A time for talent spotting
Although some law firms have been cutting back on placements for law students, at least one commercial firm still relies on its summer school to identify future talent
The Scottish legal profession has not been immune from the effects of a weak British economy. Previous years have seen a number of leading law firms experience financial difficulties, resulting in office closures, mergers between firms, and reductions in staff numbers. These difficulties have also become a major concern for students in Scotland’s law schools, looking for a means to pursue successful legal careers.
A casualty of the economic downturn has included the internships, or summer placements, offered by law firms to qualified law students/graduates looking to pursue a legal career. These placements tend to involve students undertaking to work within the law firm for a specified time, in the hope that they will impress the firm and be offered a training contract, commencing on completion of their university studies. Unfortunately, the number of summer placement schemes available in Scotland has been in decline in recent years. Many law firms which had historically offered placements have dramatically reduced the number available, while others have chosen no longer to offer such schemes. It is against this backdrop that some law firms have chosen to continue to invest and offer opportunities to law students, to gain experience of life as a practising solicitor and develop themselves into commercially minded would-be lawyers. One such firm is Tods Murray LLP.
Tods Murray is a commercial law firm based in Edinburgh, which operates a summer law school for a small group of law students over the course of eight weeks. Whilst some law firms adopt a flexible approach to their summer placement schemes, Tods Murray is perhaps unique amongst Scottish practices in offering a tailored programme for students to gain practical insight into life as a lawyer at such a firm.
The firm offers participants accepted into the summer school the opportunity to voice any interest they may have in working with a particular department, for example corporate, banking & finance, projects or employment, and looks to encourage these interests. Participation in the programme also provides students with a guaranteed traineeship interview for those who are interested.
While working as part of a department, summer students are engaged in all aspects of practitioners’ work. This can include researching particular aspects of the law, making the first draft of various documents for regulators, or contributing to business development and marketing. However, the firm takes a broader view in attempting to develop its summer students, by exposing them to commercial legal practice. As part of the summer law school, Tods Murray operates a series of “business skills workshops”, where students are exposed to the concerns of commercial lawyers operating in today’s competitive legal market.
These topics range from “effective networking” to “working with the client” and “legal skills”, with members of the various teams from across Tods Murray – both legal and non-legal – bringing the students together to discuss, amongst other things, the need for an understanding of client expectations of modern lawyers, the growing significance of social media in developing client relationships, and areas of practice which are seeing rapid development. Furthermore, students are actively encouraged to engage with social media during their time with the firm, through creating and developing a LinkedIn profile and establishing a presence on Twitter.
The summer law school at Tods Murray is the mechanism through which the firm selects its trainee solicitors. As a result, participants in the programme are eager to impress, and are afforded every opportunity to participate in the work of the firm over the eight week period. It is therefore vital that students seize the opportunities available while at the firm, to demonstrate their interest in the work of the firm, their commercial awareness, and their potential to be developed into effective practising solicitors.
Some may question why there is a need for students to participate in such a structured introduction to commercial practice at Tods Murray, especially considering that not all participants will progress to become trainee solicitors with the firm. Participants are afforded these opportunities precisely because the skills gained from this kind of exposure are transferable, and are expected of those who are committed to pursuing a career in commercial practice, regardless of the firm they pursue a traineeship with.
Not all participants in the summer law school will have exactly the same experience. Whilst every effort is made on the part of the firm to involve summer students in the fee earners’ work, some opportunities cannot be given, but must be created. As a member of the corporate team, I can only speak to my experience. Far from being left on the sidelines, I have been involved in the work of both junior and senior members of the team; I have been in meetings with clients and made their point of contact on a particular matter; I have had the responsibility of making the initial drafts of documents for a transaction which I am, in partnership with qualified staff, responsible for; and I have contributed to discussions on development of the corporate team’s reputation in Scotland. An element of the summer law school is that, whilst the firm provides the necessary tools for participants to experience the day-to-day operations of commercial lawyers, only those who are willing will go the extra mile and create opportunities for themselves. All staff within the firm support the work of summer students and encourage their endeavours to showcase their talents and facilitate their development as aspiring commercial lawyers wherever possible.
Tods Murray takes the identification and training of the next generation of lawyers very seriously, and through its summer law school, hopes to identify those who might progress to become leading commercial lawyers. More on the summer school can be found at this link.
Kevin Winters undertook a summer student placement in the corporate department at Tods Murray LLP
[The link includes a link to the application form. The next application window is Wednesday 18 September until Friday 15 November 2013.]