Craig Sharpe of Darlington Solicitors: Inspiring the Future

Pavan Trivedi, an LLB Law student at London Met, gives an insight into a guest lecture delivered by Craig Sharpe, Marketing Manager at Darlingtons Solicitors.

Date: 11 March 2019

Written by Pavan Trivedi, an LLB Law student at London Metropolitan University.

Craig Sharpe, Marketing Manager at Darlingtons Solicitors, a small full-service law firm based in Edgware, was invited to speak to LLB Law students at London Metropolitan University on 15 February, and immediately from his initial message, he had me engaged.

Craig wanted to get across to the students that he was not here to dissuade them from pursuing careers as solicitors, but he was here to provide realistic goals and help us understand what we can do to maximise our chances of becoming an employed solicitor upon graduation.

Craig has accumulated decades of successful legal practice, consultancy and marketing experience. He was a lawyer for over 15 years at various commercial firms and ran his own firm for some years before making the switch to marketing.

In addition to Craig visiting, he invited a special guest to speak with us, Desiree De Lima, an accomplished Trainee Solicitor from Gannons, which is a small niche corporate law firm that actually competes with Magic Circle entities in regards to quality of work. Craig decided to invite Desiree along so that we would have the opportunity to meet a successful trainee who not long ago, was in the exact position as we are today; wondering what to do after graduation.

Craig began by informing us that at smaller law firms, the CV application process is flawed, as it is very hard for smaller firms to spot the people they really want from just a CV alone. Mostly anyone can put together a half-decent CV, but the firm really wants to know who you actually are and if you fit within their culture. The best way to attract talent is to get out and network, and Craig reiterated the importance of networking several times throughout his talk. He has been successful with Darlingtons (and other firms including Streathers Solicitors) because he personally meets motivated students at every university where he gives his talk, and with his experience and keen eye, he can spot talent and encourage them to apply to his client’s firms.

With this strategy, Craig has created an all-around winning scenario; firstly, the student gains exposure that they would otherwise not usually have, and secondly, Craig delivers high level talent to his clients which allows those firms to receive strong candidates that they would never have been able to pick out through just a CV.

The talk included lots of compelling examples of how the legal world has radically changed. Taking one example, the number of registered solicitors in England and Wales. Craig asked the students if they believed that there were eight times more properties being sold now, or eight times more people being sued, and the clear answer was no. It’s clear that the supply of lawyers is outweighing the demand, and when this occurs, competition increases.

As a result of competition, Craig told us that firms will be affected in many different ways; lower trainee intake, less partnerships, and solicitors having to adapt and embrace tasks that aren’t technical lawyering. Desiree backed this up with examples of redundancies and lower revenues in small, medium and large firms, when they do not innovate or evolve with the changing times.

Craig explained that the legal market has opened up and new companies have been established with the sole goal of commoditising the legal profession and turning it into a service. When this occurs, law firms will be economically affected as their clients may receive advertisements regarding key legal services at extremely low rates, and those clients may be drawn towards using those companies instead, diminishing the lawyer-client relationship.

I have also seen this first-hand throughout work experience at commercial firms, where the client (usually an insurer) will negate past relationships and use any firm that provides them with the lowest rate. This is a massive shift from the past and Craig made it clear that law firms must differentiate their services and strategies to get ahead in the changing climate.

Craig gave an example of an innovative mid-sized firm, Mishcon de Reya, who have established themselves as a law firm of the future by being agile and not being afraid to take strategic and business risks, something likely to resonate with their entrepreneurial client base. Mishcon also played an important role in the famous Miller case.

Craig did not deter me from wanting to pursue a career as a solicitor, in fact he boosted my motivation and provided valuable insight into the amount of hard work and innovation that is needed to make it in the legal world. I learned that a great solicitor must develop more than just legal skills. A solicitor in 2019 and beyond must incorporate many abilities including team approachability and business development attributes.

Craig and Desiree also explained to the students that being commercially aware is incredibly important. A future solicitor must know the firm that they wish to work at inside and out and use all of their resources to research the firms work and their clients. Commercial awareness also means having an open mind, understanding how clients think as business people and incorporating exceptional people skills. At first there may be nerves in some of the students to get out there, but if you don’t do it now, when will you?

Craig and Desiree were extremely motivating, and they have had a lasting effect on me as I have never been more motivated to become a solicitor upon graduation next year. Thank you Craig and Desiree.