An Interview with Sue Harris, President of Leeds Law Society

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What area of law do you specialise in and why?

I am a commercial litigator and a Director in the Construction and Engineering department of Walker Morris LLP.

I wanted to be a litigator as I was interested in the investigatory and strategic side of the job. The work I do is very varied, which makes life interesting and the job more challenging.

What inspired you to become a solicitor?

I did work experience when I was 15 – arranged with the encouragement of my father who is also a solicitor. I did a work placement at a criminal firm and in local government. I made the decision to do a law degree (at Newcastle University) and I enjoyed the subject, so that inspired me to continue onto the College of Law for the Law Society Finals, and to apply for what was then known as “articles”.

What are the three essential skills you believe a good solicitor should have?

Common sense, the ability to work in a team and commercial awareness are my top three.

What have you most enjoyed about being President of Leeds Law Society?

I have enjoyed meeting new people in Leeds and across the country. It has also been a privilege to represent the solicitors of Leeds at a large variety of events and to continue to increase the influence of Leeds Law Society within Leeds and nationally.

What do you believe are the main benefits for solicitors in joining Leeds Law Society?

Leeds Law Society has changed a lot in the last few years. It is now one of the biggest and most influential local law societies in the country representing, supporting and promoting the interests of the solicitors in Leeds. The society provides a gateway for solicitors to influence national policy and opinion (promoting Leeds as a centre of legal excellence). It is committed to promoting access to justice, promoting the brand of solicitor and ensuring that the concerns and opinions of local practitioners are heard. The society works closely with members to understand their needs and provides a wealth of benefits, including delivering relevant and engaging professional development sessions and valuable networking with other members, but also other professionals. Examples of recent events include: the launch of a women in law mentoring scheme, a series of seminars with KPMG, networking lunches, a project about Leeds and the legal industry’s importance to the economy of the city, seven consultations in recent months on a variety of subjects including the solicitor’s qualification exam and fixed recoverable costs.  These are only a snap shot of what we do and more information is available on the Leeds Law Society website.

What is your advice for somebody seeking a training contract?

I would certainly recommend that you do work experience in a law firm. You do need to have some idea about what the job entails and whether it is for you, including deciding if you want to work in an office.

It is very common now for trainees to have done (paid) paralegal jobs for a year or two either before or after obtaining a training contract and I would definitely recommend getting that additional experience, which will make you more attractive for a trainee position. However a whole range of jobs have transferrable skills. A full CV is beneficial, demonstrating you have experience of areas that are relevant to the skills of solicitors (like team work and commercial awareness). I also look for someone showing enthusiasm for things that interest them, and they have done.

Due to the competition for training contracts it is necessary to have good academic results at GCSE, A level and in your degree (generally a 2:1 is required). If you have not got good results then think about paralegal work experience but it also might be worth looking at the alternative paths for careers in law. See the Leeds Law Society website for a summary of these: http://leedslawsociety.org.uk/communique/  (under the heading routes to qualification).

If you could tell your 18-year-old self one thing; what would it be?

Make the most of any opportunities that come your way as you never know where this will take you.

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