Monday, 11 May 2009

Berlin; Why I am going.


Last week I secured a summer internship within a German law firm. The prospect of living and

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working in different surroundings naturally excites me, but I have been posed the same questions over and over. Why now? And why Berlin?

Firstly my law career has been at standstill. In fact, to call it a career is misleading since I have not yet left the starting line. Since completing my undergraduate studies, I stepped out into the wider world as the financial meltdown commenced. I am by no means the hardest hit by what is going on, but I found myself literally doing nothing aside from my further study (Legal Practice Course - the qualification you need to practice law in England) and some occasional drafting work here and there.

Again I must re-iterate that I have been extremely fortunate in that I do not have mortgage payments, children to feed etc. My struggle has been physically finding something of worth to do that will aid me in becoming a solicitor, and though I am sure most could not care less about the next batch of lawyers coming out of law school, put your pre-conceived opinions aside for a few moments. All I want is an opportunity. And Berlin is where I have had to go to get this.

Now, I love my country, I am extremely passionate about all things British. I am football, cups

England's Green and Pleasant Land...Image by law_keven via Flickr

of tea and cheese ploughmans through and through. But, we have a major problem. We are a greedy nation, wholly self centred and totally geared towards looking out for number one. Sweeping statement? Read on. Until a year ago, you would have encountered someone with a law school ego, with plenty of opinions and educated ideals towards how the world should work. Now, with hindsight and a little maturity that perhaps only hours of honest reflection can bring, I understand a little better how England really operates.

My scenario is as follows. I strolled out of University with my degree in hand, and belief that I would nail down a bit part, stepping stone, type of role in a firm. Then I would sit tight and be handed my golden ticket (a training contract), and hey presto, I am a solicitor, with a Mercedes and a house with someone tending to the lawn. The reality is that I wrote over 100 firms and I have nothing. I have a tidy CV and whilst I do not brag or boast I believe I would be an asset to a firm. I am confident, with a strong work ethic, but alas, how to demonstrate such a thing? I digress. 100 stamps are expensive but the pain to my bank account I could take. My collection of "we regret to inform you" letterheads from seemingly every firm I could reasonably expect an opportunity with demonstrates my failure. Bemused, as I still am today, I pondered something that I was truly not prepared for. Rejection is one thing, and that happens, but the fact that there were NO jobs with which to apply for, that hurts and left me lost.

I understand that law firms cannot invent money with which to pay people with, but this, as we are all aware was the inherent problem with corporate Britain. Over expansion, expensive corporate waste through babbling shiny literature, glass high rise office space; I could go on. I feel betrayed by the notion that was drummed into me as a student, that the jobs are always there. "People always commit crime" and "everyone moves house" and "Everyone needs a lawyer to get divorced." It is crazy that I sat there for years, taking these heartless, soul-less statements in and thought they were great! As I said, personal reflection is serving me well.

So, as I wondered what my next move would be I found the days and weeks trickling by me.

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What to do? The rut that I am sure any person looking for work finds them self in often leads to comparing your misfortune with friends. You first swap bad luck with others in your position, which is great for encouraging depression. Then you curse your public sector employed friends. "Damn them with their secure government roles burning through taxpayers hard earned benefits!" The drafting and redrafting of CV's and covering letters becomes a genuine tedium. My parents regularly remark how that if I wanted a job that badly it would not bother me. This is not the problem. I spend more time tinkering with a CV and covering letters than seems necessary, it is a tedious, archaic way of recruiting people. Get me face to face, see me doing things you would expect of me should I get the job. I honestly do not know how a recruiter can genuinely tell a potentially good candidate from another based on a few sheets of exaggeration and a broad spectrum of lies.

Anyway, let me cut what is becoming an increasingly long story short. Or shorter at least.

I am fortunate to have family who I visit a couple of times a year in Berlin, so, accommodation sorted. For once I did something random and disregarded the increasingly useless recruitment agencies who were investing serious time in trying to get me to do a job completely irrelevant to my qualifications. I emailed law firms based in Berlin asking if they wanted me, a young, keen lawyer. It was not a half hearted attempt, but I did not expect positive responses that I have had.

Let me put in in perspective. In England, there are no jobs for me at the moment. In Germany,

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another country affected by the general financial problems there is a similar problem. The difference? From English firms I got a standard letter saying, no jobs, good luck, goodbye. From the German firms, some of which are international branches of English law firms I had applied to, I received different responses. "Interesting" I thought. What was different? Firstly, virtually all of the firms I emailed actually responded. These responses were apologetic if they could not accommodate me, and key to my writing this post is that they were still interested in helping me out if not.

For example, one firm could not help me in their Berlin office, but the PARTNER in the firm emailed me back the same day asking if I would be interested in trying an internship within their Bonn office. After 20 minutes I found myself having to turn down an opportunity purely because I had nowhere to stay there. Bemusement set in once more, as I encountered the first positive interest in months. I literally have email after email of pleasant, often helpful replies from Berlin based firms. This has left me wondering why from the masses of letters and emails I have dished out in England, I've never really had anything other than a standard response from nobody of note within the firm. My technique has not differed, my CV the same, it is the people and their mentality. This is the problem I think, the English mentality is not cohesive to times like these. In short, I think we talk the talk and have been found out massively of late. Why is no one willing in England to take on someone, in my case for nothing, there is no risk to them, no cost. The only thing I can think of is that they cannot be bothered. What other excuse can their be?

I always did understand why people moved to Australia and America etc, the lure of nice

NYE in Sydney, AustraliaImage by *vlad* via Flickr

weather and clean beaches being sufficient enough. My grandmother always used to refer to it as the "brain drain" (how very Daily Mail), and I recall as a child she said to me that this country was forcing all of its minds abroad, ultimately to its detriment. This was always something I appreciated as being true in some respects, but the reasoning always eluded me as to how far someone must be pushed to make that leap. Now, my fiancee is terrified that I might get offered a permanent job abroad that I would find hard to turn down. And it has only been on reflection that the lure is greater because I feel a sense of genuine injustice in how Britain is treating what is an idle workforce. I am ashamed to think I live in a country that has abandoned its industry to pursue greedy and incomprehensible hedge funds and the like. And to think of all the negative things you hear of Germany, the ever present anger and disdain they are held in as people because of the war, and they are the only people interested in me. The thing is that I have lost of lot of respect for my chosen "sector". I now know that when things do pick up again with the economy and they do want to use my skills to make themselves richer I will think twice about where I choose to go. And this is the reality of how soul-less the process is, and as a result it is, for me at least, a true reflection of how detached people in England have become from one another.

So anyway, I have secured my placement in Berlin, it is my opportunity to experience an international law firm for 6 weeks and get somewhere maybe. And whilst it could present me

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ultimately with challenges emotionally, it has to be my stepping stone or the start of something greater. Perhaps I am over thinking all of this, but my experiences to date infuriate me with England. A place I should want to stay and live my life. But I find myself with no other choice, and a sense I have never thought I would feel, that actually I am quite happy to be getting away. After all, my choice is to intellectually stagnate some more until I am required to line a wealthy British firms pockets, or actually make something of myself. It is not a hard choice really.

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