The legal world looks very different compared to 10 or even five years ago, and for students and newly-qualified lawyers just starting out, the path to partnership is no longer the only way to have a fulfilling and gratifying legal career.
Once upon a time it was a given that a lawyer would progress in a linear way through a practice and aim to one day be made partner. However, there are now more options available.
When you qualify, there are a number of routes to consider: firstly, there are large practices, which could be a multinational practice or a large City practice. This may be demanding and is often attractive to those who are tempted by commercial law.
On the other hand, high street practices give the opportunity to try many different areas of law before specialising on qualification. The technological sophistication of these firms varies: some are at the forefront of new changes, others are reluctant to embrace it.
Finally, an option which is growing in popularity for lawyers is independent working. Many lawyers no longer want to live to work but work to live a quality life. I made this choice just over a year ago, with no regrets. I am able to use and update technology quickly. My office is paperless. I meet clients at venues that best suit them in London and the South East. I no longer need to commute. I no longer have to endure frequent and lengthy meetings.
That’s why mentoring should increasingly be an option considered by legal students in the early stages of their training and learning—it’s a great way to hear about all the different ways to work as a lawyer.
I have volunteered as a mentor through a scheme run jointly by the Alumni Relations team and the Careers Service at The University of Aberdeen and have seen first-hand how this programme can benefit legal students. The programme runs for six months between November and April of the academic year. When I applied, I had to provide details of my qualifications and experience so the students could choose the mentor that would best suit the area of law that they are interested in and can provide them with information about real legal practice. I was chosen by a legal student who was studying Scots and English law and was interested in family law.
The university provides detailed information about the expectations of the mentors called the Career Mentoring Toolkit. The typical roles of the mentor are—adviser (advice which the mentee decides how best to use); sounding board (testing ideas and suggestions); motivator (encouraging and motivating to achieve) and facilitator (highlighting opportunities for personal development). The frequency of meetings can be decided, and these meetings can look at future options, the mentee’s CV, job search strategies and interview techniques.
I have seen the benefits that a mentor scheme can provide for trainee lawyers. I was pleased to be able to talk through not just how rewarding I find my work as a family lawyer to be, but also how working more flexibly is increasingly an option and how creating more balance in your life doesn’t mean sacrificing quality work—it’s about more freedom to work in a way that suits you. Equally, mentoring was an initiative I too took a lot away from, both personally and professionally.
As the legal market, and how firms operate within that market, continues to change and evolve, those entering the profession should consider exploring all the options available to them. I would recommend investigating a mentoring scheme if available, as this contact is so valuable, especially as the traditional path to partnership becomes less well-trodden.