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What career advice would you give your younger self?

Man, city

Like any profession, establishing a career in law is an ongoing educational process. Lawyers and solicitors do not stop learning the moment they are qualified - indeed, having the drive to continuously acquire new skills is the key to a long and successful career.

As such, many of the most essential lessons that lawyers learn will not come during their training, but through their day-to-day experiences of practising law and dealing with practical responsibilities. By taking on these lessons early on in their career, professionals can gain a much clearer understanding of how to meet the needs of their clients, manage their demanding workloads and ultimately advance their careers.

Here, we have reached out to a number of legal sector professionals and asked them to share some of the most important pieces of career advice they would choose to share with their younger selves if given the chance…

Elin Watkins, Employment Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Get organised

To succeed as a lawyer, you will need to prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Learn how to organise your workloads and ensure that you keep lists of what needs doing when, as this will help you to manage your time effectively and work with your own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I find I’m better at drafting in the morning, so I like to do all my drafting work then; if I have CPD work or training to do, I will move that towards the end of the day. Diarising everything can help with this - if you learn to diarise deadlines or reminders for cut-off dates, you will find that it will be easier to manage higher workloads.

Look at the bigger picture

Sometimes, the legal solution you develop may be a functional solution, but not always the most practical for your client. Experience can help with this, but as a younger lawyer or trainee, it helps to think things through on a practical level. Is this option viable for my client? Is there a more cost-effective solution for them? What are the pros and cons of the proposal? Provide those options to your client to give them the bigger picture.

Learn how to keep it simple

Some of the most successful lawyers are those who can explain complex ideas in a simple way. Avoid using complicated language or convoluted ways of explaining things to your client - most people want simple and constructive advice that they can work with, especially in stressful situations.

Work hard and go the extra mile

Hard work always pays off, and going the extra mile shows commitment. Both of these are very valuable attributes for a lawyer to be able to demonstrate.

Annie Davies, Trainee Solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard

Do not compare; believe in yourself

Working in a very competitive market and being surrounded by eager and determined juniors, it is very easy to constantly compare yourself to your peers. Especially during your training contract, within your cohort you will come across many people at the same stage as you working at different abilities and levels.

Everyone's abilities and skills are different and it is important to remember that this is OK! Remind yourself that you have got to this stage in your career and believe in your own abilities. The legal qualification process is already demanding enough without burdening yourself with additional self-critique.

Don't panic - everyone progresses at their own pace

When you are leaving university as an undergraduate, there is sometimes a fear that you have not achieved anything or done enough to secure a training contract straight away. However, this is becoming the new norm, and it is important to accept this!

I will be 26 when I qualify, and it puts into perspective that you really do not have to panic about starting out so early. Take the time to work on your own skills and abilities, and understand that everyone starts their journeys at a different time. That does not mean you are any less capable than someone who manages to secure everything they want straight from university.

Develop your commercial awareness

At every level, commercial awareness is key. As a junior, start listening to podcasts, keep up to date with recent trends in your industry or practice, and don't be afraid to have discussions with your peers. Commercial awareness is such a good skill to have and takes time to develop, but will really assist you through your legal career!

Be yourself

Let your personality shine! From my experience, firms don’t just want someone who is going to be the best lawyer - they want someone who can also fit in with the culture and get along with colleagues. Being memorable isn’t just about having the best grades or hitting the right targets, it's also about being a reliable member of the team who people enjoy working with. If you are starting out in your legal career, it is important to research a firm's culture and see whether that firm can also bring out the best side of you.

Joe O’Brien, Family Solicitor at Pictons Solicitors

Put yourself out there

I am sure I will not be the only lawyer to say this, but getting a foot in the door is key. Many students will graduate with law degrees every year, and you need to set yourself apart: apply for placements, take advantage of any mentoring schemes, and attend careers events.

On completion of my legal practice course, I had two offers of employment: one was with a firm with which I had completed work experience when I was in sixth form, while the other was another firm for which I had done a placement, having been given the opportunity through a solicitor I met through the university mentoring scheme.

Take the initiative

Even if a firm is not currently advertising any vacancies, there is also no harm in being proactive and hand-delivering your CV to a firm you are interested in working for. This will provide you with an opportunity to speak to a partner or a member of the HR team, and leave a good impression.

Identify your specialism and play to your strengths

It is vital to establish which areas of law interest you early in your career; for example, the work undertaken by a corporate lawyer is going to be very different to the work undertaken by a family lawyer. If you work in an area of law you enjoy and find interesting, you are more likely to thrive, and have a happy and fulfilling life and career.

Since it is impossible to truly turn back the clock and provide lessons to your younger self, those who want a career in law should do all they can to gather practical advice and guidance from experienced solicitors who have already been through the process, giving them a leg up in making the best of their professional placements.

By taking these lessons on board and applying them early on, you will be able to make the right choices for your career, opening up the widest possible range of professional opportunities for your progression in the future.