In this Article Elfie Farrant interviews Esther, a current student at Royal Holloway and website designer, on his journey into law.
Hi Esther, would you like to start by briefly sharing your background and journey into law?
I am an international student, who moved from Nigeria to the UK in 2020 to start my undergraduate degree in law. I did that because I was interested in the content of the law, and how the government regulates people. I found law as an interesting point between the government and people. But I didn’t actually see myself becoming a lawyer until quite recently. My first introduction to the legal profession was with Herbert Smith Freehills in the summer after my first year. That was when I first met lawyers and understood their role. I then completed some work experience at a law firm back in Nigeria. This year, I have secured vacation scheme placements in London, and can now envision myself progressing to build a career in law.
Alongside your LLB degree, you are passionate about helping others break into the legal profession. What was your motivation behind establishing your website, and sharing your experiences on LinkedIn?
It can really feel like there is not always enough free and accessible information out there to help students. Trying to break into a competitive profession can already be challenging enough without additional barriers, and I wanted to share my experiences to help students access free and informative advice. I built the website on a whim, but I now love it and have been working on consistently for a while. It has become a personal project for me, and I am really grateful that people have shown interest in it! I also use LinkedIn, but I am currently more focused on my website than LinkedIn. It is a lot of work, but I really enjoy it, and will be able to share more features of the website this summer. When people ask me what my plans for the website are, I can’t completely say. I am just excited to find out where it goes and continue developing it as a hobby!
What advice would you give to another student trying to develop their commercial awareness?
That’s a tough one because commercial awareness can be really hard to develop. I know this because I set up the Commercial Awareness Society at my uni. My website is also partially about commercial awareness. However, what has worked for me is just being consistent. It doesn’t matter how you learn, whether it is through reading FT articles or listening to a podcast. Even if it is only 5 minutes a day, it will help. It is difficult because it is unfamiliar, but once you stay consistent in growing your understanding, it becomes enjoyable, and your brain can get used to taking all this new information in.
You have been the President of two societies at your university. How did you balance this responsibility alongside your studies?
It is a lot of work and there are times when it is difficult to balance. However, one thing that really helps is having the right people working alongside you. If you have passionate and genuinely interested people working with you, it can be very enjoyable and manageable. With one of the societies that I am President for, the people are so passionate, and I don’t have to really even ask them to do things; they are super proactive and just do it. That makes it a lot easier to manage.
You have recently completed two vacation schemes; how did you find the schemes?
If there is one thing I have learned, it is that law firms really are different. It can be hard to understand what that means until you get to meet those firms. They are all brilliant in their own ways, and it can be very interesting to learn about their differences and how you may feel comfortable and fit in there. I really enjoyed getting to meet interesting people and have conversations with lawyers who I would otherwise not have met. I was able to organise meetings with partners and associates who were willing to give up their time and share their experiences with me. Everyone is unique and has a different journey into law, and it is great to hear about their individual experiences. It is both humbling and inspiring.
People sometimes paint law as having gruelling hours, and repetitive work. But from the schemes, I have learned that the day-to-day work can be enjoyable and exciting. It is work that I can picture myself doing, and from these schemes I believe that you can have a very exciting career as a lawyer.
What advice would you give to students about to undertake their first vacation scheme?
The advice given to me before my scheme was to ‘be myself’. At first, I thought that this was very abstract and hard to understand, but from my experience, I have learned that it really is good advice. The schemes are competitive and there can be a lot of pressure. On the scheme, you naturally want to work hard and do your best. But firms want to see the person you really are, and if you are constantly stressed, you may not be showing your best self.
Try and complete the work to the best of your ability. If you have a presentation, practice lots beforehand. Try and find a balance between succeeding on the formally assessed parts of the scheme, and completing work given by your supervisor and other lawyers in the team. Try and volunteer for work from different people in different practice areas, to get as broad an experience as you can. Network with people there whose role you are interested in. But overall, the best advice is to be yourself and enjoy it!
Was there anything that surprised you when completing your vacation schemes?
Definitely how approachable people actually are. It is important to be professional, but everyone is human and willing to talk to you. I had a great discussion about fashion with an employment law partner, which was not a conversation I expected to have! I also had an interesting conversation about movie plotlines with another lawyer. So, it is important to be professional, but also friendly and social.