Not entirely like “Suits” or “Legally Blonde”, a career in law is
high-pressured, competitive and demanding, and often only those who genuinely love the work stand a chance at success.
At least 40 percent of law graduates don’t end up in a legal career, but rather work across a multitude of fields ranging from business,
PR and marketing, to even scientific and technical activities sectors. Many law graduates have gotten jobs in teaching and administration; in public service settings; for corporations and businesses; and for nonprofit organisations. Even though the theoretical aspects may not be utilised, your law degree is not wasted because it gives you skills employable in all kinds of profession.
realise that law and the legal profession is, in fact, alive. The “practice” of law is a verb for a reason; it is about putting into practice and applying concepts and theories to real problems. Lawyers are akin to doctors, as Qin Ru points out. Just as there are different doctors in different specialities – cardiologists, ophthalmologists and gastroenterologist – lawyers have various expertise too, such as family law, intellectual property and corporate practice. For those who are at crossroads whether to embark or remain in a legal career, our mentors shared their insights on some questions young lawyers should reflect on and what it takes to excel.
Here are 5 checklists to help you in your decision:
1. Have you discovered the drive behind your work?
Kelvin, a trainee solicitor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in London, gets excited when he speaks of the stimulating nature of the job. His
As a tangent but nonetheless equally important, Qin Ru also thinks that lawyers should ask themselves: “what is my co-interest?”
She draws an example from herself to illustrate. As a 7th year corporate and commercial lawyer currently in
“I love how my job is project based (6 to 9 months) and how much commercial skills are involved. It’s all about how you marry the two of your interests together because
Izwan, a corporate lawyer at Widuri Capital Management, explains that it is hard to appreciate what you do if there is a lack of understanding. Your superior may not explain to you which adds to the confusion. “And so, you should be naturally curious about your job, and how it relates to the real world,” he says.
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2. Do you have a high sense of self-awareness about your strengths and qualities?
Have a heightened sense of self-awareness about what your interests are. Knowing your strengths and qualities are also necessary to excel, leading to a higher sense of commitment.
Kelvin thinks that some of the most important qualities a good lawyer should have are analytical skills, determination, communication skills and being commercially aware. As a whole, a good lawyer should have the ability to pick up issues and understand how they affect your clients, and consequently coming up with a framework, solution or method.
Izwan also talks about the ability to “always anticipate, not react”. A client who gives you a contract and asks for a review will expect you to propose or advice his next cause of action, and to go the extra mile if necessary.
However, Kelvin also mused that it is very important to be open. “I have seen so many lawyers who went into law thinking it’s just one thing, but they get an entirely different experience from what they intend it to be… so don’t set a strict benchmark for yourself!”
(Image source: Demetri Martin)
3. Do you enjoy
summarising complex information and expressing them clearly?
Upon asking Gregory Das from Shook Lin & Bok what he loved about his job most, he
For example, how you present legal arguments to your superiors in contrast with how you present to clients will differ greatly, although it should be thorough yet precise in both situations. Essentially, it is about explaining things in a clear and succinct manner best suited to your audience.
Being able to express your client’s point of view clearly is immensely important, and the best way of doing so is to have a strong command of
“Presenting information is what you will do daily – be it to the courts, your clients, your superiors or colleagues. Lawyers should know which relevant parts of the information to take out and to express them very clearly. This is indispensable and is a skill those who are interested should work on. I cannot
4. Are you a people person?
“There are very few other professions that
Kelvin conjectures that legal problems are essentially stories. It is easy to be focused on the principle, but if you delve deeper into the facts, each case is essentially a personal problem and revolves around people and relationships. That said, a good lawyer, or litigator specifically, may not necessarily be an extrovert or outspoken in terms of personality.
“It’s like putting on a show, a performance,” Greg says. “When lawyers stand on the podium, they could be embodying their on-stage personality, a different side of them. Some of the best litigators could be introverts.”
Jane* also thinks that good emotional quotient (EQ) is necessary to handle any politics that may potentially arise in some notorious law firms. “I cannot
It is not all doom and gloom though, as not every superior will be unreasonably tough,” Greg says. “There are many nice lawyers, believe it or not!”
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5. Have you gained experience through a wide exposure of practice?
“Experience is key. It counts a lot, especially in law,” Kelvin says. “Trainee programs are great in that sense because some of them offer a few different placements to find your field. Try everything at least, unless you are really determined to only do corporate, much like me,” he says.
However, joining a small boutique firm is not always a bad idea either, because there are some amazing ones who truly shine in their expertise. Kelvin advises
Qin Ru have also mused that one regret they had was not doing more clerkships or internships when they were younger. Having more experience in different areas will definitely help with making wiser and more informed decisions about your interests. This should certainly be a key takeaway to all young lawyers and graduates who are reading this!
Advice from the Family Ferret
The business of lawyering is very much dependant on the growth of other fields from technology, business to a country’s political state and international relations. This is crucial as it determines the landscape of legal practice in the future, which will continue to evolve over time.
If legal practice does not appeal to you, there are still many other legal-related or alternative career avenues which you can venture into. However, for those who are still undecided, our mentors advised that, perhaps, it is wise to first dip your toes into private legal practice before joining a company.
In addition, doing a pupillage in a large law firm would also expose you to a lot of commercial and civil matters. With these new perspectives gained, you will eventually find yourself on a path suited to your interest, be it law-related or otherwise. Having that extra qualification will also make you more employable in any field of interest you choose to venture.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
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