Training partner Peter Singfield reminds graduates to remember the personal side of law and to not be a robot.
Firm: Foot Anstey
University: St John’s College Oxford
Degree subject: Law
Hobbies: Rugby and golf
How long have you been a partner?
I was recently promoted to partner, effective 1 May 2013.
Who or what inspired you to be a lawyer?
Well I didn’t watch Ally McBeal or anything like that! I always wanted to experience a lot of different industries and to find a way to use particular expertise to help different businesses.
What things did you wish you knew before embarking on a legal career?
The extent to which the legal profession is a service industry first and a legal discipline second. I spent my formative years in my legal career getting whipped into shape so that I grasped this truth, and understanding what good service looks like.
What does your typical day involve?
One of the things I like about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day. It is rare for me to come in and do in a day what I thought I was going to do that day, because the phone calls and email never stop coming in and you never know what is going to come up. However, every day is client-facing and involves a lot of changes of pace.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Balancing all the various competing interests in running a busy caseload. There are not enough hours in the day.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I negotiated a contract for sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League, which was really interesting, and at times challenging, and the client took me to see Real Madrid play Arsenal as a thank you, which was great.
What are the best aspects of your job?
The variety of clients and industries I deal with, and the innovative products and technologies they develop. It really helps keep each day different and interesting.
What are the worst aspects of your job?
What tips would you give to students who want to break into the legal profession?
Really show that you understand how business works, what a client is looking for when it comes to a law firm and that correct legal advice is only one small part of that equation. That a law firm is a business itself and how that works. Take every opportunity you can to immerse yourself in business and legal business through work experience and paid work.
What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen candidates making?
Most firms run relatively intensive assessment days to select their trainees and a lot of candidates are really well prepared for those days. However, some candidates forget that we’re not just looking for legal robots. Everyone who applies has good academics and a big part of what we are trying to select is how a candidate would fit with the firm’s culture. The best candidates manage to show their personality and that they have good commercial understanding at the same time.
Also, candidates should be polite and pleasant to everyone they meet on the day. I have seen some impressive candidates who perform very well in the assessment day or when speaking to someone they perceive to be senior but fall down because, when they think the spotlight is off them, they are dismissive to our trainees or support staff who help with the days. I can’t speak for every firm but those sorts of issues are red flags for us.
How has the legal market changed since the days you were a trainee?
I think the main difference is pressure on pricing. At the start of my career, headline hourly rates tracked upwards as a firm’s costs increased. Clients will not stand for that approach any longer, particularly in this economy, so a lot of firms have had to focus on how they can deliver their services more efficiently, so they retain their profit margin by focusing on their costs, rather than their pricing. That brings with it a different focus and a different way of working but also real opportunities.
What impact has the recession had on your firm?
I am lucky to work in a firm which has managed to grow year on year during the recession, which makes it an exciting place to be. That said we are not immune to the pressures of the economy and the firm has had to become more strategic in its approach, in the balance of practice areas on which it focuses.
What three words best describe your firm?
Client-focused, progressive and innovative.
Where did you go for your last holiday?
Cornwall. My wife and I have a fifteen month old son, and Cornwall is an easy short drive for us. When, or if, the sun shines, there’s nowhere better!
What gadget or gizmo would you be lost without?
I am not a big gadget person but I have just bought a Google Nexus 7 tablet, which is keeping me entertained trying to improve my Angry Birds high scores.