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CV workshop – the non-law perspective

CV workshop – the non-law perspective

Olivia Atkinson

23/03/2021

At first glance, this might seem like one of those ‘how-tos’ that you’ve read before. Don’t stop reading! I want to highlight some key points that contribute towards drafting a good CV in a more structured way. As a non-law graduate who has successfully secured a training contract, I want to provide a perspective on what a desirable ‘law CV’ should look like, but also how to adapt and make fundamental changes to a CV when converting to law.  

Must-haves

The opening sentence 

Before you start listing your GCSEs and A-levels, write a short introduction. A few sentences about who you are, your current skills and what you are hoping to achieve in the long term will give the employer a handy executive summary that sets the scene for what is to follow. 

Work experience 

Academics and grades are mostly a formality, but what really captures a recruiter’s attention is real exposure to a practical working environment. If you haven’t yet secured a vacation scheme, insight day or internship do not despair! This is very normal, especially if you are a non-law student (as I was) or you’re still undergoing your undergrad degree. 

I always tell my mentees who are in this position that they need to make the most of what they do have at the start. In a nutshell, this means expanding on any experiences you have in a working environment and embellishing and drawing attention to the transferable skills you have developed. Be it from your part-time waitressing job or a school club/university society you have participated in, you can almost always highlight qualities such as time management, organisation, customer service, research and more. These are all important skills that contribute towards being a good lawyer, even if you haven’t started your legal studies yet. 

If you’re still at university 

Join your law society, get involved in the university’s pro bono clinic or a local Citizens Advice Bureau, and when things return to normal, organise a day or two to shadow a judge in your local county court. It doesn’t matter whether you are studying the LLB or a relevant law degree. One thing I wish I had done while studying my English degree was take advantage of the legal resources my university had to offer. I might have met likeminded people who could have prepared me for what was to come during a very new and intimidating change of career path.

This all demonstrates a willingness to volunteer, help others and learn more about how the law operates at different levels, from trainee to QC.

Engage with the profession

Whether or not you are a law student, can you demonstrate that you have made a conscious effort to research and engage with the profession? Such investigation and active participation will be reflected in your CV, showing you have attempted to further your understanding of commercial awareness or attended a virtual talk with a popular legal forum (eg, Law Careers.Net) to network with and learn from other junior lawyers. 

You have to think ahead a little bit when it comes to planning and completing your CV. Don’t just make decisions in the moment, think carefully about what each experience or talk you sign up for can do to help improve your knowledge and skills. This is all ultimately in aid of making you a more attractive candidate on paper.

Might-haves

Your non-law story 

So, you’ve listed your experiences and skills, highlighted those key words in bold and have some space left to fill. Ideally, a CV should be no longer than two pages. However, there are some things that might be included in order to highlight more personal achievements. For example, growing up I learnt to play the piano and achieved up to Grade 7 qualifications through taking exams with the Royal College of Music. I always leave space for this on my CV, as although it may not initially appear relevant to a legal career, it never fails to get noticed and become a talking point. This is because it demonstrates that I have interests outside of the law, and I have obtained important skills from it. For example, my commitment to challenging pastimes, my skills in time management and balancing my studies alongside practising my scales, and my meticulous attention to detail.

The point is you can highlight skills and qualities in other areas. You might have been an avid footballer at school or college, or you might have a passion for baking in your spare time. This can either show excellence in teamwork or an ability to work independently. If you hold a certificate, a recommendation, or maybe even an Instagram page for these secondary sources, list them. All of this will help to paint a picture of the person the firm will be hiring if they think you’ve got what it takes. 

Extras

Your Junior Lawyers Division 

If you are a Legal Practice Course (or Solicitors Qualifying Exam) student, a trainee, or a newly-qualified solicitor or barrister, join your local Junior Lawyers Division. Whether as a general member or as part of the committee, you can gain access to events, networking opportunities, articles and more, all for free! 

Anything else 

If there’s space, be selective about what you choose to round off your CV with. Just because it falls to the bottom of the list, doesn’t mean it isn’t as significant as what is at the top.