What does the LPC not teach you?

Having not started my training contract (“TC”) yet (countdown to Sept 2017) most of this post is based on what friends have told me about starting their training contracts and how different it is compared to the LPC version. Although to a certain degree, the LPC does not really prepare you for training contract applications, paralegal work or being a trainee. The LPC has one massive area of failing in that it does not offer, genuine preparation for finding a training contract. So essentially a pretty massive flaw.

We all know the LPC (University and the GDL too if these are relevant to you) are not cheap. So it is incredibly frustrating when you come to find yourself competing against thousands of others all in the same position straight out of law school.

I feel incredibly strongly about paying for what you get; the LPC is not value for money in any shape or form. I was unfortunate enough to secure my TC after my LPC had just finished so did not get funding or back-pay (some students who secure their TC’s while still at law school are given the amount paid in addition to the amount outstanding, this varies per firm but is worth looking into if you have already started your GDL or LPC).

I think it is fair to say for the money the LPC costs, it should do a much better job at preparing individuals for the inevitable TC application process and the eventual training contract position.

A massive part of large city law firm applications (it is not a secret) are the psychometric, verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests. This begs the questions, why are there not practice tests included in the LPC’s extortionate fees? Why do law schools not teach you the method and what is desired by a first class law student in these tests?

I am not suggesting each law school spoon feeds each student or gives away the answers; however, I went through numerous tests from personal experience (having successfully completed my undergraduate degree, GDL and LPC) with no real understanding of what these tests were for or how to complete them to a high standard. It is hard to take a test seriously if you do not know what the end result should look like. How are you supposed to visualise this goal?

Also, as an aside can someone please explain the rationale between some of the questions asked and how knowing these answers can make you a better lawyer compared to someone with the same degree and LPC qualifications who gets this wrong?

The LPC does not explain to future lawyers the importance of building client relationships or the importance of winning client work (ultimately clients mean work and work means business. These in turn correlate to profit and business development with hard work). Softer skills matter and should not be overlooked, yet not once was this mentioned during my course.

Ultimately, law schools are not teaching students the practical business skills needed to answer training contract interview questions well or to practice law in today’s economy and ever changing legal marketplace. This ties in to my next point, Law firms need to recognise the importance of academia and positive results but also should offer adequate support systems for students receiving inevitable rejection letters.

Until the above concerns are sorted out there will continue to be a lot of LPC students struggling to gain training contracts and spending a lot of money pursuing legal careers before going down alternative paths. There is a bottle neck appearing which has consequences for the development of a diverse and socially representative profession, as expensive course fees and limited training contracts discourage students from poorer backgrounds. (The commercial world’s outlook is not a kind one for future trainees).

Rather than just buying into the LPC club…LPC providers owe it to students to be more open to students about the chances of successfully attaining a training contract.

LLM

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Interview Preparation

I was once asked in an interview “How did you prepare for this interview?” 

Obviously, I had prepared by doing all the normal steps but when asked this on the spot it was not something I could easily answer. So, I came away and wrote down all the things I had done in advance of my interview to prepare.

Such as:

  • Check the firm’s website and (blog and social media articles) – this will hopefully prompt your questions to ask at the end of an interview e.g. retention rates, choice of seats, secondment opportunities etc.
  • Check at least x3 competitor websites (helps when in an interview you are faced with a question such as ” Why us?” or “What separates us from our competitors?” or “Who are our competitors in today’s market?” (good research skill)
  • Keep a record of current affairs and previous interview questions/ answers – read this thoroughly as preparation.
  • Watch the news every morning and read a newspaper on the tube (to and from law school).
  • Ask friends with training contracts for advice or tips
  • Mock interview.
    • Enquire at your law school if this is a career service offered. ( Failing a law school prep interview ask peers or work colleagues if they can ask you questions, even if you hand over a selection of questions. It will help hearing yourself answer a question and also this shows commitment to an interviewer.

Always make sure you know the names of those interviewing you. After your interview, contact the recruitment team and thank them individually (by name) for their time and you look forward to hearing from them.

If you receive a rejection letter/ email (normally a phone call is a positive sign). You should likewise, follow this up with a response asking for feedback. This should enable you to take something constructive from the experience and you can identify areas for improvement.

LLM

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What makes a successful commercial lawyer?

This is a common TC/VAC Scheme question and one that you should feel very confident in answering as it can be rehearsed in advance unlike other questions which need to be tailored to the individual law firm or questions which require an on the spot thought collation. It allows you to show off your commercial awareness, knowledge of business trends but also your understanding of the legal landscape, for example from previous work experiences.

A successful lawyer today needs to be able to be more than just strong academically. It is not enough to be a book worm or an unapproachable suit. Law in many practice areas is client-facing and becoming more and more driven by the client and their business needs. Therefore, from an immediate position a great lawyer will be technically good and answer their client’s legal questions efficiently but also see the larger picture and assist in making sensible business decisions. Great lawyers will appreciate the business, as well as legal, outcomes of their arguments. But also, a lawyer will only be successful if they can communicate this to their client base.

One of my first work experiences, the senior partner sat me down and asked me a variation of this question at the beginning and then the end of my two week stint. My “before” answer featured a list of individual skills such as patience, ambition, efficiency, hard-work but my “after” answer was much broader and did not just focus on the individual’s skill and instead looked at the skills I would want my lawyer to have e.g. a business and legal brain, innovation and the ability to look at my individual case and come up with a creative solution to the issue at hand. He also passed on some incredible words of advice, one being that a successful lawyer in any practice area and at any level must be able to display objectivity with a client regardless of the fact pattern or case background. Emotions do not make good lawyers unless they are channelled correctly. You need to be clear-headed in order to think outside the box.

I have bullet pointed some key prompts for answering this type of question.

What key skills do you believe are necessary to become a successful commercial lawyer?

  • An analytical mind and a proven interest in the law
  • Self-motivation
  • Ambition
  • Versatility (different cases, clients, working hours etc)
  • Enjoy client contact and be able to communicate effectively (both written and orally)
  • Work well within a team
  • Commitment
  • Effective time- management
  • Attention to detail
  • Enthusiasm and energy
  • Networking
  • Objectivity
  • Research

When have you shown/developed/witnessed these skills? (If you feel comfortable doing so, flesh out your answer with anecdotes)

  • Legal work experiences
  • Vac Schemes
  • Non-legal work experiences
  • Part-time jobs

Overall, a passion and interest in the practice area you choose will go a long way to standing you out against the crowd. This will assist you when you are networking and cementing client relationships. Softer networking skills are hugely valuable to law firms of all shapes and sizes and should be included in this answer.

Those at the top of the legal profession are not only logical and analytical, but they display creativity solving their client’s problem. Do not be afraid to go that extra step…

This list is definitely not exhaustive and is only what I used as a guide for my draft Q&A’s.

LLM

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Waiting for that training contract

Not everyone secures a training contract at the end of their second year or third year at university. Not everyone secures one immediately after their undergraduate degree and some like me do not secure one on the GDL or on the LPC.

The best piece of advice a friend gave me was “its a waiting game, its not if, but when” and I really believe if you want a training contract as much as I did then you will get one. But you might have to fill up some time in the meantime…

Getting a TC is to some degree a numbers game. Keep your head held high and trying not to lose motivation is key. The process can be gruelling but see that as part of the test- you’re resilience and ability to cope under pressure is an important skill in applications all the way to senior partner.

I thought it might be helpful to piece together a roadmap for those that do not get lucky straight away.

What should you spend your time doing? What looks good to interviewers? What will keep me busy? These were all questions that are common to have- I know these questions firsthand.

When I secured my training contract about 6 months after completing my LPC. I knew I had two years to countdown before my first day.

  1. Time does not have to be a waste. Gain as much legal experience as possible. I have worked as a paralegal for a boutique small west-end firm, national firm for a client and at a magic circle law firm. Basic office etiquette and legal research skills will stand you in good stead for the start of your training contract. Interaction with clients and peers will prove invaluable and boost your confidence. I once got told in an interview, “a varied intake was the best intake and varied experience or previous career paths were positive factors”. Do not feel because you have a couple more years under your belt that you are any less of a paralegal or trainee. Associates and Partners do not have a best before date, you will get there in your own time. It is worth investigating if you are able to claim any paralegal experience as “time to count”, and reduce your two year training contract by up to six months. Some firms offer this and others do not. It never hurts to explore your options and to ask the questions; if anything it will demonstrate that you have researched your training contract route.
  2.  Travel- find yourself. This is not necessarily me telling you to book a one way ticket to New-Zealand or South-America (although both are on my bucket-list). So many of the trainees where I currently work regret not making the most of their time off before starting. Everyone after university can fall into the trap of wanting to move to their nearest big city and make money, buy a house, move into a bigger house etc. We are young and have little to no responsibilities- when else if not now are we going to be able to say that! This is why time is on your side in your 20s.
  3. Explore/Adventure- make the effort to go on weekend breaks or trips to places much closer to home  such as museums, art galleries, exhibitions, theatre, opera, ballet, National Trust properties. Experiencing new things will break up the monotony of the 9am-5pm work day and also the application process. I always love to plan. So for example, get x5 applications sent off and then book skiing or the Book of Mormon etc. Building hobbies and interests also gives you more to talk about in interviews and stands you out from the crowd.
  4. Do something you will not be able to do when you are working crazy hours as a trainee. Start volunteering (legal or non-legal experience), learn a language, learn to knit, write a blog or a book… anything you have wanted to do but have put off- now is your chance.
  5. Keep motivated and find comfort in chipping away. Set yourself realistic goals and focus on everything you have achieved to date.

LLM

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