Hannah Clifford graduated last week having achieved a First in her LLB, which she studied at ULaw in Birmingham. Currently studying for her LPC, she gives some invaluable advice based on her own experiences of securing a training contract with Irwin Mitchell.
The LLB at the University of Law is very practical. There aren’t many students who have done a law degree who have had the chance to draft contract clauses, engage in a negotiation or a mock trial. This can be really helpful in preparing you for practice, and will no doubt impress employers.
The best part is that all of the tutors have practised as lawyers. They understand what you are going through, and because of their knowledge in practice they are able to tell you how what you are learning will translate into practice. Being taught by people who have had a legal career was a big factor in choosing ULaw, as I knew this meant that I would have an insight into practice before my career started.
My first step towards applying for a training contract was to narrow down the areas of law that really interested me. I was always certain that business law was not for me but I felt that I had to at least try it before I ruled it out. So, to see what it was like, I attended events and open days at some commercial law firms.
After some online research, I had in mind one firm in particular – but I decided not to apply to them straight away. I didn’t have any legal experience and I was lacking in confidence.
I focused on improving myself and my CV. Naturally, as the LLB progressed, I became more familiar with commercial awareness and my confidence improved. I practised training contract applications, and learnt what was expected from me. I got involved with pro bono, as I knew this was a great way to expand my legal experience.
I then felt ready to start my application. It was this application that led me to getting a vacation scheme, and subsequently the training contract.
From the moment you join ULaw, you’re given access to academic and career advice. You have the Careers team to help you with your job applications and upcoming interviews. You also have your personal tutors to make sure you are doing well academically.
You are also given access to the University’s pro bono schemes. These schemes are invaluable and I strongly recommend everyone to get involved. Not only will your CV show how committed you are to joining the legal profession, but the satisfaction of helping someone who really needs it is by far the most rewarding aspect.
I would also urge students to use the ULaw’s mentoring scheme. My mentor helped me to improve my confidence and application skills, and I am still in contact with her today.
I think there is a common misconception among aspiring lawyers that law firms are expecting candidates to be the best of the best. Of course, having good grades will ensure that your application is considered but law firms do not just care about how you have done academically.
Firms want people who are commercially aware, and by that I mean having an understanding of the legal industry and the considerations that businesses face. In an interview, you might be asked about your thoughts on the future of the legal industry or about the challenges that businesses face. Firms want you to have an understanding of the practical considerations of running a business, as ultimately they want an employee who will help to grow their business. ULaw’s practice based approach made answering those dreaded commercial awareness questions a lot easier.
Aside from commercial awareness, firms want to recruit candidates who are easy to get along with. Sometimes it really can come down to whether or not you get on with other people in the office, which is one of the reasons why vacation schemes are so important to law firms.
At interviews I was asked questions such as “what is the biggest mistake you have ever made?” and “which businessman do you admire and why?” On the whole, the questions I was asked were nowhere near as daunting as I had expected. For example, the majority of the questions were about why I had chosen law, my involvement in pro bono or why that firm appealed to me.
It is really important to remember that employers do not ask you difficult questions to trip you up, they just want to see how you respond under pressure. I know people who said that they did not admire a businessman, or that they admired a famous rapper! As long as you explain your answer, they really can’t fault you.
In 10 years’ time, I hope to have achieved a number of things. I hope that my time in practice will have enabled me to improve my communication skills and improve my understanding of the law. It is one thing to learn about the law in a class room, but it will be interesting to see how it works in practice. I would also hope to be working my way up to a higher position in the firm and specialising my knowledge in a certain area of law.
I am sure that the next 10 years will see some great changes to the legal profession, and it will be interesting to see how the profession evolves.
I think it is often overlooked that lawyers have the ability to make positive changes to their client’s life. Clients come to see a lawyer when they are going through a difficult stage in their life, and quite often you will be the first person they speak to regarding their issue. Being in a position to help has been my biggest inspiration in pursuing a career in law.
My advice to new students is that being organised is key to doing well. Do not over burden yourself with too much work to do at the last minute as you will rush your work, and this might affect your knowledge of the subject. At the same time, it is also important that you achieve the correct balance between your studies and your social life.
Being organised will also mean that you can fit in training contract applications, work experience or attend open days. It will impress prospective employers that even though you were undertaking your LLB, you still made time for applications/experience.
The first few months of your LLB will be the hardest as this is when you are becoming familiar with the course and the University. Once you have settled in and you have an idea of how much is expected of you, everything will fall into place.
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