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10 things law students can do to stand out from the crowd

Chasing that elusive training contract or pupillage is tough. It’s imperative, therefore, that aspiring lawyers secure CV-enhancing experience to ensure they stand out from the crowd. Here are 10 things you can do to get ahead.

By Editorial Team. 28 September 2020.

1. Develop Commercial Know-How

Commercial awareness is by and large an overused buzzword batted about by law firms. But if you want to be a lawyer, an understanding of the business world in which a law firm operates, is absolutely crucial. Yes, it can be hard for the average 18-year-old law student with little in the way of life experience to demonstrate commercial nous to a gold standard… but it’s important to remember that this is a gradual process for which there are resources to guide you and one that won’t just stop once you bag that TC.

Read the news (Financial Times, BBC, Legal Cheek etc.) not just to assimilate facts but gain a big picture view on the goings-on in the business world. Everyone is on social media these days, including news outlets and their journos, so be sure to give these a follow. Download news apps to be notified as soon as a big story breaks. It’s all about incorporating newsy titbits into your everyday life – in and around those summer vaycay and matcha chai latte Insta pics.

2. Build Your Own Brand

We’ve seen a slew of law students take to YouTube and dabble in vlogging (vlawging) in recent years. Rising stars such as Irwin Mitchell junior associate Chrissie Wolfe, Linklaters trainee solicitor Eve Cornwell and White & Case trainee-to-be Ali Obeid all vlog about their experiences in life and law.

Some have taken this a step further and built brands off the back of their success. Take ULaw alum Eve, for example. She’s launched her own coffee ‘community’ that hosts student hangouts and sells coffee-related merch. Anonymous vlawger, WaysToStudy, has similarly capitalised on her 460k-strong following by selling stationery through her own online shop. How’s that for demoing commercial savviness to grad recruiters?

3. Develop An App

For a while, coding and whether it’ll become a law student essential, was the topic du jour (the Mandarin for the tech-age, apparently). The dialogue has shifted in recent months and now building an app from scratch appears to be all the rage – just like the ‘build your own website’ bubble from a decade ago (remember Piczo, anyone?)

‘Build an app for free’ brings up over 1.5 million Google search results and for some you don’t even need to know how to code. Law firms like Clifford Chance are getting in on the action, too, and teaching trainees how to build apps to solve clients’ problems. So put your developer hat on and get a head start now.

4. Be More Greta

Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg is a good example of how change often starts at the bottom and then works its way up from the grassroots to wider society, government agenda and the commercial world.

Students looking for ‘the next big thing’ should bear this in mind and consider getting involved with causes that they’re passionate about because topics like environmentalism and the Green Economy are likely to become more and more mainstream over the years ahead, generating plenty of opportunities for lawyers.

5. Have A Life

It’s a tricky balancing act: juggling your studies with applications for training contracts/pupillages and trying to squeeze a social life into the mix. But you’ll definitely need some pizzazz to set your application apart from the others otherwise you’ll be stumped when trying to tackle the common application question, ‘what extracurricular activities are you involved in?’

Take a leaf out of Eloise Skinner’s book. As you’ll have read in this edition of Verdict, the first class Cambridge law grad is an associate at US firm Cleary Gottlieb, a published author and a qualified Pilates, yoga and meditation teacher.

6. Other Ways In

A training contract isn’t the only way into a global law firm. Many now offer graduate schemes mimicking the TC’s two-year, four-seat structure. Allen & Overy has a legal tech and project management scheme, while Norton Rose Fulbright offers a business and legal operations route.

Not for you? Then why not consider working in law-related industries or legaltech incubators housed within City law firms. Slaughter and May’s Collaborate, Allen & Overy’s Fuse and Mishcon de Reya’s MDR LAB are home to dozens of techy-businesses on the hunt for bright legal minds. ULaw also works with a number of firms to provide the Solicitors’ Apprenticeship Scheme. You can work towards qualifying as a solicitor while getting paid at the same time.

7. Go Pro Bono

Law schools like KCL, Bolton, Bristol and Salford, have recently stepped up their pro bono efforts through the launch of new student-staffed advice centres covering everything from family law to housing in a bid to plug the gap created by government cuts to legal aid. ULaw offers its students a number pro bono opportunities through its employability team. Getting involved will give you an edge since you’ll be managing cases for real clients under the supervision of qualified solicitors.

8. Network The Right Way

If you’ve spent the duration of a networking event chomping down canapés and knocking back the free wine rather than actually speaking to people, you’re doing it wrong. Put in the hard yards, press the flesh and find the answers to all your firm or chambers questions that the glossy brochures don’t provide. Remember to follow-up with your newfound connections on LinkedIn and add a personal note for that extra touch.

9. Look Beyond London

Joining the adrenaline-fuelled world of City law and working on big-ticket deals for high-profile clients is the end goal for many a wannabe lawyer. But the City isn’t the be all and end all. Consider training at a law firm in the regions for the following reasons: you’ll still have access to top-quality work, you’ll be part of a smaller trainee intake which, in turn, means greater responsibility and imagine not having to fold yourself in half to commute on the Tube every day.

Check out AllAboutLaw's regional hubs to better understand what it's like to work as a lawyer in different cities across the UK.

10… And Don’t Forget The Law

Knowledge of the law is the backdrop on which all other skills sit on top. So don’t neglect your studies. Without a stellar 2.1 (the minimum in most firms) and strong A-Level grades (yes, those still do count) you’ll find it difficult to compete against other applicants. And if you’re applying in your penultimate year – be sure to ace those first-year finals.

This article was first published in our Verdict magazine - Pioneers and Innovators Special, read the rest of it online now.