No law firm experience? No problem. Experience which is not directly related to the law may nevertheless prove valuable. Trainee Kelsey Farish explains.
The path that led me to Taylor Vinters as a trainee solicitor wasn’t the most direct, but thanks to my travels and previous experience, I developed some skills that are really valuable for any legal career.
After graduating from Washington State University with a degree in politics and economics, I joined the civil service as a tax clerk for the Treasury. I worked within the Internal Revenue Service, the department responsible for collecting taxes and administering the federal statutory tax law of the United States.
The work I did as a junior clerk prepared me in many ways for my role as a trainee solicitor. There are a lot of similarities, including the management of a huge amount of paperwork! When the taxpayer’s documents were sent into our office, I had the responsibility of ensuring the forms were processed efficiently, in a timely manner, and most importantly of all – correctly. If I were to make a minor mistake, this could have significant implications as the paperwork progressed up to my supervisors for review. At the very least, it would result in wasted time and effort.
As a trainee, in addition to meeting with clients and drafting contracts, you are also often tasked with filing paperwork with bodies such as the Land Registry or Companies House. While the forms may seem straightforward or insignificant at first glance, they are essential pieces of a much larger picture. Respecting deadlines and ensuring accuracy are fundamental skills in providing excellent client care, no matter your practice area or seniority level.
After six months of tax work, I moved to the UK to study political economy at the London School of Economics. It was during my masters’ degree that I decided to pursue my legal career here in the United Kingdom.
Between my conversion (GDL) course and the LPC, I worked at a major American law firm in the City as a Business Development Executive. It was my job to help the firm win new clients, as well as new instructions from existing clients. This has become increasingly difficult in recent years, as clients have become more sophisticated in terms of fee arrangements, and law firms now face competition from alternative business services.
Before starting any project, a business development or marketing professional must understand not only what the problem is that the client wants our lawyers to solve, but how we can solve it for a competitive price without sacrificing on quality of client care and service. We need to explain legal transactions in clear language, and provide concrete evidence as to why a client should come to us, rather than go to another firm. There were certainly days where I felt as if I was on The Apprentice, making brochures and writing pitches!
Helping our firm stand out from the competition forced me to consider the legal working relationship from the perspective of the client. In addition to the writing and networking skills I developed in business development, I now appreciate how law firms win and maintain clients. As I continue my legal career, I know that being a successful lawyer is as much about customer satisfaction and business acumen as it is about navigating complex areas of the law.
As a trainee, you may realise that your waitressing experience has helped you to remain calm while speaking to distressed clients, or even stressed colleagues. Your job as a university campus tour guide may have enhanced your oral presentation skills, or you may find that your time working at the local pharmacy has given you a great eye for detail. Even work experience which you dislike (for me, that was the summer I spent working on a golf course!) can help to sharpen your motivation to achieve your professional ambitions.
When I was applying for training contracts, I was worried that I might not seem to be a competitive candidate because I had no prior law firm experience. However, though a work opportunity may at first present itself as unrelated from your career goals, it is important to remember that the role of a solicitor is incredibly varied, and requires you to draw upon a multitude of strengths.