Realistic employment advice for Derby Law School graduates
Law firms challenge candidates to stand out in their applications, showcasing their experience, skills and knowledge.
The most pro-active undergraduates will have carried out research and given themselves plenty of time to prepare their applications – this isn’t something you want to try and wing last minute!
In the past, the work which would have once been given to trainees has been distributed through paralegals and secretaries, resulting in fewer training contracts. Whilst the number of training contracts is now on the rise, it still pays to be prepared. The industry is still competitive and the top graduates will be doing their research to see what is on offer as early as possible. It will give you a much better advantage to start preparing your application material early, but make sure you adapt it to the questions on each individual application, rather than using a standard template for all. Once you have a good, solid application sorted, there is nothing to stop you using it as a starting point for applications you come across at the last minute. Pay attention to detail, research the firm you are applying for, and definitely check your grammar. Asking a friend or family member to proof-read will help.
The importance of experience
Law will always be competitive no matter what is happening with the economy, so doing what you can to beef up your CV, alongside your study, will demonstrate your commitment to a career in law
Work experience is always going to set you apart when looking for a new role. In the current climate, whilst it’s not an absolute deal breaker, most employers will expect to see something aside from your academic achievements on your application.
There are lots of ways you can offer up your time (paid and unpaid) in exchange for valuable experience that could give you the edge over someone with the same degree as you. Work experience really only starts to gather momentum when you relate it to the application’s questions – put some proper thought into how you have performed or reacted in certain situations and how you can use the experience to demonstrate a strong relevant skillset.
What type of experience should you be looking for?
Pro-bono work is top of the list. This is unpaid voluntary work undertaken for charities and not-for-profit schemes that usually consists of providing legal advice to those in need but without the capacity to pay. The advantage is that you get to put some of your legal knowledge into practice whilst also helping out with a worthwhile cause. It’s also a great way to start developing your soft skills, such as negotiation, public speaking and listening. Visit www.nationalprobonocentre.org.uk to find out about voluntary opportunities near you.
What if I can’t find any pro-bono work near me?
Another route to try is contacting local solicitors to see if you could offer your free time to help out with the likes of admin and filing, archiving. Admittedly it’s not quite the dizzying heights of law just yet, but it is a foot in the door at a law firm, and it will add value to your skillset. Arm yourself with a good quality CV and tailored covering letter and contact them for any opportunities.
If you find you have exhausted all avenues of gaining work experience directly related to the legal profession, then it’s not the end of the world – many people have secured training contracts regardless. There are ways you can shape any part-time work to your advantage during the application process. Remember to be savvy and put the emphasis on the soft skills you gained through the work rather than the type of work you were carrying out.
What else can you do?
Networking is an extremely useful tool and most legal careers will encompass this somewhere along the way, so getting an early start can only give you the best possible advantage. Yes, it can be daunting turning up to events alone, but remember everyone else will be in the same boat and your confidence levels will naturally increase over time.
Career fairs are obvious places to start and, if you use them wisely, it’s a good research opportunity to ask employers what they are looking for in candidates, as well as getting your name out there. Go prepared with questions and small talk.
Social media and blogging are useful ways to show firms that you are willing to go above and beyond. Blogging, tweeting and retweeting legal stories can demonstrate that you are passionate about a legal career. At the very least, providing a bit of social commentary to current legal-related topics in the news will raise your profile with potential employers. Following, retweeting and even engaging with solicitors and industry figures will ensure your name becomes more recognisable. Just be careful to maintain something of a professional presence if you are planning on using social media – it has its pitfalls. Consider what potential employers may think if they come across a picture of you in in a drunken state or if they read negative remarks. If in doubt about content, set up a separate Twitter account or blog specifically for networking and professional activity.
To gain momentum, when you attend any networking events or careers fairs, make sure you follow up any introductions made by interacting with them on social media or dropping them a non-salesy, friendly email.
What if I have tried all of this and I still can’t get a training contract?
The reality might be that there just aren’t enough training contracts for everyone who graduates with a law degree, but this doesn’t mean you’re on the scrapheap. Far from it! You can still get to where you want with persistence and hard work. Since the recession, applying for paralegal roles alongside training contracts has become the norm. Whilst it’s important that you set yourself a goal of securing a training contract and pursuing this rigorously, it’s also important to be realistic. If you haven’t had any responses to your training contract applications then up the ante for paralegal work - it offers an excellent entry point into law and is a valid and often crucial stepping stone to becoming a qualified solicitor in today’s climate.
Rothera Sharp Solicitors