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How to make your mark in the legal profession

Ever wondered what skills and attributes you need to make it in the world of law?

The legal industry is a competitive, but equally rewarding, sector to break into.

Law graduates at Hull have a long and proud history of making their mark in the industry, with alumni going on to work and represent leading firms both in the UK and beyond.

Recently, five inspirational alumni from the University returned to where their career first started, to share advice and guidance on how to succeed in law.

Charles Ashie, Emmanuel Olawore, Serah Ogunsanwo, Patrick Chindo and Fola Pinheiro also discussed some of the barriers which face BAME students in the legal industry, and how they overcame challenges to succeed in their profession.

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Law Students at Hull

Charles Ashie – Dechert LLP

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“When I first started at Hull, it was a nerve-wracking time – part of me was terrified that I did not have what it takes to succeed in my career.

“I used my time at Hull to build my network, to meet as many different people as I could, and visit as many law firms as I was able to.

“There were barriers along the way, and during those times, that’s when it’s so important that you have that network of people around you. Trying to focus on work and study at the time of George Floyd’s death was difficult, with so much noise going on around you.

“But because of the people I knew I had around me, I had that support system I could turn to.

“We are all in this profession together – never feel like you are alone in the process. You have to work hard, and prove you have the grades and the knowledge to succeed – that goes without saying. You also need to build your confidence and resilience, and network as much as you possibly can.”

Emmanuel Olawore – DLA Piper

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“When I studied at Hull, I saw University as a launching pad for my career. It is a really great opportunity to network with other like-minded people, and bounce ideas off each other.

“I also learned how to choose a firm. While it is true that firms look for the right kind of person for them, you also need to look for the right kind of firm for you.

“On the surface, a lot of firms can look quite similar. Their websites say they cover the same areas of law, and it can be hard to work out which one is the right environment for you.

“It is about the culture, and the values of the firm. From my time at Hull, I had the opportunity to network and meet so many people, and that helped me choose my career path when I had finished at University.

“My other piece of advice is to find your USP. You need to look at how best you can sell yourself to firms – what will make you stand out?”

Serah Ogunsanwo – White & Case LLP

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“I laid down a solid foundation while I was at Hull. It was about gaining a good degree, and also making sure I had the wealth of experience through activities.

“I got involved in the Law Society, did some pro-bono work, and also helped out with the Law Clinic at Hull. I found all of these experiences to be incredibly helpful, and made me stand out to firms.

“What you do at University will define your career, so make sure you have your fun, but also make sure you leave with no regrets.

“Finally, it is about realising your own weaknesses, and overcoming them. I was not the most confident person, or the most outgoing, and being black and from a working-class background, I knew that could count against me.

“But through networking, I met black solicitors, some of which are partners at large firms, and that really boosted my confidence and made me realise I could achieve the things I wanted.”

Patrick Chindo – White & Case LLP

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“I came to Hull from a low socially-economic background, and learned to read and write when I was 10 years old. It was a big challenge for me to get to Hull.

“A solicitor told me there are two ways to approach the career. First of all, focus on your academics, and then focus on your career.

“While at Hull, I studied to get the best grades I possibly could. Being black in the UK, there are so many barriers, and you need to find ways to stand out against your peers. It is really important you have your grades so you can compete with sets of people who may be very different to you, and have come from very different backgrounds.

“It is also important to get experience wherever you can. Opportunities may seem small at the time, but they can lead to big things. My advice would be no opportunity is too small – take advantage of everything which is available to you at Hull.”

Fola Pinheiro – Olaniwun Ajayi LP, Nigeria

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“You need to make the most of your time at Hull on all fronts. You need to get the best grades you can achieve, and you need to meet as many people and network as much as possible.

“It is important to network with people from all faculties and departments, not just with your own. In life, you never know where people will end up, and so it’s good to interact with as many different people as possible during the time you have at university.

“Looking back at my time at Hull, I would not have got the grades I did without the support of the people around me. It is really important to prepare yourself for your career. The friends I made and the network I built helped me prepare for my future.

“While I was at Hull, I got involved in the Aspiring Solicitors programme. That really gave me a platform and a voice from which to build, and bypassed some of the problems and the challenges which face those trying to break into the industry.”