James Hughes, Browne Jacobson

Name: James Hughes

Firm: Browne Jacobson

Position: Trainee Solicitor

Degree: Law LL.B. (Hons)

University: University of Leicester

Hobbies: Music, comedy, film, socialising, running, swimming, football and tennis

Current department: Commercial Dispute Resolution

Number of TC applications made and interviews attended: Fewer than 10 applications, three of which resulted in interviews

Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?

I left school wanting to be an entrepreneur and joined the Academy of Finance, a business-focused course set up by Career Academies UK. A Level Law was a mandatory topic but I enjoyed it much more than the other subjects. I did very well in the exams and my tutor strongly encouraged me to study law at university. I took his advice and realised that a career in law was a sensible way for me to succeed. I liked the intellectual stimulation and I was also interested in national and international politics from an early age.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?

Competition was extremely fierce due to the number of capable applicants and the difficult economic climate. I grew up in Coventry in a working-class family and had no legal contacts whatsoever – piercing that bubble was tough.

Naively, despite the numerous warnings at university that it was imperative to apply early for training contracts, I was far too busy and did not focus properly on applications until after graduation. That led to a stint as a Mortgage Adviser immediately after university which, ironically, helped me to secure my training contract as much of the skills acquired in that role were transferable. Assessment days were terrifying!

What was the toughest training contract interview question you were asked (at any firm) and how did you answer?

I am sure Sophie Wardell, our Head of HR, will be happy for me to tell you about this. In my final interview with Sophie and Mark Hughes (a corporate partner with exactly the same name as my dad), she asked me why I had resigned previously from a fee earner position with another law firm, despite not having a new job lined up. She asked me whether I thought that would give her any confidence in me.

The truth was that I did not want to be pigeonholed in that particular area of law. I wanted to focus properly on securing my training contract. I had plans to travel as well but was offered the training contract shortly afterwards.

I was also aware that my previous firm did not provide LPC sponsorship and, rather ruthlessly, I decided that I was interested only in applying to firms which did. The LPC was expensive and there was always a risk that I would not secure a training contract afterwards. The number of available training contracts is persistently and overwhelmingly dwarfed by the number of capable graduates.

Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by the department you’re in at the moment…

I have just started my third seat in Commercial Dispute Resolution. The team serves both national and international clients and we deal with a wide range of commercial litigation and insolvency issues. Advice is given on ADR, breach of contracts, restrictive covenants, warranties, company law issues, freezing orders, injunctions and a number of other matters.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?

I enjoy the academic aspect. Solving complex issues for clients and colleagues is highly rewarding, as is visiting schools and universities to support future lawyers. I particularly enjoy working on high-profile and lengthy court or tribunal cases – settlement meetings and trials can be really interesting. I also like the freedom and responsibility.

What about your job didn’t you expect before you started?

The immediate and substantial increase in event invitations and approaches from recruiters and other professionals is quite surprising. You have to be exceedingly efficient. It often feels like you are spinning a number of plates and someone is clambering behind you to knock them all off.

Who’s the most recent email in your inbox from, and what’s it about?

It is an email from HR with my payslip, which has thankfully saved me from breaching my data protection obligations.

Where’s the best place to go to get your office’s gossip?

I think the best place would be the kitchen, or maybe reception.

Describe your training partner in three words.

A nice boss.

Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself (in any order).

  • I am a piano player with experience in concert performing and music composition.
  • I was a producer and radio presenter on LUSH FM.
  • Ricky Gervais is a close friend of mine and he has promised to involve me in one of his future Netflix projects.

If you had not decided to become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?

I would love to say comedian but you have to be funny, apparently. So I’ll settle for musician. Music is definitely my passion.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?

Think very carefully about what you want and your strengths, and then consider the market before committing. Start as early as you possibly can and take control of your life by deciding what’s important to you and setting your own parameters. Think creatively and do not simply follow the crowd. As a legal professional, I am always mindful of the potential disadvantages of taking risks but sometimes you should trust your instincts and take a (legal) risk or two because those decisions often lead to greater rewards.

I would also add that, if you cannot learn to handle rejection or setbacks, you will not succeed in law. Perseverance is so important. I know lawyers who admit openly that they are not the brightest academically, but have succeeded because they have not taken ‘no’ for an answer. If you really want it and you know you can do it, keep trying.