The calibre of trainees commencing their training contracts this month has been intriguingly high. Of course, academic excellence is a given and more often than not this still comes from a Russell Group university. I’ll bite my lip and not dwell on the merits of a non-law degree versus a law degree again. Instead I want to think about the extra bits that make one straight ‘A’ student stand out from the tens of thousands of other straight A students seeking to make their mark on the legal profession.
For some reason – possibly because I am not as good at regulating my own verbal output as I should be – I seem to have acquired ‘expert’ status where all things legal career are considered. Particularly for those at the junior end of the profession who are just starting out or even considering whether or not to jump on the irregular academic conveyor belt. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years warning students off a career in the law – partially because I worry how I will cope with the competition much in the same way Arlene Philips might warn against ‘inexperience’ and partially because this is a contracting market and I believe it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
In any event, in reluctantly embracing this role as an agony uncle for despairing wannabes, I have received some difficult questions. Of course, I am not Richard Susskind, so I don’t have answers to all of life’s questions, but I do have answers to some: will there be enough training contracts? (Of course not – that’s an easy one); do I need good A-Levels? (Most likely, yes, but there are exceptions); will I get to wear a wig? (Ermmm). You get the gist.
As I have said, one thing that has become clear over the past few years has been the need to distinguish yourself from the crowd of equally outstanding CVs. This doesn’t only apply to those entering the profession – standing out (for the right reasons, whatever they may be) is essential for career progression. In days gone by, this might have included your surname, your parents’ occupations or what school/college/university you attended. I hope these factors are less likely to be determinative nowadays and with the SRA’s new diversity monitoring survey we may soon have some answers. But what about the things you do have control over?
I was surprised to see a familiar face pop onto the screen as I was watching the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. Trumping my minor role as one of the cast, this friend was appearing with team GB as one of our nation’s athletes. I’ll spare him any blushes by naming him here, but after rewinding a few times and taking to Facebook to check, I made good use of Google to fill in my gap of the past few years. Not only has this guy been training for the Paralympics for the past few years, he has been working towards a legal career too. Whether his professional career waits until after Rio 2016 or not, only time will tell, but having ‘Paralympic Hero’ on your CV certainly can’t hurt.
Knead your career
What about ‘Great British Bake-Off Champion’? At the risk of jinxing current contender John Whaite’s chances in the cult BBC2 show, it may be no surprise in the current climate that law graduate John now dreams of becoming a pastry chef rather than a probate solicitor. Still, if his baking career ends with a soggy bottom or he gets his buns burnt in the process, his referees – if he kneaded them (sorry!) – could always include Paul Hollywood who was particularly complimentary of his “nice action” in that respect.
I know that not all of us have what it takes to excel in sport or baking (I’m not speaking of my super fit self), but we all have something to offer to distinguish ourselves in some way. However, we must choose carefully what we want to be known for. The list of things not to do is long and would take me way over my word limit, but I would suggest that entering an amateur stripping competition and proudly declaring yourself to be a law graduate looking for a training contract or pupilage is not the best way to do it. Again, I am not talking about myself, but I was an unfortunate witness to such an attempt of distinction. For the sake of all concerned, I will leave it there for another month.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 10 September 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission