After A-level results - our advice for aspiring lawyers
Posted on 17th August 2023 at 12:30
It’s A-level results day! Congratulations to those students who are happy with their results. For those not so happy with their results, you’ll see plenty of posts from people who didn’t do well in exams but ended up having great careers – you can do it too.
Law is a fascinating and rewarding sector to work in, but it can be a difficult area to break into. As each of our team have made it into the legal industry, we thought it was important to share our experience with the next generation of lawyers. For those students aiming for a career in law, we wanted to share the advice we wish somebody had told us before we started studying:
Talk to people who are experienced in the field you are aiming for. Make sure you understand the reality of the job, as the image of the job isn’t always accurate. This will help make sure this is the right job for you, and help you fully understand what you need to do to work towards the career.
One of the most important qualities in a solicitor is passion for the subject, whichever area of law you choose. So take the opportunity to explore different areas of law, but when it comes to choosing modules, focus on what you feel enthusiastic about.
Take the time to hone skills important in the role. A big part of law is dealing with people - it is important that you can relate to people and understand not only their circumstances, but their expectations, and what they hope to achieve. Look for societies or work experience that offer the chance to practice your listening and people skills. You will also need determination to be a solicitor, so how you deal with difficulties is just as important as what you do well. Treat obstacles or failures as opportunities to build resilience.
As the first generation in my family to go to university, there were some practical (maybe obvious) tips I wish someone could have told me. It's vital to get comfortable with the library, but during my time at university, the Law department had it's own library which was huge and slightly intimidating. It had a big circular reception desk, and often I'd walk in, be overwhelmed, and carry on round the desk straight back out! Don't be afraid to ask the staff for directions, not just to different books and journals, but all the different study areas. When you get your reading list, start with the journal articles. They will help you get a more in-depth understanding of the wider issues and are generally more interesting! You don’t need to read every page of the textbook as they repeat a lot of what you heard in lectures. Just use them for the details you need to refresh.
Make time for friends on other courses. Your free time is valuable and you need to switch off properly. The odd night out with no talk of vac schemes, magic circle firms or upcoming seminars will help you feel refreshed when you get back to studying.
When thinking about your career keep an open mind and don’t worry about what other people are doing. It can feel like everyone else has a set path for after university, but don’t panic if you haven’t. I benefitted so much from a wide range of experience including volunteering with the Youth Offending Team, working in shops and bars between my degrees, and in fundraising after university. All of this helped me get a better idea of what type of work would interest me long term, while developing transferrable skills along the way. I’ve ended up back in the legal sector in a role I never heard mentioned at careers talks – but it’s perfect for me.
Obviously, you need to turn up to lectures and engage in seminars – you’re paying to be there so get the value. But don't just turn up, actively engage. Introduce yourself, stay in touch, ask questions, get advice. Be known to your tutors as a name, not just a number. This way, if you need help with work, work experience or connections, you already have a good relationship with your tutors and they will be happy to put you forward.
Enter competitions such as mooting, debating etc. It's great practice for the skills you need in law, and it is evidence that you're keen, motivated and can apply the law.
Work experience is so important. It can seem daunting to try and get experience when there is so much competition. Talk to the Careers service, they have connections with lawyers. Volunteering is also a great way to get experience. It's never too early to get on LinkedIn and get your profile out there. The more involved you get in mooting, debating, volunteering and work experience, the easier it will be to build your profile.
And finally, you'll hear a lot of people say to treat your degree like a 9-5. This doesn't just mean that you should be studying full time, it also means you should allow yourself time away from study. In the same way you (should) have some downtime from work in the evenings, schedule time to switch off and relax. And don’t consume other people’s stress – their journey is not yours and vice versa.
My advice would be to get as much exposure to the legal sector as possible. Work experience is great if you can get it - even if you aren't involved in legal work, just spending time in a legal environment will help develop your understanding of the sector.
Go to events and job fairs at the university where you will meet lawyers. It's a great opportunity to ask people more about the realities of the job. And visit the courts that are public to see the law in action. You'll get to see the work of a variety of roles, not just solicitors.
My advice to someone looking at a career in law would be to get as much practical experience as you can. Studying the law is very different to practising it for your career! Work experience is invaluable and can really help you make sure that law is what you want to do career-wise and, if it is, help you identify the areas of law that interest you and that you might like to pursue. Although many of the same principles apply across practice areas, each area of law is very different.
Work experience doesn’t have to be limited to law firms either – for example students could explore possibilities at volunteer schemes/clinic, or even in organisations that are not in the legal industry but which use lawyers (and most do in one form or another).
The greater the understanding you can have about how the law operates in practice and what makes a good lawyer (apart from knowledge of the law!), the better position you will be in to obtain a training contract at the end of your studies.
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