Lewis Alexander Baxter #LawyersofLinkedIn

“The beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do.”

Lewis Alexander Baxter.

Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is student, aspiring lawyer and The Blurred Line Group (TBLG) founder Lewis Alexander Baxter. Lewis founded his organisation with an aim to change the way local mental health charities are funded across the UK, whilst still studying at university. With TBLG, Lewis has organised and hosted his own launch event, as well as delivered a TEDx Talk titled “Mental Health: Where do we go from here?”. I spoke with Lewis about his current ambitions as an aspiring lawyer, the why, who and what of TBLG, as well as his thoughts on how firms need to change their approach to mental health in the workplace.

Why do you want to be a lawyer?

LAB: “I think the beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do. With certain career paths, there can be days and even weeks where you do the same tasks, day-in and day-out. I know the same can’t be said for law. I’ve always been someone who thrives off being busy and working in a fast-paced environment. Working in a commercial setting seems a natural fit for me; but I’m still a couple of years off full-time employment and there’s certainly a lot of hard work between now and then.”

What inspires you?

“Young people do. Young entrepreneurs, young activists, young sports stars, young musicians – all of whom have such huge responsibility but are under the spotlight and constantly scrutinised by the public, due to their age. I’d like to think I am growing up in a world where young peoples’ voices are being heard more and they are getting the recognition they deserve. Change is coming but not quick enough – I aim to make my mark within the law and in the charitable sector too, but also provide opportunities for other young people to join my mission or provide support to their endeavours.”

So what then inspired you to start The Blurred Line Group?

“In late 2015, I battled with the dehumanising disease of depression which controlled every part of my life. In March 2016, after suffering from a mental breakdown, I considered suicide – seeing it as the only route to end the pain. Fortunately, with the help and support of mental health professionals, my family and friends, this tragedy was avoided and I began to see that my life was worth living and I have things to offer to this world.

Mental ill-health is a huge issue facing modern Britain; more people have mental health conditions than ever before, but are often unable to access support due to under-funded services and huge waiting lists. The Blurred Line Group is the UK’s first funding hub for local mental health charities and community projects. In 2020, we strive to provide easily-accessible grants to initiatives nationwide, and provide mentorship to them too. We want to see these charities and projects not only survive but thrive, so they can help more people get the support they deserve. With prior experience on the Board of small mental health charities, I have seen first-hand the challenges associated with trying to access funding. We know this mission won’t be easy, far from it, but we won’t stop until we have reached communities across the UK.”

How did it then feel to complete your first TED Talk on those topics?

“Amazing! I must admit, I do quite a lot of public speaking now and have learnt to deal with any ‘pre-talk nerves’, but I don’t think any amount of experience prepares you for a TEDx talk. The bright lights, the large audience and having to stand on the stage with the TEDx letters behind you is daunting but exciting. It’s never easy sharing my story about my battle with depression, but knowing it would resonate with someone in that venue makes it worthwhile.

My topic was ‘Mental Health: Where do we go from here?’, as I explored what we can do as a society to build upon the increased ‘awareness’ of mental health conditions, and turn this into action. Raising awareness is so important, but we haven’t yet seen the improvements in mental health provision that we need! I’d encourage anyone who has a story to tell to share it. Share it with a small group of close friends and family first, and then who knows, the TEDx stage may soon welcome you.”

If you want to check out Lewis’ TEDx Talk, you can watch it below.

University is a learning process in more ways than one. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?

“Time-management, being able to juggle various commitments and learning to say ‘no’ – which all link together. Doing a law degree isn’t easy, I’ve learnt that by now, but it’s even harder when you find yourself short-of-time or having to rush your work. I’ve learnt over the last 13-14 months to make a personal timetable, which includes not only my academic commitments, but other commitments too (such as The Blurred Line Group work, public speaking / talks, writing vacation scheme applications and socialising). This has allowed me to keep in control of what I need to do and most importantly, when I need to do it. Like I have said before, I like to keep busy and I know I’m not alone when I say that. Being able to demonstrate that you can continue with other extra-curricular interests, clubs or societies AND do well in your studies, is a huge selling-point to recruiters – both legal and non-legal.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn is saying ‘no’ – whether to friends, employers or family. Obviously it is important to spend time with people, to socialise and to earn some money, but it comes down to your priorities. I try and set myself some time per week aside for this (well…I call my mum daily), play football once per week (if I can) and always find a couple of hours for Netflix.

You just have to work out time-management yourself; what works for me, won’t work for you. I’m confident that employers are looking for the ‘all rounded’ individuals, those that secure strong academic qualifications, but have other interests outside of their degree.”

What other ‘moment’, or mistake, do you feel you learnt a lot from?

“I don’t know whether I would call it a mistake, but not speaking to someone earlier about my mental health certainly taught me to be more open, honest and transparent. Talking about our mental health is never easy and hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but failing to speak sooner about my battle with depression nearly cost me my life. Today, I have learnt not to keep my worries internal, but instead to share them, in a confidential setting, with someone I can trust. Some of these worries have been very minor, whilst some haven’t been – either way, I have been able to find a solution quicker and get earlier support.”

How about career advice? What’s the best and worst you’ve ever received?

“The best advice I received from someone is about asking questions. I think we can all be a bit apprehensive about asking questions or thinking we look ‘stupid’ for not knowing the answers straight away, but we shouldn’t be. If we don’t ask questions, how can we get a more complete picture of X firm, X vacation scheme or X training contract. Admittedly, I am still torn between the solicitor route and the barrister route – it is not an easy decision to make. But by asking questions to solicitors and barristers alike, in addition to HR representatives and careers advisers, I feel I can make a more informed decision.

As for the worst, a trainee solicitor who said ‘follow the money’. I don’t think that can even be classed as advice…”

Speaking of advice – if you were in charge of a firm for the day, what’s the one change you’d make today to prepare it for tomorrow?

“Mental health and wellbeing programmes for all employees. Law firms are prioritising mental health in the workplace more than ever before; however, I feel there is more to be done. Sleeping pods, 45-hour shifts, 15 cups of coffee per hour – these things aren’t ideal for our mental wellbeing. (Not all law firms are like this; possibly very few to this extent)

I firmly believe that a (mentally) healthy workforce is a productive and happy workforce. Ensuring excellent pastoral and emotional support for staff, creating a culture of compassion and investing in the newest wellbeing technologies and programmes will lead to great improvements in the legal industry. This is not an overnight change, but rather a long-term culture change.”

And finally, any advice for aspiring solicitors?

“I think most aspiring solicitors are constantly told that it is crucial to show teamwork skills and communication skills; after all, when working in any firm you have to demonstrate this on a daily basis. However, it’s far too easy to show how you’re great at working in teams and fail to focus on your ability to be an independent thinker and be self-motivated.

Perhaps highlight times when you had to conduct research (such as a university project or essay competition), talk about your experience in sports such as running or boxing, or bring attention to the fact you played a musical instrument for many years. These activities demonstrate independence and often, lone-working.

My main piece of advice would be: to be authentic. Everyone’s lives, skills, interests and experience levels are very different and you should be proud, not sceptical, of what you have achieved. On application forms to law firms or chambers, show off your personality and share what is unique about YOU. I think the moment you start pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re heading into very dangerous territory.”

I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Lewis for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series. If you’d like to get in touch with Lewis, or learn more about the great work he’s doing with TBLG, you can do so below.

Jaysen Sutton #LawyersOfLinkedIn

“A huge part of succeeding is simply showing up and taking small, specific baby steps to work towards your goal. If they’re even just a tiny bit outside your comfort zone, you’ll be growing.”

Jaysen Sutton.

Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is trainee solicitor turned entrepreneur Jaysen Sutton. Having previously worked in the world of commercial law, Jaysen decided to change career paths shortly into his Training Contract and start his own business – The Corporate Law Academy (TCLA). Having previously spoken on Jaysen’s ‘Trainee Talk’ podcast a month prior, I decided to reverse roles and ask Jaysen about his initial motivations to become a lawyer, why he instead founded his business, as well as his thoughts on the current application process for Training Contracts and the future of the profession generally.

Why did you initially want to be a lawyer?

JS: “I really like the law as a subject. When I was younger, I used to think of the law as a rigid set of rules, which tells you what you can and cannot do. I found it interesting to learn how it’s actually instead pretty fluid, always open to argument and opinion.

I didn’t want to become a commercial lawyer until a lot later. I actually used to find finance and business very intimidating. It was only when I threw myself into the subject and tried to understand the commercial world from the ground-up that I realised how interesting it is. It’s a bit like a jigsaw – on its own, the different financial terms can seem quite confusing and isolated, but when things click, I find it really satisfying. You really learn how interconnected everything is.

The ‘sensible’ advice would have been to stay in law, at least until I’d finished my training contract. However, I left life as a commercial lawyer very early. I really liked the firm I was at and the work I was doing, but I didn’t think practice itself suited me. I woke up one day and realised that really bothered me. It arguably would have made sense to ‘wait it out’ and I’m sure I would have been fine, but I eventually made the decision to leave.”

How did leaving your Training Contract lead to you founding your own business, TCLA?

“When I left, I knew I wanted to start a business. I had tried a couple of times before and I found working on something I had made myself really satisfying. The conventional wisdom for starting a business is to simply ‘make something people want’. With that in mind, I realised the best way for me to do that was to make something I would have wanted when trying to secure a training contract.”

Moving from the conventional rigidity of a typical office job to the world of entrepreneurship is a brave step to take. However, its becoming increasingly common within the legal sector. With the allowance of Alternative Service Providers (ASPs), the ongoing development of legal technology and the flexibility that collaborative cloud working allows, innovative new approaches to working within the legal industry are being created every day.

“I wish I could say I had more of a concrete outline of what I was going to do, but honestly, I didn’t. I had spent so many years preparing to work at a law firm and now I was quite lost. Being a law student and then a trainee solicitor was my identity. Now that I had left, I didn’t really know who I was or what I was doing. I only knew that I was going to put everything into The Corporate Law Academy (‘TCLA’) to make it work. I worked crazy hours when I started, mostly because I was compensating for a lot of the guilt I had for leaving my law firm.

Now I would say I wasn’t working completely blind. I personally felt there were gaps in the application journey I had undertaken. Dealing with rejection after rejection is such a blow to your self-confidence, and I felt the journey didn’t have to be so competitive. The TCLA forums were made to be a place where aspiring lawyers could support one another through such struggles.

I also felt there was a big gap between leaving university and your first day at a law firm. I realised we could help teach aspiring lawyers to better understand the financial markets, commercial news and how law firms work as a business, and I could do this online to build this at scale and reach far more people. “

Speaking of that ‘gap’ between university studies and a TC, what surprised you the most about the interview and application process?

“It was learning that performing at an interview is a skill

In my first series of interviews, I wasn’t very good and I’d always think I could never be as good as other people. Over time, I started to become more confident in selling my ‘story’, responding to challenging interview questions and defending my point of view. 

I realised that while some candidates may come across as more polished, they’d just had the opportunity to practice more, whether that’s through mock interviews, debate clubs or being surrounded by people who regularly discuss world events. 

This was a big surprise because, until then, I had thought I was always going to be bad at interviews. The big lesson was that the skills and minimal confidence I had weren’t fixed, that I could get better over time.”

TCLA’s Video Interview Simulator tool allows candidates to practice their interview skills before the real thing

The importance of these skills can easily go overlooked when it comes to preparing your applications. Legal ‘letter-of-the-law’ knowledge is of course important, but transferable and ‘soft’ skills can be just as essential in a client-facing, team-based role.

The challenge of having a broadened skillset is already persistent for many aspiring solicitors. But what is the biggest difficulty that their employers – law firms themselves – will face in the future?

“First, let me qualify this by saying I’m speaking as someone on the outside looking in. But I’d say talent. I wrote a post recently on the disruption of the partnership model, the gist of it being that, for a variety of reasons, the incentive to work your way up to become one of a small number of equity partners to reach the top doesn’t have the same grab it used to. 

Our generation of lawyers are going to be far more willing to jump between firms. The challenge is that law firms need to work out how to attract and retain lawyers, and that’s beyond salary and remuneration. Even though many London-based firms are engaged in a wage war at the moment, I think it’s unsustainable and ultimately doesn’t fix the problem.

Once law firms accept that, junior lawyers are going to be different. I do think initiatives like flexible working will make a big difference. If you build the right systems and manage it properly, lawyers could be far more productive (and saner!) working one or two days a week remotely.

That leads me to mental health. Work phones, incessant emails and long hours cause serious anxiety. This can’t be fixed directly with a quick-fix, because the type of clients we’re talking about will want their lawyers to be accessible. That’s why I think it’s about investing in stress-management tools. I don’t mean one-off meditation classes, but I do mean real investment in an open, supportive culture – where mental health problems are treated as important as physical health. While many senior lawyers are incredible, there are also others who aren’t great on this. This needs to be fixed, no matter how reputable a partner is.”

Jaysen echoes the sentiments of many other legal professionals in the industry. The practice of law is mentally taxing for a multitude of reasons and the dangers of a lack of mental health support are severe to say the least. If you’d like to read more about mental health within the legal sector, you check out my article on it here.

So, to finish, what is your number one piece of advice for aspiring lawyers?

“Be consistent. A huge part of succeeding is simply showing up and taking small, specific baby steps to work towards your goal. If they’re even just a tiny bit outside your comfort zone, you’ll be growing. 

Want to better understand law firms? Go to open days and firm events.

Want to develop your commercial awareness? Read a few business stories every day.

Want to develop your interview technique? Practice answering challenging questions aloud or with a friend. 

Put your time in, day in and day out, and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.”

I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Jaysen for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series, as well as allowing me to speak on his podcast a month ago. If you’d like to get in touch with Jaysen, learn more about TCLA, or check out the ‘Trainee Talk’ podcast, you can do so below.

Introducing – #LawyersOfLinkedIn

“Everything you want in life is a relationship away.”

Idowu Koyenikan.

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new series for my blog entitled ‘LawyersOfLinkedIn’. 

Throughout my experiences of using LinkedIn and developing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some truly remarkable people within the legal sector. This series aims to give a brief glimpse into the thoughts and motivations behind some of those individuals in an interview-style format of Q&A. The series will aim to ask questions about a broad variety of topics and questions, but will always explore why that individual wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. The diversity and variety of responses I’ve received whilst asking those I know that question has always fascinated me and I hope this series will be a platform to share those aspirations with those of you reading.

I also want to try an encapsulate a broad variety of people for this series – from aspiring solicitors and trainees right through to partners and recruitment managers. In my view, the great range of backgrounds and experiences I can encompass the better! I’ll be running this series alongside, but separate to, a number of articles that contain interviews which are more topic-centric and not as extensive. For this series, however, I ultimately want to do my best to capture an individual’s ambitions within the legal world and a glimpse into their journey so far. I hope you enjoy it!

If you’d like to feature as one of the ‘LawyersOfLinkedIn’ in future, then (as the name suggests) feel free to drop me a connection request at the link below. If you’d rather get in touch with me by email, you can do so at harryclarklaw@gmail.com.

James McConkey #LawyersOfLinkedIn

“Law provides a unique combination of commerciality and intellectual diversity, combined with client-facing responsibility and the intellectual rigour required to produce commercially sound advice.”

James McConkey.

Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is aspiring commercial solicitor and University of York graduate James McConkey. He has just achieved a Distinction in his combined LPC and Masters degree in Law & Business at the University of Law in London. I spoke with James about his motivations to join the profession, thoughts on the future disruption of technology within the sector and his experiences so far throughout the Training Contract application process.

So, what made you want to be a lawyer?

JM: “My initial interest in law was first sparked whilst completing my Extended Learning Project in Sixth Form, where I studied the commercial effects that the legalisation of Euthanasia would have in the UK. Following this, I actively pursued opportunities to begin my exposure to the world of law during my River Tour job, researching the employment contracts and attending licensing meetings with the local council.

During my time at university, I then began to complete more formal legal work experiences with Reed Smith, DAC Beachcroft and at the York Law Clinic. Working with Reed Smith, I understood that to formulate commercial advice for clients, one must understand the micro and macro aspects of their industry. During my IP work experience with DAC Beachcroft, we were advising on an international trademark dispute on one day and patent applications the next. I was struck by the way in which the profession is evolving, having to respond to progress in technology with new ways of thinking and advising. It is an exciting time to be a lawyer!

These experiences ultimately consolidated my passion to join the legal sector. Law provides a unique combination of commerciality and intellectual diversity, combined with client-facing responsibility and the intellectual rigour required to produce commercially sound advice.”

What’s surprised you the most so far about the training contract application process?

“During an interview for a law firm, the interviewer asked me “how would your friends describe you?”, followed by “what would they say behind your back?”. I thought it was quite a tough question to answer! It’s different to the traditional and more-expected “what are your biggest weaknesses” question. I had to do a bit of self-reflection and quick thinking to put together my answer.”

Speaking of law firms, what do you think is the biggest difficulty they will face in the future?

“I think for many law firms, one of the biggest difficulties they will face over the next few years will come in the form of technological disruptors, like AI or Blockchain technology. Many of the multi-million pound firms are attempting to maintain their current course with a gradual integration of this technology – but one could ask if there is any reason they should consider serious investment in retraining their staff or developing new technologies?

The answer may come with the introduction of Alternative Business Structures (“ABS”), under the Legal Services Act 2007.  Accountancy firms, especially the Big Four, can now start to offer legal services in conjunction with their expertise financial advice. If this integration is continuous and successful, then this new emerging force within the legal sector could fundamentally and irreversibly change the market across the entirety of the profession.”

So how do you think the role of a trainee solicitor will change as this technology develops?

“It is undeniable that in years to come, AI will become more commonplace in legal practice. It does not necessarily mean, however, that trainees and lawyers alike will therefore become obsolete. Instead, in what some already deem to be the fourth industrial Revolution, soft skills will become even more important. As automation increases, trainees will be left surplus to requirements in relation to many traditional legal tasks, therefore requiring them to spend more time, say, with clients, rather than tasks like rule-based thinking and fact-finding research. High emotional intelligence will become increasingly desirable in order to satisfy these altered needs. Similarly, trainees and lawyers will need to be adaptable, curious and willing to use their initiative in order to deal with any consequences which they face due to these technological developments.”

I’d like to extend a big thank-you to James for agreeing to be my first contributor to my new #LawyersOfLinkedIn series. If you’d like to get in touch with James, or learn more about him, you can do so below.

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