Trainee Blog: Law for Non-Law Graduates
It is a common misconception that you must complete a law degree to be successful in a career in law. In fact, roughly half of all trainee solicitors recruited by most firms come from non-law backgrounds.
However, from experience, I know that it can feel daunting to enter the legal profession as a non-law graduate. If you are in the same boat, hopefully these tips will help prepare you for starting your career in law.
Discovering that a legal career is for you.
I was midway through an English degree when I decided to embark on a career in law. Some may have decided that they want to be a solicitor even before applying to university and others may be struggling to make their minds up as they come to the end of their undergraduate degrees. If you haven't quite made your mind up, try not to panic.
Attend your university's careers fair, seek guidance from your university's career adviser, talk to your family, friends and network about their careers. The great thing about the law is how varied the type of work can be:
- meeting clients, finding out their needs and establishing how to help;
- researching relevant areas of law and advising clients of their options;
- drafting letters, contracts and other legal documents; and
- acting on behalf of clients in negotiations
Brainstorm the type of work that might be suited to you, your skill set and your interests.
Take the initiative
Once you have decided that you would be suited to a career in law, what's next? Without the framework of a law degree, it is all the more important for you to take the initiative.
Many universities have 'law for non-law' societies that organise events specifically for students in your position. Look out for Facebook groups or memos popping up at your university and get involved with any events that will give you greater insight into the legal industry. It may also be worth asking your law student friends if you can tag along to any events to which they are invited to!
Networking events, Q&A panels and law fairs present an excellent opportunity to get to know the industry. You will learn more about the firms you would like to work for as well as different areas of the law. Be active at these sessions and always ask questions. Follow up with any key contacts that you make; you are already building your network!
Do your research
The more research you can do the better. Take a look at firm websites to get a flavour of who they are and the type of work that they do. Chambers and Legal 500 can also give you a snapshot of the firms you are interested in.
Keep up-to-date with the law and different sectors by reading reputable newspapers and articles published by law firms and the Law Society. Recruiters look for graduates with great commercial awareness, so keeping your knowledge up to date will stand you in good stead when it comes to applications and interviews. I found listening to Radio 4 a useful and easy way to build up general knowledge. There are also many legal themed podcasts, such as 'Law in Action', many of which are only 30 minutes long. These can be a quick and efficient way to improve your commercial awareness.
Legal work experience
Once you have conducted your initial research, the best next step is to acquire real work experience in the industry.
It is never too early to start applying for vacation schemes as many firms hire trainees up to two years in advance. See Key Dates | Michelmores for Michelmores' key deadlines. Alongside applying for vacation schemes, I would recommend attending the firm's presentation evenings, shadowing solicitors or gaining informal work experience at local firms. The more experience you can get, the better positioned you will be when it comes to applying for formal vacation schemes.
Please see Events (michelmores.com) for Michelmores' up-coming events. The Insight Session on the 3 November will offer invaluable advice on The Firm's Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship. Most events take place virtually so you can join from wherever you are in the world.
It can be difficult to juggle studying and applying for work experience so make a short list of your favourite firms and keep an eye on deadlines.
When applying, draw on your non-law experience as well to show valuable transferable skills. (See fellow trainee Annabel's article for more tips: Trainee Blog: Work experience from all walks of life | Michelmores)
Keep an open mind
When applying for legal work experience, it is also important to keep an open mind. Even though you may want to be a solicitor, I would encourage you to seek out opportunities in chambers or in Court, such as a mini-pupillage. Not only will this give you more insight into how solicitors and barristers work together to bring a case to completion, but you will also learn valuable soft skills such as client care and professional conduct in Court.
Post-graduate study and beyond
Embarking on legal post-graduate study can be daunting. The GDL, or PGDL, can feel like treading water at times. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts and you must put in the hours each week to prepare for the exams. However, remember that you will be in the same boat as your peers. Although it may take a few weeks to warm up to the style of teaching and learning involved in these conversion courses, your fellow students and tutors should be there to give you support throughout the year.
If you would like to find out more about post-graduate study please see Kate's useful blog post Trainee Blog: Top Tips for Postgraduate Legal Study | Michelmores.
Finally, it is a privilege to study a subject for three plus years simply for the love of it. My parting tips would be to focus on having a well-rounded university experience, build a solid support network, take every opportunity, and overall, enjoy the time you have at university.
If you have any questions following this post, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.