22 August 2012
Hogan Lovells trainee George Jenkins advises aspiring lawyers to talk to trainee solicitors and partners who have been through the process to get a better idea of what a career in law is really like.
Firm: Hogan Lovells
Degree: Modern History
Universities: Oxford University (Jesus College)
London School of Economics (Post Graduate)
GDL or LPC: Both
Hobbies: Sport, socialising, music
Department: Insurance litigation
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
I was keen to utilise and continue to develop the skills I had picked up during the course my degree, training as a solicitor offered this opportunity. I could see much crossover in the skill set of studying history at university and the skills that would be required to train as a solicitor. In particular my degree was very research heavy and required analysis and assimilation of large amounts of information into concise, clear and logical argument. When choosing a career, law stood out in offering me the chance to continue to utilise such skills.
I chose to become a solicitor in particular, as opposed to pursuing a career at the bar, as I have always wanted to work in an office atmosphere and as part of a team.
Why did you choose your firm?
I was lucky enough to have a number of friends who were already working at Hogan Lovells and had very positive things to say about the firm. In particular they were able to confirm to me that the ethos that Hogan Lovells portrays, as being a welcoming and collegiate firm, is an accurate one. I was well aware of the reputation of Hogan Lovells as an international firm with a strong reputation for high quality work, but what set it apart from other firms that have similar claims is that it is able to maintain its friendly and supportive atmosphere. My friends who worked at the firm before I applied confirmed to me that this reputation was a fair one and this is what appealed to me.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?
During my third seat I went on to secondment to Dubai. This was an amazing experience and one that I am very glad that I did. Working and living in a different country was fantastic opportunity both professionally and personally and the 6 months I had abroad were great fun.
What does your typical day involve?
It would not be possible to describe a typical day as what a trainee gets involved in changes from day to day and from department to department. In my current seat I am heavily involved in an on-going piece of litigation. As part of this my day to day activities often include attending meetings with counsel or with expert witnesses, assisting in the drafting expert reports or witness statements, document management and research. However it is fair to say that no two trainees will have the same experience and the day to day work you might get involved in is hard to predict or to categorise.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department?
My department deals primarily with insurance and reinsurance matters. It is fairly unique however in that the work it carries out is half contentious and half non-contentious and the lawyers who work in the department have experience with both. The kind of contentious matters my group undertakes includes representing insurance companies, insurance brokers and insurance intermediaries for a whole range of different disputes or actions. In terms of non-contentious work much of this involves regulatory advice to insurance clients.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
The work is most enjoyable when you feel you are making a valuable and meaningful contribution to a matter and that you are being given a good level of responsibility over the work you are doing.
Socially as well I am lucky that the trainee body at Hogan Lovells is very friendly and we often socialise together in and out of the office. Working in such an environment naturally makes coming to work a more enjoyable experience.
What are the worst aspects of your job?
It is true that as a trainee there are times when the work you are given is repetitive and menial. Trainees can be left with some of the less interesting tasks and this is probably the worst aspect of the job.
It is also true that at times the hours can be long, although they are not as bad as the horror stories that you hear before you begin work and so in some ways the constant long hours are a bit of a misconception.\
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession?
The long hours aside (hours vary significantly but they are certainly not always long) the biggest misconception I had was that I would be disadvantaged by not having done a law degree. Although it is very important that you are technically proficient, this is something you develop as you progress throughout your career. A willingness to learn and stay up to date with legal developments once you start is essential but it is not the case that you need to have studied law to be properly equipped with the skills to make a good lawyer. Successful lawyers must be commercially aware and comfortable interacting with clients just as much as they must be technically capable with law. The conception that being a lawyer is all about understanding the law, and therefore a law degree is essential, is the most common misconception of the profession that I hear.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
Talk to trainees and people who have been through the process. They will be able to give you the best indication of what it is really like. It is also important to really think about whether you want to do law or not. The process of qualification is a long one and takes quite a degree of patience and commitment. You should be sure you want to pursue a career in law before you embark on it.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?
Law firms are looking for people who are committed and willing to work hard when necessary. It is important to avoid anything that might give the impression that this is not the case. Law firms are also looking for well- rounded individuals so it is important that those looking to pursue a career in law must avoid appearing too one dimensional.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?
I did not study law at degree level nor did I do any kind of formal vacation scheme. The biggest challenge was convincing law firms that I was committed to a career in law and that I understood what the job would involve. I did this by making sure I had talked to as many people as I could about the legal profession and read about the firm and the kind of work it did.
It is also a challenge for all people applying for a legal job to show they are sufficiently commercially aware to understand the needs of clients. Commerciality is not something that students usually think about but it is a skill that law firms are very keen for their trainees to have and a candidate is likely to have to demonstrate it in an interview if they are to be successful.
How is law in practice different from studying law?
You quickly learn in practice that the work you do is first and foremost for the client and must address their specific needs. Advice is always prepared with the client in mind and therefore it is essential to be commercially aware of the business of the client. Clients expect that your legal advice is always correct, it goes without saying. What is just as important to them is that the advice is tailored to their own needs and is commercially practical. Understanding the business and the intentions of the client is essential to being a successful lawyer in practice and is equally as important as having strong technical legal skills. It is this aspect of the work that differs from studying law as an academic subject.
Further, once you begin work you become very aware that the law firm is also a business and operates as such. Therefore work does not always just include law but often you will be involved in things such as business development and marketing work. This is something you would not be exposed to when simply studying law.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates?
Firms like Hogan Lovells are looking for bright, motivated and well-rounded individuals who will fit into the ethos of the firm. They must be happy and able to work well with others but still be able to be proactive and responsible for their own work and time.