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Lessons from the call centre

Lessons from the call centre

By Caroline Fazakas

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Your past work experience might be more valuable than you think.

Recently I walked through Melbourne’s court precinct as barristers hurried past with their billowing gowns. What did these barristers do for their very first job? It is amusing to think of highly respected legal professionals pushing supermarket trolleys or working behind a cash register. But for many of us, this was our introduction to the workforce, and it is no laughing matter. It got me thinking about my first jobs working in retail, hospitality and telesales (cold-calling) and the skills I learned which have helped me become a budding paralegal and hopeful criminal defence lawyer.

I can check off responsible, hard-working and organised. But I most value my interpersonal skills – the ability to effectively build rapport with clients and colleagues. This has not come naturally – it has come from years of working in customer service jobs, selling products, dealing with customer complaints and ensuring customer satisfaction.

So how does this relate to law students? Well at the end of the day, the legal profession is all about the customer; you are selling a service, creating the best results for clients, and dealing with disgruntled people. My interpersonal skills really developed when I was a cold-caller, and have since become essential for my legal assistant jobs.

When faced with a problematic client, I could confidently manage the situation with techniques I learned from cold-calling. I knew clients were stressed about their legal problems, and I knew how to make each client feel valued. I listened to the client and reassured them that I understood their situation. They felt assured when I told them that I would personally work to resolve their problem and convey their qualms to their lawyer.

My thick skin has also been developed through being sworn at and threatened as a cold caller. I have learned how to defuse conflicts without letting the situation get to me. The ability to approach a conflict rationally has helped me enormously as a legal assistant when dealing with difficult clients.

Another transferable skill is professionalism, ie, keeping your cool under pressure. I learned professionalism from waitressing. It is exhausting and annoying being at everyone’s beck and call. But customers are paying for a service and do not want to see you dragging your feet, looking bored or giving them attitude. Waitressing has taught me that a strong work ethic can lead to a great sense of achievement over time. Developing professionalism will create tangible results like improving your firm’s branding and the quality of your work, and heightened client satisfaction.

Customer service experience has also taught me level-headedness, efficiency, and the ability to prioritise. When the phone is ringing non-stop and urgent legal documents need drafting, being cool, calm and collected is imperative to getting the job done (and impressing your boss). Experience in meeting the demands of the retail and hospitality industries can save the day.

The take home message is that the jobs we have done in the past are important for character building. When it comes time to apply for clerkships and graduate jobs, don’t undersell yourself. Show your potential employers how your work history and experience make you the preferable candidate. Remember to include the “average” jobs you have had because they have given you skills you can transfer to the legal profession. n
 


CAROLINE FAZAKAS is a Juris Doctor student at Monash University.


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