Where do you work?
I work in a global law firm in the City of London.
How would you describe your role?
As a Solicitor, my role was to advise external clients i.e. someone would come to see me with a situation which required a legal opinion or document. We would talk through exactly what the issue was, so I could ensure I was very clear as to what they were concerned about or what they needed and I would then inform them what legal options they had and together we would work out how best to proceed taking into account: the facts, the law which applied, what they wanted from the situation and commercially what was the best route forward for them. If they wished I would then represent them i.e. act (speak and write) on their behalf to reach the agreed outcome.
As a Risk Director, I am responsible for looking after the law firm which I work for and ensuring that the law firm and those who work in it (i.e. its partners and solicitors across all of its offices in the varying jurisdictions) comply with all rules and regulations which apply to them i.e. Anti-Money Laundering, Data Protection, local bar rules and the rules within the SRA’s Handbook (Solicitors Regulation Authority), by way of examples – there are plenty of rules which apply! I am also responsible for providing advice and guidance to the firm’s board as to the steps to take when, for example, they are thinking of opening a new office in a new jurisdiction or merging/combining with another law firm. Finally, I monitor risk in the firm i.e. the likelihood of something detrimental happening to the firm and the impact if it does happen, to ensure that resource and finance is focused on the areas which pose the greatest risk to the firm and its clients and I also manage a team who run audit checks across the firm to see if the firm’s policies and procedures are being complied with.
How long have you performed the role?
I have been a fully qualified Solicitor for 18 years and I have worked as a Risk Director for 6 years.
Why did you want to work for your current employer?
I wanted to work for my current employer since they have a good reputation and the work they carry out is interesting and varied. I also enjoy having the opportunity to work with people in other countries, as they have offices around the world.
What educational qualifications do people need to perform your role?
To become a Solicitor, the most recognised way is for you to either obtain a law degree (LLP) (study time is 3 years) and then the LPC (study time is 1 year) or you can obtain a non-law degree, but you would need to complete a one-year conversion course and then the LPC. After your academic training you need to complete a 2-year training contract with a law firm.
You can also become a Solicitor via an Apprentiship scheme or CILEx course. For more information on these, you should speak to the SRA or the Law Society.
To become a Risk Director there is no prescribed course or route of study, but there is a preference for you to have been a solicitor and have knowledge of all legal and regulatory compliance rules which apply to law firms. Further, a qualification in risk or internal audit would be of benefit.
What practical experience do people need to help them to obtain your role?
Law is very competitive to get into. The hardest part is getting a training contract, so you need your application and CV to stand out from the crowd. Law firms will not only look at high academic achievement – a number of firms will not consider a candidate if they have a degree below a 2:1 (although this is not always the case), but they will look at other practical experience and (in my experience) although they like and support candidates who have worked in other law firms, their current preference appears to be for candidates who have worked in other industries i.e in industries where their clients come from since this demonstrates a broader knowledge and depth and also gives the law firm an advantage when they are marketing to and trying to attract new clients and work.
Lots of people start in risk by obtaining junior analyst roles in Conflicts or AML (Client intake) or in Auditing or Risk.
Are there any particular personal skills which people need to have to perform your role?
Good communication skills are important (both written and oral).
Having the ability to extract key facts and issues from a wealth of information, apply the law to this and then provide succinct and accurate advice.
Being able to mix with and get on with a variety of different people.
Be self driven to ensure you are always up to date on your area of specialism and you know what your competitors are doing in the market.
If your school, college or university offers courses or training on: Writing reports for boards, how to sell and pitch, being an entrepreneur, business etiquette and future planning your career and goals, I would encourage you to attend these. They may not appear at first to be relevant to a career in law, but as you progress you will realise how important it is to have knowledge in those areas.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I like helping and assisting people, whether that is external client facing (as a Solicitor) or internal client facing, (as a Risk Director).
I also like being challenged on a daily basis and having to think outside of the box re the best way forwards.
What can be challenging about your work?
The long hours can be difficult with a family, since you can be on call 24/7. Law also tends to be quite a high-pressured environment, where you will be exposed to a variety of personalities. The key is to always be professional and ensure you can find ways to relax and de-stress, to enable you to be effective.
What is your fondest memory?
Carrying out some free legal pro-bono work for an elderly lady who was threatened with eviction from her home. We enabled her to remain in her home and obtained compensation for her, for the distress which had been caused. She was so happy and relieved that she sat and cried in the office. It was really nice to have helped her.
Do you have any personal advice for children/teenagers and young adults?
As stated above, law is a very competitive industry. It is also an expensive industry to get into with high university and LPC fees and although salaries can be good eventually, it is not always the highly paid industry which people think it is, so you need to think carefully before entering the profession and decide whether the financial outlay is a risk worth taking. The main stumbling block will be getting a training contract, so if this is a route you are following, you need focus on how you will go about achieving this. Law is also an area which is at risk from advances in artificial intelligence, so it is worthwhile keeping an eye on this area to assess where the risks and opportunities are.
Having said the above, if it is something which you really want to do, then provided you are focused on what you want to achieve and have a plan as to how you can achieve it, then there is no reason why you can’t enter the legal profession.
Entering the legal profession via a career in Risk should not be underestimated. Whilst you do not practice as a solicitor, you work at the heart of the law firm and you still practice law. It is a very interesting area and you have more chance of being promoted quickly through a law firm in this area as there are still currently more vacancies than there are trained people.
My main advice is to believe in yourself, plan the future which you would like and research into how best to achieve it. Do be prepared to be flexible as plans and situations develop and change and undertake as much research as you can into your chosen area and don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Most of all, enjoy what you choose to do.