Do something different, get some work experience and develop your interview skills, says senior solicitor Simon Wilson. We asked him about his own career path, and ideas for students starting out today.
What led to you becoming a solicitor?
I had an interest in the law from a young age. From about 12 I wanted to be a solicitor – in particular criminal cases on the news always fascinated me.
At school I studied maths, history, geography and general studies. Following my degree (LLB Hons Law) I completed my Legal Practice Course (LPC). I had by then secured a training contract to qualify as a solicitor which I went into straight away.
What was the turning point in your career?
Being offered a training contract at my first firm. Contracts were hard to come by so it felt like a major achievement. I went on a work placement for two summers with a local firm. My first week consisted of putting furniture together, but it showed I was willing to do whatever it took. Gradually I was given more work and was actually offered a training contract before I was offered my LPC place.
When I first set out I wanted to learn about criminal law. That has changed to the extent that I have never practiced criminal law – I started doing clinical negligence (breach of a legal duty of care by a doctor or healthcare professional which results in damage being caused to the patient) on qualifying and it fascinated me.
What’s the most interesting part of your job?
Piecing together a case from client’s recollection, review of 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!
How can applicants stand out from the crowd?
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, and something that makes 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. Work on interviewing skills and techniques is never wasted.
Do you think there’s a type of person suited to becoming a solicitor? What key skills do they need?
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 a dogged determination to get the best outcome for your client. Litigation lawyers are usually argumentative by nature.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give a student or graduate?
I would suggest trying to get different placements whilst at university as this will give an insight into the practicalities of different work types and will give a student more of a feel for the type of law they wish to specialise in.
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. Do work experience. Offer to do holiday work at no cost. It shows commitment. But the main thing is never give up. You will get knockbacks and it is how you recover from those that matters.
Simon Wilson is a senior solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors.
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