We are living in uncertain times and competition levels in the legal sector worldwide seem to have risen higher than ever. It’s a profession which boasts many talented professionals – those who’ve worked hard and done well in school, made sacrifices to progress their career and are working to distinguish themselves. Law firms have the pick of the bunch, and now more than ever, it’s important to be able to differentiate yourself from your peers. As a qualified lawyer in the U.S. and UK, I’ve learnt a lot during my career so far, including what you need to do to stand out from the crowd. So, I wanted to share some of these lessons with you.
Make yourself an expert in something
Now, this doesn’t need to be in the area of law that you practice or even necessarily in the field of law. However, when in an interview scenario or when you’re trying to get your foot in the door, it can prove helpful. It demonstrates that you’ve been a student and became an expert in something beyond your legal studies. Research from Time magazine shows that experts in the top 10% in high complexity jobs produce 80% more than average and 700% more than the bottom 10%. Developing an expertise is very appealing to employers and can help you become an essential asset to your firm or company. For example, if you’re an expert in utilising AI within your practice, you’ll be the person the wider team will go to for advice, making you an invaluable addition.
Most people don’t realise that there’s a clear route into cross-qualification in the UK and I certainly didn’t when I initially moved here from the U.S. When I first arrived, I felt that there were opportunities here for me in the legal sector, but I was restricted by the fact that I didn’t have a UK qualification – you can’t practice to a full degree without this. Although the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority still allows legal professionals to register as a Foreign Registered Lawyer (2,758 of whom did so in June 2020) or a Registered European Lawyer (781 in June 2020), there’s uncertainty around how long this will continue following the official implementation of Brexit. However, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) offers a viable alternative. Currently, over 10% of all those on the roll in England and Wales qualify through the QLTS route, and it’s viewed with credibility by employers. If you’re looking to operate on an international level, this qualification will help you to develop important skills which, I believe, can help you to become a better lawyer, and fully understand the differences between UK law and your qualifying jurisdiction. Personally, I found the differences between the law in England and Wales, and the U.S. quite apparent. Despite many overlaps, there are elements that are very unique, and I believe that you can better serve your clients in an international practice if you understand more than one legal system.
Focus on soft skills
I touched upon this in my introduction, but I wanted to reinforce the message that the legal industry is fiercely competitive. If you’ve entered into this world, you’ll already know that. Everyone is capable, they’ve done well in school, they’re driven and will likely have made sacrifices for their career. If that sounds like you, that’s fantastic – but what makes you different? Throughout your career, you’ll need to be able to distinguish yourself amongst your peers. After all, we must remember that as lawyers, we effectively carry out a service that involves working and interacting with others. It is important that we communicate and manage projects effectively, whilst compartmentalising your work to the best of your ability. These are skills that will need to be developed throughout the course of your career. The more investment you make, the more progress you will see.
LawTech isn’t going anywhere. Clients will expect law firms and lawyers to have an understanding of the concepts that it presents. (Side note: it is a good area to make yourself an expert in some aspect of legal tech). It remains to be seen how much it will become a part of daily practice. Although many have certainly worked to make predictions in this area. A report from 2017 estimates that robots will take over a third of British jobs by 2030. It is not hard to envision that some aspects of legal practice will soon be handled by AI. But first and foremost, it’s important to be a good lawyer – understanding the law and how to communicate it in a simple fashion. Plus, according to Forbes, AI is still far from mastering critical thinking, leadership and listening skills. Being on the cutting edge of technology must come second and it is moving at an incredible pace, so it’s unlikely that anyone will expect you to have all of the answers. However, if you’re working in an industry that is technology-focused or if you are working alongside businesses in this sector, you’ll need a clear understanding of this in order to represent them effectively. After all, you need to understand the basis of your client’s legal matter.
Have as much fun as you can
I wanted to finish on this point because the legal sector demands a lot from you. The industry is known for its extremes and is renowned for attracting high achievers. But in recent years, the mental health impact of this has come to the fore. In April 2020, the Law Society Gazette reported that stress, depression and anxiety cost businesses almost 70 million days off sick, and £26 billion every year through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity. So, it’s important to find ways to make the process as enjoyable as possible. Keep things in perspective and seek out peers who can offer you support. You may find that the culture may vary amongst firms and companies. I believe it’s all about finding your tribe and where you belong so you can truly come into your own and ultimately, enjoy the process.
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Chris Jorgenson, director of Institutional Partnerships at BARBRI