What do small law firms want of recruits?

I asked this question of Craig Sharpe, Marketing Manager of Darlingtons lawyers based in London. Darlingtons is a relatively small law firm with big aspirations for future success. It’s easy to assume that all law firms want the package of skills the big firms talk about, but is this right? Here’s Craig to tell you.

“I have met lots of law students in the last year and also considered many applications for training contracts and work experience and wanted to share some insights with you.

Low angle view of business team on starting line in the office,Readers of this blog will almost certainly be aware that competition for training contracts has never been fiercer and academic ability alone may not be enough to enable you to become a solicitor. The majority of lawyers will end up working for smaller firms, so it’s a great idea to understand what they want from more junior staff.

So, aside from ensuring you have a well written cv, good academics and have undertaken some extra curricular activities, what is the magic ingredient to help you get a job in a smaller firm?

Here are are my top 5 recommendations :-

1. Understand the changed position re law as a profession as against law as a business/service.

law office accessories300Legal practice and clients have radically changed in the last 30 years or so. There are now 8 times more lawyers than in the 1980s and so, purely based on supply and demand clients have a lot of choice. This, and other factors have created a fundamental shift, where lawyers are considered more as service providers than professionals, although both still apply. Understanding how this has translated to competitive and service pressure on firms and a less intrinsically professional respectful approach by clients is fundamental for new entrants. An ability to demonstrate this knowledge and readiness to adapt fast are key traits law firms outside the Global Elite look for.

2. People and creative skills are hugely important

In the new legal marketplace where law firms must operate more as businesses and where law firms are going out of business, recognising what clients want from lawyers rather than providing the professional service you believe they need is essential. The internet means that clients often self diagnose and have a reasonable knowledge of the law. What commercial clients look for and what I consider to be “commercial awareness” (although there are many different definitions of this) is a cost effective solution to their problem. The values of common sense, experience, business and people skills (such as negotiation skills) have risen to the fore. Technical legal competence is expected. It is these additional aspects that are now highly sought after. A positive, open and friendly attitude is also important. There’s a professional relationship between lawyer and client but don’t underestimate that, given a huge choice of lawyers now, clients will often choose someone they like.

3. Be open, adaptable and have a team ethos

Building a group of paratroopers ring in free fall.A good example of all of the above relates to marketing. 20 years ago, law firms didn’t do much marketing and in some aspects it wasn’t professionally allowed. Marketing has now become very important for lawyers. There are still many lawyers who don’t want to undertake any marketing, don’t believe it’s their job but can’t and won’t explain why! Times have changed and smaller firms need lawyers who embrace ideas, are willing to go out and meet people and who step out of narrow, traditional and outdated lawyer roles. In short, people, who don’t just wait for work to come in. The right attitude goes a long way in this respect.

4. Don’t be afraid of lawyers and look to make connections early

Personal connections open doors – lawyers now need to get out more and there are plenty of places where you can meet people. Perhaps you have friends or family who know lawyers? Maybe you have opportunities to meet them through the University careers service? Are you aware of the  6 degrees of separation idea? We are all only 6 steps or fewer away from connecting with anyone else! With a bit of work, LinkedIn and support you should be able to make useful contacts. I gather there’s a blog on LinkedIn coming soon!

It’s very hard to find out about someone’s real personality at a job interview, or even in a week work experience. If you’ve met and impressed staff at a smaller firm you have at least half a foot in the door! Follow Darlingtons, I recently gave an open talk about the profession. You might want to come along to future events we, or our competitors, offer.

5. Balanced, rounded individuals with life skills are ideal

equilibrium300The importance of team work is huge – see more on this here. As a lawyer you’ll have to maintain teamwork internally and externally. A lawyer should always think about the growth of his or her firm as well as his or her own client base. Make sure that you learn these basic skills at university.

More reading here on the themes and trends above, which may be useful for law students.

Good luck! If you’re at Warwick I’ll look forward to meeting you on campus soon.”

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