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Career lessons in the legal industry

Career lessons from Chris Jorgenson at BARBRI

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.

 

Consider cross-qualification

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.

 

Embrace technology

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.

 

For more information about our QLTS prep course, please get in touch today: https://barbriqlts.com/contact/

Chris Jorgenson, director of Institutional Partnerships at BARBRI

The Legal Profession in England & Wales Explained: Solicitors & Barristers

By Victoria Cromwell, Head of U.K. Programmes, BARBRI International

What does it mean to be a lawyer in England and Wales?

Here, the legal profession is split into two distinct branches: solicitors and barristers. While these roles overlap to an extent, they represent two very different qualification paths for aspiring lawyers. Let’s take a look at both routes to legal practice.

The Role of the Solicitor

Solicitors provide legal advice to their clients over a wide range of practice areas, ranging from buying and selling houses to helping businesses with the legal issues arising from commercial transactions. Solicitors are able to represent their clients in lower courts and, with training known as Higher Rights of Audience, can become solicitor advocates and represent them in higher courts. This is usually a right only given to barristers.

If you chose the path of solicitor, you may work in private practice in a law firm, as part of the legal department of an organisation (known as working “in-house”), or for local or central government. Currently, there are around 136,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Route to Qualification as a Solicitor

There are two primary routes to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales for domestic students: via a qualifying law degree or a non-qualifying law degree. Legal apprenticeships are also available, as is a route to qualification through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

After obtaining a qualifying law degree, law students sit the Legal Practice Course (usually a year in duration) and then undertake a practice-based two year period of recognised training, or a training contract, as a trainee solicitor. Those students with a non-qualifying law degree need to do an additional period of study and take a course known as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is effectively a conversion course, and then progress on to the Legal Practice Course and training contract like students with qualifying law degrees.

All prospective solicitors also need to undertake the Professional Skills Course, which is usually completed during the period of recognised training. On completion of the training described above, an aspiring solicitor can be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales.

It’s worth noting that after autumn 2021, the opportunity to take the existing domestic routes to qualification (CPE, GDL, LPC), and the current route to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales for foreign-qualified lawyers, the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), will be limited due to the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is due to replace all previous routes to qualification. For more information on the SQE and how it will affect your route to qualification, view the BARBRI SQE calculator.

The Role of the Barrister

The Bar Council which regulates barristers in England and Wales in the public interest defines barristers as:

“…specialist legal advisers and courtroom advocates. They are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They have specialist knowledge and experience in and out of court, which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a case.”

Barristers (or Counsel, as they are often referred to) are usually self-employed and take tenancy in a set of chambers. Chambers are occupied by groups of barristers who often specialise in the same practice area and share the cost of premises, etc. Currently, there are around 16,000 practising barristers in England and Wales. These are the lawyers who wear the wigs and gowns!

Unlike solicitors who are retained or instructed directly by their clients, barristers are typically instructed by solicitors to act on behalf of their clients. Although clients can now instruct barristers directly, this practise is still unusual.

Barristers were historically the only lawyers permitted to represent clients in the higher courts. However, this is no longer the case with the introduction of solicitor advocates. Barristers often specialise and advise on complex areas of the law, and advise solicitors on points of law on complicated or unusual cases. This is known as obtaining an opinion from counsel.

All barristers are initially known as ‘Junior Counsel’ until they become Queen’s Counsel (QC for short), which is a recognition of outstanding ability. The process of becoming QC is known as “taking silk”, on account of the different (silk) robes that QCs wear. Barristers are all members of one of the four Inns of Court based in London: Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple.

The General Council of the Bar is the approved regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.

Route to Qualification as a Barrister

Much like solicitors, barristers can start their qualification journey by undertaking a qualifying law degree or a non-qualifying law degree and CPE/GDL course. Aspiring barristers must then successfully pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test and join an Inn of Court before commencing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which can either be taken over one year full-time or two years part-time. The BPTC is a vocational course designed to give students the skills required for their careers as barristers. It includes advocacy and exercises in drafting legal documents and writing opinions. Having completed the training requirements set out above, a student would be “called to the Bar”. At this time, they are considered a qualified barrister but will not be permitted to practise until they have completed pupillage.

Pupillage is the final stage of training to become a barrister―a period of training under the supervision of a barrister. Pupillage lasts for 12 months and is usually undertaken in a set of barristers’ chambers. Pupils are required to complete an Advocacy Training Course in their first six months and a Practice Management course in their second six months. After the pupillage year, a pupil would hope to be offered tenancy in the chambers where they undertook their pupillage.