presented by Craig Sharpe from Darlingtons Solicitors on 16th March 2017.

The session provided a good insight into the reality of what happens on a daily basis and the different issues dealt with in a law firm. These issues range from handling clients to the management of a law firm. Craig explained that personal qualities and skills are now more important than ever for students to be able to get a job or training contract in a law firm.

Having outlined his background in law and marketing, Craig told us about his firm, a small commercial law firm. Then he talked about the importance of having work experience in a law firm but also, where possible in real world business environments, even before applying for training contracts. Such experience, ina  highly competitive market is of interest to firms who need trainees who understand the realities of the day to day running of a legal firm, the business aspect and how to deal with clients. This kind of experience may not be acquired in lecture halls or classrooms.

Craig agreed that volunteer work is good in developing people skills, especially empathy when dealing with personal legal issues but it does not provide as much exposure to the business aspect of a law firm.

A particularly noteworthy statistic from the talk was that most lawyers, by number, work in small firms and not the biggest, multinational large firms, such that only 20% of lawyers work in the large law firms and the remaining 80% work in small law firms. Smaller firms look for well rounded students to take as trainees due to immediate client interaction. Students should also think about suitability and personality fit with the very different types and sizes of firms. Craig described the difference between a very big and a small law firm as like a different job.

What’s changed?

It was evident from the talk that legal practice and clients have hugely changed in the last 30 years or so. Historically, lawyers had the advantage that there were not many lawyers in those days as there are now, therefore there was not much competition. Clients also did not have easy access to legal information and knowledge but the internet has changed that. In the past, lawyers would charge a fee, often not set, based on what they deemed professionally necessary for the client and would not be usually be chased by their clients. However, nowadays, there is so much competition because there are so many lawyers and this gives clients the upper hand. There are other factors that contribute to clients having the upper hand, these include:

  1. the facts that clients are more enlightened about the law and
  2. the internet which gives them the ability to know more about the lawyers.

Another interesting part of the talk focused on that fact that whilst clients now see lawyers more as service providers than professionals, they tend to rely on the professional aspect if things go wrong. For example, clients might try and sue lawyers for professional negligence if they lose their case. They know that the lawyer has insurance and the court also knows this and professional negligence law does not reflect the reality of modern legal practice.

Personal and law firm success

Key factors now needed for success of lawyers and law firms, according to Craig, include :-

  • professional skill and expertise
  • service
  • teamwork
  • how to manage clients
  • networking/marketing.

He then talked about team work – see more on this here, he said that it is important to maintain teamwork internally and externally. A lawyer should always think about the growth of his firm however, this is not always the case in reality. Lawyers would use certain opportunities to build their personal growth instead of the growth of the firm. Furthermore, he talked about how to handle clients because there are some really difficult clients. He said that there should be a balance between telling clients what to do and making certain decisions information from the client. It is safe to share risks with the clients but the choices should be made by the client alone.

Finally, Craig suggested and recommended that aspiring lawyers start networking as early as possible, even while still students. Using social media like LinkedIn demonstrates initiative, an open attitude and can improve job opportunities.

In conclusion, it was a very interesting and helpful session that gave a realistic insight of the day to day running of a law firm and what we as students needed to do to beat the competition and to be more employable.

I also found some other useful reading on the themes and trends here, which may be useful for other law students.