Interested in legal careers? Ever wondered what a real lawyer would advise? In this Q&A Simon Wilson provides an experienced solicitor’s insights.
What led you to become a solicitor?
I had an interest in the law from a young age. From about the age of twelve I wanted to be a solicitor and criminal cases on the news always fascinated me. This was fuelled by big criminal trials such as that of Peter Sutcliffe (the “Yorkshire Ripper”) and the Dennis Nilsen trial.
At school I studied Maths, History, Geography and General Studies for A levels. I don’t think you need to choose certain A levels and A level law certainly isn’t a prerequisite. My advice would be to choose a variety of subjects in order to demonstrate a wide range of skills.
Following my degree (LLB Hons Law) I was lucky enough to get a place at the College of Law at York to do my LPC which I did the following academic year. I had by then secured a Training contract (Articles in those days!) which I went into straight away. I qualified in 1996.
When I first set out I wanted to learn about criminal law. That has changed to the extent that I have never practiced criminal law – I started doing clinical negligence on qualifying and it fascinated me. I wouldn’t suggest that students specialise too much at university though. As can be seen I thought I wanted to do one area and ended up doing another. I would suggest trying to get different work placements whilst at university as this will give an insight into the practicalities of different work types and will give a student more of a feel for the type of law they wish to specialise in.
What was the turning point in your career?
Being offered a training contract at my first firm in 1994. Contracts were hard to come by so it felt like a major achievement. I have been asked how I made myself stand out and the simple answer is by just doing what I was asked to do. I went on a work placement for two summers with a local firm, Hamers. My first week consisted of putting furniture together for them, but it showed I was willing to do whatever it took. Gradually I was given more work and was actually offered a training contract before I was offered my LPC place. I don’t think the industry has changed, in that Training contracts are rare. I may sound old fashioned but too many candidates I see want something for nothing. You need to put the hard graft in.
What’s the most common misconception about what you do?
That it’s all about the money or we are ambulance chasers. This is often reinforced by government and the media. We are not very good at defending ourselves as a profession ironically! Our focus is on helping clients. For many years I did legal aid work and as a firm we still do. Legal aid work is definitely not about the money. The rates of pay are very low and if it was simply about money we wouldn’t do it. It does however provide access to justice for clients and that is the key issue.
What’s the most interesting part of your job?
Piecing together a case from client’s recollection, review of records and medical reports. Clients can have many volumes of records and a full review can take hours. You need to be able to spot the needle in the haystack. One page out of thousands may be the key, so you need to be analytical and have powers of concentration!
What does a typical day look like for you at Neil Hudgell Solicitors?
There is no typical day really. I am part of the senior management team and different challenges occur daily. That is what keeps it interesting. My role these days involves less handling of files and more management of staff.
How can applicants stand out from the crowd?
Do something different. Interests such as reading or going to the cinema are ten a penny. Do some community work, get some sports coaching badges, and something that makes you interesting to someone who sees 20 CVs a week. Work experience helps. It shows you are committed.
There are many applicants for every job so you need to show commitment and enthusiasm for the law. When interviewing though the main thing is personality. Yes I need to know people have the knowledge but I need to know they will fit in with my team. Work on interviewing skills and techniques is never wasted.
Do you think there’s a type of person suited to becoming a solicitor? What key skills do they need?
You need common sense as well as intelligence – they are really not the same thing. In my field of clinical negligence you need analytical skills and a dogged determination to get the best outcome for your client. Litigation lawyers are usually argumentative by nature.
What is the most important piece of advice
you can give a law student/graduate?
Be certain it’s what you want to do then be determined to get to where you want. It is hard work and you need drive to succeed. Do work experience. Offer to do holiday work at no cost. It shows commitment. But the main thing is never give up. You will get knockbacks and it is how you recover from those that matters.