The Legal professions of England and Wales are steeped in tradition. The long history of the law here is marked in the buildings, attire and institutions which form the legal system. Any law student can attest to the cases and statutes dating back hundreds of years that form the bedrock of the law itself. With so many constants, it is easy for the uninitiated to think of the law as a solid thing of black and white.
But, as those of you reading this will no doubt be aware, is not the case. Whilst the core principles and legislation endure, the law we deal with day to day is a changeable, ever-shifting web of statute, case law and procedure – the Jackson Reforms, the recent decision in Mitchell and annual changes to personal taxation to name a few. Practising lawyers are on the sharp edge of this change, and it is vital that we keep up with developments or risk exposing ourselves to negligence.
For a trainee, this job is both more difficult and more time consuming. We not only have to learn the law applicable to the seat we are in, but we must do so whilst keeping abreast of developments to it. In my experience, this is compounded by frequently being asked to undertake detailed, highly specific research into sometimes quite complicated law – it is often my initial research that forms the basis of the work of more senior lawyers in the teams I work in. If they had to waste time checking poorly informed notes, I would not be popular!
It does not end there! You also need to understand your clients and referrers, how they operate, the markets they work within, economic and political changes and how they impact upon your work area. For some of us this might also mean medical knowledge or an ability to empathise with clients facing enormous personal upheavals. It might even mean becoming well versed in something completely new to you. Previous posts on this blog have cited farming and the timber industry; I have done significant research into charity administration and care homes. Whatever it is, as a lawyer, you are likely to need to develop a good deal of non-legal knowledge too.
Those of you glad to leave law school behind or looking forward to doing so may well be disheartened at this news… but don’t despair!
Our generation has the greatest access to information in the history of humanity. The internet makes finding material easy, and legal information is no exception. I have found a number of free websites (such as justice.gov.uk) that give access to the law, as well as the paid-for legal information providers that I use almost every day. Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn can provide instant, specific news to your smartphone. Set them up right, and you will get a constant stream of current, relevant information specific tailored to your needs. Seriously, this is a game-changer.
Get used to keeping yourself up-to-date. Having a finger on the pulse of the legal world and understanding your clients is essential for the modern lawyer. It will also make your life as a junior lawyer that bit easier.