Tineka met up with one of our Professional Ambassadors, Rhys Morgan. She talked for a while and asked him some questions to see what helped him along his journey to becoming a trainee solicitor with Mayer Brown….
What is the name of your future firm and why did you accept a Training Contract with them?
My future firm is Mayer Brown. There are two main reasons I accepted a training contract with Mayer Brown; the first is that I’m very interested in corporate and financial work, and Mayer Brown has fantastic international corporate and financial practices, and the second is that I really enjoyed my vac scheme with the firm this summer. I was involved in some really interesting work, and the people I spent time with were all very open and giving.
How did AS assist you in your journey?
I am a member of AS, having signed up in order to compete in the AS Commercial Awareness Competition. There were two main AS programmes that I was assisted by, the first one being the Commercial Awareness Competition, and the second being Springboard into a Training Contract.
I was fortunate enough to win the AS Commercial Awareness Competition, and the prize for this was work experience at a series of law firms. It was one of these work experiences that led to my training contract offer; I had not applied to Mayer Brown through the traditional online application, so were it not for Aspiring Solicitors I certainly would not be in the position I am today.
I also found Springboard into a Training Contract, during which the Aspiring Solicitors team ran through how to make good applications, was of great help, in particular in teaching me how to address online application forms and competency questions at interview.
Why is diversity important to you?
If you want the best outcomes for society, the best thing you can do is have equality of opportunity, along with an appreciation of institutional biases. Diversity to me, then, is about ensuring that we are reaching the best outcomes.
Why do you think diversity is important to your firm and why do you think they work with Aspiring Solicitors?
I think there are a few angles from which we can look at this; a diverse workforce should more effectively handle a broad range of potential clients, thus increasing revenue. A workplace without bigotry is one where people will be happier employees, which correlates with productivity. An employee selection process that is non-discriminatory will hire more effective employees. All of these factors mean that diverse workforces help produce the best outputs.
Mayer Brown has seen the importance of diversity, and I think that is reflected in its recent intakes and their CV-blind process. I know on my vacation scheme, for example, a really broad range of universities were represented. Mayer Brown works with Aspiring Solicitors because AS has helped ensure the firm has a talented and diverse applicant pool.
If you were a first or second year Aspiring Solicitors member, what would your most important piece of advice be on university?
I’d say you need to be aware that universities tend to mark quite harshly in first year (at least for Law), so you want to be in around the top third of your year. Whilst getting below a 2.1 in your first year is not the end, it really is incredibly helpful to achieve good marks in your first year.
In your second year, get as much career/applications stuff done as you can in summer, all your firm research and so on, so that you can, as far as possible, focus on academics during the term. Not getting a training contract offer in your second year is a setback, not getting a 2.1 can be a real hammer blow. After all, you can always apply for TCs in your 3rd year, and if anything, it should be much easier with your final degree to apply behind.
If you’ve scored well in your first year, then hopefully your 2nd year will be much easier.
If you were a 1st year Aspiring Solicitors member, what would your most important piece of advice be in terms of a member’s diversity?
Firstly, diversity has to be treated like a sword and not a shield, meaning, if raised, it has to be brought to bear in a positive context. An example would be, if you had to work during school for family/financial reasons, that is something that is very impressive, but you have to raise it in the context of “I managed to do both X and work, this taught me XYZ”, rather than, “I wasn’t able to do X due to working”, true though that may be. This may be unfair, but I have found the importance of associating things positively is huge. In my case this came up when talking about having changed career, I learnt, through making the mistake, never to bring up negative aspects of old professions.
Rhys, what would your most important piece of advice be on entering the legal profession?
I’d say don’t underestimate how serious it is, start early, gather information like crazy, and remember that law is a people business. To that end, get to know graduate recruitment teams, older students who can tell you about firm cultures and so on, and trainees, associates and partners across the profession. You get a very small window to make decisions about what is going to be a long career, so being well informed is key, and there’s no better source of information than people already in the profession.
What diversity networks does your firm have that you are aware of? Do they have specific names?
Mayer Brown is a leading advocate for diversity, and this is partly for a number of networks – many are noted on the HERE
What do you think is the key to increasing diversity in the legal profession (across all underrepresented groups)?
My own view, and it extends to all professions, not just the legal profession, is that the key to increasing diversity is to improve the access to quality schooling for as wide a range of children as possible, as early as possible. I think a large roadblock to diversity for many City professions is that admitting people to jobs based on education history comes with inbuilt biases. It is certainly legitimate to assess people on how well they do in exams, but how can we account for the different quality of teaching provided by different institutions? I don’t have an answer to this question, but societally I think it’s something we need to address.
Who if anyone is your biggest inspiration in life and why?
I’m usually inspired by the people around me as opposed to people in the public spotlight. Friends have helped me understand and shape myself, and when I find myself lacking in some quality I look at the people around me and say, ‘wow, X works so hard, I need to ask her about how she self-motivates’, or ‘Y is really good at making people feel comfortable, I wonder if he has any method to that’, etc.
Who if anyone is an inspiration to you in terms of diversity?
Martin Luther King is wonderfully eloquent, and the more I read about him the more I admire how he worked and lived. There are also a few academics who I find inspiring who write about, for example, welfare optimisation/cognitive bias/etc. Daniel Kahneman and John Rawls both come to mind.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the AS members?
I think we can end with something a bit corny after all this seriousness. What I’d say is – be honest about who you are, and then work to make sure that who you are someone you’re proud of.
Thank you for your time and answers. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us Rhys, we look forward to sharing your Q&A with our AS members.