On Thursday 22 October 2015 Commercial Awareness For Students interviewed Lynn Ford. Lynn is an HR Manager at Blake Morgan LLP and she has been with the firm for 13.5 years. For many of these years she has played a very important part in Blake Morgan’s graduate recruitment process.

  1. From a law firm’s point of view, what are you expecting from a student who approaches your firm’s stand at a law fair?

  • We expect the student to know a bit about the firm & have an understanding of where the firm stands as a business. This means having an idea of, for example, the size of the firm, knowledge of the sectors it operates in, the location of their offices, etc.
  • We would expect the student to have prepared questions about, for example, what it’s like to work in the firm and what sort of things the firm is looking for.
  • When revealing that they know about the firm, it is recommended that a student puts this information forward in their questioning. In other words, do it in a way that allows the HR representative or trainee solicitor to know that you know about the firm and then ask a question
  • Having a list of questions to ask shows that you’ve done your homework
  • DO NOT ASK law firms ‘what do you do?’ or any other simple questions along the same lines. This shows that you haven’t done your research which shows that you’re not truly focused about a commercial law career with that particular law firm.
  • Don’t just come up to the stand and “talk at” someone as that shows a lack of preparation and interest in the firm.
  • Firms are passionate about what they do. They want to see people show the same passion in asking them questions and through conversation.

2 – Top tips for application forms

  • Use variety in your answers. In other words, don’t solely use legal examples and don’t solely use non-legal examples. Firms want to see an all round person who has a life outside of law. They want to hire a person who can use their past experiences outside of the law to build rapport with their clients.
  • We prefer applicants to demonstrate a wide range of interests and extra-curricular activities, rather than just law related activities.
  • Part-time or summer jobs, volunteering work and being involved in sports are all things we like to see in an application – we want to get an idea of an applicant’s personality.
  • Saying you want to ‘help’ people doesn’t help you – commercial law firms are a business. They exist to make a profit. While it is true that the services they provide help individuals and businesses, the key thing to remember is profit keeps the lights on and pays the staff.

3 – What is the biggest challenge facing commercial law firm’s at the moment?

  • Competition from other law firms who are doing work as ‘loss leaders’
  • In other words, law firms who are willing to do high volume, low value work in order to gain access to more and more clients
  • Once their foot is in the door these firms would then use the opportunity of existing relationships to network for the other sectors in their firm
  • In recent years there has been a rise in consumerism. Clients will now “shop around” for the best deal, leading to downward pressure on prices.
  • This is one of the reason why there has been an increase in law firm mergers – law firms are trying to reduce their cost base
  • In addition, the rise in new entrants to the market, such as Co-op Legal Services has created a difficult challenge. Co-op, for example, have a well-known brand which extends beyond legal services. Customers might trust the Co-op brand more readily than a law firm whose name they don’t really know and who look like many other law firms in the market.

4 – How can an applicant best show commercial awareness in an application form?

  • Working at a commercial law firm is not all about helping people. It is important to remember that commercial law firms are businesses. Applicants need to show that they understand how law firms make money and ask questions about what the role of junior lawyers might be in financial management.
  • Use your previous experiences to show commercial awareness. For example, if you’ve worked in a shop, did you handle money? Did you sell products? Did you cross-sell? Did you build relationship networks with customers that led to more sales for the shop? Did you close the shop up? Think about how these aspects of your job might show commercial awareness.
  • Applicants can also talk about a company they’ve worked for and their marketplace. Who were their competitors?  How did they differentiate themselves?
  • Previous careers & the experiences gained from working in the ‘real world’ will benefit you. If you’re a mature applicant do not hesitate to refer experiences from 7 or 8 years back if they are relevant.
  • In addition, you might be studying something at the moment where there is a really topical example in the news – make the connections. Have something interesting to say about it.  Find an angle but be genuinely interested in it.

5 – Do modular choices make a difference to an application?

  • No – Not for full service law firms, such as Blake Morgan
  • It is encouraged to take the modules which you enjoy as you’re more likely to do better at them – what matters is your grade!