2020, the beginning of a new decade and things were looking optimistic. Through the City Micro-Placement Programme, I had a secured a placement with the House of Commons for the summer – I was on track to meet my personal targets. Classes began as normal in Term 2 and everyone was in preparation for our first set of summer exams. Then everything changed….
When the first lockdown hit in March, there was a part of me that was relieved because the thought of the imminent in-person exams was particularly daunting. However, it slowly dawned on me that exams aside, what would happen to my work placement? Would events that I had eagerly signed up for even go ahead? What would happen with recently made new friendships? How was I to manage all this unstructured time? The problem was, that no-one had any answers – these were indeed unprecedented times.
After the initial shock had subsided, I knew that I needed to take back some control in this period of uncertainty. The first thing I decided to do was explore my career paths in as much detail as possible. I also wanted to explore areas of law I had not yet studied. It was my aim to be well informed about choosing my electives both in my second year and third year as possible and now I had the time to make sure that I was.
There was much in the media about the dramatic uptake in online learning so I decided to register with the Open University which led to the completion of some short courses revolving around Commercial Awareness, Company Law and of course, Brexit! Completing these short courses sparked further interest in my chosen topics as well as teaching me the theory and academia.
However, I wanted to learn more about practicing the law in these areas – but where do I even start in a lockdown? I had signed up to a platform called Vantage in 2019 and began to receive emails about their “Webinar Wednesdays”. Vantage has connections and relationships with various commercial law firms. Each week, representatives from a specific law firm would talk about the working life of a Solicitor. These webinars were extremely insightful as it made me realise how little I knew about Commercial Solicitors. In my first year at university, I was drawn to pursuing a career as a Barrister, but I did not want to rule out employment as a Solicitor without learning and understanding what the role actually entails.
In my first year of my Law degree, I came across a company called Bright Network who make students aware of internship opportunities to employment vacancies in various professions – I decided to sign up. In a subsequent email I learned about “Internship Experience UK”. Bright Network were offering a 3-day internship in different subjects such as Accounting and Finance and Commercial Law! Not wholly sure how a remote internship would look like, I took the plunge and applied for the Commercial Law internship. This was the beginning of really utilising every opportunity at a time when I had begun to feel that Covid-19 had closed all doors. This internship was an amazing, collaborative experience and one that I really enjoyed. Many firms and universities sponsored this virtual internship and speakers from numerous law firms spoke about different areas of Commercial Law. Participants were set a fictitious task that we had to complete to a deadline and we finally had to peer mark our work.
The most beneficial aspect of this experience, despite it being initially daunting, was the networking feature that allowed participants to be randomly allocated to a virtual room with others allowing me to experience working with different people at various stages of their legal careers. I met many people and it was a lovely introduction into the importance of effective networking in general. One of my favourite talks of the event was given by Katie Hoey – it taught me how to make the most out of the social media platform, LinkedIn. I had not until then realised the real importance of networking, the etiquette and how to make it work for you. I duly revamped my LinkedIn profile and began to tailor it to benefit me.
LinkedIn, for a large part of the lockdown, became my most used social media platform. I learned to post about the experiences I had been involved in (starting with Internship Experience UK). In addition, I had made connections with people I had met through Bright Network so I followed them on LinkedIn and started some conversations. This is where I learned about all the amazing law pages and newsletters other law students had created about their own experiences. It was soon apparent that although I had explored different law firms and chambers and what they were offering in terms of work experience or webinars – I had overlooked the pages that other law students had created.
It was important to know what the experiences of other law students had been like. My absolute favourite newsletter is called “Ilona’s Legal Diaries”. I signed up to “Ilona’s Career Knocks Newsletters” and this single newsletter holds everything from learning the definitions of a few commercial terms to legal webinars which are taking place (with the links to sign up to them). They also have competitions and deadlines for training applications and pupillages. Once I had discovered this newsletter, I set myself the task of signing up to at least one event every week.
It was from Ilona’s newsletters that I learned about InsideSherpa (now called Forage) and decided to complete a Virtual Programme with them. The one I completed was held by Linklaters. It comprised completing tasks as though you were a trainee solicitor, working on a joint venture with the firm. It was a brilliant experience because it gave me the opportunity of doing things I had never done before, such as sending a formal voice message to a colleague regarding research.
Even though university classes started back up for Term 1 in September, I still try and attend webinars outside university, some of them are career focussed as I am still researching areas of law I would want to consider practicing in, in the future. I have also continued attending webinars about various other topics of interest. The most recent being a series of webinars hosted by Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA). This series specifically was truly eye-opening and made me think about different scenarios from a perspective I would never have done before.
Through signing up to organisations like Legal Cheek, BrightNetwork and Ilona’s legal newsletters, I began learning about virtual fairs. There were virtual careers fairs tailored to both aspiring solicitors and barristers. I attended the pupillage fairs hosted by the Bar Council (read a review of this), Legal Cheek (and a review of this too) and Targetjobs. It was very different to attending careers fairs in person, however the platforms used (such as Hopin) were easy to navigate. There were options to network and start private chats and video calls with representatives from different chambers or the other companies present. Overall, these events were incredibly insightful and were excellent practice in using these new platforms. On a positive note, the Pandemic has forced us to adapt, learn and do things differently, from meetings to careers fairs that involve thousands of people – all remotely! It is likely that even after the Pandemic, the way we work will have changed permanently with a definite increase in our use of technology. Therefore, using the time we are at home to familiarise and practice using technological platforms will be of great benefit in the future. Hopefully, we will never again experience such a period of confinement – but if we do, we need to adapt to make it work for us.
When the lockdown happened in March, I never expected that I would gain so much knowledge (outside reading), get involved in so many collaborative projects and make as many new connections – I thought it would be lost time. Truth be told, two weeks in and I was beginning to feel frustrated and demotivated with thoughts of disappointment around how many opportunities would be lost for me due to the virus. But, if anything, being at home and all events moving online gave me a multitude of opportunities, even allowing me access to those that would previously have been geographically inaccessible to me.
I have learned skills that were outside the remit of my Law degree but are extremely valuable to a career as a barrister. Giving myself small goals to work towards and making a routine to sign up for new events each week allowed me to learn whilst opening other doors. It is a habit that I aim to continue with beyond lockdown.
As the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said:
“…so often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune”.
The amount of time given to us by the lockdown turned out to be exactly that.
Many thanks to Jaya Sudera for this inspiring piece on how to pivot from losing an opportunity to making many more! She is a second year Law student at the City Law School and an aspiring barrister.