As originally posted here: https://www.fionabruce.co.uk/blog-archive/work-experience-blog-post-by-tomas-canning
All law students are told from week one how important it is that they gain relevant work experience. There are two main reasons given for this: (1) how do you know that’s the career you want to do if you’ve never tried it, and (2) it will show future employers that you are passionate about the job and have some experience of it. When I was given the opportunity to complete a week of Work Experience at Fiona Bruce Solicitors, I was excited to gain an insight into the legal profession and see some of the things I had learnt about in real life situations.
It is often said that university doesn’t provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge to do well in the work place. Whilst to make this statement generally may be unfair, there certainly is some truth to it. Having completed the first year of my law degree, I knew I didn’t know it all yet but I did feel that I had some insight into the relevant laws for certain practice areas and how they would be applied in real life. But what I had never had to do at university was complete a form for court proceedings or for a Lasting Power of Attorney. I opened the form and looked at it blankly. This is an important part of any solicitor’s role yet university had never even mentioned a requirement to complete court documentation to be able to bring a claim.
I was fortunate that Fiona Bruce Solicitors offered such a wide range of practice areas to experience. I sat in client meetings concerning writing their Will, completed research in relation to a particular issue in Trust law, and sat in other meetings concerning Employment and Family law matters. As I was still very open as to which area of law I was interested in working in, seeing all the various areas was insightful and useful. It raised the point for me that it isn’t necessary to complete a Vacation Scheme in a Magic Circle law firm to be able to get a varied and hands-on insight into the role of a solicitor. In fact, being able to meet the clients and sit in the room as they discussed their case with the solicitor was an invaluable experience which highlighted for me just how much work, energy, and time goes into each individual situation.
The perception of lawyer’s working hard is one bolstered by media and horror stories, yet the solicitors at Fiona Bruce Solicitors were consistently managing to complete the work to a high standard, within deadlines, and leave the office at a reasonable hour to see their friends and families. It was encouraging to see that practising as a solicitor need not be an all-consuming career where 15-hour days are the norm and you forget what your partner looks like. It also showed me that when you are knowledgeable about what you do, and have had sufficient experience, the issues raised can be dealt with effectively within your working hours. This isn’t to say that the occasional late night or weekend working doesn’t happen, but they’re definitely the exception rather than the norm.
The opportunity to meet solicitors and discuss with them the realities of their work was invaluable. Through conversations I learnt about the skills you need to effectively manage a case load, how to ensure clients feel heard and understood, and how to tackle the problems that you haven’t dealt with before. People’s individual situations are unique, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being a solicitor. Finding ways to best assist the client within their legal rights and boundaries was skillfully researched and honestly discussed with the clients.
These soft skills of client management and work load management aren’t things covered at an undergraduate level. You may of course learn how to effectively balance your study plan with your social life but it felt like a completely different ball game when it was someone’s real issue in your hands. The clients coming through the door are coming to the office because they need help, and perception is important. Without being trained or taught, how would anyone be able to know what you can and cannot say in meetings; how much you’re able to commit to the client; and how to manage their expectations. Only through experiencing all these things first hand have I been given ideas on how to do it well and it will be hugely beneficial to my career in the future.
Completing my work experience at Fiona Bruce Solicitors was an insightful and enjoyable experience. The people I met taught me a great deal, and also gave me a lot more to consider. I am truly grateful to all of the staff at Fiona Bruce Solicitors for taking time to answer my questions, allowing me to sit in their meetings, and letting me have a go at various pieces of work. I have learnt in this week how it looks to apply law to real life situations and how to operate effectively with clients, something which university would struggle to teach me. Having had this experience it has confirmed for me that a career in law is the route I want to take in the future. Now it’s time to decide which practice area!