There are a lot of aspects to think about when you’re studying. Each year, you will face new and potentially unfamiliar challenges. I think when you’re faced with the enormous prospect of starting a degree at university, probably in a completely new city, knowing best route to take to make yourself more employable can be difficult.
I think the best way to advise someone is to break it down year by year.
The best thing about your first year at university is all the new experiences you’re able to access. The first and best piece of advice that I can give someone about to embark on a Law degree is this – Enjoy it as much as you can! And no, that doesn’t mean go out drinking every opportunity.
The first place to go is your university’s Freshers Fair. Walk around, have a look at the societies that are on offer. Chances are there will be something that you enjoy doing, or something you’d like to try! It’s a great opportunity to put some extra-curricular activities on your CV, and you might not get many more opportunities during your education and future career. But it isn’t just about having a bit of fun. Everything that you put on your CV will be analysed by future employers, so if you join a club or society with the intention of putting it on your CV, think about what skills you are learning from it. Team sports might demonstrate communication skills with your teammates, or being able to work as part of a team. An individual activity could show independence or confidence.
You should also consider some legal extra curricular activities. A lot of universities run mooting workshops and competitions (mock court cases) that look great on your CV. You might find that there is a debating society which again will only serve to improve your confidence and public speaking.
The other thing to do is find some people, both on your course and off, that you can socialise and study with. Good friends will be important during your studies and I don’t think that I would have got through uni without the support of my close friends. You don’t need to be the most popular person in the world, but given the jump from A-Level to degree, having some support from your peers is invaluable.
The final and probably most important thing to say about your first year is to ignore the idiots who tell you that “first year doesn’t count”. Your first year is probably one of the most important years career-wise. They are correct when they say that it doesn’t count towards your degree classification. But your training contract applications will require you to put down results that you have so far, and at the point when you start applying (second year), you will only have your first year grades. While it isn’t essential to spend every second of your life studying, make sure you impress as much as you can.
University at this point should become more about your future career. That isn’t to say that you should stop having a social life and move into the library, but your legal career begins effectively at this point.
The first thing to do is to start thinking about, funnily enough, the future. Where do you want to be? What kind of firm do you want to work for? What kind of law do you like? Do you want to be a barrister or a solicitor?
By this point you should have a general idea of what you want to do. Don’t be disheartened if you work out that a legal career isn’t for you though.You don’t necessarily need to become a solicitor or a barrister, a Law degree opens up so many doors. You can look at graduate positions, you can work in a law firm in a different capacity. The fact that you have done a law degree is an impressive enough feat to make you an attractive candidate for any job.
If you do want to go into law, think about where you want to work. A lot of people, myself included, initially wanted to work at a multi-national commercial firm, travelling to meet clients across the world. The reality is that there are very few spaces for these sorts of jobs, and they are reserved for only the very best. Sometimes people might be more suited to a small or medium sized firm. I say this not to dishearten people, because you have to be very optimistic at this point. But you have to remember that there are thousands of law students each year applying for training contracts and summer placements. A quick search on www.lawcareers.net or another similar site will reveal how many places each firm takes per year. The number of applications they receive might be 100-200x that number, potentially more if it is one of the Magic Circle firms. But there are so many things that you can use to your advantage. Speak to your university’s careers team. I know that my old university Nottingham Trent’s Employability team do a great job at helping you to write the perfect CV, cover letter or even just go through an application form with you. These services are essential to help you to stand out. To give your applications that extra shine that gets you the interview.
Training contract deadlines are mostly listed on the lawcareers.net website and I know that I used this to find places that I could apply to. The first thing to think about is the area of law that you’d like to work in. Researching firms who have practice the area of law that you’re interested in will save a wasted application. It also means that you can tailor your application to the firm you are applying to. Look at for example the countries that the firm operates in and decide whether you would be willing to travel. Look at what awards the firm has won in your chosen field. These sorts of things will show employers that you are genuinely interested in a future with their company.
My final piece of advice for this year would be to try and get as much work experience as possible. If you’re not exactly sure of which field of law or what sort of law firm you want to go into, try and gain work experience in a variety of environments. If your final year is anything like mine you might find your university library sees more of you than your flatmates.
This is the year that makes all the difference. If you are one of the lucky few who has secured a training contract, you may be aware that your firm have a minimum requirement for your grades for this year. While it’s not obligatory, familiarise yourself with the library and find your preferred work environment. Uni libraries often have a silent section, a quiet section and a group work area (the polite way of saying the loud area). Working out what suits you best will be vital in the coming months and your preparation for your final exams should start on day one. Start making revision notes from your first lecture and start preparing a revision folder. Set yourself a schedule, even if it is just spending half an hour before bed reading over your notes from that day. You will be surprised how fast the year goes and before long your lectures will end and your revision period begins.
It is at this point that you should make most use of the assistance of friends, peers and any revision sessions from your tutor. Maybe try and set up a study group with some of your classmates. If you find that you can’t, and have friends on a different course, arrange to meet with them to study. Find what works for you and prepare as best you can.
If you haven’t secured a training contract yet, you have another opportunity to send in some applications. Do bear in mind that many firms will recruit two years in advance for training contracts. You may therefore find that your training contract will begin two years after you have finished your degree. Most firms will not have any specific requirements for this period from you, and so it is an opportunity to work and earn some money or to travel for pleasure while you have the chance.
I apologise for making this a bit of an essay but I feel like there is a lot more that I could discuss. That is part of the reason that I wanted to start this blog and guide people using my experiences through a long and difficult three years. Please feel free to ask any questions and I hope I can answer them or point you in the right direction.