By Evania D’souza
One of the benefits of being a University of Nottingham Law student is access to its legal skills workshops and seminars. These are designed to sharpen commercial awareness, improve application writing or interview skills and provide a unique perspective on particular aspects of the legal industry. A seminar that piqued my interest was one delivered by a former lawyer currently working in marketing at Darlingtons Solicitors, who discussed the changes occurring in the legal sector over the past few decades.
A notable but unsurprising difference is the numerical increase in solicitors from 23,565 in 1960 to 162,818 in 2012. An amplification of approximately 8 times, which is nowhere near the growth of legal jobs, marks a sizeable change. As a result, law firms have access to an enormous pool of candidates affording a vastly selective application process. This leads to a highly competitive job market particularly with Magic Circle and City Law firms causing graduates to lean toward joining smaller law firms, which tend to offer faster career progression and early responsibility.
Client attitudes have shifted drastically to a service ideology given the increased supply of lawyers and current economic climate, leading to the evolution of law as a price driven commodity. This fruition has been accelerated by the Internet as clients have the ability to Google cases or statutes and ‘self-diagnose’ legal problems, only seeking firms for solutions not restatements of the law. Furthermore, accountants are the first to be approached for advice as services are cheaper. When law firms are approached, clients already possess a budget in mind for any solutions expected after having a thorough glimpse of firm websites. Hence client satisfaction now borders on service – everything from the first phone call to the final interaction matters to the last pence alongside excellent legal advice.
As the profession is encumbered with high risk of client law suits, these are cushioned with circa 8% turnover cover. This is at the knowledge to clients, who may approach lawyers with a decidedly losing claim with intent to use the firm’s funds to cushion the blow. Legal service charges range from 5-10% of the transaction undertaken, but can be lower depending on the scale of the case.
On a positive note, it is unlikely the profession will be overrun by robots. Despite technological software advances in data collation and research, several aspects of the sector are governed by trust or emotional analysis which Artificial Intelligence still finds difficult to imitate.
How is this information a useful gain?
The challenges represented by the legal market may act to dissuade some from pursuing a career in law. However, I believe the current environment in the legal sphere demonstrates a fine challenge to distinguish oneself on the basis of legal personality – that is, what drives you toward law? To understand or develop this, it is important to divide your motivation into two parts: personal and professional drive. The former is subjective, representing factors important to oneself about the profession such as money, business or intellectual contest. The latter is objective on aspects like client-interaction or problem solving within this line of work.
Once these have been identified, reflecting on the realities of the job as understood from the seminar is key. This determines whether your motivation remains intact despite understanding the harsh realities of the occupation gained from lawyers’ personal experiences. Should this atmosphere be one you believe are capable of thriving in, awareness of your drive makes it easier to tailor experience sought to your legal personality. As a result, your gain from the profession will be of greater value and your unique potential providence to the industry could improve employability. For instance, accumulating experience in customer service no matter where from may expose you to an understanding of dealing with difficult situations during client-interaction, something vital to practicing as a solicitor.
How can the seminar be utilised in the future?
The seminar closes the information gap between the image of wealth and designer suits (thanks to certain tv series and other media sources) and the realities of working in the legal sphere. It provided a useful perspective on the harsh and unspoken aspects of the profession.
Moreover, focusing on legal change can be used to aid in application writing and choosing the right law firm to begin your career. Aspiring lawyers are often instructed to research firm websites and culture in order to tailor applications to law firms, sometimes unaware of how this information can potentially impact them in the long-run. The seminar discussion on marketing shed light on the importance of a strong website, which is the first taste of a firm’s edge over competitors in the eyes of a client. Those that possess websites which are vibrant, well organised with detailed information on partner or sector experience are ones clearly using the Internet to their advantage, demonstrating adaptability to change. Firms that also showcase a passion for excellent team working, pro-activity and commercial acumen are ones to be sought. A culture such as this demonstrates firm confidence in its abilities and its need for lawyers to be reactive to change, both factors that aid in delivering a cost-effective service to clients. These firms tend to be well versed within the changes occurring in the industry as demonstrated by both action or talent sought and are the right type of firm to work with for long-term success.
The seminar is an excellent tool in assessing one’s drive to pursue a legal career; its usefulness stems from exposure to the evolving nature of law and the competitive environment it has created. It is highly recommended for those who wish to build a foundation of information on the industry before beginning legal research or applications and for some who may be indecisive about practicing in law. Depending on interpretation of the information provided, it can motivate some and dissuade others, but it does demonstrate that law is the perfect occupation for those who want a challenging and fast-paced career.
Evania D’souza, University of Nottingham Law Student