25 October 2011
Kennedys graduate recruitment partner Andrew Coates advises aspiring lawyers to seek out paralegal work at a number of different firms - even if it is unpaid - in order to get a realinsight into which aspects of the law they like and to help them decide whether they are suited to a career in law.
Firm: Kennedys Law
Department: Professional practice
University: Reading University
Degree subject: Law
Hobbies: Following AC Milan, reading PG Wodehouse and sailing
How long have you been a partner? Nineteen years
Who/what inspired you to be a lawyer? My grandad was a chief of police in the British Transport Police and I was fascinated by his colourful stories about life in the various police forces he worked in over his long career. Early on he researched and co-wrote a guide to criminal procedure with a junior barrister by the name of Tom Denning (later Lord Denning) who at that stage was a prosecuting counsel making a name for himself in railway cases. By the time I was 14-years-old I was determined I was going to be a lawyer.
What things did you wish you knew before embarking on a legal career? I was pleased to find that mathematicians, engineers and many other disciplines also make good lawyers and I wish that I had known this when I was at school as it would have saved me from a lot of angst over my english and history results at A level.
What does your typical day involve? My main role at Kennedys is broadly that of in-house counsel and so I handle any risk and compliance issues across the firm. I can be handling urgent conflicts, potential complaints or notifications to our insurers, data protection issues, tenders, and money laundering enquires as they arise on top of the regular tasks such as the risk induction, internal audits and running the SRA intervention team.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job? The most challenging aspects are the ones that are the least tangible - making sure that the firm’s risk and compliance programme does its job without being a barrier to business and providing enough oversight without losing the culture and feel of the firm.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? The highlight has to be working with a cross-department team from IT and facilities to become the first UK law firm to be accredited to the forerunner of the Information Security Standard ISO 27001 (BS 7799).
What are the best aspects of your job? All of the people I work with on a daily basis, including the other members of the professional practice department, the graduate recruitment team and the senior management of the firm. The culture of the firm really is a sort of glue that holds us together.
What are the worst aspects of your job? Although risk and compliance are seen in a more positive light at Kennedys than at many other firms - our department uses the image of an icebreaker to demonstrate that our main task is to clear away anything that blocks a lawyer’s progress on a case - it is a long haul to remind lawyers that better risk management produces a better product or service.
What tips would you give to students who want to break into the legal profession? I recommend that you seek out paralegal experience at a number of different firms even if it is unpaid. Just seeing how things work close up on a daily basis can give real insight into what aspects of the law you like and whether it is for you.
What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen candidates making? On application forms I see a lot of management-speak and inappropriate or repeated use of buzz words or even ordinary words such as ’passionate’. The wrong choice of words can suggest to the reader that you are trying too hard, that you are not the person you say you are or, worse, you are not bright enough to get across exactly what it is you want to say. In interviews the mostly common mistakes I see are the result of a lack of research into the firm’s particular areas of practice, including not being able to describe examples of the type of case that the firm has handled and not being well-enough rehearsed with good examples of experiences that demonstrate a particular character trait. When asked to talk through a challenging experience to show what you have learned it is not going to be good enough to talk about when the family pet died.
How has the legal market changed since the days you were a trainee? The delivery of legal services has become heavily-reliant upon IT and the expectations of clients have increased with every new technology.
What impact has the recession had on your firm? The impact on Kennedys has been similar to the last two recessions that I remember. We have continued to receive a steady stream of new instructions, we have picked up some interesting lateral hires from other firms who have not ridden out the recession so well and we have continued to grow our core practice areas worldwide. This is because we specialise in doing only what we know we can do well. As far as dispute resolution is concerned our core clients see us as a key partner to their businesses, very much in the role of trusted advisor.
What three words best describe your firm? International dispute resolution.
Where did you go for your last holiday? Near Bergerac on the Dordogne. A relaxing break with my wife and three boys, reading, swimming in the pool and playing board games.
What gadget/gizmo would you be lost without? My iPod nano, which provides a cocoon of music during the daily commute.