In the spirit of full disclosure, there are a few things worth mentioning as a reminder that a legal career is not all triumphant court victories and champagne-fuelled deal celebrations. So without wanting to detract from the exciting and challenging career on offer, here follows some food for thought…
We cannot stress this enough – with £9,000 per year undergrad fees, plus postgrad study in 2014-15 costing up to £14,765 for the LPC and up to £18,175 for the BPTC, the road to legal qualification is not cheap and there are no guarantees of a job at the end of it. In addition, the minimum trainee salary has recently been abolished, so some firms may be paying trainees no more than the national minimum wage. Your ability to afford the courses and a potentially low starting wage must be a factor in deciding whether to pursue law as a career.
Nothing but the best will do in this competitive market. You need to be getting excellent grades from your first year of university onwards – arguably, your A-level grades are just as important when it comes to applying for training contracts and pupillages, as anything less than As and Bs may prevent you from getting past the first application hurdle. Most recruiters we speak to say that excellent academics are a given, so make sure that you tick this very first box. Study and study hard; even those with an Oxbridge first have no job guarantees…
The numbers are stacked against you – there are many fewer training contract and pupillage places than there are people with the necessary qualifications. You have to find a way to stand out among thousands angling for the same job, so make sure you shine through by being resourceful, determined and committed to the profession and a career in law.
An awareness of the pressures of time is crucial if you are to succeed; you must give the requisite amount of time (ie, lots of it) to your future career. You must spend time researching firms/chambers you like; planning how to get work experience; and filling out, refining, checking (and having someone else check) your application forms. Start early, have a schedule and be strict with yourself. Last-minute, rushed efforts are almost worse than no effort at all.
You need a combination of work experience (both legal and otherwise) and extracurricular activities to become the all-rounder that firms/chambers want to hire. One without the other isn’t enough; having both strings to your bow is what will help you demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, that you are a complete human being and worth the firm investing in you as a future employee.
Your online presence may currently be dominated by photos of debauched holiday antics and lewd comments, and you need to be aware that recruiters may even be Googling your name! So it can be beneficial to build up a more ‘professional’ social media profile than your Facebook account offers. LinkedIn is great for maintaining a line of contact with the legal eagles you will be meeting, while Twitter can also be useful to follow the legal world’s big influencers and stay up to the minute with the latest news and issues.
The legal world is part of the business world. If you harbour any ambitions to work for a commercial law firm, it is essential to develop a good understanding of the issues and events affecting businesses. Read the Financial Times and The Economist from time to time, and try to appreciate the appropriate legal issues thrown up by your studies from a commercial perspective.