Bethany Wren - How your student law society can support you
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Every year we survey student law societies across the UK for the annual Student Law Society Awards, to find out how they run their events and activities, and how they serve their membership. We also hear from student law society members who offer their opinions and feedback on their societies, including which events they most enjoyed and how they felt specific areas such as mooting and pro bono activities were run on campus.
Judging the Student Law Society Awards is certainly a tall order, and I’ve learnt a lot about how societies work from reading this year’s excellent submissions. With that in mind, I’ve put together a run-down of the key areas in which a law society can support and encourage its members in their legal career journeys.
Regular communication is vital to the strength and progression of any society, and you should expect to receive some form of communication from your society throughout the week, whether that’s through social media, email newsletters, or lecture shout-outs. Members should be kept up to date about upcoming events, opportunities and society news, and generally feel as if they know what is going on and are part of a wider community.
Your society should also listen to your opinions and ideas. Are you offered the chance to give your feedback? Do you feel like your voice is heard and valued? These are valid points to consider, as an engaged society is one where its members feel like they can share their ideas about the future and progression of their society. Some of the best submissions we read this year were from societies who offered weekly drop-in sessions for members to raise concerns and ideas, as well as societies who regularly sent around anonymous online surveys.
The award for best at student engagement, sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis International LLP, was presented to the University of Lincoln Law Society.
2. Careers events
Attending careers events is a huge part of being part of a society and, quite honestly, probably one of the main reasons you joined in the first place. Your committee should deliver regular events that aim to help you on your career path, and open the door to a wealth of information, advice and useful contacts. There are so many different types of events that your society can offer you, from presentations and interactive Q&A sessions with lawyers, and networking careers dinners, to workshops aiming to increase your confidence in making successful applications. And it’s not all about external guests and speakers; we really appreciate that sometimes the best advice can come from those who have been through the same experiences, so peer-learning sessions from students who have recently completed a vacation scheme or obtained a training contract can be a really useful and easily organised event.
The best careers event award, sponsored by Kennedys, was presented to the University of Winchester Law Society for their self-run law fair.
3. Social events
We know that societies won’t need our advice on running social events, but when we talk about social events, we don’t always mean boozy bar crawls ending up in the best/worst club that your local town has to offer. Social events should be varied and aim to strengthen the personal bonds within your society and its members. Some of our favourite social events of this year didn’t involve drinking and were a bit off the beaten track! This year’s winner was a law ball with a charity auction and an awards ceremony that dished out prizes to recognise the hard work of the society’s members during the year.
The best social event award, sponsored by Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP, was presented to the University of Plymouth Law Society for their law ball.
The best mooting schemes we reviewed from this year’s submissions were those where competitive mooting was embraced concurrent to a comprehensive support programme for first-year students and those new to mooting. Internal competitions allowed teams to practise for intervarsity, national and even international competitions. We were particularly impressed with societies running a variety of mooting opportunities and competitions for all abilities, while drafting in seasoned judges to score.
The best mooting activities award, sponsored by Blake Morgan LLP, was presented to Reading University Law Society.
5. Pro bono activities
Not every society is able to offer its members the opportunity to take part in pro bono work and this is one area where coordination with your law school will be hugely influential, especially if your law school runs a law clinic. We were impressed this year with societies offering a wide range of pro bono activities and projects for its members to take part in, from work within a law clinic, volunteering in a local community law service or Citizens Advice Bureau, and running justice projects and appropriate adult schemes. For more on how these kinds of initiatives can benefit students and those receiving legal advice, read this Feature.
The best pro bono activities award, sponsored by DLA Piper UK LLP, was presented to UEA Law Society.
6. Aspiring barristers
Some universities have barrister-specific societies whereas at others, the aspiring barristers are part of the general student law society, but this doesn’t mean that they should miss out. Hopefully your society isn’t entirely solicitor-focused and caters for students who wish to practise at the Bar. Examples of activities for aspiring barristers include trips to law courts and pupillage fairs, mentoring schemes with practising barristers, public speaking workshops and BPTC, scholarship and pupillage application guidance.
The best society for aspiring barristers award, sponsored by the Crown Prosecution Service, was presented to the King’s College London Bar & Mooting Society.
7. Non-law students
All student law societies should ensure that they cover the needs of non-law students and acknowledge that these students will have less specific legal knowledge. It was great to read about societies who are inclusive of all subject areas and keen to spread the word to non-law students through events and specified subject representatives. Societies working well in this area offer talks on the GDL conversion course and alternative routes into law, informal social events for non-law students, and presentations from solicitors with recently-completed non-law degrees.
The best society for non-law students, sponsored by Osborne Clarke LLP, was presented to York University Law Society.
8. First-year students
It’s important for societies to support members from their very first steps at university and to make them aware of how the society can help launch their legal careers. This year we were astounded by the ways societies went above and beyond in order to cater for their first-year members. Some fantastic activities included an induction and orientation programme for first-year students, welcome parties and informal networking events, buddy and mentoring schemes between first-year and older students, and essay help schemes for first-year students.
The best society for first-law students, sponsored by Slaughter and May, was presented to UCL Student Law Society.
9. Social media
It’s 2019 and realistically, your society should be engaging with its members across all social media platforms. Social media accounts should be active and relevant, engaging with members and future employers, informing members about the latest opportunities, and generally letting followers know what the society has been up to. This year we were impressed to see societies posting consistent content and utilising exciting and recognisable branding, as well as engaging directly with their members through functions such as Instagram Stories.
The best social media award, sponsored by Shoosmiths, was presented to Lancaster University Law Society.
It’s clear when societies have actively considered the importance of diversity and practically implemented steps to increase it. Most importantly, as members you should feel that the society offers an inclusive and welcoming environment and is aware that diversity comes in many forms. When judging the ‘most committed to increasing diversity’ award, the judges, alongside Aspiring Solicitors founder Chris White, were looking for societies that had actively sought to increase representation throughout all levels of their membership, as well as provide opportunities to open discussion around diversity and social mobility issues.
We hope that your society is doing its best to champion diversity in all forms and promote awareness and access to the profession. If you would like more information about diversity in the legal profession, check out Aspiring Solicitors and the work they do throughout campuses across the UK.
The most committed to increasing diversity award, sponsored by Baker McKenzie, was presented to the University of Nottingham Law Society.
11. The president
The main criteria for the student law society president is that s/he has the best interests of the society at heart and is striving to take the society forward. Common characteristics among this year’s nominated presidents include dedication, approachability, friendliness, inclusiveness, creativity, fantastic organisational skills and a willingness to get stuck in!
The best law society president award, sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright, was presented to Maaya Sachdev of Warwick Law Society.
12. The society overall
If your student law society is covering all these areas well, we hope that you know about it! It was fantastic to read so many responses from student law society members in this year’s submissions, all aware and proud of exactly what their society had to offer.
Student law societies are hubs of information and opportunities, and here at LawCareers.Net we support and endorse societies as places to empower members to take practical steps towards launching their legal careers. A massive congratulations to the University of Nottingham Law Society who picked up the best law society overall award, sponsored by DWF LLP. Their submission proved that it is possible to work together and support their members across the board, creating an environment in which students are able to learn, develop and prosper.
If you think your society is deserving of a nomination for an award, keep an eye out for the 2020 Student Law Society Awards submissions which will be opening later in the year.
Bethany Wren is content and events coordinator at LawCareers.Net, and the host of the Student Law Society Awards.