With the first day of school looming, we thought we would share these handy tips for those about to embark on their legal studies.
Enjoy the honeymoon period
With no exams or dissertations immediately looming, the first few months of the aforementioned courses are undoubtedly the best time to enjoy the broader benefits of student life. A common error is for pumped-up students to work almost too hard in their first term, leaving them susceptible to burn-out when the tempo increases later in the year.
Establish good habits early on
A habit of sacking off 9am lectures from the off can be hard to reverse. There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning complex legal principles and understanding how they fit together in often intricate ways.
Engage with the graduate recruitment process early
Graduate recruitment at big law firms operates an outwardly rather strange model which sees students hired two years in advance of them actually beginning work. The legal graduate recruitment cycle opens each year in October – three years from when you might wish to start as a trainee – with university campus law fairs, official open days and winter work placements. Deadlines for the latter close from the end of this month, passing before many students have even become aware of their existence. Those in the know have a clear advantage.
The early birds win the scholarships
While law firms are a source of funding for prospective solicitors' studies, chambers tend to be less generous, with only a handful of top sets offering their barristers-to-be advance pupillage awards to cover bar school costs. The best source of funding, then, for wannabe barristers are scholarships from the four Inns of Court. Combined, Inner Temple, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn and Middle Temple award students a whopping £5 million-a-year in funding. But many miss out the early annual deadline – which this year is Friday 7 November.
Do some law extra-curricular activities, but not too many
With the demands of job applications – which ULaw advises students to treat as " like another module of their course" , try not to over-commit to extra-curricular law activities. But nor should you under-commit. Firms and chambers value pro bono and other legal advice experience highly because it demonstrates a commitment to a career as a lawyer and gives you an insight into what legal practice is all about. Similarly, for those interested in advocacy, mooting represents an invaluable window into life as a barrister or solicitor-advocate. Be selective, then commit whole-heartedly to whatever you choose.
Start to develop your commercial awareness
It’s essential to develop an understanding of the wider, practical context in which the law operates. We recommend you follow the news, whilst thinking about how the law you are learning might apply to it. The trick is to do this every day. This is where a Twitter account comes in handy – less as a way to interact and more a means to lurk and follow what's going on from a range of perspectives. From BBC News, to specialist legal news sites like Legal Cheek to individual legal blogs such as the UK Human Rights Blog and Head of Legal, there are a diverse range of sources out there which help wannabe lawyers gradually build this knowledge.
Seek out some people who are where you want to be
ULaw has one of the best-developed legal mentor networks in the country, helping students connect with alumni who are dotted across top chambers and law firms. The Inns of Court run similar programmes, while City law student network Aspiring Solicitors helps introduce legal hopefuls to lawyers in leading firms.
Hodge Jones & Allen trainee solicitor Rebecca Aron, one of ULaw’s professional mentors, believes that “she would never have got a training contract without my mentor” – hence her decision to become a mentor herself. In her role helping students she tries to convey “what life in practice as a solicitor is like”, “why specific training contract interview questions are asked” and how regulatory changes, such as the Jackson reforms, actually affect her.
In our experience, practising solicitors and barristers actually quite like giving advice to young hopefuls. It's a trait that is well worth exploiting.
Get your social media life in order
If you are not doing so already, whilst you have a little time organise your social media channels to ensure you are the first in the know. Create a list of industry commentators, law firms, law recruiters and publications to follow on your Twitter account. The Ulaw Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts have regular updates on industry stories, tips for law students as well as opportunities to attend Employability Events like our Springboard Programme. Time spent getting your social media life organised in these early days could very quickly pay off.
Avoid, at all costs, getting carried away with your status as a law student
A common trap that law students fall into is getting carried away with the modicum of legal knowledge they have acquired. While impressing your friends with what you have learned at law school may be fun for everyone at first, the line between excitement at newfound legal learning and becoming a bore is easy to cross. So go easy on the pub anecdotes about Lord Denning to non-law pals.
Resist also the temptation to attempt to use what you haven't yet entirely understood. To that end FLN advises law students strongly against seeking to engage organisations or members of the public in legal battles. Remember, amid the heady excitement of legal study, that you're not qualified yet. There will be plenty of time to practise law in your professional life as a solicitor or barrister.
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*A version of this article was first published on FLN on 15 October 2014.
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