What I wish I had known before becoming a lawyer

As we head towards end of year exam time and the next generation are pondering careers, we took a moment to chat to some of our team of in-house lawyers at Arbor Law, to find out what they wish they had known before pursuing a career in law.

What I wish I had known before becoming a lawyer

That being a lawyer is not the same as what you see on TV!

Planning which career to pursue as a young person has very little to do with the reality of day-to-day work and much more to do with the impression of what you think a job might be like – often an impression formed from films, books or family friends.

There are many positive aspects to being a lawyer but there are also many parts of the job that young aspiring lawyers-to-be are not prepared for and, in this case, forewarned is definitely forearmed! It’s not like Suits!

What were you not prepared for when you first started working as a lawyer?

I don’t think you realise how well rounded you need to be in order to succeed as a lawyer.

When you’re training you concentrate on academic success and understanding legal technicalities, but in the real world with clients and urgent deadlines it’s often more important to be able to handle different personalities and manage expectations.

I always remember a very honest colleague saying ‘I seem to get included on every pitch for new work. I’m not actually an amazing technical lawyer but clients seem to like me so I’m in demand!’.

What do you find most challenging about being a lawyer?

It is hard to achieve a healthy work life balance sometimes when you work with clients, or in a busy in-house role where the business expects you to be on call at all times.

It’s a privilege to be considered a trusted adviser but equally you do have to know when to draw the line and protect your personal time outside of work. It can take quite a lot of confidence to say you won’t be joining a call or attending a meeting if you’ve got used to feeling indispensable but you risk burning out if you never stand up for your downtime.

As a lawyer, you can occasionally be asked to give your opinion about something that doesn’t really feel like a legal question, which can be tricky. Judgement calls about something that might affect the reputation of the business you are advising aren’t always black and white yet you are often expected to somehow know the ‘right’ answer.

What support do you think is essential for a lawyer?

You need your network both within work and outside of the business in order to retain perspective and stop yourself from operating in an echo chamber. Many lawyers can fall into the trap of believing there is only one way to approach an issue – your way – and don’t take time to listen to other opinions or suggestions.

Your network is also essential to provide advice and sympathy when things haven’t gone well. They can help by sharing similar examples of tough times and how they got through the situation – you can guarantee if it’s happened to you, it’ll have happened to someone in your network too. It’s okay to be a bit vulnerable sometimes and admit you’ve made a mistake with people who feel like a safe space.

What do you think will be the biggest issues for the lawyers of the future?

Technology is disrupting and changing the legal landscape continually at the moment. The pandemic saw some technology take giant leaps forward because of the need to be virtual. We’re a long way off lawyers being replaced by AI, but those who will really win are those who learn to use AI to provide better legal services.

The key is  remaining flexible and open to new technologies throughout your career. It’s the early adopters of technology that will reap the benefits and clients want to see their lawyers embracing systems that will save them time and money – they can see it adds value for them.

What other tips would you give someone considering law as a career?

Just come into it with your eyes open about the pressure that you might sometimes be under and all of the other things you have to fit into your day. As well as the ‘lawyering’ you also need to fit in your administration, your billing, your marketing and business development amongst other parts of the day job.

If you’re self employed or working with a platform like Arbor you can retain your independence but still enjoy strong support around you.