Coronavirus has wreaked havoc across our lives, disrupted university classes, and endangered those we love. It’s also left students and graduates fearing for their future careers. Even during a global pandemic, however, there are ways to advance your prospects and top up your CV. The possibilities range from learning another language to virtual work experience and include opportunities that may not have existed before the pandemic.
Forage (previously called Inside Sherpa) is a free-to-use virtual platform for students to obtain practical work experience with professional companies such as law firms. While they obviously cannot replicate real-life internships completely, they have been developed to simulate, as far as possible, the type of projects, tasks and experiences students might complete if in the physical office.
As part of RPC’s virtual experience programme, for example, you’ll have the chance to draft a robust letter protecting your client’s position in relation to a collapsed bridge, denying the allegations made against it. Within this, you’ll leave a voicemail for a client, explaining your points quickly and clearly, brush up your commercial awareness skills by producing a research note on a potential client for a partner briefing, and review a celebrity publicity contract for the launch of a champagne brand, flagging areas to negotiate.
All these tasks are designed to help you to develop valuable skills, which will help you impress when life goes back to normal and you are able to take on a real-life, in-person internship or begin a job. For example, being able to communicate essential points succinctly and clearly is an important skill in a busy office where everyone is on a tight schedule.
One major advantage is that you can do a virtual internship at a London firm without having to arrange accommodation, pay tube fares, brave rush hour, or buy a bus, train or plane ticket. There’s no need to get up at the crack of dawn or even iron your shirt the night before. Instead, you can work at your own pace, on your own time, and complete the internship within four or five hours. You can also sample work environments such as Microsoft, KPMG, and investment banks, giving you an insight into workspaces outside the law. Even better, there is no need to apply – simply create an account and go ahead. On completion, you are awarded a certificate and can add it to your CV.
Some barristers’ chambers are also offering virtual mini-pupillages. 4 Pump Court, for example, has paired mini-pupils with junior members for an exercise on remote advocacy, as well as chats and discussions about the set’s work.
Law firms are impressed by graduates who can demonstrate knowledge of technology. Several law firms have their own innovation and legal tech hubs where they develop and test their own lawtech products, selling these on to clients. Some firms, such as Addleshaw Goddard, even offer trainees a six-month lawtech seat, working alongside lawyers and technologists. Consequently, many senior lawyers and partners encourage applicants to include any tech experience or training in their applications.
One excellent way to boost your CV, therefore, is to learn basic coding. Learning the fundamentals of Python, a popular programming language, could help your application stand out and give your career a head start. Codecademy, Coursera, edX and Code First Girls are all good starting points for finding out about available courses, some of which are free.
Webinars and online workshops are a great way to keep on top of current issues affecting the legal profession and could help you make contacts and impress future employers. With the usual range of marketing events cancelled due to Coronavirus, law firms are holding all their promotional activities online. This makes these often-educational events far more accessible and allows everyone to participate from the comfort of their own home. You could, for example, attend a law firm’s webinar on Brexit (upcoming webinars will be advertised on most firms’ websites in the events section) – demonstrating a genuine interest in the topic and the firm, and giving yourself something to mention at interview.
The Legal Cheek Virtual Vacation Scheme, held in partnership with The University of Law (ULaw), for example, was a hugely successful event held in the summer, with four thousand students taking the opportunity to gain insight into life as a lawyer in a variety of practice areas through a series of short talks, workshops and Q&As. Legal Cheek also regularly hold virtual events with law firms and chambers, designed to give students careers advice.
Whether you’re fluent or have a basic understanding, speaking other languages will always stand you in good stead in business. It will help you communicate with clients, colleagues and business peers.
There are easy to use apps such as Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise or Rosetta Stone, which help you learn in daily increments. Once you’ve mastered the basics, the best way to improve is through conversation. If you don’t have a Spanish or Japanese friend to practice with, the next best thing might be subtitled films or YouTube videos.
THE SKILLS EMPLOYERS ARE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR GOING FORWARD
While it’s important to be yourself as much as possible, hiring partners will be looking for certain skills in particular going forward. Demonstrate the following and you’re off to a good start.
- Adaptability, resilience and ability to overcome adversity. Volunteering to help others during the pandemic or using the time to learn a new skill or take part in virtual internships could all help you demonstrate a proactive, resilient attitude
- Strong verbal and written communication skills. Video conferencing, where there is less emphasis on body language and facial expression and more on clarity of speech, uses different skills.
- Commercial awareness. Being business savvy is a valued trait. Read newspapers and industry websites to keep up to date on the issues. Commercial awareness is tied in with the ability to understand clients’ needs and business objectives, which is key to being a good lawyer.
- Demonstrate a genuine interest in the firm. Is it expanding a practice area that you’d like to be involved in? Were you impressed by a partner’s webinar or by the firm’s commitment to lawtech?
- Finally, tech knowhow. Highlight any experience or skills in this area.