So why do you want to practise law? The answer ‘because I did a law degree’ may not be adequate in today’s turbulent recruitment of future solicitors and barristers. The profession itself shows a strong appreciation for the skills and experiences of graduates with non-law degrees – which is evident from the 50:50 split in the recruitment of law to non-law graduates by law firms. Due to the increase in non-law applications, some solicitor firms have designated applications and deadlines aimed at the non-law student.
However, despite the availability of mini-pupillages for students, a small number of chambers still require at least a year of law study before they will consider you for a mini-pupillage. So how does the non-law student get their way in? Here are a few tips to get you on your way.
The first thing anyone should do if they are considering a career in law is visit their university’s career and employment service. Make an appointment with a career adviser and ask the relevant questions: what materials are available in researching the possibilities of a law degree? Do they have a career mentoring service or links where you could build connections with trainee solicitors and barristers? What law events occur within the university? Is there a non-law society? Do guest speakers come in and talk about the profession? When’s the Law Fair?
Find out whether there is a specialist career adviser for the law school at your university who can give you a realistic perspective and specific advice. There are also many paper resources including guides such as The Training Contract Handbook, Pupillage Handbook, Chambers Student Guide and TARGETlaw publications which help you research firms, chambers and also give overviews and guidance for you to choose GDL, LPC and BPTC providers.
Find out what’s going on at your university’s law school. The law society usually organises events such as trips to open days at other universities, guest speakers and courses on how to use law databases such as Lexislibrary or Westlaw (crucial for when you do the GDL). There is no reason why you could not pop along to one or two of these events as a non-law student, especially if it is a talk given by your chosen GDL provider or a law firm that you intend on applying to. Mentioning these in your applications can be impressive.
Do you have a distant uncle who is a qualified barrister? Or is a friend of your mum a solicitor? Ask whether they would be willing to talk to you and answer questions about their experiences. Networking is key in the legal profession and gaining some insight into the day-to-day life of someone you know could be crucial in your decision to pursue a career in law. They may also know of any work experience available or arrange some work shadowing at their firm or chambers. You never know until you ask them.
A lot of the solicitors and barristers I have met who read law at university have said ‘I wish I had done an English degree’ because of the development of communication and writing skills which are crucial in becoming a lawyer. English and History degrees, in particular, centralise their assessments on independent research, study and essay writing (much to our dismay!). However, despite these skills being important for the future, there are ways of adapting final year assignments to reflect your interest in law.
For example, I was assigned to write a report on an issue articulated in literature by postcolonial British novelists. I focused my report on the impact of the Equality Act 2010 and whether it combats the whole scope of racism. I was given extra credit for the originality of the presentation of my report (I structured it as a skeleton argument for an hypothetical sentence appeal) and I included case law to back up my argument. By discussing the significance of a particular law or case in an assignment, it gives you content for interviews and applications to show your awareness and commitment.
Experience is crucial in getting an insight into the profession, but as a non-law student one is never privy to when or where to apply! As a rule of thumb, most vacation schemes (for solicitor firms) open around November and close end of January. Their applications are usually lengthy so leave plenty of time to keep coming back to them. For chambers, they usually schedule mini-pupillages several months in advance, so it is best to check the chambers’ website. You usually apply via a CV and covering letter, though many are now requiring you to fill out an application form.
Application forms may seem like a daunting prospect, but there is plenty that you can find out about how to apply for placements. It may perhaps be a good time to befriend a law student who knows about how to apply for work placement schemes. For example, the STAR technique is one professed by the employers and students alike to answer those difficult application questions. Otherwise, there are plenty of tools and online guidance to set you on your way.
Facebook and Twitter are not just places to promote a picture of your lovely Sunday dinner. Start following student law societies, solicitors’ firms and chambers you are interested in applying to. A lot of these now use social networking to advise and allow students to ask questions, which is great if you have a burning question that is not answered on their website! Also, follow popular lawyers on Twitter as they usually keep everyone up to date on the day-to-day legal events in the news – you discover just how useful information is in 140 characters! Do not forget LinkedIn which is ideal for keeping those all-important connections.
Having the confidence to put yourself out there is key, but by following these few simple steps any non-law student to set some foundations in the world of law before they get there.
Charlotte Cassells is reading English at Sheffield Hallam University and is due to commence the GDL at Nottingham Law School in September 2013.