Tuesday, 13 October 2015

How to get a strategic edge during the LPC


The Legal Practice Course is gruelling test of intellectual athleticism – not a marathon like university but not a sprint like a vac scheme or summer school. You have to work hard without burning out and no one pretends it’s easy; even if the work itself is not difficult.
Check out my latest blog at Lawyer2b to read about some strategies I used during the LPC:


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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Don't go to law school until you've considered these seven points




It's tempting for smart, motivated university students in their second and third years to look for a prestigious career that pays well and law seems like an obvious choice. Then they go to law school and realise the reality is a little different from the expectation; not wildly different, but different enough that they may have made a different decision had they considered some of the following:

1. A training contract won't make you rich

On paper big law firms offer the highest starting salary of graduate jobs but they are located in obscenely expensive central London and you will not be able to start straightaway. If you pay for law school yourself there's a huge financial commitment for a skill that isn't very transferable and even if you are sponsored, there is the huge opportunity cost of a monthly salary elsewhere. The starting salary - when distributed over the time you spend studying and long hours during training contract – becomes less of an outlier. By the time you finish university you will have a very particular set of skills, skills you have acquired over a very long career studying; and whatever they are, there will be an easier and potentially more fulfilling route to making your fortune….

For the other considerations read the full article on The Lawyer:




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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Four ways the LPC is useful during your training contract





The content of stage 1 of the Legal Practice Course is set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and applies to all lawyers while the content of stage 2 depends on your electives, which will be tailored to your firm’s work or the kind of law you are interested in practising.

I’m fairly sure I will never have to draft a will but appreciate some lawyers will never go near a syndicated loan.

To read about four ways the LPC has helped me as a first seat trainee working in a City corporate department follow this link to The Lawyer's website:

http://l2b.thelawyer.com/solicitor/training-contract/four-ways-the-lpc-is-useful-during-your-training-contract/3037622.article







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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  

Saturday, 18 July 2015

How to develop attention to detail




One of the defining features that sets lawyers apart from other advisors is having strong attention to detail. Sometimes this takes hold as a kind of dark obsession; reading a document with hands itching to grab a red pen at the first opportunity. It makes sense - a company name spelled wrongly could invalidate a document and an imprecise use of a word in a contract could end up costing a company millions of pounds. 

Lawyers are also themselves very expensive; making sure a document is immaculate is an important part of delivering a quality client service. Here are five ways junior lawyers can get themselves into the required mindset:

1. Be aware of the kind of mistakes you're likely to make

Seasoned lawyers know their firms house style inside out, have seen their document reference initials thousands of time and can tell from a glance whether you've used the correct line spacing in a letter. Routine documents have become intuitive. Unfortunately trainees do not have that luxury and are bound to forget small details now and then. 

Gradually you start to find there are some things you are more likely to get wrong than others. Perhaps you always used a certain font at university and now you keep forgetting to switch on your firms headings in MS Word. If you make a list of these errors and pin it next to your computer you can run through it once you think a document is "finished". It means you approach the task more like a pilot cock-pit check than a game of 'Where's Wally?', which isn't fun when played under duress.

2. Take breaks and reflect

You won't always be able to but leaving a document overnight or even for a few hours allows you to return with a fresh set of eyes. This is especially useful for repetitive or tedious tasks like forms or spreadsheets. 

Sometimes taking more breaks from monotonous tasks can be beneficial - getting bored because you've been focussing on the same thing for hours on end will only lead to you zoning out and making mistakes. Working in intense blasts of 50mins and then taking a 10min break is a good way to stay productive and switched on

3. Do things methodically

If you have to make lots of similar changes to similar documents try to set up mental production line so you don't miss things out. In a way this is similar to the idea of writing a list expect rather than checking for errors you're following each point step by step. 

Amending lots of similar forms or simple documents is likely to take time; you might be reflecting the appointment of directors to a group of subsidiaries and although each form takes a few minutes, when there are 20 to complete that's a good hour's work. 

It's also more likely you'll be doing this late in the evening as it seems like a small task but will inevitably become urgent when a different department or the otherside's lawyers decide they need all the documents ready for a meeting 10am the next day. 

This means you may be getting tired and therefore more prone to making small errors by losing your attention to detail. Setting up a process to follow (with tick boxes optional) makes it less likely you'll fall asleep at the wheel. 

4. Check precedents and ask other trainees

Sometimes people give you work and it's only once you get into it you realise you are lacking some essential context. Obviously if it's something that affects the whole task you should go back and clarify your instructions. But if it's more typographical - i.e. what other columns are required on a transaction documents list it might be easier to find an example on your firm's system. 

You should always start with a model document (this prevents you inadvertently writing Jersey board minutes or articles for an 1985 Act Company) but if you search the name of the person who gave you work and keywords you might find one they did before. It's extremely likely they re expecting you to produce something similar. 

Failing this, ask another trainee! If they haven't done it before themselves it's likely someone else in their cohort has.

5. Don't get down hearted

It can be tough when you are getting the third draft of a simple letter enclosing documents handed back to you because the way you referred to a certain deed isn't quite right. It's tougher when you realise at 11pm you need to go back and change 25 documents because PricewaterhouseCoopers has a small "w". Good supervisors know trainees will make the mistakes they stopped making years ago and won't make their trainees into feeling anxious or incompetent. You shouldn't be too harsh on yourself either as this just detracts from your ability to focus. Always remember that you're relatively new to the job, mistakes are bound to happen sometimes and the best you can do it try to mitigate them in the future. 




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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  

Friday, 3 July 2015

Five steps for surviving as a first seat trainee




My article from last month on Lawyer2B lists five steps for surviving as a first seat trainee. The first step is below but head over Lawyer2B.com to read the rest:

“Step 1: Accept your environment
Clients essentially see their business lawyers as “Chief Risk-Mitigation Officers”: they advise on legal risks so that clients can decide whether to take them, organise security for loans, draw up enforceable agreements and perform specialised tasks (like public M&A) that in-house departments simply cannot or do not want to perform.
For all the talk that lawyers should demonstrate “commercial awareness” it remains true that clients need lawyers who are more risk-averse than they are. This is why an obsessive attention to detail matters: you don’t want to put the wrong company name on a form and therefore miss the deadline for bringing a claim or have a notary hold up a transaction because you used “ltd” instead of “limited”."



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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  

Monday, 25 May 2015

Lessons learned from advising my first client



At the beginning of my current seat my firm launched its Business and Social Enterprise programme for lawyers in the first 12 months of their careers. There were talks from partners working on issues as diverse as corporate human rights and infrastructure financing as well as inspiring presentations by fellows from Ashoka - the leading global network of social entrepreneurs.

In one activity we had to come up with different approaches to launching a solar panel enterprise that would help the 1.8 billion people currently living “off grid”; a huge development issue. The target communities only had a certain about of income to spend on energy, which meant panels couldn’t be sold at full price. A traditional charitable approach would be to raise money until you have enough to buy solar panels and distribute them for free. However, the time this takes and the cost of it means it’s extremely inefficient. Other ideas included renting panels to community collectives, distributing for free and recharging units at a premium and focussing on R&D to get costs down far enough to sell them unit by unit.

We settled on a microfinance solution and the units and made financial models to work out how much should be charged given the cost of making each panel, a fixed overhead cost and a term of one year pay off loans with interest. It was fascinating to play around with the variables, especially because financial literacy is the key non-law skill for corporate lawyers. The more exposure young lawyers get to these kind of exercises the better. Lawyers may not deal with financial models on a daily basis but there are times when legal advice is blurred with business advice and this is where lawyers really add value. As the activity leader pointed out, “in the real world, you don't get several chances at getting the right price”.


“In the real world, you don't get several chances at getting the right price” [tweet this!]


The best part of the programme was being given our first real clients. We had meetings with social entrepreneurs who had worked hard to build exciting ventures and were now seeking legal advice for the next steps in their start-up journey.

At first I doubted whether we would actually have anything useful to contribute – it has to be remembered that an international law firm’s clients are international businesses with sophisticated strategies made at management levels far beyond the reach of a private practice trainee. However, it was interesting to see the value that young lawyers can have if given the opportunity – I genuinely think the entrepreneurs we worked with were grateful for our advice and many have kept their teams of trainees on moving forwards.

Here are the key lessons I took away from the experience of advising my first client (along with other trainees, of course):

1. Advice must be focussed and structured
When a fictitious client scenario is written down on paper at law school you can highlight the key points, think around the issue, even second guess the answer you’re about to be spoon fed. In real life, it isn’t so simple. When you client is an engaging, bright and enthusiastic entrepreneur it's easy to get bogged down in chat and not work out the main problems. Being personable is great but you have to keep client meetings structured and cover all bases. You must ensure you have coaxed the whole picture out of the client and you must never settle with their confident answers that don’t address the question you asked. All of this requires great balance; you need to keep the conversation on track without being socially awkward.


2. The client is the business expert
I thought our client’s start-up was brilliant and I was enthused as soon as I checked out the website. I soon found myself getting very distracted thinking about the possibilities: What about expanding into Latin America? How about joint venture agreements with government bodies? Is the platform translated into Chinese? You have to learn to ignore these thoughts and listen to the client. In this case, the pressing concern was managing the next round of funding. Being “business savvy” in the abstract isn’t good enough – you have to understand your client’s business specifically and listen to their instructions. This requires immense discipline, focus and maturity.

3. You are the legal expert
Of course clients know their business but don't assume they know the applicable law. Before I took the LPC I assumed everyone who ran a business understood company law basics – partnership vs limited company, director duties, company filings etc. but you’d be surprised how little people know – after all, they aren’t the lawyers. Our client knew a fair amount but even as first seat trainees we were able to have some informative discussions about employing overseas workers, incorporating subsidiaries and protecting a founder's interests once he becomes a minority shareholder

4. Corporate lawyers are primarily business facilitators
The various niches in the corporate world can be overwhelming to contemplate and it’s sometimes difficult to understand where various types of job (accountants, consultants, lawyers, PR firms, bankers) all fit. I recently read a great quote in ‘Finance and the Good Society’ by Nobel Prize winning economist Robert J. Shiller that the specialism of the entrepreneur is “the ability to put human talents and business opportunities together”. This feels axiomatically true and it stands to reason that such a person will need experts in specific fields to help guide their way. Lawyers can help clients see a vision they haven't quite committed to themselves and make it realistic; they advise on pit falls, efficient practices and creative solutions.

Ultimately the two day programme served as an inspiring welcome to the firm. It would be great for business education to become a standard part of a corporate lawyers’ training and it’s important for lawyers to get exposure to clients as early as possible. I’m looking forward to the next stage of this kind of training and working with more of the firms successful social enterprise clients.

Does your firm have a similar enterprise initiative? Do you think it’s a good idea? Is there any way to measure it’s value? Let me know what you think in the comments!





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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.  

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Five bits of career advice lawyers can get from their dentist


My girlfriend is a dentist and blogs about her professional adventures at A Tooth Germ. We like to take an interest in each other's careers and an obvious overlap is the business of dentistry. In a lot of ways running a dental surgery is similar to running a law partnership. The key difference as a business is that law firms can scale projects by working with huge corporate clients, while dentists are necessarily constrained by working with one patient at a time.
I read dentist James Goolnik's book, Brush, which explains how he set up his highly successful dental surgery and gives concrete ways for young dentists to build their careers and practices. I found some of it could be applied to junior lawyers although, really, it is sound advice for anyone whose business is a service:
1. Nurture your client base
James understands that patients with small short term needs might develop into important sources of work: 
"You should treat EVERY patient as if they are going to be a long term patient and part of your family, no matter what they come in for." In the legal world this means providing top service for small pieces of commercial work so that the firm can be considered when the clients next panel review comes around. It might also mean helping entrepreneurs hone ideas so that they become loyal clients as their business develops. 

2. Maintain strong links with your clients 
Businesses need to work hard to understand their key clients and this is as true in law as it is in dentistry. According to James, "the best scenario is where you are continually educating your patients about what is new and how it impacts on their dental care and their lives." This doesn't just mean sending clients generic updates on The Bribery Act 2010 - it means developing proposals for cross-selling based on the client's individual business needs. If you know your client is thinking about moving into Vietnam why not give a summary of how it can protect its IP in this new jurisdiction and what your Hanoi office can do to help? 

3. Build a strong team
Like dentistry practices, law firms require talented individuals who can deliver top rate services. Some of this comes down to making team members feel valued and inspired in the work they do. As James says, "There’s a big difference between “I’m a dental nurse” and “I work in a healthcare team and rebuild people’s confidence in their smiles.” From the partners down the trainees it helps if a team unites and supports its members in achieving a common objective. Clients can tell when their advisers are interested in their work and it impacts the fees a firm is able to generate. This kind of environment also attracts the best employees. Both dentisty and law pay extremely well but "why work somewhere that you are not content, valued and respected?"
"why work somewhere that you are not content, valued and respected?" [tweet this!]


4. Take an interest in technology affecting the industry
 For dentists, "the world is getting more connected and faster. Things that used to take multiple visits now can be completed in one go." 'Legal tech' has received a lot of attention recently and lawyers need to embrace document automation, data analytics and client relationship management. It is an exciting time for both industries as entrepreneurial professionals pull away from those less able to embrace change.

5. Keep up with your own personal development 
No one can develop clinical or legal expertise without support and friendship. The suicides rate among dentists and lawyers are in the top 20 of all occupations and it is easy to become burned out: "You will find that the most successful people in any profession, if they have been there for a while, have a stable support network to bounce ideas off." Professionally you should feel comfortable discussing your ideas with peers and asking for advice from mentors. It is also important to take care of yourself physically and surround yourself with people who can help you to both relax and achieve your goals. 
  
Have you found careers advice in any unlikely places? Will you see your dentist differently next time you have your annual check up? Let me know in the comments! 


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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation. This article is for general information only. It is not professional advice or legal advertising.