Aspiring Lawyer Miniseries – Future Irwin Mitchell Trainee – Shannon Tong

This week on our Legally Speaking Podcast Miniseries, powered by KC Partners, our host Harrison Wilde is joined by guest feature, Shannon Tong.

Shannon studied her LLB at QMUL followed by her LLM in Medical Law. She has recently finished her LPC gaining a distinction.

Shannon has worked at Irwin Mitchell as a Paralegal for the last two years and currently works as a Legal Advisor for the Firm.

She has recently accepted her Training Contract offer with Irwin Mitchell, which she will commence in February 2020 in their London Office.

Shannon is also very interested in legal blogging and has recently started a platform to document her journey. 


[0:00:00.0] Harry Wilde: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast mini-series powered by Kissoon Carr. My name is Harry, head ambassador for Kissoon Carr and host for today’s episode. Today I am delighted to be joined by our guest feature, LLB, LPC and LLM graduate and Future Trainee solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, Shannon Tong. Shannon studied her LLB at Queen Mary’s University followed by an LLM in Medical law.

She also recently finished her LPC and is due to commence her training contract in February 2020 at Irwin Mitchell’s London office. Hi Shannon, thank you for joining us today.

[0:00:37.4] Shannon Tong: Hi, thanks for having for me.

[0:00:39.6] Harry Wilde: No worries at all. I wanted to start by asking you about your legal career so far and your achievements to date. So, to kick things off how did you manage to secure your training contract and what advice would you give to those who hope to submit applications throughout the next cycle?

[0:00:54.3] Shannon Tong: So, I guess the story of how I secured my training contract really starts with getting my first legal job. So, my first legal job was a part time admin role at Irwin Mitchell and that was something I did during my master’s degree. And I was responsible for filing documents away and keeping things organized. And this was such a good way for me to get my foot in the door. I already knew kind of by this point that Irwin Mitchell was the top firm that I wanted to be doing my training contract at, so you know it was great starting position for me

And around this time, I did apply for a training contract at the firm but all the openings that year had unfortunately already been filled. But I did end up applying to a paralegal role within the firm once I graduated and it was in the serious injury team which wasn’t a team I had worked with before but I had already had a few interactions with the hiring partner and I do think that helped me as well as the fact that I was already working at the firm. So, quite shortly after my graduation I then started working as a paralegal.

And I always knew that my end goal was getting a training contract at Irwin Mitchell. So, as a paralegal I really tried to immerse myself in the work that I was doing as well as the kind of activities that were going on around the firm generally as well. And after around nine months of paralegalling – I applied for a training contract again and was successful on that occasion.

So, in terms of advice that I would give to students or anybody who is applying for training contracts throughout this upcoming cycle I would say don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for opportunities because you never know what opportunities you can stumble across and these opportunities can really enhance your CV and your applications. So, just as an example of that, I got my first role at the firm because I’d asked a solicitor from the firm for a coffee just so I could get to know the work she did a bit more and ask a few questions about the firm. And after the coffee meeting I followed up with her by email just letting her know, thanking her for her time and asking her to let me know if she knew of any work experience opportunities. And that’s when she referred me to the admin role at the firm.

[0:03:14.7] Harry Wilde: For sure, and having have that vast range of experience and working as a paralegal with Irwin Mitchell, which you did later secure a training contract with, what benefit could working as a paralegal bring to people without training contracts?

[0:03:27.4] Shannon Tong: So, I think paralegalling is obviously very substantial legal experience that you can be mentioning in your application and in your interviews and the other thing to be aware of is that paralegalling can be very, very similar to what a trainee solicitor is doing. And in my experience sometimes paralegal roles can even involve more responsibilities than what the standard trainee would be doing.

So, being able to demonstrate in your applications and in your interviews that you have been successful at your paralegal job would be really strong evidence of your potential as a future trainee and as a solicitor. I think another thing what I’d like to say is kind of like a try before you buy. So, you are getting this first-hand experience of what legal work is like and you can really use this experience to confirm whether or not it’s the career you want to be pursuing before you make a long-term commitment to a training contract.

[0:04:22.2] Harry Wilde: Absolutely and it seems like a great way to get your foot in the door and a good way to kind to know the firm and the people within it better. But what advice would you give to aspiring lawyers who are in the process of researching firms?

[0:04:34.5] Shannon Tong: I would say start off with a general broad brushed type of research, learn about all the different types of firms that are out there and the different types of work that you could get into and as you narrow down the type of firms that you want to apply for, you can then get more specific with your research. Another thing I would say when first approaching this research phase of the application cycle is to keep an open mind.

I would really encourage everyone to consider all the different types of law and firms that are out there as you might stumble across something that you think might actually be really interesting work and something that you’d really like to do. And I think it’s important as well to stay true to yourself and really pursue what you are passionate about. So, don’t just apply to magic circle firms just because that’s what everybody else around you is doing you know try to really work out what type of firm and type of work are a good fit for you because once you work that out you will also find that application process gets so much easier because you are genuinely passionate about what you are applying to.

And I do think that kind of passion really comes across on paper even when you are just writing out an application. And when you have identified the types of firms and then the type of work that you want to be doing then you should be taking your research to the next level. Don’t just rely on what you read on Chamber’s Students or Legal Cheek because at the end of the day that is just basic introductory information to the firm. What you should be doing is following the firm’s updates, maybe following partners or solicitors at the firm on social media seeing what type of work or type of news that they are posting about.

Try to understand the firm and what their strategies are for growth and another thing that I would really encourage people to do is try to connect with someone at the firm and find out more about their experiences.

[0:06:22.4] Harry Wilde: Of course, and as you touched upon previously, a lot of students do find themselves applying for these top magic circle firms. And something I was really interested in asking you is how you decided to pursue your career in non-commercial law?

[0:06:36.0] Shannon Tong: So, I didn’t really realize that I wanted to pursue non-commercial law until the very final month of my masters and at the point where I kind of started working at Irwin Mitchell or applying for that first job and I think why this was the case was while I was at university, all the information presented to me was just screaming commercial law every single event you went to, everybody you spoke to they were all really, really interested in commercial law.

And it kind of seemed like, at the time, that pursuing anything other than a big commercial firm would maybe be an inferior option. So, I did spend my time at uni applying for vacation schemes at lots of commercial firms, and I did put a lot of time into this. I was spending around two weeks on each application but I never really got anywhere with this and now I know why it’s because it just wasn’t something I was passionate about at the time and it probably came across on my application that I just wasn’t the most passionate candidate and the candidate that was the most interested in their firm.

And I really felt that working in a more personal area of law aligned with my values better because I am really passionate about helping people. And especially where people are in situations where they have been unfairly put at a disadvantage. So, I really felt that this type of work suited me better.

[0:07:59.3] Harry Wilde: Absolutely and I thinking finding the right kind of law for you, that is specifically the firms that you are interested in, your passion will really come through throughout your application. And something I wanted to ask you is having recently started posting more actively on your legal blog, how important do you think it is for future trainees or practicing lawyers to openly document their journeys, important things they have learned along the way and key experiences they have had?

[0:08:22.7] Shannon Tong: I think that it’s a really important thing and the reason behind that is I think that this online community will really open the legal industry up and make the legal industry way more accessible for people from all different walks of life. Just because the online community gives everyone a chance to access insights into working in law and it gives them a chance to build connections with others who are maybe at stages ahead of them or even their peers.

[0:08:49.0] Harry Wilde: Absolutely and it has been so great to see such surge of legal bloggers over the last few months. What was it that made you decide to start blogging and why are you interested in kind of contributing towards that community?

[0:09:01.3] Shannon Tong: So, how I really came across this was that I saw some posts on my LinkedIn about students who are creating legal Instagrams and it just wasn’t something I’d heard of before, so I decided to check it out and once I saw what it was, I decided to make an account. Just on the hopes of being able to add value to other people’s legal journeys and sharing what I have learnt and hopefully others being able to gain a lot from that.

[0:09:26.9] Harry Wilde: Absolutely and I think for students that gain that insight is really crucial, so thank you for doing that. There is something I wanted to conclude by asking you was, something I like to ask all of our guests and what changes do you think need to made within the legal profession to make a career in law more accessible to everybody?

[0:09:44.4] Shannon Tong: That’s a good question, I think that the legal profession has been moving in the right direction and it has been for a while but there is always more work that can be done. And I think what’s really important is being able to contextualize people’s achievements and recognize what might not be traditionally seen as a useful experience to have had. And what I mean by that is you know recognizing that somebody having a part time job through uni has been developing extremely useful soft skills.

[0:10:16] Harry Wilde: Absolutely and to that end I want to say a huge thank you for coming on today Shannon. It’s been a real pleasure having you on and great to hear your insights alongside many of the things that you have learned throughout your legal journey. I wish you all the best for the future and good luck in starting your training contract early next year.

[0:10:32] Shannon Tong: Thank you so much.

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