By Matthew Mundt
COVID-19 has completely changed the life of students as we know it. We saw the first implications of the virus in March when students were forced to either complete the year virtually or cancel the year completely. Many students were either awarded passes or had to complete exams online, which was completely new to everyone. These are certainly unprecedented times. Unfortunately, there has been little change to the lockdown and the outcome for universities. For instance, we have already seen Cambridge cancelling all of their face to face teaching for the academic year and many other universities will follow. Equally, my university – Stirling – has cancelled all face to face teaching for the first semester. However, the pandemic does not only create problems with university, it also creates problems when it comes to networking.
Networking is vital for a student, especially in law. It creates connections with other students and possible future employers. It is also a chance to showcase your knowledge and skills. Throughout the academic year, there are many networking events that take place. They can be through your university or outwith. A question that has been asked a lot, especially by freshers, is what happens to these events now? Well, for the most part they will continue, but online. Within the rest of this article I am going to discuss how students, especially first year students, can get the best out of these events. I will also include some of the events and who is hosting them.
The first event to take on the ‘COVID look’ was the Faculty of Advocates open day. This event was open to all students, ranging from school pupils to Law students. The event takes place every year and is regularly attended by enthusiastic students. Unfortunately, I did not attend this event, but I know many who did and spoke very highly of it. The faculty had a lot of interest in the event, so keep
an eye out to see if they offer it again throughout the year. So far, there are many events lined up for this academic year. Legal Cheek have many virtual fairs scheduled during the first few months of the first semester. They have virtual fairs in Scotland, UK, Ireland, Hong Kong and Singapore. You can find more about these events via the Legal Cheek website.
How do students prepare themselves for these events? I would suggest that they first of all research the organisation hosting the event and what the event is focusing on. For example, if a student is studying Scots Law, the Scottish virtual fair will be more appropriate than the Shanghai event. Inside Sherpa have created many virtual experience programmes which are free. This is a clever initiative by the company to help law students particularly, of any level gain invaluable experience. The experience is entirely done online and you do not need to communicate with anyone. This is especially handy for those who experience any form of anxiety!
One of the most important things for students this year is internet access, whether that be at home or at a library. A lot of lectures and seminars will be taking place through an online software, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. It may be a good idea for students to dedicate a laptop to university work. Without a decent computer and internet connection, key lectures and events may be missed. Before students enter a virtual event or lecture it is a good idea to try and minimise the risk of your internet crashing or being slow. This could be done in a few ways. The main tips range from asking people to reduce their use of the internet, sitting closer to your router, and even not using the microwave! This handy tip was originally shared by the BBC on an article titled ‘Coronavirus: ‘Avoid using the microwave to get faster internet’. This article also includes lots of helpful tips, some of which I have used during virtual meetings. The key to success could be good internet!
There has been talk of the virtual life we are currently experiencing becoming the norm. One of the problems with events and classes taking place online is students having a lack of routine. When students are attending these events face to face, they physically must get prepared and go to them. While the events take place, online students are usually at home which can lead to distractions and loss of motivation. I found – for me at least – that setting out a routine as if I were still in class really benefited me in the later months and the past academic year. A lot of students think they are doing this but turn up to these events rather unprepared. They forget important stuff like pens and paper. Just because it is online does not mean you remember it all. There is not much of a difference, so remember to take notes. A good plan of action is to create a schedule and follow it as best as you can. Make a space and make it your own. Ask your family, or flatmates to leave you be while you are focused on the events. Creating your own environment and getting rid of distractions such as phones can really benefit you. If you can it could also be a good idea to invest in a chair! Lying on a bed with a laptop ion your knees is not the most professional. To do this, you will need good self-discipline which in itself is a strong trait to have.
Another tip is to try and get used to the software which you will be using, or at least some sort of software. I have noticed a few people coming in ‘dry’ to these events and struggle to take part in the meeting. While doing this, you will also be able to find how
well your computer works with different types of software. If all goes well at this stage, you could try set up a video call meeting. This can be done with anyone; it will just be a test. Once you have done this you will get a better idea of how your computer or laptop will perform during a video call. If you notice any problems you could try and fix them at this stage. Problems could include a lag in
the video or microphone problems. This way you should be prepared by the time of any virtual event. Finally, students must remain focused during these times. This covers being focused in 2 distinct ways. Focused within these events, whether it is a lecture, seminar or a virtual networking event, and also they must remain focused and alert on searching for possible events hosted virtually. I think the biggest problem for students during these times is not focusing during classes and missing important information. I have touched on this previously whilst discussing the lack of routine.
Networking sites such as LinkedIn open up many opportunities for students of all levels. Through LinkedIn, I have been able to become a campus ambassador for Legal Cheek and a writer for The Student Lawyer. These are a small number of huge events that I have seen promoted through LinkedIn. Being able to take part in these events can help mould the future of a law student. Being able to make connections with solicitors and fellow students really helps and when it comes to getting a traineeship, or moving into another area, these contacts could prove to be vital.