Students and graduates trying to build a career in law can often feel overwhelmed by the competition. We asked two of our solicitors to share their experience and advice for those hoping to work in the legal sector.
Hayley Collinson and Simon Wilson are both solicitors at Neil Hudgell. Simon acts as joint Head of Clinical Negligence, dealing with both medical and dental negligence claims. Similarly, Hayley Collinson is a solicitor from our clinical negligence team.
Q: What’s the most interesting part of your job?
Simon: Piecing together a case from the client’s recollection, then reviewing records and medical reports. Clients can have many volumes of records and a full review can take hours. You need to be able to spot the needle in the haystack. One page out of thousands may be the key, so you need to be analytical and have powers of concentration!
Q: Were you always interested in becoming a solicitor?
S: I had an interest in law from a young age. From about 12 I wanted to be a solicitor. In particular, criminal cases on the news always fascinated me. This was fuelled by big criminal trials such as Peter Sutcliffe’s (the Yorkshire Ripper) and the Dennis Nilsen trial.
Q: How did you set out on the path to become a solicitor?
Hayley: I decided to take law at A Level, along with history, English language, English literature and general studies. I do not believe A Level Law is a pre requisite for a law degree, but it helped me feel confident in choosing it over an English degree.
I always felt that I was more suited to becoming a solicitor, so after university I went on to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the College of Law.
S: Following my degree (LLB Hons Law) I was lucky enough to get a place at the College of Law at York to do my LPC which I did in the following academic year. I had by then secured a training contract which I went into straight away. I qualified in 1996.
When I first set out I wanted to learn about criminal law. That has changed to the extent that I have never practised criminal law – I started working in clinical negligence on qualifying and it fascinated me.
Q: Are there any common misconceptions around what you do?
H: Clinical negligence lawyers can come under scrutiny in the press, especially regarding pay-outs that are made by the NHS in clinical negligence claims in both compensation and legal costs.
The term compensation culture also frustrates me: why should someone who has genuinely suffered injury and loss, be prevented from seeking compensation? When something goes wrong with medical treatment, it can often have a profound impact on the person concerned and their family.
S: Yes, the misconception that it’s all about the money, or that we are ambulance chasers. This is often reinforced by government and the media. We are not very good at defending ourselves as a profession ironically! Our focus is on helping clients.
Q: Do you think certain people are more suited to becoming a solicitor?
H: I believe for clinical negligence you need to be analytical and have good people skills but I do not think there is a specific type of person suited to becoming a solicitor. I am confident there is a firm and specialism suited to every prospective solicitor who has the drive to secure a training contract.
S: You need common sense as well as intelligence – they are really not the same thing. In my field of clinical negligence you need analytical skills and determination to get the best outcome for your client. Litigation lawyers are usually argumentative by nature.
Q: How can applicants stand out?
H: I think non-legal work experience can be important, especially at the start of your career when you want to get your first legal role. Working in retail or a restaurant demonstrates that you are hardworking and have good people skills. Do not be afraid to mention these in your application, alongside legal work experience placements.
S: Do something different. Interests such as reading or going to the cinema are ten a penny. Do some community work; get some sports coaching badges, things that make you interesting to someone who sees 20 CVs a week. Work experience helps, it shows you are committed.
There are many applicants for every job so you need to show commitment and enthusiasm for the law. When interviewing, though, the main thing is personality: yes I need to know people have the knowledge, but I need to know they will fit in with my team, too.
Q: What do you think is the most important piece of advice for graduates and students?
H: Firstly I would say do not give up, it is not always easy to become a qualified solicitor given the number of graduates each year, so be prepared when you embark on your LPC that you may have to do a paralegal or assistant role before you secure a training contract. It is also not likely you will get the first contract you apply for, just keep trying.
I would also recommend that law graduates start applying for training contracts the summer before they start their final year at University because some contracts are advertised two years in advance. Work experience placements can also be a great way to secure a contract.
S: Be certain it’s what you want to do, then be determined to get to where you want. It is hard work and you need drive to succeed. You will get knockbacks and it is how you recover from those that matters.