Choosing electives can be difficult, or so it seems when you are midway through the LPC. It feels like you are being asked to select your desired specialism with only one foot inside the door. For those of you who have not yet secured a training contract, the choice is even more daunting, as you want to make sure it aids your search, not hinders it. Some training contract holders will have a specific LPC plan laid out for them, but for the rest, the elective selection seems like a career-altering fork in the road.
Elective modules are great; they give you a glimpse of what practice might be like in that area. The understanding you get of that area of law will help you to talk about it to other lawyers in that area and may be enough to allow you to hit the ground running if you end up doing that area as a seat. It will also give you an idea of whether you actually do like an area of law – very often the theory is entirely different to the practice.
For those of you who have training contracts, that is really all that elective choices will do. You won’t miss out on a particular seat because you didn’t do an elective on it. All you will miss out on is an appreciation of what that area of law is like in practice and a bit of an understanding of the legal background to it. Whilst you might have a better chance of buttering up the employment supervisor if you can have a chat with him about employment law principles, he won’t rule you out because you have no previous experience.
That said, it is worth giving some thought to the seats you may be asked to do. In my firm, trainees are expected in the majority of cases to do a property seat. I chose a property elective – commercial leases – as a result, and I can’t stress how much that elective helped me when it turned out that my very first seat was to be property. Given that I was going to do a property seat at some point it made sense to me to learn a little more about it than conveyancing from PLP. It may be your firm’s specialism is corporate, in which case something along the lines of mergers and acquisitions might be an idea. If it is a legal aid firm, family or housing law is probably a good shout.
For those of you still looking for a training contract, I would only advise you are careful with your choices. They will appear on your CV and if you choose high-end corporate modules only to apply to a small legal aid firm, it will be noticed. See it from the firm’s point of view:
This person clearly wants to be a city corporate lawyer, why on Earth would they apply to work for me? Are they going to leave as soon as they are qualified? Can they handle the dirty end of criminal law?
The same goes for any clearly selective choice: all legal aid based electives; all litigation or dispute resolution electives; all property. If you apply to a firm that doesn’t carry that area or isn’t particularly strong in it, you will have to justify yourself when applying for training contracts as it will appear that your interest lies elsewhere. That’s not to say don’t chose those electives; just be prepared to answer those questions if you do.
You could also use the electives as a way of finding out what type of firm you want to work for – choose a wide range of areas you think you might be interested in and see if you like that area in practice. Often it will become clear that you are more suited for or more excited by one area that in itself will help you select firms to apply to.
In my opinion, you should opt for electives you are interested in, either intellectually or career wise. You have to study that area of law and pass an exam in it, selecting a module tactically, but then switching off every lecture because you find it boring, is not going to do you any favours. On the other hand, missing an opportunity to learn a little more about an area you are highly likely to be practising for at least six months is missing a trick. For me, interest comes first; if there is something else you are more interested in than the career option, choose that. It does depend on how ambitious you are though!
If you are still struggling, speak to the lead lecturers in that area or try to find something through the alumni or the local JLD who has studied that module at your institution before. A little inside knowledge could tip the balance for you.
Over all, take these points into consideration but then choose something that intrigues you. It may be that you find out that area is not for you, but that is still something worth knowing ahead of your training contract. And good luck!