Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Using social media in the training contract hunt

As published on Legal Cheek

actual footage
Earlier this year I got a training contract at a small, reputable firm in Buckinghamshire. To break this down simply; I met my recruiter on Twitter. The firm, like many others, is looking to expand and give substance to its online profile. And that’s why my experience as a blogger became relevant. My use of social media made me an attractive candidate so I made an application to the firm – three competitive recruitment stages later, I was offered the job. 

Getting into Twitter was a pretty odd experience. Following people and having others follow you is one thing. But trying to become a familiar name within the circles you care to be known is akin to joining a new school. Except no sniggering children. More decorum. More thinking about coming across as smart and someone in the know. My babbling blogging escapades, I had hoped, would help give me at least a little weight in this faceless arena. There were a few kind folk (@legalaware, @traineesurgery and, yes, @AlexAldridgeUK to name some examples) who helped make my entrance into the legal twittosphere less mucky and embarrassing than it might’ve been.    


Twitter in turn helped make my blog a more meaningful one; I became increasingly bothered by what people thought of it. And so from its jokey, na├»ve, often cringe-worthy origins it evolved into something better researched and more thoughtful – at times anyway. I gave more care to my content; hardly ground-breaking or even quality writing, but that was never the goal. First glimpse and it’s all about sharing my experiences, offering ‘tips’ and ‘tales’ to my struggling compadres. To a significant extent this was its purpose. But what it really did was enable me to join the dialogue and colour with humour the dull, boring, repetitive and dispiriting grind of training contract hunting. And its role as a means for getting me noticed by law firms developed as my readership grew.      

It would be wrong to say I got the training contract through using Twitter and by blogging alone. So too would it be wrong to say I would’ve seen success without using them. Twitter and blogging are not substitutes for aptitude, enthusiasm and genuine passion for law. But what I think I’ve shown is that they can be viable platforms for reaching what many are dead-set can only be reached through the obvious, well-trodden routes. I know this approach isn’t appropriate for every person, nor every law firm; but in 2012 - this most testing of years for getting a training contract - sticklers for the norm might find their luck fast dwindling.
twitter's maverick COO

Right now I’m a trainee at the kind of firm I want to be part of. But a training contract isn’t the first job my blog and Twitter helped me net. I also worked as a full-time blogger for a firm in central London. Hadn’t I brought a blogging background to the table I can’t imagine the firm would’ve taken me at all seriously.

More and more firms are modernising; sculpting, shaping themselves to fit into a market which doesn’t seem to know itself yet. The only way you can survive the training contract hunt in such unholy an environment is if you too modernise with the firms and look for the new opportunities in the new industry.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Too many LPC students - where does responsibility lie?

My article as published in Lawyer2B  on behalf of the Mulberry Finch blog 

Doing the LPC
“I love law! But was I right to start the LPC without having secured a training contract?” We often falter when we take stock of reality. And this is especially true of law students who’ve forked over several thousands of pounds to private LPC providers.
Here are a couple of facts that are worth highlighting: in 2009-10 there were 11,370 full-time and 3,140 part-time LPC places compared to just 4,874 newly registered training contracts. That’s a surplus of 9,636 students, ie the majority of LPC students. This is a problem, made continually worse by ever-changing (typically declining) trainee requirements in the market. It needs to be fixed. But where does the buck stop – Legal Practice Course provider, student, or the Solicitors Regulation Authority?
LPC Provider
When I say ‘private legal education provider’, I’m talking about a specific kind of institution; the kind with an endless line of eager students willing to pay top dollar knocking at their door - with BPP Law School and The College of Law together expecting to take on around 65 percent of them. The simple fact is if you want to become a solicitor in England and Wales, you must do the LPC. And LPC providers are the money-making gatekeepers to the industry.
So, should LPC providers be doing something to stem this competition and limit the numbers of students paying for the LPC (which can now cost upwards of £13k)? Of course, from a purely business perspective, LPC providers are doing little wrong; they’re supplying a service to huge demand. And indeed, why would they spend time, money and effort on conceptualising and implementing procedures for selecting between candidates when the immutable laws of profit and loss don’t require them to? But is there more to it than profit - indeed, should there be? Is the only responsibility of an LPC provider to provide a vocational education service?
In a time when the economic outlook is uncertain and youth unemployment is at a record high, responsibility is high on the agenda. So, what about social and economic responsibility and the idea that every individual and organisation has a duty to act so as to benefit society and the wider economy? An increase in numbers of debt-burdened folk is good neither for society nor the economy – so it is incumbent upon businesses churning out debt-addled individuals (which is invariably what jobless LPC grads are) to do something to limit these numbers. But let’s face facts. This argument is only persuasive if realistic. Self-interested businesses aren’t going to do things they don’t want, or indeed aren’t required, to do.
Student
But equally, I hear you say, a 21-odd-year-old student is no infant. They should, nay must, take responsibility for their decisions. If they choose to take on the risk of paying for the LPC from their own pocket and being subsequently lumbered with heavy debts, so be it.
People often say that university grads see law as a safer option in the rocky job market. But the truth is that most appreciate that no option is especially ‘safe’ today; not accountancy, consultancy, banking nor any of the other ‘recognised professions’.
There is however a widely held misconception, which probably evokes little sympathy, that getting into law school is half the battle. The truth is it’s barely part of the battle at all. Today, a 2.2 degree is all that’s required to breach the doors of an LPC provider. That and cash. Worse still is the perception that by passing the LPC you’re ‘almost there’.  
A general neglect on the part of students to keep updated and informed about the legal job market has, aside from lining the pockets of LPC providers, created fertile ground for the problem of too many LPCers, too few training contracts. Pragmatically speaking however, to expect students to sort this problem out any time soon is inconceivable. I am quite sympathetic with the suggestion that, where LPC providers have developed near immunity, students are - whether informed or not - vulnerable to the changing economic tides.
Regulator
The SRA is responsible for regulating the LPC and its providers. If you want to be an LPC provider, the SRA requires that you “demonstrate both that [you] are committed to, and can support, the delivery and assessment of an LPC and that the specific course(s) [you] intend to offer will meet the essential requirements set down by the SRA”. Further, if you apply to become an LPC provider, the SRA requires details on “how students’ potential to succeed on the course will be identified during the admissions process”.
In limiting the responsibility of LPC providers only to the provision of a course, the SRA effectively absolves them of any direct responsibility for the future employment of students. Quite convenient for LPC providers.
The SRA have made it clear that they “[do] not wish to restrict the range of organisations that are authorised to provide LPCs” - the right view if we are to encourage an open LPC provider market. But are we witnessing an FSA-style 'regulatory capture' which has seen the SRA, created to act in the public interest, instead supporting the interests of LPC providers? Perhaps it’s not quite so dramatic. But the fallacy here is that acting in the interests of LPC providers is the same as acting in the interests of the profession at large, and indeed the public.
What should happen?
There are too many people paying for the LPC and providers must be better regulated because of it. As long as this problem persists, and given their overarching position to actually make a difference, the buck stops with the SRA. It’s tagline is “Smarter regulation, better outcomes”. Clearly they’ve missed a trick here then. Surely smarter regulation would see fewer students, who are enrolled with the SRA, as jobless and owing substantial debts; nor is this an entirely great outcome.
Securing a place with an LPC provider should be a challenging hurdle which reflects the state of the market – no easy feat, I can appreciate. Should future LPC students be selected on the basis of competitive interviews, for example? Should there be an American style Law School Admission Test (LSAT)? Suggestions like this often invite cries of indignation. But whether welcomed or not by keen law students, one crucial point remains - making it to law school nowadays in no way suggests you’re any closer to making it as a lawyer.
Competition for places at firms of all sizes – from the high-street through to the magic circle – is incredibly high; and this intensity is showing no sign of lessening. But scarcely will you come across a 21-year-old with long-harboured dreams of becoming a lawyer who is put off by this reality. The job of the SRA is to help change what that reality is so that when you make it onto the LPC, it really is a strong sign that you are going to succeed as a lawyer, and that it truly is a worthy investment.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Legal writing

I'd once flirted with legal writing, but now i'm writing about substantive law on a daily basis for the Mulberry Finch blog. Take a look - I'm writing mainly about immigration, employment, commercial and probate law.

Writing about the law is an excellent way to not only build on your knowledge about the legal world, but also to hone your skills in writing, in constructing an argument, and perhaps most importantly, in simplifying intricate and perplexing judgements, laws and regulations. I strongly reccommend starting a legal blog or finding legal writing work to anyone interested in law and/or studying for the LPC or BPTC, looking for a TC or pupillage or looking to get into legal journalism. 

For those looking to become practitioners, hands-on experience is priceless work (and penniless too looking at recent articles!). But there is a satisfaction in writing that is scarcely found elsewhere. Perhaps it's not for everyone. But even by attempting to produce written work you'll probably learn something; be it a new fact that you unearth through your research, or an idea or opinion that comes naturally from the process of putting pen to paper.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

No excuses..

My absence from blogging is inexcusable really. But I’m back. And now is as good a time as any to let you know how things have been going - in a purely professional sense, of course. Early predictions were that 2012 would be the most difficult year for law grads – pan-European economic uncertainty adding to an already imbalanced global financial wreck – and the latest pale of dubiousness being doused over us by the Alternative Business Structure (ABS) stuff. In the first quarter, it's difficult to say whether the predictions are accurate. But will changes to the legal market be a good or a bad thing for us?

Good:

ABSs mean more legal services which in turn should mean more jobs, more graduate opportunities, more opportunity for experience, alternatives to training contracts, alternatives to the LPC, training which is more attuned to modern society.

Bad:

Will all the effort/expenditure/time shovelled into the LPC mean nothing in this new world? If ABSs introduce non-traditional training could it threaten the reputation of the profession and thus make it a less attractive prospect for wannabe lawyers? To compete with ABSs and limit costs might traditional firms cut down on trainee recruitment?

And what else must be discussed? A topic that has featured high on my agenda for some time but has remained largely unexplored is whether legal education providers should be doing more to get more folks into jobs and/or limit the numbers doing the LPC/BPTC. I will probably write about this topic for either The Lawyer/Lawyer2B or LegalCheek - stay tuned.  

Speaking of which, what else is going on in the legal blogosphere? Lots of things. But I’ve closely monitored the rapid growth of LegalCheek.com - brainchild of Alex Aldridge; a website for which I was an early contributor and remain as a long-term absentee. I will be writing for LegalCheek again.  

So much change we anticipate; too much worry we suffer.  A difficult year lies ahead, but 2012 is looking oddly promising, I think.