Five top tips for first-year law students
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Many students see the first year of university as a time to let loose and party, so looking for work experience and networking opportunities may be the last thing on their minds. However, if you are serious about a career in law, it is fundamental to hit the ground running.
To aid the flock of bright-eyed students starting university this September, London law student Christianah Babajide sets out five opportunities that are guaranteed to be worth your while.
Make the most of Freshers’ Week
There’s no other time in the university calendar when students will be so keen to get chatting with different types of people. Fresher’ Week is the only week you’ll have without the worry of never-ending ‘essential’ reading lists and formative essays hanging over you. Take the time to get to know the university and local area, as well as the people around you and have fun doing so!
What most freshers don’t know is that there are plenty of ways to stand out from the crowd during their first year – this includes not only applying yourself academically from the outset, but also gaining work experience.
Try to get into the habit of keeping on top of your workload from day one – this can be done by preparing for tutorials, completing the essential reading (and making notes) and handing in your coursework on time.
Beyond studying, first-year work experience schemes are highly competitive, but don’t let that put you off – apply for them anyway: legal internships, insight days, open days/evenings, workshops, legal events, mini-pupillages and even vacation schemes. In my first-year, I was unsure of the process or application windows and needed some guidance, so I turned to my university’s careers service, who were more than helpful!
Join your student law society
This is probably the most important thing you can do during Freshers’ Week. Law Societies organise professional and social events for law and non-law members, giving students a chance to network with prestigious law firms and meet other aspiring lawyers, thus growing their professional networks. Such opportunities help boost your CV credentials and develop the skills that a lawyer needs. Being a member ensures you don’t miss out on the latest news, advice and career opportunities available to you. In my previous LCN article, I set out in detail the skills I gained while being an active member of my university's law society.
Applying and attending first-year schemes highlights your commitment to a career in law and develops your commercial awareness. Some application processes can be lengthy and exhausting because of their competitive nature. But where some demand a full percentage breakdown of all examination results, including A levels, others may merely require you to send an email with your covering letter and CV attached.
It is important to be well prepared for both types of application process. To increase my chances of success, I booked appointments with career consultants for psychometric tests and mock interviews, while I also had my CV, cover letters and applications proofread, which increased my confidence when submitting them.
Attend law and pupillage fairs
Students who attend national and internal law fairs can exercise their networking skills and develop their commercial awareness. In your penultimate year, when applying for a vacation scheme or training contract, you will already have accumulated information about that firm or gained contact with someone who works there. In application forms, the questions “Why us?” is likely to come up – this gives you the chance to name-drop or mention the conversation you had with a trainee at a law fair. This demonstrates your early interest in the firm, which is bound to cast you in a positive light.
As a first-year student, it is important to enjoy the unique academic, extracurricular and social opportunities that university life has to offer. It is also an important (and time-consuming) part of being a student, which can sometimes seem overlooked by eager recruiters and careers advisers. As important as all this is, your law degree should always come first. Do not take on more than you can handle to avoid burn-out and learn to manage your time well. Good luck!
Christianah is a London Law student and is the Editor-in-Chief of her university's law society online magazine.