The Solicitors Journal's Emily Bater explains how her law degree set her up nicely for a career in legal journalism
The legal profession may be undergoing changes at present – with the effect of the cuts to the legal aid budget set to be felt by lawyers specialising in publicly funded work – but in comparison to journalism it is an ocean of calm. The latest industry to be hit by the disrupting force of the internet, journalism is undergoing an upheaval comparable to that which hit the music business in the early part of the millennium. But that hasn't stopped Cardiff University law graduate Emily Bater choosing to pursue the path of a journalist– and succeeding.
‘After my first year of studying law I realised that practising law was probably not for me,’ says Bater, who is six months into her first journalism job as an editorial assistant at the Solicitors Journal. ‘I didn't fancy being a High Street solicitor, and didn't feel that I could handle the pressure of City law. While the Bar interested me, I don't think I'm confident enough to be a barrister. Plus I'd always wanted to go into journalism,’ she adds.
With the odds of landing a starter journalism position much longer than those prospective lawyers face in their bid to secure training contracts, Bater knew that she needed something extra. And her law degree – in a field where many come from an arts background – turned out to be just that, giving her an edge to land a foot in the door at the country's oldest legal magazine. ‘My legal background really helped me stand out. Some students on my postgraduate journalism diploma are still looking for jobs,’ says Bater.
Studying law has held her in good stead since starting the job too, with Bater finding the ‘rigour and precision’ she learnt at university to be invaluable as a journalist when researching and writing news stories. In addition, Bater's LL.B means that she has a steer on major legal issues in the news, such as the Leveson Inquiry. ‘While I look at the new Royal Charter to regulate the press from a journalist's perspective, I suppose my experience of public law has helped me to better understand its broader constitutional implications. Certainly, I agree with the proposition that any form of statutory regulation of the press is dangerous,’ she says.
One of Bater's main roles at the Solicitors Journal is to assist on the magazine's spin off law student and junior lawyer title, Young Lawyer. It has seen her become immersed in developments affecting the junior end of the legal profession, and made her re-appraise some previously held perceptions. ’Many law students are, for example, still very suspicious of the alternative business structures (ABS) which have emerged in the wake of the Legal Services Act (LSA). But, having developed a better understanding of these organisations I can see that they vary tremendously – with many by no means the poor relation,’ she comments.
While sympathetic with the time constraints faced by frazzled law students, Bater thinks that many would benefit from engaging more with developments affecting the profession. ‘Legal news provides you with context and perspective which is invaluable in the training contract and pupillage process,’ she continues. With the growth of social media – in particular the news-focused Twitter – Bater believes that there has never been a better time to immerse yourself in legal affairs. ‘There are some great legal blogs out there, alongside a host of often very senior tweeting lawyers who are definitely worth following,’ she says.
As for those looking to follow Bater into journalism, she recommends that they start writing – be it for the student paper, official publications like hers or simply through their own blogs. ‘I wrote loads for the student paper. But there are lots of other places to get published. The important thing is to develop a portfolio.’
Young Lawyer is published quarterly in print, with regular updates at YoungLawyer.co.uk