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  • Writer's pictureBilaal Shabbir

All you need to know about networking as a junior lawyer in Scotland

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

How to network as a new lawyer

By far, one of the most important habits I implemented as a budding lawyer, was to meet other lawyers and to develop connections, networks and contacts with figures in the Scottish legal sphere.

I hear it being said time and time again that Scotland is a small jurisdiction. But new lawyers sometimes forget just how small it is. Your colleagues at university will be the same ones that you joust with on opposite sides and will eventually be the same people who go on to become judges, KCs and other leading figures in the Scottish legal community.

There’s lots of obvious reasons to make new connections in the legal community but here are a few:

  • As a law student, connections with a variety of lawyers and legal professionals can open doors for you. This might be, for example, as an intern or paralegal in a new area of law you might want to try out;

  • It may be something more substantial like a traineeship at a smaller firm where knowing your future boss, the sort of work they do and how you might be a good fit for them, might give you the edge over other candidates;

  • Inevitably, when the time comes for you to move on from your current firm and pursue other opportunities, you will have an insight (or at least the ability to gain an insight) into the culture, quality of work and general lifestyle at the firms in which you have contacts and have built networks;

  • Often colleagues can be a source of referral of work, both work to you because they need your expertise or to them because the assistance your client needs isn’t something you offer;

  • If you, like me, are interested in coming to the Scottish Bar, the same colleagues and networks might possibly be a source of work for you at some point.

  • An important but often forgotten benefit – colleagues can become good friends! Apart from all of the other work-related reasons, you will find that members of the legal community have a wide variety of interests, talents and hobbies and most of them make very good company! Speaking to colleagues about things other than work can be a great way to de-stress, catch up and take your mind off work.

Now that we’ve established the importance of being an active member in the legal community and establishing contacts, the next question is how do you go about that?

Here are a few tried and tested methods (by me!) to get you started. I have been lucky enough to have built up a variety of contacts both by actively networking but also via my various legal roles. Some of the suggestions below might not work for you right now at your career stage but everyone should be able to pick out at least a few to try out, even experienced practitioners.

Social media

The use of social media is on the rise amongst the legal community. As a student, it’s a great way to find out what is going on the legal world, gives you an insight into working lives of various practitioners and is a powerful tool to search for legal roles including traineeships.

A lot of the legal community is on Twitter too but I prefer using LinkedIn. You will usually be able to engage with a wider community of lawyers from all over the world. In addition, the ability to publish longer posts without the same character limitations as Twitter means you’ll find a lot of the Scottish legal community posting on there (rather than arguing with each other like on Twitter!). As a qualified lawyer, it’s also a very useful tool. Whether you want to connect with someone at a specific firm to see what the work culture might be like or to find someone in a team you might be considering moving in to, the chances are you will find someone on LinkedIn to connect with.

It’s a great way to look up information on firms or specific people interviewing you in advance of interviews. These days, most of the larger firms have active pages where they post about recent developments within the firm, upcoming events and firm/individual achievements all of which can provide useful discussion points during any interviews.

I should add that I’ve never had a bad experience of reaching out to someone via LinkedIn. Most lawyers, even experienced ones, will make time for students and newer lawyers to answer questions and provide guidance.

LinkedIn is wildly underestimated in terms of how powerful it can be to secure roles which may not be very mainstream. There are a significant number of part-time roles for lawyers already practising e.g as law tutors/lecturers and trustees of charities/voluntary organisations. I learned about tutoring vacancies on the undergraduate and postgraduate law courses at the University of Edinburgh via LinkedIn. LinkedIn is also where I came across one of the coolest roles I currently have of judging football disciplinary disputes for the FA.

You will find that most recruiters are also on LinkedIn and you will often find you are approached to discuss roles. Recruiters also welcome you getting in touch with them to register an interest or to know more about certain roles.

With the variety of developments you’ll see from the legal community, social media sites like LinkedIn will give you the opportunity to directly engage with other professionals e.g. congratulating someone on a new role or telling them how much you enjoyed a piece they may have written. It’s also a place where you update others on your own achievements, goals and next steps. You may want to talk about, for example, reflections on CPD events or your thoughts on current topical issues.

It goes without saying that you should always be aware as to how you present to others. I have seen many lawyers ruin their careers or lose respect amongst colleagues for making flippant, crass or insensitive comments. Always be polite. Always be unfailingly kind. Do not let the heat of the moment make you do something you regret. Whether you engage in discussing highly contested discussions is of course a matter for you. But if you feel compelled to engage, always be mindful of how your words may translate to others. It’s very easy for something to be misinterpreted online. Never ever disrespect or make sarcastic comments online.

Use the LinkedIn feature to post short blogs/articles on any topic you think is interesting. It doesn’t specifically have to be something to do with the black letter law. You could easily do a short post on e.g. how to be organised as a law student or solicitor or what I wish I knew as a law student etc.

This ties in with my next tip which is try and publish pieces online. If you’re interested in publishing more substantive pieces on the law, consider getting in touch with the editor of the Law Society of Scotland journal or other legal journals so your thoughts can be seen by the wider legal community. Consider contributing to legal blogs (like I am doing now). You don’t always have to write an academic treatise. In fact, most people will thank you for not doing that! Publishing short, easy to read pieces with useful takeaways is a sure-fire way to get people interested in what you have to say. Making time for other legal roles

My next tip, which ties in with the tip about job-searching, is to try and make time for some other smaller legal roles, whether you a law student or a practitioner.

For example:

  • Universities regularly advertise for vacancies for law tutors at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. If you’re excited about teaching the next generation of lawyers, this is a great way to connect and give back to the community, all whilst being paid! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching at undergraduate level over the last 3 years and I am now shortly about to also start teaching at postgraduate level on the Diploma. It’s a lot less scary than you think and I know many other lawyers, some of whom are very early on in their careers, who enjoy teaching. It is a great way to boost your confidence and it looks fantastic on your CV too.

  • Join a Law Society committee. The Society regularly advertise vacancies for both legal and non-legal roles across a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory committees. There’s committees for almost everything and you’ll be sure to find a committee which sparks your interest. Depending on what the committee does, you might get to be at the front of consultation responses, reviewing draft legislation relating to that area or dealing with other matters affecting our profession directly. You may also get decision-making experience too. Probably the best part is that you will also get to meet other lawyers, some of whom will be very experienced, all of whom will be useful connections for you. Over the last 6 years or so, I have been a part of the Rights of Audience sub-committee, the Immigration & Asylum sub-committee and the Appeals & Reviews sub-committee.

WS Society

My third tip is quite a specific one; join the WS Society. The Society of Writers to His Majesty’s Signet (known as the WS Society) is the incorporated body of Scottish lawyers known as Writers to the Signet or “WS” with over 500 years of heritage. The WS Society owns and operates the beautiful Signet Library and has access to one of the biggest collections of legal texts in Scotland.

If you are a qualified solicitor, there are various tiers of membership but if you are a student membership is only £35 a year. For that, you will get a quiet place to study, access to almost all of the important legal texts you will need, coffee/tea and some of the best shortbread I’ve ever tasted. You will get to work in one of the most beautiful environments in Scotland too in Parliament House! For several years, I used the Signet Library as a place to study for exams, conduct research or just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office. It was also a great hideaway as a solicitor when I had hearings in the Court of Session.

Best of all, the staff at the WS Society are some of the kindest people you will meet. There are too many to mention but you will have the chance to see Anna Bennet, James Hamilton and Sophie Mills, all of whom provide fantastic company in the Upper West Library. In addition, since the Society has many members, you will regularly find solicitors, senior and junior, at the Library conducting research or working and it therefore makes a wonderful base to connect with other professionals. Network at events

My final tip is the most important. Network at every possibility. Since the return of in-person seminars and conferences, you will find various events across Scotland where lawyers get together to share knowledge, discuss ideas or just meet for a natter! You will find events to attend by checking Eventbrite, University social media pages, the news pages of the Faculty of Advocates, the websites of the main Scottish CPD providers, the websites of the main stables at the Faculty of Advocates and through firm websites. Events usually run year-round and can take place online and in-person. Most of them will be free too.

The tip is in two parts. Firstly, go, (and this is really important), alone.

If you go with a friend or a colleague, inevitably, you spend the whole time with each since you’re both going to be too afraid or embarrassed to meet other people. The most awkward part of any event is going up to someone you have never met before and introducing yourself. Hopefully once you get over the initial awkwardness of talking to someone new, you will start to chat with them about what stage you are both at and the conversation will develop. Getting over this awkwardness is a necessary part of networking.

Circulate the room frequently and try and meet at least a few new people. It’s little use spending 2 hours talking to one person who might be in a completely different area of the law from you or whose career is quite different from yours. If you’re able to balance things up by talking to several other people, you will find that you will end up finding someone who will have similar interests as you or who may be at a similar stage of their career as you. But make sure to strike a balance. Speaking to lots of people for a few minutes each isn’t really going to make you memorable. Stay long enough to have a good discussion but make sure you meet others too.

Keep a note of three things:

  1. The person’s name

  2. Their firm/organisation

  3. Something memorable specifically arising from your conversation

The second part of the tip is this; look up the person on LinkedIn and add them to your network. Then, find their email address (sub-tip, if they’re a solicitor, you can usually find this on the Law Society website in the Find a Solicitor tool) and send them an email. Don’t just send them a generic “it was nice to meet you email”. This is where your notes above come into play. In your (brief) email try and fit in one unique thing which arose during your conversation. By doing that, this will jog their memory and ingrain you into their mind. It will also help you to remember them. Then, if appropriate, consider asking them to meet up for a coffee.

You will be surprised at how often you will find people receptive to such an email. Most people do not bother following up with people they meet. Be one of the few people that make a great impression on others. You can use any meeting over a coffee thereafter to get to know them better or to discuss something specific (in the latter case, be upfront rather than springing questions on them without notice).

Use these tips to your advantage and the next time you’re stuck on something or need some advice, you will never be short of contacts to call upon.

Bilaal is a devil at the Faculty of Advocates. He is currently a Consultant with Dickinson Gleeson, a leading offshore trust litigation firm in Jersey. In Scotland, Bilaal was previously Head of Court of Session Litigation at a boutique litigation firm in Edinburgh practising in public law and commercial dispute resolution. He was latterly a solicitor within the dispute resolution team of an international law firm defending professional negligence claims on behalf of a variety of professionals and then Lead Solicitor for a law centre delivering an immigration advice project relating to the EU Settlement Scheme.

He is currently a judge on the FA’s National Serious Case Panel where he adjudicates on disciplinary matters within grassroots football. He is also a tutor on the undergraduate and postgraduate law courses at the University of Edinburgh and has been a guest lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University. He is also an author for Free Movement, one of the UK’s leading immigration law blogs. By Bilaal Shabbir

Devil at the Faculty of Advocates & Consultant with Dickinson Gleeson (Jersey)

Bilaal's Linkedin profile can be found here.

Views expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Scottish Lawyer.


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