OF BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT
On Monday 13 March 2017 we were visited by Charlotte Davies, General Manager of www.thestudentlawyer.com (TSL) a website which was setup in the Summer of 2011 with the aim of creating a community of law students who would all chip in to help their peers with advice, articles and information about how to crack the legal profession and get your foot in the door.
The website was founded by Lewis Cheney while he was studying at Nottingham Law School, but has since passed hands to CRCC Asia, a company that specialises in securing internships in China for students from across the world.
Charlotte is the only paid member of staff. The rest of the team, of over 50 volunteers, is formed of students scattered across the UK who volunteer their time for free to write articles, compile news, offer advice about law firms, organise live events and online events, and generally help to market the site. The 'pay back' comes in the form of increased exposure for the volunteering students, some good fodder for their CVs to help them stand out, and the satisfaction of helping their peers.
Access to the website itself is currently free for students, and appears to be funded by advertising revenue.
The quality of the articles varies, as you would expect from a website where all the writers are giving their time for free, but there are some quite interesting articles among the bunch, and because the focus comes from the perspective of law students, they do throw up some interesting insights that other law students will enjoy.
One of the most potentially useful sections is 'Search Law Firms', which you can find here:
This lists 99 of the biggest law firms and then profiles them. The information in this section is currently pretty sparse for many of the listed firms, but Charlotte did mention that they were looking for an unpaid intern to come in and help-out with the database for that section.
After hearing Charlotte speak, it did strike me that this could potentially be a good opportunity for a LSBM law student. Charlotte seemed to be well informed about the detail of many of these firms, such as the focus they have when seeking out potential graduates to employ, and the kinds of culture that they prize (many are all work, work, work), but some also value travel initiatives, or enjoy the firm's members meeting up socially over lunch or pop-up restaurants (White & Case LLP was one that Charlotte mentioned in this regard).
Many unpaid internships are very one-sided, especially if all you end up doing is admin work. But this is one internship that could potentially be a win-win. The nature of Charlotte's job is that she is having to talk to many of these law firms on a daily basis, and so is inevitably picking up insights into how they work and the type of people they hire. So, that, coupled with the intern potentially being able to legitimately contact law firms themselves to update the information, could be a very useful way to gather intelligence about what might be a good fit for tailoring your applications to these firms.
Like many such 'opportunities', in reality, if you were to passively treat it as an admin task, then it would probably only be of limited value (i.e. looks good on the CV, but probably doesn't actually advance your legal career prospects a whole bunch). But if you used it as an opportunity to talk to the HR department of every leading law firm in the UK and pick their brains, under the umbrella of getting information for The Student Lawyer database, then, well, that could be quite useful! (Both for you and them).
In any case, this is just one example. In practice internships are mostly what you make of them. They are a two-way street.
I'm not sure what Charlotte (pictured left) has in mind for that particular internship role, so, if you are interested then you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and have a chat with her to discuss it.
The website has an 'alumni' section here, http://thestudentlawyer.com/tsl-alumni/ which talks about how volunteering at TSL has led to training contracts and job opportunities for previous volunteers.
In practice, this is a little like 'the chicken and the egg' (what came first the 'motivated candidiate' or the 'task that motivated the candidate'?). The people who volunteer for free are already motivated individuals, and so sometimes it is difficult to separate how much pursuing a certain activity boosted their chances of being employed (especially when they are already active in many areas of their lives). Of the six people who are mentioned on that page for example, one was the Founder, and the other five all occupied the role of 'Editor in Chief' (who would be in charge of a team of over 50 volunteer writers at TSL), so clearly more than averagely motivated and capable individuals anyway. But, as long as you view volunteering/interning as a piece of the puzzle, rather than the whole solution to the issue of getting a training contract/legal job, then helping out is likely to produce some useful benefits.
If that alumni page shows anything, it does tend to demonstrate that law firms are really looking for people who stand out from the crowd. People who, even as student volunteers are willing to lead, rather than follow. So, if you do decide to do an internship with TSL, or any other organisation, then try to approach it pro-actively, and with all your energy, rather than as a passive endeavour where you do the bare minimum that is expected of you. (This is probably also a good life policy! But that is a little beyond the scope of this blog post!)
You could just start up your own legal website if you really wanted to stand out…
Lewis Cheney is now a Trainee Solicitor at Allen & Overy.
Charlotte spoke in her presentation to LSBM about some of the preparation that you can do if you are looking to gain employment at a law firm.
Here are six things that you can do:
1/ Know the specialities of the firm – Some firms specialise in corporate law, others in employment law, others in property or city cases. It is important that you do some proper research and find out what a firm does and where its main legal expertise lies.
There is a good list here, of who the leading UK Law Firms and Leading Lawyers are in various practice areas.
Here for example are the leaders for Corporate Tax, Venture Capital, and Clinical Negligence Claimants.
The above website lists over 100 specialisms, so a little research should very quickly throw up who the leaders are in the area you want to enter.
There is also a good summary of UK firm profiles here -
And a nice list of the Top 200 UK Law Firms here.
In addition, the Chambers and Partners Guide for UK Law Firms is published annually, and ranks firms in over 70 specialist areas of law.
Between all those resources you should be able to build up a very good idea of what firms specialise in, and who practices the type of law that you wish to pursue.
2/ What do the clients do? – This is another aspect that is often overlooked. At the end of the day it is the clients that provide the money and the caseload for the lawyers to operate. Certain firms will have large clients that operate in particular industries, and this will inevitably lead to cases being in certain areas.
You need to be happy with what the day-to-day work of a firm is likely to be, or it may not be a good fit, and it may be better to apply elsewhere.
In addition, if you have an ethical distaste for a particular sector (oil or cigarette companies being two that spring readily to mind for some) then you may want to check that these aren't the biggest clients of the firms with which you were looking to get a training contract.
You can take a look at the legal press to assess this, find out news and gossip, and also information on where firms are actively committing their resources.
Some you can look at would include:
The Times – Law Section
The Law Society Gazette
Roll On Friday (this one is less formal, and perhaps more readable then the previous ones!)
The Student Lawyer
Knowing the clients and practice areas of a firm is useful regardless of whether or not you have any moral objections to the business a particular law firm conducts.
If you do end up at an interview then being able to namedrop the last six big cases in an area, the lead lawyers and why the case mattered cannot do anything but help your cause.
Law firms also want well-rounded individuals, so make sure you are keeping abreast of the news and thinking about how macro events (such as an interest rate rise for example), could impact on the firm. If they are specialists in property law for example, then what impact would a 1% rate rise mean for insolvency cases?
This website puts the figure at potentially an extra 18,000 people becoming insolvent by 2020 if interest rates went up by 1%.
Logically, wouldn't that have an impact on a firm of property law specialists?
Start thinking about what the economic drivers for your chosen field of law are and make sure you can talk intelligently about them.
3/ What big deals have the firm handled recently? – If you are going to get a job at a firm then you need to know something about the recent case history and deals in which they have been involved. The easy way to find this out is to search on the 'News' section of Google for the firm's name, or alternatively setup a Google Alert for the same.
(If you do set up a Google Alert then it is worth setting up a dedicated email account (such as Gmail) for the purpose, as otherwise you can very quickly get overwhelmed with emails if you are checking for news on a number of different firms!)
Legal Week also has a useful round-up of recent activity at all of the big law firms that you can access here:
And there are also statistics available at the 'City Legal Index' that tracks publicised business deals facilitated by the top 50 UK law firms, providing a gauge of City firm input into the wider economy.
TLS also has two email newsletters you can sign up for, which are designed to keep you in the loop about big developments in the legal field.
4/ What plans does the firm have for the future? – You can often find this out by talking to knowledgeable people and networking, as well as through more traditional internet research.
This page for example, offers a nice round-up of recent UK legal news and also where big UK law firms are actively hiring new staff, which is often a good indication of where they see the future direction of their firms heading.
The Law Society also has a great Research and Trends section that offers lots of insights for those prepared to dig a little.
5/ What are the core values of the firm? – Investigate how they operate on a day-to-day basis and how they deal with client management.
Websites like https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/index.htm can help in this regard as they offer reviews from current and former employees. But equally, it is often pretty easy to get a feel for this from reading the trade press, or inviting a current employee of the firm out for a drink.
(Here for example are a selection of Glassdoor company reviews for some of the leading London Law Firms: White & Case, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy).
Often you can overcomplicate research and it is easier just to find a current employee and have a chat with them.
This may be as simple as sending them an invite on LinkedIn or Facebook and asking for their advice.
If you do a search on Google for 'insert the name of the firm + trainee linkedin' then you can readily find a nice list of all the trainees at a particular firm who are also on LinkedIn.
Here, for example, is that Google search for Clifford Chance.
If you were looking for a job at that firm, then simply contacting some of those people and having a chat could yield some interesting insights.
Clearly, don't spam them though and be nice!
6/ Active Networking – Many of the above could involve networking, but it is also worth considering if you can actively plan a networking strategy.
There are a large number of legal events that you could be attending.
LSBM has hosted legal events in the past that could have been useful (for example, here is one about 'How to Become a Magistrate'.)
Here are two more legal event listing websites that you might find useful:
In reality, you should find it easy to locate one law event that you could attend each week.
You can find links to the Top 200 UK Law firms websites here. If all you did was visit each of those 200 websites in turn and did a search for 'events' on their internal search engine, then you would very rapidly realise that finding people to talk to at specific law firms is easy!
Just go to their events…
Often 'who you know' is more important than 'what you know', and the law is certainly no exception. So, time spent chatting with the right person at an event is often likely to be more productive than time spent researching alone at home on your computer.
All of this 'information gathering' can pay off by allowing you to tailor your perceived experience, background and legal experience in your CV to what a particular law firm is looking for.
The reality is that competition to enter the best law firms (or any for that matter) is considerable.
(In fact, so considerable that it is probably best not to think about it, or you probably wouldn't bother even applying! For reasons why action beats inaction, even in the face of what might seem like insurmountable odds, have a read of Boldness in Business – The Entrepreneurial Journey).
There are some interesting statistics available here on which UK Law Firms have the most training contracts.
Competition for these places is not for the faint-hearted, so you need to be ready with your 'CV – A-Game' if you are going to stand a chance.
(It is also somewhat sobering to look at statistics for average daily 'leave work times' at these firms, so you can get a feel for what you are letting yourself in for. Linklaters is 8.26pm, White & Case is 8.55pm, Clifford Chance is 8.56pm, and most are very similar. By comparison, the average leaving time of 6.46pm at Pinsent Masons feels like their employees are having it easy! This data was based on surveys of 1,500 trainees and junior associates at the leading UK law firms, and is an 'average'. So, in reality, on many days it would probably be much later! So don't plan for too many nights out if you do secure a training contract).
The rewards on offer should you ever reach 'Partner' level at these firms is of-course equally substantial (equity partners at Linklaters received £1,450,000 last year, which doesn't buy a whole town in Oregon, but is a good start). Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting that there is a long and perilous path to traverse before getting there, so give careful thought to what you are willing to sacrifice on the day-to-day work journey to (only possibly) arrive at that golden payday many years hence.
You can also learn more about training contracts on the TLS website here.
We would like to thank Charlotte from TLS for coming down and talking to our students.
Her talk finished with three tips from the legal student community at TSL for helping you to secure that precious first legal position.
1/ Be pro-active.
2/ Know what you're talking about.
3/ Pay close attention to detail.
Essentially, with any firm you are thinking of applying to you need to do proper due diligence and research. Work through the six-steps that we have already discussed and approach applying for legal positions with every bit as much care and attention as you plan on committing to your final career!
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