John is a trainee solicitor at Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge, in North Lanarkshire, and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma.

Combining academia and practice

When I was offered my traineeship at Brodies back in the fourth year of the LLB, I did have a (very) short moment of hesitation as I had long thought of pursuing a career in academia.

Fortunately, there are many individuals in legal practice who have combined both roles: Professors Robert Rennie and Lorne Crerar at the University of Glasgow just two examples of a long line who combined practice with academic work. This got me thinking: do the same opportunities exist at trainee level?

The answer is a resounding yes. There are plentiful opportunities in your team to get involved in more academic work. Trainees are regularly published in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal News, and sector publications.

My own particular highlight, as my first passion was constitutional law, was being published on the UK Supreme Court blog.

A good tip is to keep your finger on the pulse of legal news south of the border, as there is regularly a distinct Scottish perspective that is quite easy to articulate with a background of the Scots LLB. There are a multitude of Scottish and international journals seeking commentary on every area of law. If you didn’t get involved with law reviews much at university, a book review or case comment is a good place to start.

If you have fuller experience already, often your perspective from practice can offer insight that academic journals are only too happy to receive. The best way to find out about these is to simply email the editor of the relevant journal, and they are usually only too happy to assist.

In addition, there are more formal opportunities such as essay prizes. In the last few years, I have been lucky to win or place in the Times Law Award, the UK Association for European Law’s biennial essay prize, the WS Society / SYLA Essay Prize, and the Frank Maguire Memorial Award. I’d recommend these to any Scots student or trainee, as it’s an excellent way of keeping your research skills sharp, as well as earning a little extra money!

I have just recently returned from Budapest, where I was representing the UK Association for European Law (and my firm, Brodies) at the International Federation for European Law’s (FIDE) biennial conference. This was an incredible experience, during which I was able to meet some of Europe’s finest judicial and academic minds, and was something my firm were only too happy to support.

There are also many opportunities to assist with the new trend in law schools: clinical legal education. This is where students learn through the process of researching and giving legal advice, rather than just memorising cases by rote.

I’ve recently started volunteering as a supervising (trainee) solicitor at the University of Strathclyde’s law clinic. I had expected helping out individuals with their queries to be rewarding, but it’s equally as satisfying to discuss matters with students and see their perspective on the issues and potential solutions. This, or a variant of it, exists in all of Scotland’s major cities, and it’s something I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

There are also chances to teach at local universities. While still to be finalised, I am likely to be teaching on the employment law course at one of the universities in Glasgow next year. If you’re a student in one of my classes, please be nice!

In all seriousness, though, this is a very useful way of not just keeping legal knowledge current; it’s also a very useful way of marking yourself out as having full knowledge of your field. Academia and practice don’t have to be mutually exclusive – experience in one can actually be an advantage in the other.

The traineeship

Finish your legal education by learning 'on the job' working as a trainee under the supervision of a Scots-qualified solicitor. Traineeships last for a period of two years and, after its successful completion, you are ready to apply to take out a solicitor's practising certificate.