Arlene Gibbs, Solicitor, Legal & Governance, Aberdeenshire Council, discusses her recent experience at the Lawscot Student Roadshow, where she joined a panel to speak about career opportunities outside a big firm from an in-house and high street perspective.
Law students in Scotland are keen to hear about in-house and high street careers opportunities; that much is clear from the captive audience of students that arrived at the Society of Advocates library in Aberdeen for the recent first instalment of the Lawscot Student Roadshow. This new event is designed to allow students an insight into career options other than those offered by big firms, which are significantly more visible for a newcomer to the legal market. I was asked to speak to the students about my route to qualification and share my experiences as an in-house local government solicitor working at Aberdeenshire Council.
Fuelled with tea and biscuits, the audience was primed and ready to quiz the panel on getting a foot in the door, career progression, how our workplace cultures might differ from those at a big firm and insights on deconstructing the elusive 'commercial awareness' skill set.
Introducing the panel
Four speakers made up a varied panel. From the in-house side, I was there to represent the public sector and Veripos Ltd was from the private sector. From the high street, A.C Morrison & Richards LLP represented the city centre and R & R Urquhart LLP brought a view from a more rural setting. Despite the breadth of our respective areas of work (ranging from private client work to planning law to mergers and acquisitions to agricultural law) what struck me were the shared and common experiences we had all encountered in our careers so far.
What's so good about training in-house or on the high street?
When asked what skills we had gained during our traineeships that we might not otherwise have gained had we been training in a big firm, we unanimously agreed that the opportunity to have responsibility for our own case load and the chance to have direct contact with our clients from day one would be what sets us apart from our big firm peers. Having the ability to undertake research, develop excellent written communication skills and the opportunity to become a capable solicitor should be up for grabs wherever you train (big firm or not) but that could not necessarily be said about the immediacy of direct engagement with clients and managing a file from start to finish. The significance of gaining these skills early on in my career has allowed me to take on additional responsibility, manage a very full and demanding workload with confidence and appreciate better my role in the organisation where I work (and more importantly the value I add to the work of my clients).
Opportunities are there to be had
Whilst working in-house or in a smaller firm may be a less obvious career choices for some, I wish the students well as they enter the final stages of their university careers and work towards securing a traineeship; wherever that may be. With 50% of traineeships (according to 2016/17 data) being secured in-house or on the high street, I would encourage them to keep the door open to all career opportunities that may come their way over the coming years: in-house and high street employers have a lot to offer new lawyers.
There are still spaces on our Dundee Lawscot Student Roadshow on 27 February - find out more and sign up now!