It goes without saying that studying for a degree and the LPC is vitally important for becoming a trainee solicitor. Not only is it a pre-requisite for being accepted as a trainee, but the knowledge you gain during your studies is important for ensuring you can contribute to your team from day one of your training contract.
But having an in depth knowledge of the law is only half of a good lawyer’s skills set. The other half is made up of good interpersonal skills, written communication and commercial awareness. Prior to starting your training contract, the best way to develop these is to undertake work experience.
The days of studious lawyers, sitting in isolated offices, surrounded by their papers is over. Today, it is not possible to be a successful lawyer without having the ability to build relationship with your clients and colleagues – even if you can recite all 1,300 sections of the Companies Act 2006.
By undertaking work experience before you start your training contract, you learn about so much more than just the law. You learn how to:
- speak confidently to new people;
- be approachable;
- deal with difficult customers or clients;
- provide reassurance to concerned clients;
- project a professional image of yourself; and
- listen actively.
Although you will have written countless essays and exam answers during your degree, writing documents in a working environment is a very different skill that needs to be developed.
Any experience you can get where you have to draft documents, emails or letters for clients, will help you to learn to:
- present legal concepts to lay people;
- concentrate large amounts of information into a few concise paragraphs;
- develop a warm and friendly tone in correspondence to clients; and
- write firm but professional correspondence to solicitors on the other side of a case or transaction.
These are skills that all solicitors require, and you can start developing them well before you apply for a training contract.
Law is not practised in a vacuum, so it is very important for solicitors to understand the practical implications of their legal advice. For example, a client may have a fantastic claim for breach of contract, and legally this may entitle them to sue for damages. However if the defendant is insolvent, the client won’t be able to enforce any judgment. Equally if the defendant is a key customer of the client, it would likely ruin the commercial relationship if the client was to sue them. Therefore the strict legal answer to a problem is not always the most commercially sensible one.
By undertaking work experience, you can work on a range of matters and see how the practical realities of a case affect the solicitor’s advice. For example, you can learn:
- that approaching real life legal problems is far more nuanced than dealing with a problem question in an academic scenario;
- that cases and transactions with similar legal issues can differ greatly based on the personalities and facts involved; and
- the importance of spotting the practical and commercial issues beyond simply the legal problem.
It is very difficult to develop these skills purely through studying. You can only become aware of the real problems facing clients by dealing with real people and real businesses.
Remember – law firms want individuals who know more than just the law. Whilst studying for your degree, be sure not to neglect the development of the practical skills and knowledge that all solicitors need.