“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.”
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.