The lawyer: ‘Get all the experience you can’
What does it take to be a lawyer? Claire Leadbeatter is a trainee solicitor at one of the UK’s top law firms. She doesn’t think she’d be where she is today without her teenage summer jobs.
“I worked on a customer service checkout in a supermarket. I worked on a fruit farm. I worked as a waitress.” Claire reels off a list of the part-time jobs she took on while she was still at school.
“That whole time I was learning how to manage people. For example, if people come to you with complaints, that is a negotiation. You have to listen to them, understand where they’re coming from and provide an answer.”
Those years learning to communicate with people outside of her own age group proved vital when Claire was being interviewed by senior lawyers.
“It might not seem like it at the time, but it all helps,” she says.
Now in her early 20s, Claire is about to start her second year as a trainee solicitor at a ‘magic circle’ law firm in London.
Each morning, she sits with a partner (a senior lawyer) who gives her tasks for the day. They could include drafting witness statements, helping draft contracts or documents, and proof-reading documents. These tasks all contribute to bigger cases.
“Some of the work you do ends up on the front page of The Financial Times, which is pretty cool,” she says enthusiastically. “The quality of work is just so good. Everyone is performing at their best.”
Sometimes, the hours are along but the trainees all encourage one another and get along well.
“There are around 40 people in my intake. That’s a big network of people you can rely on.”
Her firm offers mental health support, and a wide range of clubs and activities to encourage trainees to bond outside of work. She is on her firm’s sailing team, which recently took on her on a trip around the Isle of Wight.
Claire did not start considering law as an option until she went to university, when several law firms held careers events with potential recruits.
At school, her career ambitions had included food photography and marine biology: “I really love dolphins,” she explains.
When she first started researching law, Claire worried that she had missed out on the legal work experience that other aspiring lawyers had already completed.
But she believes that people skills and awareness of current affairs helped her through the process. “Know what is going on in the world, and what people are talking about,” she advises.
What does it take to be a lawyer?
Law and order
“Above all, get as much experience as possible,” suggests Claire. “Whether it’s in law or getting involved in school or sixth form committees. Develop your skill-set as much as possible.”
“Prepare for the fact that it is competitive. I didn’t get any acceptances on my first go. On my second go, I got a job. Be persistent and don’t give up. I don’t know anyone who succeeded on their first go. Work out what you were missing and fill that gap.”
- Would you like to be a lawyer?
- What are some skills that all lawyers need?
- If you could invent three new laws, what would they be? Write them down to share with the class.
- Choose a famous lawyer, either fictional or real. Create a one-page profile with facts about their life and achievements.
Some People Say...
“Laws made by common consent must not be trampled on by individuals.”George Washington (1732-1797), first US president
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- You do not have to study law at university to be a solicitor. If you choose to study another subject, you can take a one-year conversion course called a GDL after you graduate. This covers the basics of a law degree. But if you study law at university, you can go straight on to the LPC course, which trains you in the day-to-day tasks of a lawyer. Once you have completed this training and been offered a job, you become a trainee solicitor at a law firm for a further two years.
- What do we not know?
- What subjects to study for A level if you want to be a lawyer. Everyone has a different route. Claire took English Literature, History, Business Studies and Sociology at A level before studying joint History and English at Oxford University.
- When you have a discussion to try and reach an agreement.
- Trainee solicitor
- There are two types of lawyers: solicitors and barristers. Barristers are the ones who appear in court (often wearing wigs), while solicitors usually focus on organising deals, legal documents and more office-based tasks.
- Magic circle
- The four top law firms in London: Linklaters, Freshfields, Allen & Overy, and Clifford Chance are usually said to make up this group.
- When you write a first version of something. In this case, a more senior lawyer may change it later.
- Claire says that mental well-being is “more of a focus now than it’s ever been, and I think that’s true across the job market”.
- Legal work experience
- University students can visit law firms for insight day (usually in first year) or vacation schemes (two to three-week placements, usually in second year).