Following on from my recent blog post about what to do if you realise that a legal professional career is not for you, here are a few thoughts on an alternative. Hugo graduated from Warwick in 2014 and is now enjoying life in the Civil Service. Here’s what he thinks. Do read on, I have my fingers very firmly crossed on the chocolate commitment!
“Why would you spend years studying law, only to throw all that knowledge away and do something completely unrelated?“
I heard that question many times after deciding not to pursue a legal career, moving instead into the Civil Service Fast Stream. The answer? I use my legal skills every day, but not for law.
What do Civil Servants do?
As a Civil Servant, I often articulate government policy. If I use the wrong wording, add or remove a word to something, I could be creating a government commitment, which could create public expectations around it, or a judicial review. There is a real difference between “We will provide free chocolate to all UK households” and “We will consider providing free chocolate to all UK households”. This attention to small details becomes invaluable – I recently had to work with a minister to help them understand subtleties in wording for a particular policy, as they were going to make a speech on a subject they were not yet very familiar with.
(With thanks to Gov.UK for the open license image of Larry, chief mouser, the only Civil Servant it was possible so source a photograph of!)
Clarity and Precision
A good lawyer creates clear, simple arguments that their audience find easy to follow. When I write briefings for ministers to use in Parliament, I know they do not have time to read out elaborate arguments. They should be able to understand what needs to be said in a matter of seconds, and make a strong argument from it. If I need a decision from a minister, I need to be able to articulate clearly what the issue is they need to decide on, what the options are, and what they each involve – all in a very concise way.
Much of what government does involves contracts with third-party suppliers. When a supplier tries to increase charges for a service, for example, being able to read through and understand the original contract is very useful. I have been able to find clauses in contracts which I have used with suppliers to successfully challenge costs. Similarly, having developed my negotiation skills while I studied Law has been constantly useful – whether it’s negotiating with a supplier, or with a different team. A previous manager told me she never understood how I got what I needed from people so easily!
Finally, one legal skill I have found extremely useful to forging a career in the Civil Service is the ability to see two sides of an argument – and argue either one of them with equal passion. Civil Servants provide honest, impartial, objective advice to the government of the day. The ability to take a step back, look at both sides of the argument, and evaluate them in a rational way is what makes a civil servant’s advice valuable. This is especially so after an election, when you may find yourself, with a new government, doing the opposite of what you had been doing the day before; adapting to that quickly is an interesting challenge.
Applications for the fast stream close on 30 November – find out about all the different schemes and come along to the law alumni evening on Wednesday 16th November to get some top tips for success from Hugo.