In interview with...
Kelly Barker and Neelam Morris
Barker Morris Legal Search
Kelly Barker and Neelam Morris are both non-practising solicitors who recently made the decision to set up their very own recruitment consultancy - Barker Morris Legal Search. Prior to setting up their own company, they each worked as recruitment consultants for all levels of legal professions in the Birmingham area.
So, tell us a little about you both and how you came to launch Barker Morris?
K: We both come from a legal background initially but chose to switch to legal recruitment with one of the world’s largest agencies at around the same time. Despite subsequently working (in competition!) for other businesses over the years, we remained good friends, celebrated each other’s successes and always shared the same professional values: honesty, discretion, and tenacity.
N: The events of 2020 led us to question the direction we saw our careers heading in 2021 and beyond. We both genuinely love legal recruitment (even after all this time!) and agreed that the icing on the cake would be if we could launch a business of our own, built on those values Kelly refers to. It’s fantastic to be back working together as colleagues rather than competitors!
What levels of legal applicants do you work with?
We work with lawyers at all level of qualification – from Paralegal / Trainee to Partner / General Counsel.
When recruiting for paralegal posts, what do you think stands out most in CVs?
The good, the bad and the ugly!
The good: apart from a perfectly structured and formatted CV (see below), what stands out most is relevant paralegal experience. That is what our clients generally want to see. This can be very frustrating for those looking to secure their first paralegal role (how can you gain experience if no one will give you your first paralegal role?!) but don’t give up. Get whatever commercial or legal experience you can, do vacation schemes, volunteer, write articles, keep legal knowledge up to date and use LinkedIn to raise your profile and connect with firms / organisations who might hire you.
The bad: a CV full of glaring typos.
The ugly: a CV which is disorganised and chaotic. Anything less than a well-formatted CV with clear layout will not do you justice!
What about when recruiting trainees for NQ positions?
The CV should showcase the experience gained in the seat you wish to qualify into. If you want to qualify into Real Estate, for example, then put that seat at the top of your experience. Give plenty of information about the deals you worked on (although this can be anonymous) and your involvement on each. Provide some information on other training seats too, as experience gained in other teams can be relevant. Include any business development, pro bono work and direct client contact. Don’t leave out your education / academics at this stage in your career or people will assume the worst!
What are common mistakes you come across with applicants that prohibit them securing a job?
When applying to a firm or business directly, if the candidate says why they want the role with ABC & Co but their application is actually to XYZ & Co. Or they want to specialise in Employment when they’ve actually applied for a Corporate role. In those circumstances, the CV isn’t going to land in the Hiring Manager’s inbox!
Any advice to current aspiring lawyers that are struggling to secure employment in the current market?
Speak to us! Even if we aren’t working on a role that is quite right for you, we can advise on strategy or connect you with others who might help so take advantage of our experience. We will encourage you to consider whether you have explored all the possible options available to you (location, specialism, law firms / in house / local authority etc).
Consider finding a career mentor: ask one of your LinkedIn connections or a former supervisor whether they would be prepared to help.
Grow and nurture your network of contacts: get involved with some of the virtual networking, webinars and groups available online. Share interesting and relevant material on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there and asking for help.
Many of the wannabe lawyers who struggled to get a role in the wake of the global financial crisis (which presented a far worse market) have made Partner in the last couple of years, so don’t give up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Finally, what have you found to be the most common reason lawyers quit law?
This is a tricky one to answer: if you’re looking to leave the law, the chances are you aren’t looking for our help! Unless, of course, you want to go down the well-trodden path into legal recruitment...
There are many reasons why people consider leaving the law, but we always encourage them to (i) get at least 2PQE under their belt, and (ii) consider a change of discipline or size and/or type of employer before they tear up their Practising Certificate!
If you have much less than 2PQE it is likely to be harder to return to the law, should you want / need to. You don’t want to be competing for NQ roles with trainees whose experience is bang up to date when you’ve taken two years out to ‘find’ yourself and can’t remember a lease from a licence. At least with some PQE, there are likely to be more options open to you and less competition.