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  • Writer's pictureSundeep Bhatia

Advice for Law Students hoping to qualify as solicitors

On 3rd December I was one of the speakers at a Law Society Event held for the benefit of Law Students from St Mary’s University.

I was chosen to share my experiences as a sole practitioner and to offer advice to those looking to enter the legal professions.

Whilst I thrived on the enthusiasm of the Students the experience also made me realise how difficult life is ,and will be ,in the future,for those aspiring to qualify as solicitors.

During my formative years my parents were keen for me to enter a profession.

They wanted me ,ideally,to follow in their footsteps by means of qualifying as a Doctor.

I idolised them and dreamt of doing just that until I reached my teens.

At that point I changed my mind.Literature and language captured my imagination more than dissecting frogs and learning the Law of physics.

This was lucky for frogs.

My biology teacher,after he saw my attempts at dissection,threatened to quit the profession if I decided to study A level biology.

I approached my parents and proudly told them that I wanted to study Journalism rather than medicine. I was gently “persuaded” to follow another profession.

A process of bartering led to the decision to study law.

My decision was reinforced both by working for a High street practice in Chatham ,during my sixth form years ,as well as by a love of debating.

However the logic of my parents,whilst well meaning,is now the philosophy of a bygone age.

Being a qualified solicitor is no longer a guarantee of lifelong employment.

It was not easy to gain a foothold,within the profession,in the early 1990s ,when I qualified,just over a year after Black Monday when,overnight,interest rates shot up to 15 per cent.

The firm ,at which I completed my articles ,could not afford to keep me on and I was unemployed for several months.

There followed a year of doing the job of an articled clerk,at the salary of an articled clerk,whilst holding the status of a qualified solicitor.

A small legal aid practice then gave me a break and I gained my qualifications as a criminal defence Duty Solicitor.

Twenty years later and conditions are a great deal worse for students.

Trainee places are rare.The abolition of the minimum trainee’s salary means that many students cannot afford to complete a training contract.

Legal Aid is being indelibly erased from the legal landscape as funding and scope are slashed.

Our beloved regulator wishes to increase competition in the legal sector at the expense of client protection.

Multi Disciplinary partnerships and ABS are more likely to use paralegals than qualified solicitors.

It is inevitable that unemployment in the legal sector will increase and that wages and job security will decrease.

If the LCCSA ,CLSA and Law Society do not succeed in their Judicial Reviews of criminal Legal Aid reforms then there will be mass redundancies as criminal legal aid firms collapse.

My advice to those eying careers in the law is to be realistic and to plan ahead.

If you do not wish to be stuck in paralegal limbo then you need to be broad minded.

My advice is

1 Network as much as you can.If you make contact with people ,outside of the workplace, then they are more likely to employ you.

Social Media is a very good way of networking .

Be active on LinkedIn and Twitter but think carefully about the content you share.

2 Plan ahead .Try and sort out a training contract as early as you can.

3 Do not be fussy about where you go for a training contract.The important thing is to qualify .

4 Evaluate all routes to qualification.Opportunities are opening up which do not require attendance at a University.

5 Make yourself stand out from the crowd.Enhance your CV with work experience in other fields and think about devoting your time to charitable causes.

6 Make an effort to present yourself in the best possible light.A well drafted CV can make all the difference.

7 Be prepared for setbacks.Learn from them.At the end of the day they will only make you stronger.

Good luck!

Happy New Year

Sundeep Bhatia

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