We've all seen the popular legal dramas, Law and Order, Suits. Suits especially, showing the protagonists as gung-ho lawyers who use unrealistically creative tactics and questionable professional methods to get the job done. This, coupled with the constant action of one-upmanship and aggressive depositions and trial situations can create an unrealistic image for the aspiring lawyer who has never worked in practice.
When I first started studying law, I too thought that my life would be about constant legal problems, fighting between two parties and essentially a constant battle. I quickly learnt when I joined SME Broker Services on July 7th, 2017 that in my circumstances, legal work is more about preventing problems, rather than fixing them.
Of course, for certain lawyers, the dramatised work life isn't far from the truth. Take, for example, specialists in litigation whose entire career proficiency is about fixing legal problems that have already arisen. However, the ways in which real lawyers tend to go about this is a far cry from what is displayed in popular culture.
In litigation, both parties, the claimant's lawyer and the defendant's lawyer, generally show a great level of mutual respect when handling matters regarding a lawsuit. Of course, this is not always the case, however, the relevant governing bodies of the legal profession are very clear on standards of respect.
A lot of my role revolves around ensuring that these sorts of legal issues do not arise, through the writing of high-quality contracts and agreements. This has happened to the point where I would consider contract law as my main specialism, and to find your niche area of law at a young age is not incredibly common.
I have settled into the role well and now try to carry myself with professionalism and a level of knowledge that belies my tender age.
Of course, as well as this, whenever your friends know you do law there is always the following joke. "Oh, so if I get into trouble, you'll help get me off". Even at nineteen, I have heard this joke numerous times.
There is an expectation from people who do not know what it is like to study and practice law, that all you have to do is sit behind a desk and scan documents all day, then you get to go home. They don't tend to know the fact that most legal professionals take a lot of their work home with them, there is rarely a day where you do not think about the next working week.
For example, in 2016 the top firms in the United Kingdom have revealed the average arrival and leaving times for their rookie solicitors. Linklaters, a revered Magic Circle firm has revealed that their average arrival time is 09:32 and the average leave time is 20:26. This isn't even the longest average day published. (Source: Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, 2016)
As a student working in practice, they do not see that whilst working full time, I also have to put aside time in the evenings and on the weekends for study. This is true for most students who work in practice. My work life takes full priority over any outside commitments that I may have.
To be the best in law, you have to be flexible and always have the capacity to learn. This is because the law is never static in the United Kingdom and is always potentially subject to change or reforms. There is always a new concept that you need to get your head around. For example, for in-house professionals in the energy and data industry, we have to understand the General Data Protection Regulation, and in-house professionals in the financial sector have to understand the Criminal Finance Act 2017.
That being said, I love that part of my chosen career path. I love the fact that I am always busy and that things are always changing. It prevents your working life from becoming stale and rigid.
There is always the impression from friends and family members that know you work in the legal sector, that your life is full of prestige and glamour. Sure, this might be true once you are a high-flyer at a national firm, but no first-year legal professional is going to be driving a Mercedes. You have to work to achieve a high level of competency to gain those perks from your role.
There is also the fact that a lot of people do not like lawyers. I myself, have been called a plethora of names when I reveal that I am working to be a lawyer. The perception is that lawyers charge extortionate rates for their time and try to drag out proceedings to make their clients fork out more money. Whilst the issue of hourly rates is another discussion altogether, I myself have rarely heard of instances where lawyers have deliberately dragged out proceedings to line their pockets. Generally speaking, the ones who do, also get reprimanded or lose business.
Then, you get the people who won't stop asking you the specifics of your day's work. You kindly explain to them that for confidentiality reasons, you cannot go into detail. Then comes the weakest objection you will ever hear. "Come on, I won't tell anyone!" Maybe they won't tell anyone however, you still have to explain to them that you cannot take that risk and you must be bound by confidentiality.
Another event that happens a lot is that when I am with friends, they will regularly ask something along the lines of "You do law? Can you tell me the law on the Licensing Act 1872?". This is an example, however, there are many people who will assume that because you practice law, you must know every area.
The misunderstood reality is that the law is broken down into many subcategories and that no lawyer no matter how intelligent or talented, will know the ins and outs of every statute. This is why law firms have different specialist departments for different matters, such as litigation, contracts, property and so forth.
Despite all of these different expectations and sometimes, the frustrations of having to explain the realities to people, I love working in law. I genuinely feel that I could not work in a more rewarding, challenging and exciting field of employment.
Over the last eight months of working at SME Broker Services, I feel that I have developed immensely as a legal professional and an employee and I am confident that in future, I will still have the same love for the legal industry that I currently possess.
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