Welcome to the newest instalment of our ‘What I know now’ series on the Florit Brooke NQ blog. Each month, we speak to a qualified legal professional about their career journey: what set them on the path to becoming a solicitor, and the steps they took to achieving that goal, as well as exploring their personal experience of working in the legal sector (ups, downs, and everything in between).
Today’s ‘What I know now’ blog comes from Dan Hirst, Partner at Chadwick Lawrence and specialist in dispute resolution.
Dan trained in a small firm in North Leeds specialising in Commercial Litigation, qualifying as a solicitor in 2005. His first post-qualification move was to Ramsdens in 2007, and he joined Chadwick Lawrence following its merger with Godloves Solicitors in April 2012, where he headed the Commercial Litigation Unit.
Read on to learn more about Dan’s weirdest interview experience, his love of the litigation environment, and what he looks for when recruiting solicitors at NQ level…
Hi, Dan. First things first: why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
Quite a few different factors contributed to my decision to train as a solicitor:
- I had done a law degree because my careers advisor at school told me that I would not get the grades;
- Having worked as a bin man, a waiter, a barman and a chef to pay my way through the LPC, I ended up working in hospitality as a General Manager, and I decided fairly early on that I wanted a career where I would work fewer hours;
- I wanted a professional role which would allow me to have regular contact with people;
- I had a desire to make a difference.
How well did your experience as a trainee prepare you for becoming qualified?
Working for a small firm, I had the benefit of early exposure to clients dealing with substantial and complex disputes – to a certain extent I was thrown in at the deep end, and I may not have had that exposure as early in my career had I worked for a larger firm.
My training was at times tough: the work was demanding, and my training principal expected the highest standards. That is certainly something that I have taken through my career; I still catch myself thinking about my training contract every time I tell somebody that ‘every letter that you write is for the benefit of the court’.
Describe your training partner in 3 words.
Driven. Experienced. Challenging.
What was the biggest difference for you when you were admitted and took a full solicitor role?
I worked through the ranks of paralegal to trainee, and I already had my own caseload upon qualification. Personally, my role didn’t change significantly when I qualified, although I did get paid more.
What were the factors behind you choosing the area of law that you specialise in?
The honest answer is that I fell in to it.
I researched my training firm before I applied for the job, so I knew what clients they dealt with and I knew the kind of work that they undertook. As a paralegal, I had had some experience of non-contentious matters, and had decided that line of work was not for me – I wanted to try something different. As soon as I moved into a litigation environment I knew that I was going to love it!
Compared to your own experience, how similar or different do you perceive the challenges facing NQs to be in 2018?
Expectations are definitely higher: it is no longer sufficient to have good grades and a training contract from a good firm. Commercial acumen and your ability to build your own brand are all key challenges to consider, too.
What piece of practical advice would you give to someone who is at the start of their legal career?
Make sure that the culture of your chosen firm fits you. Do your research and speak to as many people as you can to see if the firm (and the people who you will be working with) are right for you.
With hindsight, what do you wish you has known when you were NQ?
That a career in law does not necessarily involve fewer hours than one in hospitality!
If you were to recruit a lawyer at NQ level to work closely with you, what would be the most important thing you’d look for?
Our team is successful because we work hard to make sure that each new team member will fit into the team. My focus is to understand what makes a candidate tick; I want to be sure that a potential recruit will share the firm’s vision and values.
What is the strangest experience you’ve had in an interview, and how did you handle it?
I had someone angrily talk for 30 minutes about why she was not happy with the CV that her recruiter had submitted on her behalf. She then went on to explain that she did not know anything about the firm or the role, before trying to re-write the job requirements.
To put it politely, she was not successful in her application.
What is your best interview tip?
Find out as much as you can about the people that you are going to work with.
Summarise your experience of legal recruiters in 5 words or fewer.
Not all are the same.
Thanks for talking to us, Dan (and we’re glad you decided not to go down the General Manager route and became a lawyer instead!)