There is no doubt that the law profession in the UK is such that the majority of top positions are still occupied by white, middle-class and privately educated men. Therefore, it can be very hard to navigate or make it in the industry if you are not from that sort of background, as I have found.
To get a Training opportunity a commercial firm or chambers in the City is competitive in itself, let alone lacking the ‘right’ accent, not having the correct school name or the right ‘look’. In comparison to Medicine, Law is an industry where simply having the top grades will not be enough. You need to know the right people, if not, get talking to the right people, work at the right places and strategically enhance your CV with Vacation schemes otherwise, good luck explaining that ‘blip’ in your CV or how you spent your Gap Year. Every move you make has to be calculated intelligently to showcase how serious you are because, at the end of the day, the firm is investing in YOU through trainee salaries, Law school sponsorships and every other financial perk of being a city trainee.
These are things I did not know and I wish I had. I had no idea what a Vacation scheme/ Training contract was in the months preceding the GDL. After a simple google search, I decided to send in my application for a Training contract (bearing in mind I had 0 work experience) with a make-shift CV and Cover letter to an admissions email I’d found on a website for a prestigious international law firm. I was unaware that was not the correct procedure (there was a whole screening process involved). Much to my dismay, where I was expecting an invitation, I received a kind response directing me to the graduate recruitment website where I was faced with a gruelling application process. Since then, I have learnt to become much more savvy with regards to navigating the law industry and application as a whole. Below, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks I wish I had known earlier on in my career which I’m sure will be of assistance to anyone aspiring for success in the legal industry, perhaps even applicable to those desiring success in the business world.
Tip 1: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, AND RESEARCH You can never have done enough research. Organisation and a vigilant approach will allow you to stay above the competition and have awareness of potential opportunities . Unlike the US legal system where aspiring lawyers simply have to pass the ‘big exam’ and are able to land decent clerkship training, the UK system is more rigid and competitive where your career will pretty much depend on getting that Training contract/ pupilage, making it all the more important that you learn to become savvy in your approach. Firstly and contrary to popular belief, don’t focus too much on the area of law you would like to practice in. Instead, try to have a broad idea as you obviously won’t be expected to have the most accurate answer given you haven’t yet commenced training. You should try to focus on whether you want to practice commercial, corporate, high street/ niche or criminal law. Secondly, narrow this down to the few firms that will specialise in the area you have chosen as well as it’s work environment. Finally, research everything about the firm you possibly can, look at social media what does the firm hope to achieve? How does it market itself? What drives it? Who are the big clients? Could you see yourself working with such clients?
Tip 2: Focus on Academics Although I don’t believe this to be the most important quality in determining a succesful lawyer, the top law firms, in order to stay on top of the competition, use this as a way of filtering out applications due to it being the most cost-effective and efficient mode to do so. Academics will simply get your foot in the door and allow you to proceed onto the next stage where it’s all about your competency and being the ‘full-package’. Therefore, it is important that you put the majority of your time and energy into getting those grades because without them, you will not even get to an interview stage (as frustrating and unfair as that may sound). Personally, one of my regrets was not picking up Law modules that were openly available for me during a course programme exchange when studying History. This would have proven really valuable to myself when applying for applications during the third year of my undergraduate degree as I would have been confidently explaining my motives for Law school. On your list of priorities, academics should be at the top.
Tip 3: Network. Highly important because you will only be able to get a true idea of what it is like to practice law through meeting professionals already in the industry. Academic law is very different to actually being a lawyer. This does not mean you have to turn up to exclusive roof-top events in a swanky suit, but instead, ask family and friends on anyone who might already be in the industry and politely ask for shadowing opportunities even if it might only be for a day or two. As long as you have an ‘in’, it will give you leverage and ground to stand on when applying for Law school. Furthermore, apply for mentorship programmes whose importance I cannot stress enough and something I made good use of. The latter is especially useful if you came from a BAME background or were the first from your family to go to University because it allows direct contact with someone who can provide insider info and direction you might not be getting from family connections.
Tip 4: Do not underestimate the importance of extra-curricular activities. Law firms tend to look for the ‘whole package’. You might be a straight- A student with amazing academic ability but this is not the only thing firms look for because quite frankly, anyone can memorize information and regurgitate it all in an exam if they wanted to. It takes real talent being able to gather appropriate information, critically analyze, take risks and excel overall in a professional environment. Furthermore, there is increasing stress on resilience, creativity, inter-personal skills with experience and knowledge of the business world aka the magic word; commercial awareness. They want a well-rounded person who can show academic competency but have hobbies/ interests OUTSIDE of law (desperate effort from law firms to dismiss the historical stereotype that lawyers are boring people). Try and join a committee for something you enjoy, volunteer at the local law center, open up a small business or even participate in a competition. Just like every trainee, every law firm has their own personality. There is not a one size fits all approach, some firms prefer the ‘sportier athletic types’ whilst others place importance on academics and some on those with years of valuable experience under their belt.
Tip 5: Get as much work experience as you can, in any sector. Not all work experience has to be law-related and look to other sectors that can sometimes provide an even valuable insight into the law. Firms are aware of how hard it can be to land a pupilage/ Vacation scheme or even work experience at smaller high street firms so other experience is highly welcomed. I once met a Trainee at Mischon De Reya who landed a Training contract simply because he had taken a year out to go work for the Home Office. I took up a grass-roots position with an upcoming financial social payments company and adopted valuable skills in commercial awareness.
Hope you found these tips useful and Good Luck!
Disclaimer: These are things that may not be representative of everyone else but they are suggestions that are personal to my experience that I thought I would share!
Image by Colin |City of London skyline from London City Hall – Sept 2015 | © Creative Commons