One of the most difficult parts of launching any career is gaining the crucial experience that will let you land that first job. This is made even more difficult in a competitive field like law, with all the pressures of a global health crisis to complicate things, but that does not mean it’s all hopeless.
In partnership with Lawyer Monthly, Simply Law Jobs hears from leading family law barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien on the paths available for young lawyers to gain worthwhile experience in their field of choice.
If you’re considering a career in law, then law isn’t the career for you. Why? Because you have to know already. It’s a passion; a way of life; something that you have always wanted to do as opposed to simply considered. To pursue (because that is what it will be: a dogged fight) a career in law you have to possess blind determination to succeed. That means when all others think you have failed, you still believe you can make it.
Let’s be honest, the odds are stacked against you. Just having a 1st degree from a red brick university does not mean you’re going to automatically make a brilliant solicitor or barrister, nor does having a family friend who knows someone in the industry.
“Just having a 1st degree from a red brick university does not mean you’re going to automatically make a brilliant solicitor or barrister.”
Because of the wide scope of people you will encounter in the legal world, a rounded understanding of society and meeting those needs, be they commercial or social, are a must. Therefore, work experience is a key ingredient to attaining your legal career. Work experience also means you start to make your own connections, which is important when endeavouring to achieve a successful career in the law.
You don’t have to aspire to the grandest of offices or chambers to achieve quality work experience. All organisations will be attracted to your tenacity where your training period illustrates how you were prepared to work hard, experience work outside of your comfort zone, and that you were prepared to challenge any preconceived views you had about what life working in the law was really like.
The point is to focus on what you want to see/experience and what you think your ultimate employer or chambers are looking for. How do you discover this? Just ask! When applying for a work placement, there are lots of large firms and chambers who require you to complete detailed application forms.
However, don’t just gravitate towards those organisations simply because of the shiny allure. Ring and ask to speak with the work placement or mini pupillage co-ordinator and explore with them what would be expected of you in the placement and what you would experience. There is nothing worse than wasting a valuable training period simply photocopying large bundles of paper… of course there will be some photocopying, but this needs to be in perspective.
“Don’t just gravitate towards those organisations simply because of the shiny allure.”
Making your work experience more rounded is very attractive to a prospective employer. For example, have you thought about mixing it up a little by not just spending time in chambers or a law firm, but actually working in the legal department of a commercial company. Even if you want to ultimately work in family law or crime, the experience of having to think on your feet, be a part of a pressurised situation, understanding the reality of what would happen if you gave the wrong advice, and learning to be meticulous about minutiae are necessary skills for any successful lawyer.
In forging your legal career, you have to be fully versant in managing your finances over whatever period of time it will take you to achieve your goals. Going to the Bar, for example, is incredibly expensive, especially if you have accrued a debt from university. However, there are ways to manage the fees and to ensure that you are taking the best route for you.
As a young, black female growing up in the east end, I knew I was going to make it to the Bar, obtain pupillage, and ultimately practise as a barrister. Seems so easy to write this now as I look back, but there were some incredibly hard times, including homelessness and days when my money did not stretch far enough to feed me and so I had to rely on the charity of others, for whom I am so grateful. Much of the time I wandered through the maze, not realising I could obtain a scholarship, for example, to assist with my studies, until it was too late.
“As a young, black female growing up in the east end, I knew I was going to make it to the Bar, obtain pupillage, and ultimately practise as a barrister.”
There may be times that you do the same too. However, there are people out there who are prepared to help. Don’t be afraid to approach legal mentoring groups and become familiar with lawyers on social media sites, such as LinkedIn, as soon as possible. Good luck!