Christianah Babajide is in her first year of the LLB at City and holds the position of Secretary of the City University Law Society. Christianah also writes for LawCommonRoom, the blog she started with fellow LLB1 student Radha Baan. In this piece she offers some guidance on how students can make the most of their first year:
What should I be doing in my first year? How do I get ahead of the game? How do I stand out?
Your first year at University is an exciting and challenging time. It is easy to believe that the first year does not count; however, this is not true.
Your law degree begins the day you start university. It is crucial that you take advantage of the opportunities open to you, your future as a lawyer depends on it. You only have one first year.
In order to help you make the most of your first year, I have composed a list of 8 opportunities that you may find worthwhile…
(1) Attend open days.
Leading law firms run open days throughout the year designed for law and non-law students. The purpose is to give you a taste of the firm and the chance to network with partners and trainees.
Note:Do your background research of the firm’s clients and competitors.
Having knowledge of this will help you make a good impression. See this as an opportunity to show off your commercial awareness and knowledge of their areas of expertise. Ensure you are equipped with a pen and notepad because you will not be able to remember everything.
(2) Get legal work experience
Having work experience is an essential part of any training contract application.
Many students think getting work experience is like trying to pull a sword out of stone. Many underestimate the impact of writing to firms, picking up a phone and speaking to someone directly. Taking initiative will get you far and you will be surprised at the positive response you get. There are around 11,000 law firms in England and Wales so even if you get rejected; it is not the end of the world because you can always try another firm.
It may be difficult securing work experience in a magic circle firm so try high-street firms as they tend to be less competed for. Remember, all firms specialise in different areas of law so find out what type of law you are interested in first.
(3) Apply to the first year schemes
Applying and attending first-year schemes showcases your commitment to law and it develops your commercial awareness. Some application processes can be lengthy and exhausting because of the highly competitive nature of the placements. Where some demand a full percentage breakdown of all examination results, including A Levels, others may merely require you to send an email with your cover letter and CV attached. So it is important to be well prepared for both.
Selection will be based on what you put on your application form, so make it count. As well as mentioning why the firm is a right fit for you, you must also emphasise what you can bring to the table. This means drawing upon your work experience, times when you empowered people through your leadership skills. It is important to always refer back to the values and ethics of the firm so that everything flows smoothly.
(4) Attend law and pupillage fairs
Students who attend fairs are able to exercise their networking skills and develop their commercial awareness. In the future when you are applying for a vacation scheme or training contract, the questions “Why us?”is likely to come up. It would be good to be able to draw upon your knowledge of the firm and the conversation you had with a partner or trainee at a law fair. This proves you have always taken an interest in that firm and makes them realise you are a worthy applicant to hire.
Note:It is important to be prepared if you want to make a good impression. Do not ask questions you can find the answer to on their website. Doing this makes it painfully obvious you have not done your research.
(5) Join your student law society
If you are a Law student, it makes perfect sense to be a member of the law society. The law society organises social events which allow you to meet other law students and grow your social circle. They also organise workshops, insight evenings and presentations which teach you about the legal profession. These opportunities help boost your CV and develop the skills needed as a lawyer. The society also arranges visits to various law firms and chambers, which give students a chance to network with practicing lawyers. Being a member ensures you don’t miss out on the latest news, advice and career opportunities available to you.
(6) Take up mooting
Nothing says “barrister” more than a student who exercises their oral advocacy skills through mooting. Mooting is like a mock trial where you are either an appellant or a respondent.
It also develops your analytical and problem-solving skills because you are given a moot problem to study.
In addition to this, mooting moulds you into a lawyer by sharpening your public speaking and persuasive skills.
In mooting, you are simply representing your client in court and presenting your arguments. If you are not confident in your speaking skills, take part in a mooting competition at your university and enjoy the experience.
(7) Networking skills
Many law students shy away from networking because it is either too scary or they don’t think it is important. Remember: networking is an essential strategy for job hunting. Whether you like it or not, you have to do it, and it is not as hard as you think. Law and pupillage fairs are good places to start making connections with legal professionals. Networking is really about talking to people and building relationships. Therefore, it is important to be yourself and allow the conversation to flow naturally.
The people you talk to are human so if you enjoyed their company; drop them an email saying so.
It should be along the lines of:
Thank-you so much for taking the time to talk to me yesterday, I really enjoyed learning about your area of expertise with [insert firm’s name.]
This email not only flatters the person but also reminds them of the conversation they had with you. Writing a follow-up email is a sure way to maintain the connection you made.
(8) Get a LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is the new CV.
The number of lawyers on LinkedIn is rapidly growing and it has become a mainstream social network for legal professionals. It allows you to note down your unique education, experience, skills and strengths. I have been able to stay connected with trainees, associates and partners I have met at fairs through LinkedIn. Have you ever heard the phrase “It is who you know, not what you know?”
LinkedIn is a useful tool that allows you to grow your network and connect with others.LinkedIn is a bridge between law students and practicing lawyers. Many firms share stories that may have an impact them or their clients giving law students commercial awareness. In addition to this, many recruiters use LinkedIn as a tool to seek out future trainees and discover new talents.
Which firms actually open their doors to first years?
- Addleshaw Goddard: Open day
- Allen & Overy: A&O First
- Baker & McKenzie:First-year programme
- Berwin Leighton Paisner: Insight programme& Introduction to law open day
- Clifford Chance: Open days, First-year ‘Springboard’ scheme & Intelligent aid vacation scheme.
- DLA Piper: First-year insight day
- Freshfields: ‘Fresher’s meet Freshfields’ workshop &first year-focus programme
- Herbert Smith Freehills:Open day & first-year workshop
- Hogan Lovells: Open days & Spring first year vacation scheme
- Linklaters: Pathfinderscheme
- Norton Rose Fulbright: Open day for law students
- Shearman & Sterling: ‘Head Start’ first-year scheme
- Simmons & Simmons: ‘Legal Ladder’ two-day workshop
- Slaughter & May: Open day
Remember as important as all this is, your law degree should always come first. Do not take on more than you can handle and learn to manage your time well. Good luck!