Entering the legal profession as either a solicitor or a barrister is a highly competitive process; it is important to prepare yourself as well as possible and key to this is gaining an understanding of what recruiters are looking for.
Of course recruiters look at your academic background. Most will look at your degree results (often in granular detail down to what mark you got in each module – never assume that your first year marks don’t matter) and many look also at your A Levels. If you grades are not at the level recruiters are requesting and there are no mitigating circumstances which might have affected your performance think very carefully about applying. You may well be wasting time on an application which is doomed to failure when you could be spending your time more wisely on one which is more likely to succeed. If you are in doubt then speak to the law firm concerned and ask how they will view an application from you in the light of your grades. This will give you the chance to “sell” other attractive areas of experience.
Recruiters are also looking for you to have acquired the skills needed to become a good lawyer. Some of these skills are:
Communication skills (written and oral)
Accuracy and attention to detail
Time management and ability to multi-task
Determination and resilience
Understanding of equality and diversity
Empathy (much more important if you are going to do private client rather than commercial work)
You will find more detail of why these skills are important in the section below.
Think about experiences you have had which have enabled you to develop these skills. Such experiences will include any extra- curricular activity you have undertaken alongside your studies, your experience of paid work (perhaps in hospitality or retail), and any pro bono legal work or other volunteering you have engaged in.
It can be a good idea to list the skills you want to showcase and then work out which opportunity allowed you to develop them. When you write a CV you can then weave the tasks you undertook along with the skills you gained.
CONTACT WITH THE PROFESSION
The other important factor that employers will look for is what you have done to find out about this profession you want to enter. This is where work experience comes in and is important. It has been difficult to get ad hoc experience over the last few years, so do think about legal pro bono work and some of the excellent online legal internships open to everyone. Just going along to events put on by your university to allow you to meet with members of the legal profession can also be important. You can talk about these events in your applications and the opportunity to network may give you the chance to get some “inside information” on law firms you plan to target for work.
Larger firms run vacation schemes often for around 2 weeks. These schemes provide both work experience and shadowing opportunities, and are generally part of the firm’s formal application assessment. These are becoming increasingly important for anyone wishing to obtain a training contract at larger firms and often trainees will be selected only from those who have undertaken a vacation scheme.
Smaller firms may be willing to offer part-time or vacation work to those willing to apply; however they often receive a large number of requests and therefore you will have to be persuasive when making the application. Try to think about it from the point of view of the firm rather than from your viewpoint. What could be “in it” for them if they offer you some work experience? Mention anything you think you could usefully contribute in an application letter and don’t just focus on how much it will help you!
If the Bar is your route of choice then mini-pupillages are essential; here you will spend time in Chambers shadowing a Barrister for a set amount of time. You must expect to have gained several before making a successful application for pupillage. Marshalling a judge is another useful experience; you get the opportunity to sit with a judge for a few days and watch their cases and engage in their deliberation.
Your practical experience/exposure in law will provide an insight into the different types of practice and areas of law. This will assist in formal applications and will be helpful during any interviews you may obtain. It will also put you in close proximity to practising Lawyers, which will enable you to understand more about the culture and the non-tangible skills required.
Most importantly it will help you to be sure as to whether or not this career is for you!
Whilst this is a non-exhaustive list, the below skills are generally considered essential in a successful Lawyer:
Accuracy and Attention to Detail: As a lawyer you will often have to draft papers in a prescribed form and know when papers you receive are inaccurate. The law may turn on a particularly small point that is easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Law is about being exact and this is achieved through attention to detail.
Communication/Negotiation: If you are negotiating or conducting advocacy you must be able to do this efficiently and effectively. You must be able to argue your point so that your client gets the best deal possible. You also need to explain complex law to lay clients in a way that they can understand. Excellent spoken and written communication skills are vital.
Time management and ability to multi-task: Lawyers generally work hard. No matter what size firm you work for you may have late nights in the office, tight deadlines to meet and be expected to juggle numerous files and meet both time and financial targets. It is imperative that you know how to prioritise correctly and that you can organise both your work and your time.
Determination and Resilience: Long hours require personal resilience as does engagement with distressing subject matter. For some lawyers, involved perhaps in criminal work or family welfare, each day is likely to bring stories of fresh trauma and horror. Those who do this work need to find ways to manage their own personal wellbeing. Resilience may also be needed in searching for elusive solutions on behalf of clients.
Team Working: Increasingly Lawyers specialise in one aspect of the law, but often a piece of work may span a number of specialism or may involve more than one person handling a file. The ability to work in a team environment is important for successfully completing a matter.
Understanding of equality and diversity: You will be expected to represent and support your own clients and deal with lawyers “on the other side” with courtesy and understanding and you will need to have a non-judgemental and inclusive approach to diversity.
Empathy: If you are dealing with personal matters for clients you will often be meeting them at some of the most stressful times in their lives. You will need to be able to connect with them and to reassure them.
Lateral Thinking: Whilst there is certainly routine within any transaction or litigation, often a case can rely on tactics and/or structure. There is little point in knowing the law inside and out if you are not about to relate the law to the facts and consider alternative approaches.
Social Responsibility: Whilst the law is a business there is also the ethics and pursuit of justice which is worked into our professional regulations and the spirit of what we do. Many legal practices are keen for their Lawyers to be seen to give something back to the community and/or the profession with many firms having committees set up to get involved in pro bono activities.