Ever wondered what furry walls or fungus have to do with the GDL? Well, it can certainly be part of your future career. And if you think that’s a tall tale, wait till you meet Giles Peaker - successful housing lawyer, Chair of the Housing Law Practitioners' Association, founder and editor of the Nearly Legal: Housing Law News and Comment site and… former GDL student at City University. The Legal 500 2011 describes Giles as "one of the most impressive housing solicitors working today".
As a law student, it’s always gratifying and certainly reassuring to meet GDL alumni who survived the course, been there, done that and went on to reap the rewards of all that hard work. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel after all.
So how did Giles achieve all of this? And more importantly, any tips for us juniors on life as a solicitor and the practice areas of housing and public law in general?
Giles was previously a senior lecturer in History of Art and after a thirteen-year career; he turned to law in pursuit of new challenges and intellectual stimulus. By now, you must be thinking, “Wow, a teacher who went back to school” and wondering what made him take the plunge into law. Giles shared that it was the unique combination of intellectual challenge together with the practical context of real-life facts that attracted him. Likewise, he was drawn to City University’s academic model of the GDL programme as opposed to other GDL providers, which were more formulaic-driven.
After all, isn’t it the academically challenging environment of City that ups the game a notch by allowing us to hone our analytical skills even further? For there’s a heightened sense of satisfaction when you’re able to distinguish yourself from your peers. Hands up, everyone who loves a good intellectual spar.
The Criminal Bar: what is the future for eager graduates cramming their way into a tighter knit profession?…. Dola Ajibade
Given the financial climate at the moment it’s little wonder that all the chambers evenings directed at GDL students come purely from commercial sets. Legal aid reforms, designed to cut public expenses, have hit the criminal sector hard so when 6 King’s Bench Walk (6KBW) decided to hold a chambers evening I had to attend. A brave invitation I thought by 6kbw, which came with a clear warning from David Herling (Director of the GDL), that only those interested in this field should attend.
Truth is none of us were sure if it was the route to pursue, and what were the reasons for 6kBW inviting us? They were not short of applicants i’m sure. However there is no denying the quality of the GDL cohort at City, a course known for its additional edge of academic rigour in an already intensive (and what many would describe as) painful nine months. The result? Some of the best barristers in England and Wales.
On the evening direct questions about the criminal bar were fired (it may have been the wine)...
How much will I earn? Will I ever be able to leave my parents house? Why is so much emphasis placed on academic ability when we are helping people mostly from working class backgrounds? How does someone with a first class honours and from a middle class background relate to criminals from a different background to their own?
Their answers to these very general questions? They stated that, yes the bar does place great emphasis on intellectual ability because historically that is how it has always been. They acknowledged the problem of being able to relate to clients and represent them to the best of your ability when you are not from the same background, especially in criminal law. Yet they stated they did not rule out people with a high 2:2 who demonstrate other qualities, similarly those with a first class honours with no experience do not just walk straight through the doors. Reassuring advice, I thought, useful to a post-graduate, I was won over already.
I have always believed in karma. I think that acquiring first-hand advice from a law student recruiter and not sharing it with my fellow City University LLB classmates would probably constitute as bad karma. Tammy Engelsman, law student recruiter for the renowned global law firm Allen & Overy, shared some invaluable advice and words of wisdom for us aspiring lawyers.
Law student recruiters are unique in the sense that they recruit students extremely early. Tammy is currently recruiting students to begin work in September 2014! It is definitely important to begin networking, applying for jobs and getting involved as soon as possible. When recruiting law students, Tammy explained that first and foremost, academic excellence is essential. She said that beyond simply having good grades, maintaining consistently good grades is of equal importance. Doing well in first year is just as important as doing well in later years.
It's not news to note that becoming a barrister now involves a significant financial risk, and usually a significant amount of debt – a situation likely to be exacerbated by the pending hike in undergraduate fees. Even at present, the GDL will cost up to £9,000 and chances are you'll be paying for that up front out of your own pocket. Banks are understandably reluctant to loan money to those whose career plan involves spending £25,000 on course fees with a 1-in-8 shot at securing pupillage. So without a lottery win or having been born to wealth, what is the GDL student to do to pay for their diploma?
I wasn't alone in working through the (full-time) GDL at City University, but I think I was the only person working full-time, getting a job in an editorial support role at a national newspaper.
It wasn't the easiest of years – I had worked full-time through degrees before (I ran a wine shop as an undergraduate, and worked in supply chain through my MA), but the GDL year is somewhat different. City University prides itself on a fairly academic approach to the conversion course – there are about 20 hours of fixed class time per week, and at least 20 hours of reading and research required to participate in any meaningful way. It's more intense than many students expect. Add 40 hours of work and that's 80 hours a week. What really tipped the balance was the 20-plus hours a week required for mooting, debating, pro bono, FRU training, prize essays, chambers evenings, mini-pupillages, qualifying sessions, pupillage applications and interviews.
These three elements – the GDL itself, paid work, and the pupillage hunt – totted up 100 hours most weeks. Juggling these three elements may not have been advisable (I secured pupillage at my first choice commercial set, but only managed a middling Commendation in my GDL exams) but if you're thinking of working (part-time or full-time) through your GDL/pupillage hunt, then these are my pieces of advice that might come in useful.
If they are surrounded by people who are very much younger than themselves it can be all too easy for older students to feel that their non-standard entry age puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for training contracts. Application forms often appear to be directed towards recent graduates and any intelligent application sifter could make a rough estimate of applicants’ ages by examining their academic and work credentials carefully.
But in reality age should not be a bar to entering the legal profession, provided that you apply the appropriate marketing techniques.
The balance sheet
There are pluses and minuses in most situations and preparing a personal “balance sheet” will help you not only to produce a persuasive application but will help you at the interview stage by prompting you beforehand to establish sound answers to awkward questions. Your balance sheet should list your assets on one side of the page and your liabilities on the other. Talk up your assets in your application but also prepare explanations for anything that could be considered as a liability just in case this comes up at interview. Try to look at your balance sheet through the eyes of your potential employer and ask yourself what he might be able to deduce from your CV. It might go something
A degree and/or some professional expertise that is relevant to one or more practice areas in the firm you are applying to. Read the firm’s brochures carefully to ascertain and expand on any qualifications that could be useful to them.
Work experience in certain areas such as the police (useful for criminal law), Government departments (especially related to business or Revenue & Customs), PR, or in specific industries such as oil and gas, music or retail - the firm might see this as useful back-up for marketing as well as for technical expertise. There is sometimes an inferred assumption that your connections could help them to gain new business, although you should not lead them to expect this if you cannot deliver.
Fairness? Jumping through more and more hoops, Law Fairs and work experience applications – Sue Lenkowski
Welcome to the first of my bi-monthly blogs.
In these I will try to look at the most important issues concerning law students as you try to find your way around the recruitment maze. As an ex top twenty law firm graduate recruiter I will give you my views and advice and no doubt put forward the odd controversial comment!
This month I want to start by looking at the concept of fairness.
Alongside the Lib Dem partners in the coalition striving to redefine fairness following the CSR review I hear more and more law students say the concept of fairness is no longer valid in their search for a training contract. Faced with a saturated market both law firms and now post graduate institutions (see the move by Kaplan towards admissions tests for the LPC) are adding more and more hoops through which students must jump.
Fairness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder and whilst to a student with decent academics ( a 2.2 is now almost the end of your legal career) the cumbersome application forms, work experience and raft of psychometric tests and exercises is unfair .To a graduate recruiter faced with in many cases this year a 50% increase in applications this is fair and the only way to differentiate between candidates who in the words of Lord Sugar in the first episode of this seasons Apprentice “all look good on paper but so do fish and chips!”
In this saturated market more firms are making their training contract offers from their work experience /vacation schemes. The opportunity to see a student in the work place over one or two weeks having put them through a range of activities and tests ultimately increases the chance that the recruitment decision has the has the best chance of success. The cost of making a poor recruitment decision is massive and from a commercial perspective graduate recruiters need to show their contribution to the bottom-line.
In my experience too many students leave their applications strategy too late. The 80 20 rule applies to the student application process 80% of students making their applications at the last minute despite the long lead in time and well published deadlines.
After my two minute fit of screaming and cheering in the middle of the University campus, my friends, to their confusion, asked me why I was celebrating so emphatically? I explained that I had just received an e-mail on my Blackberry from the Black Lawyers’ Directory (BLD) detailing my acceptance on to the Legal Launch Pad programme.
The Legal Launch Pad is a programme that is primarily designed to widen access to the Legal profession for black and minority ethnic (BME) students and incorporates an induction day, training sessions, a graduating ceremony, access to a mentoring relationship and work experience with the programme’s sponsoring organisations. However, above all of the formal elements of the programme, students also benefit from invaluable networking opportunities that go beyond the standard two minutes of time that one might expect at a law fair, crowded by hundreds of equally eager and impatient law students waiting in line.
Following on from Elizabeth Cruikshank and Penny Cooper's earlier piece on The internet - friend or foe? I've knocked up a quick talking slideshow on the potential perils of keeping too much information for all to see.
We've all heard the stories about how employers regularly trawl the web for insight into candidates personal lives; this brief piece aims to give some warnings and tips about your internet profile.
How can social media be helpful for getting a job?
1. Helps create a personal brand – organisations can get a ‘feel’ for your personality and how you might fit into their organisation if handled correctly.
2. Using a range of media (LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs) can be a way of demonstrating your expertise in your field. You could use a blog to reflect on your project and work.
3. Getting personal recommendations from people you have worked with on LinkedIn can be hugely influential; it adds that extra facet that a CV can’t achieve.
According to a poll of 2,266 people, commissioned by online solicitor directory legallybetter.com, the most popular method of finding a solicitor is the personal recommendation of friends, relatives or colleagues. But recent YouGov research suggests that the second most popular method when people are looking for someone to do conveyancing or to advise on a will is the internet. This is yet more evidence of the power of the internet as a tool in the decision-making process. How can you make it work for you?
Finding a training contract
If you have not already found a training contract, the internet can be a powerful ally. You can use it to find possible candidate firms who will appreciate your talents and achievements. But don’t restrict yourself to perusing firms’ online brochures and downloading their application forms. Simple Google searches on the name of a firm can enable you to garner useful information on a firm’s:
- Areas of expertise
- Important clients
- Recent deals
- Recent cases and whether they have been won or lost
- Charitable activities
- Standing in the local community
- Salary increases – and in some cases salary freezes and decreases
A demo of the site and Q & A session was held at Grays Inn on Tuesday 30th March. On the panel were Christopher Moore of the Pupillage Committee at the Bar Council and James Hooper of GTI Solutions (designers and administrators of the portal). You can see it via the online video.