'Tis the season to be studious

Dear Oracle

I am a second-year law student and wonder what I can be doing over my Christmas break to help me get ahead?

The Oracle replies

As we mentioned in a previous question on using the summer holidays to your best advantage, it is wise to spend some time over your break thinking ahead to next year. And there are a plenty of things you can be doing to get your CV in shape for the training contract race ahead. 

First, we suggest that you gain some legal work experience over the break. In an ideal world you would have already secured a Christmas vacation scheme or mini-pupillage, but if you haven't, why not contact some local high-street firms and find out if you can do a short placement? Alternatively, you may like to contact your local court to see if it is possible to do some judge marshalling or even just sit in on a few cases.

Voluntary work can also be a good option and will be sure to impress legal recruiters. A variety of organisations around can help you, such as www.do-it.org.uk, LawWorks, the Bar Pro Bono Unit and Citizens Advice. For more information on volunteering and how it can work wonders for your CV, read our feature "Help others and help yourself" or see our Pro Bono Initiatives page.

Having said all that, we do realise that not everybody will have time for unpaid work experience or volunteering, as many of you will be working. Don't forget that any work experience or employment is useful - for example, working in a bar will improve your client handling skills and ability to work in a team.

As well as gaining experience, you can use some of your free time to consider which type of firm you want to work in. Sit down at the computer with your two best friends - the Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook and LawCareers.Net - and get researching. You should be aiming to identify about a handful of firms that fit your criteria. And don't forget that many firms have 31 January as the deadline for their summer vacation schemes, so you should be beavering away on your applications for these. Don't leave them until the last minute! For a full list of vac scheme deadlines, click here.

Finally, remember that excellent academic grades are absolutely essential when it comes to a career in law. Great experience and focused applications are useless without excellent academics to back you up - you need to be aiming for a 2.1 degree or higher. So it might be good to crack open those textbooks and get ahead with your reading list. Locking yourself away from the hordes of relatives with a studious look on your face may be a welcome break from the relentless festive merry-go-round that is Christmas anyway. Happy holidays!

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