Legal: Prospects in every direction for newly-qualified

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ONE of the things I am asked most about is career prospects for new lawyers. There has been so much discussion in the media about the difficulties facing graduates generally, with the legal profession being no exception to this.

There is no doubt that the solicitors being admitted at today’s ceremony have done incredibly well to get to this stage. Being offered a place on the LLB is an achievement in itself, and securing a traineeship can only mean these individuals have been proactive about their career and have worked hard to be offered a training contract in competitive times. While the legal profession is competitive, there are, however, still many opportunities.

Each year, most diploma graduates (around 75 per cent) secure traineeships and 85 per cent of newly-qualified solicitors secure a role as a solicitor in Scotland. It’s often a difficult balance to strike – we want to ensure no-one starts a course of action assuming a traineeship or job awaits them at the end when that isn’t the case, but we have to balance that with not creating a “doom and gloom” impression, and ensure talented individuals continue to enter the legal profession. We don’t tend to advise on a particular course of action but, rather, allow the numbers to speak for themselves.

The advice I would give to any new lawyer is to remember you are in charge of your own career. It sounds obvious, but in reality it is all too easy to forget. The decisions you make now will start to shape your career in the future. Sometimes the decision you make is not the one you would have made in an ideal world, or if economic times were different. Quite often we see people who have dreamed of a career in criminal defence accepting a traineeship specialising in conveyancing, because that was the only option available at the time. In these cases, it can be difficult to remember that you are in charge of your career, but it’s fair to say most people’s careers can take them in unexpected directions. The challenge is how you deal with this, and control what is in your gift to control.

One effective way of taking control is finding a mentor, particularly one that has the kind of career you are aiming for. The Society plans to introduce a mentoring scheme later this year, with a focus on career development, which some new solicitors may wish to be involved in. Unofficial mentoring arrangements are established all the time, and the feedback I get is that both mentor and mentee benefit greatly.

There are other things you can do to help you plan your career as well. Think about broadening your skills by attending training courses or seminars that are outwith your usual area – this will help you to consider different areas of practice and help broaden your network of contacts. Consider writing an article on a particular area of law to start to build your reputation. If you are keen to develop your skills in managing people or delivering presentations, look for opportunities both within and outwith your firm or organisation, or think about taking on a role in a voluntary organisation where you can develop useful skills and experiences that may benefit you in the workplace.

Taking control of your career has got you to the point of being admitted. As a result, I have no doubt new solicitors have the tools to create opportunities and to ensure the legal profession continues to evolve and develop.

• Heather McKendrick is development officer, education and training, at the Law Society of Scotland.


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