What you need to know

Not having a law degree is no barrier to becoming a lawyer – in fact, the legal profession is full of non-law graduates, and the skills and experiences gained studying and working in other fields can be used to your advantage. In terms of learning about the profession that you might one day join, there are several things that you should be both learning more about and actively doing.

Preparation

The earlier you start your research into the legal profession and applying for work experience, the better. As soon as you have decided that you are interested in a career in law and to take the GDL, you should begin conducting thorough research into law firms and/or chambers. First, you need to decide which branch of the profession appeals to you – working in teams at a law firm or the more solitary, academic and court-based lifestyle of a barrister? To get started, why not read The Beginner's Guide to a Career in Law?

Then think broadly about the kind of law that interests you - careers in commercial, family or crime practices are clearly going to be quite different, and you should research them broadly. However, don't set your heart on too narrow a specialism at such an early stage. The advice we hear time and again from lawyers is to keep an open mind about the area of law in which you might ultimately end up qualifying, as the reality of actually working in those areas over the course of a training contract or pupillage may be very different to any preconceived ideas you may have formed about them.

You’ll also need to put some thought into how best to make those training contract or pupillage applications. As long as you think spend the requisite time that allows you to make a carefully considered application, you’re off to a good start.

Exams

Law is an intellectually rigorous career and academic excellence is usually top of the list of key skills that recruiters are looking for – in fact so  much so, that most we speak say that it’s an absolute given. What this means is that here is no time for slacking – you need to get impressive grades from the get-go, and that includes in your first year! It also means during your time on the GDL, which is by all accounts a tough year with a lot to fit in. So knuckle down, study hard and do well in your exams, and you will be one step closer to the legal career of your dreams.

Legal and non-legal work experience

It is essential to secure as much work experience as possible. For aspiring solicitors this means applying for law firm vacation schemes (sometimes called work placement schemes), which take place in winter, spring and summer, while those wishing to join the Bar must apply for mini-pupillages, the availability and timing of which differs between chambers. You can use LCN to see upcoming vacation scheme application deadlines and search for mini-pupillages at chambers which interest you. Many firms and chambers run, respectively, training contract and pupillage interviews at the end of each vacation scheme and mini-pupillage, and make a sizeable proportion of their offers to those candidates who complete placements with them, so the importance of these schemes is clear.

In addition to these formal placements, it is worth contacting local firms or chambers to ask if they might let you do a few days' informal work experience with them, or shadow a solicitor or barrister for the day. All of these forms of experience are a great way to improve your CV when applying for a training contract or pupillage, while they are also valuable in helping you to decide through first-hand experience whether a career in one of these areas is really for you.

Another valuable form of work experience is voluntary pro bono work, which allows you to help your local community at the same time as boost your CV. LCN has a list of pro bono initiatives to get you started.

We appreciate that it can be difficult for some to find the time for work experience such as this in the face of employment commitments and caring responsibilities, so this is all the more reason to present the life skills you have developed through non-legal experiences, such as other jobs and the things you got involved in at university, in the best possible way when making applications. Thinking about how you would take your non-legal experiences and skills (eg, background in science), and apply them as a trainee solicitor or pupil barrister, is just as important as legal work experience.

Extracurricular opportunities

You should definitely join your university’s student law society. They run great events, including networking events, as well as the more well-known social options. Some universities also have specific law for non-law student groups, so keep an eye out for these as well.

One activity that you should definitely think about getting involved with is your university’s mooting or debating society. Taking part in debating competitions is great for building up the key skills needed to be a successful lawyer – advocacy, obviously, but also team work and research. Mooting is essential for those bound for the Bar, but it is also a great activity for any aspiring solicitor to get involved in, too.

But again, don’t be limited by just law-related groups. When it comes to applying for training contacts or pupillage, evidence that you’re a well-rounded human being with interest beyond law is just as important for recruiters to be able to see. Music, sport, drama – anything that you’re interested in, take the plunge and join up.

Law fairs and open days

Taking place every autumn during October and November, university law fairs are a great way to introduce yourself to firms and chambers. Be sure to do some research into the organisations attending before you go, so that you can make the most of your time by having constructive conversations with those which interest you. Don’t ask basic questions that you could find answers to on a firm’s website – aim for more interesting conversations. This will be invaluable in determining what may be for you, while it also creates a good impression with recruiters – you can even mention your conversation and who you spoke with in a later application. You can learn about upcoming fairs and other events by consulting the LCN Diary.

Meanwhile, lots of law firms run open days and presentations throughout the year, and you should certainly apply for a place at two or three. These are great opportunities to network, be shown round a firm’s offices and ask questions.