From the very real statistics to the overall atmosphere in the legal sector, below Lawyer Monthly hears from Francine Ryan, Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University Law School, on the problematic lack of work across the legal sphere.
Figures from the Law Society show that in 2016-17, 17,855 UK students were accepted to study law at undergraduate level in England and Wales. In the year ending 31 July 2016, 5,728 new traineeships were registered with the SRA and in 2016/17 the Bar Standards Bar confirmed, 474 first six and 485 second six pupillages started.
Law remains a very popular degree course, the figures demonstrate how competitive it is to secure a training contract or a pupillage. So in this very crowded market place, how do you stand out?
Academic success is important but anecdotally a 2(i) is a requirement for many applications. Law students are also competing against non-law students, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) law has the lowest number of first class degrees awarded than any other subject.
So if it is not about grades, what can you do?
Gaining legal employment experience is invaluable, it demonstrates a commitment to law and gives a real insight into legal practice. You should apply for summer vacation schemes or if that’s not possible then consider volunteering at your local Citizens Advice or Law Centre as alternative ways of securing legal work experience. If you are considering pupillage go and sit in the public gallery of your local court, watching how advocates perform will give you an understanding of what is required at the bar.
Pro bono work is another excellent way to gain practical legal experience as well as volunteering in your community. Most law schools have legal advice clinics, or support their students to go into schools and community groups to give ‘street law’ presentations. A list of student pro bono opportunities is available here. Pro bono work allows you to develop your legal skills and knowledge but on your CV and in an interview, it is important to demonstrate what you have learned from these experiences. You might find keeping a diary or a journal useful because it will help you remember examples of when you worked as part of a team, or when you had to deal with a challenging situation.
Hobbies and interests allow potential employers to get to know you as an individual. They also help build confidence and support the development of skills such as teamwork. You don’t need to have climbed Mount Everest to impress, you just need to have interests that you can talk passionately about- it could be playing sport, or being a collector of sci-fi comics-whatever your hobby is, it’s a way of distinguishing yourself from the pack.
LinkedIn is a professional social network, it is an opportunity to build connections and a voice. You can contribute to discussions, share things of interest and use it as a tool to give a sense of who you are as a professional. Try to connect with people you could learn from and perhaps in time might offer to mentor you. You could extend this to create your own blog or twitter profile, using social networks effectively is a good way to develop your network.
It is not just about online networks but about creating links with people who may be able to help you- think about who you know, who may, in exchange for a cup of coffee offer their advice, and time to support your career development. Be prepared to be proactive and take a risk- you could email trainees, pupils, junior associates in firms or chambers you are interested in and invite them for a coffee- you might be surprised how many are prepared to meet with you.
Join relevant groups and organisations that help you develop an awareness of what is happening in the legal sector. For example, if you have an interest in law and technology, join the Society for Computers and Law or if you are passionate about human rights and the rule of law become a member of Justice. Being able to talk knowledgeable about the wider issues connected to law will make a difference to your confidence and how you project yourself in an interview.
Notwithstanding the statistics, it is an exciting time to be a law student- you may be committed to becoming a solicitor or a barrister but perhaps this is an opportunity to think about other innovative ways to use your law degree.
Now is the time to think about your experiences and how you can use them to distinguish yourself from the pack!