The recession of 2008 is firmly behind us. High street firms by and large are back to enjoying robust financial good health and their focus again turns to the age-old problems of processing work and succession planning.
In our universities, diploma entrant numbers are approaching record levels and being unable to secure a traineeship remains a real fear for many. Yet few entering the profession appear to consider practice on the high street, instead focusing on the glass and marble offices in the cities (perhaps due to the influences of popular culture and their exposure to only large firms on the annual ‘milk rounds’).
With smaller high street practices comprising the overwhelming majority of the profession by practice units, and around half the profession by solicitor, there seems to be a disconnect which, if left unchecked, will cause issues both for students and practices alike.
High street firms have so much to offer including the breadth and quality of work, the amount of client contact, career and advancement opportunities and, in most cases, great communities and quality of life. Potential trainees also often forget that the commute too many of Scotland’s towns is often less than from the suburbs into the city centres, particularly during rush hour.
While we have seen the demise of so many of Scotland’s high street businesses, legal firms remain largely undiminished. People continue to seek advice from legal firms they know and trust and who remain firmly a part of their local communities. The breadth of work they cover is also noteworthy ranging from the traditional conveyancing and private client services into the realms of forestry, agriculture, media and corporate law as well as varied and complex court work. Certainly, no two days are the same and the opportunities to experience a wide range of client and work types will, at times, exceed that offered by much larger firms.
Local firms can also provide opportunities for law graduates to really make a difference. Many are still coming to terms with social media and technology and are looking for those who can take meaningful roles in the development and implementation of their social media presence. Likewise, many with an eye to the future are looking to develop the young talent that will become the practice owners of tomorrow and who will continue the relationships with their clients and their clients’ children.
The vast majority of firms do not, however, have the time or resources to engage proactively with either the universities or Diploma students and many worry that either they are unable to attract or to retain qualified staff.
This is an issue that Harper Macleod been very much aware of through our HM Connect support and referral network, which comprises more than 350 law firms across the country.
Over the last few years, HM Connect has begun to address these issues through lectures and talks to students at diploma level and with meetings and discussions at legal firms and faculties across Scotland. We have already had some success finding trainee and work placement opportunities with member firms. There is no doubt that expectations of both firms and trainees are evolving and many now want to ‘try before they buy’. Summer placements and part-time work give both an opportunity to see if the ‘fit’ is right.
This year we are taking our efforts one stage further with stands at two of Scotland’s Law Fairs to promote the opportunities at high street firms. The first will be Strathclyde University on the 19th of September and then Glasgow University on 2nd October. Both of these stands will be solely on behalf of Scotland’s high street firms.
We hope to achieve two things with this initiative:-
n To educate students on the opportunities that exist at high street level, how firms there operate and how best to engage with them; and
n To present to them opportunities that exist throughout Scotland including researchers, summer work, part time employment or potential traineeships.
We are inviting Scotland’s high street practitioners (whether they are HM Connect members or not) who have any potential work opportunities that might suit a law student to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to do the rest.
Alternatively if any practitioner would like to come along to either or both law fairs to meet ‘the lawyers of tomorrow’ then again just to let us know.
Stephen Vallance is a Sector Development Lawyer working in the HM Connect team