updated on 24 May 2016
My path to law began with a yes. I got into the law school I wanted to go to! I moved to London from America to start school and I was excited about the adventure of living in London. However, my excitement was short-lived, as I realised how much work was involved, and even more short-lived because after that yes came many more no’s. These no’s were incredibly discouraging.
I was told no, I was not good enough to get a vacation scheme or a training contract, or a position back home. I took this rejection deeply personally and I didn’t understand why I was not good enough. I had good grades and work experience – I had done an entire degree before this one! I applied continually until I graduated and never got asked to attend a single assessment day, let alone an interview. It was very demoralizing. As a lawyer, you don’t expect to face that much rejection – if I wanted a job where most people tell you no, I would have done acting or modelling! All this school and nothing to show for it?
One firm rejected me for a training contract, but offered me feedback. This rejection was the most upsetting as I attended an open day at the firm, entered contests with the firm, and networked with a graduate recruiter and trainee. I spent countless hours labouring over my application, which I then made my entire family read. When I gave it to a family member who is a partner at a law firm, he said to me, “You’re hired!”.
I decided to pretend as though the whole ‘getting rejected by everyone’ thing never happened and a month went by. I regrouped and met with my mentor, a trainee who I met at a networking event and who I continuously hassled to meet for coffee. In fact, most of my mini-yes’s were networking related – most trainees (and even partners and associates) were usually happy to meet with me!
My mentor told me to take the feedback and ask for a paralegal position. He said that I basically had nothing to lose, as I am unemployed. The best part of so many no’s is that you’re expecting another one, so you have nothing to lose in applying/networking/getting feedback.
I got feedback; it was hard to listen to and I felt that it was nitpicking. One comment that stands out is that I didn’t have enough London experience and I hadn’t done a vacation scheme. It felt unjust! I didn’t say very much during this feedback, only that I loved the firm and would like a paralegal position. Many more mini-stories later (including a flight back home to renew my visa) and I got my second yes – a job as a paralegal!
As a student it’s hard to imagine working at a firm, but it will happen. I was keen, as most trainees/paralegals are when they start. I’m also an innate people pleaser, so I said yes to every task, which left me overworked and stressed. The work I was doing wasn’t even always law, some of it was pure admin, and it seemed as though I was doing all the work that no one else wanted to do. But I did it in good spirit and I thought that was all that mattered. I was putting my time in (I worked late and some weekends) and I thought everybody liked me – after all, why wouldn’t they when I was doing all the work asked of me?
Then came my appraisal, where I was told that I wasn’t meeting deadlines, I was doing too much administrative work and I wasn’t performing well. I was shocked and offended, and debated quitting then and there. However, I hadn’t worked so hard to get this job just to quit. It was then I realised that I was taking the wrong approach – you can’t say yes to everything and expect to do well in everything.
To succeed, I had to say no. So I said, “No, I won’t proofread that, but maybe another paralegal/trainee can?” and, “No, I need my lunch break”, and I quickly freed up my time for interesting law work and was able to meet every deadline.
The power of writing this blog anonymously is that it allows me to be honest. I had such jealousy for those who got a training contract, but now I feel differently. Now, I am homesick and I don’t want to stay in London! I want to train as a lawyer back home.
There is something amazing about trying something out before committing – ie, you wouldn’t buy the car without the test drive. If becoming a trainee is what you think you want to do, try it out. Forget the fact that you need work experience; just do it to see if you like it! Many smaller law firms would be over the moon to have a volunteer come in and help.
In reality, you might find being a trainee (and a lawyer) to involve long hours or you might find it boring. Personally, I enjoy the work, but not living in London. It was good that I test-drove the car before buying it – I still want the car, but the wheel will be on the other side.
This is truly a motto you should adopt. If you don’t apply or network, you miss out on the learning experience. Many of my friends had no intention of staying in London, with jobs lined up in America, and they didn’t involve themselves in any extracurricular activities. I think they missed so much of what law school offers!
Think of yourself as an actor – all these mini-work experiences, networking events and vacation schemes (if you’re lucky to get one!) are the mini-auditions that you need to do to get noticed before you can debut as the lead role in a movie.
This article is written by the London Paralegal.