Developing your legal profile and knowledge during the lockdown
Developing your legal profile and knowledge during the lockdown
During these weird and extraordinary times, many of you will be studying hard for your summer exams or writing your penultimate essays before the academic year ceases. If you want a little break from your university studies, or you’re sick of trying out a new yoga move or have run out of baking ingredients, this article provides you with a list of resources that you can utilise to increase your legal profile during this lockdown period. As I am aspiring to be a solicitor, some of these tips are based around the training contract route rather than the bar. There are, however, general tips that will hopefully be of benefit no matter what your career aspirations.
1. Get to know yourself - Even if you are not at the Training Contract or Pupillage application stage, becoming aware of your unique selling points and skills gained from particular experiences will be beneficial in the future. To get a clearer understanding of your unique selling points, I recommend mapping out an Excel spreadsheet of your experiences and the skills you have gained. Additionally, highlighting specific achievements or activities that demonstrate a particular skill will beneficial when writing an application and answering interview questions.
It is also important not to discard non-legal work experience. As a non-law graduate myself, I know how frustrating it can be comparing yourself to others who have a CV rich with vacation schemes or mini-pupillages. Remember, non-legal work experience is often equally as valuable to employers - you just have to demonstrate how a particular position has developed the transferable skills you need for a professional legal career.
Additionally, even if you are not yet at the application stage, it is worth thinking about common questions that crop up in legal applications and interviews, such as ’Why law?’ or ‘Why do you want to be a solicitor/barrister?’ When answering these questions, it can be useful to relay your answer in a story-style from the beginning of your journey to your current position, explaining your experiences and the skills you have gained at each point.
2. Improve your Commercial Awareness - ‘commercial awareness’ is a buzz-phrase that prevails throughout law students’ and graduates’ careers. It is deemed an essential skill by the majority of law firms and is often the central topic of application and interview questions. But what exactly is it? Put simply, it is a mindset that encompasses how business, political and socio-economic shifts and trends affects law firms and their clients. Because it is a mindset, you cannot expect to develop it the night before an interview by reading a BBC News article. Instead, reading up on businesses news every day will give you an understanding into lasting effects of how businesses respond to socio-economic changes and what this means for law firms. Now more than ever, it is essential to develop your commercial awareness and be aware of who will thrive and who will prevail through Covid-19.
It may seem tricky and overwhelming at first, but below is a comprehensive list of resources to help you develop your commercial awareness.
Subscribing to a good quality news reporter, such as The Economist or Financial Times, is a good place to start. Although subscriptions can pricey, these publications give invaluable and top-quality insight into domestic and global affairs. I have recently subscribed to The Economist as they are currently offering a 12-week subscription for only £12 and have liked both the Economist and FT on Facebook and Twitter.
If your finances cannot stretch to a subscription service, there are plenty of free resources available. Finimize, for example, offers a daily 4-minute brief read of the world of stocks and shares and business developments. Additionally, Peter Watsons’ Daily newsletter offers an opinion on global and domestic business affairs. Subscribing to City A.M. also gives you frequent and easily digestible updates UK developments occur throughout the day, and The Business Update provides a weekly breakdown of stories and how to discuss them in interviews. Facebook and Twitter pages, such as Commercial Awareness for Students gives business updates whilst you scroll through your favourite social media sites.
Moreover, if podcasts are more your thing, there is an array to choose from. The Economist offers a short snippet into a particular news story that’s dominated the headlines. Radio 4’s Bottom Line provides a comprehensive analysis of the biggest business developments.
Personally, the most useful podcast is 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money that is recorded daily and gives insightful opinions into the impact of the news on different sectors of the economy, explained in easily understandable terms. Additionally, some podcasts offer application tips and how to improve your legal prospects, including The Law Academy that can be found on Apple podcasts and Spotify.
For wider research and into business and law, publications by Richard Susskind and Christopher Stoakes offer a comprehensive and insightful analysis into the future of the legal profession and the inner workings of the City. Citing these publications in an application or interview will impress the interviewer.
In this period, it will be useful to get into the habit of reading various publications daily. When reading a news article or researching a business, SWOT and PESTLE methods make for useful analysis.
3. Researching firms - Training Contract season is in full swing and thorough research into firms will be paramount to submitting a successful application. Even if you are not at the TC application stage yet and it all feels a bit overwhelming, the following resources help distinguish firms from one another to help you find your fit.
Chambers Student Guide and LawsCareer.Net offer information about the differentiations between firms and advice about choosing the right firm for you. When researching different types of firms, think about what is important to you and what experience you want to have in your professional career. For example, do you have a desire to work with bluechip international clients or want the option to do a secondment abroad? Or are you motivated by securing justice or helping individuals in difficult situations? Answering these types of broad questions will help narrow down the list of firms that suit your legal preferences.
Once you have whittled down the types of law firms you want to apply for, you can start researching firms for specific information. The firm’s website is a good starting point, but research should not be limited to this resource. Legal Cheek, The Legal500, Lex100, Chambers and the Law Gazette offer independent overviews of firm’s specialisms, clients and where they are positioned in the legal marketplace.
When researching firms, it is vital you get a rounded perspective of the firm and its work. Look beyond the ‘About Us’ page and delve deeper into annual reports, training methods, seat options, culture and work/life balance. This will better your understanding of the firm’s future aspirations and whether can envision yourself being a part of it.
It is equally as important to know the trends and challenges affecting the legal world as it is about the firms themselves. Little Law, AllAboutLaw, The Lawyer Portal, Lexology and RollOnFriday offer a subscription service that details the latest legal news and firms’ works. Covid-19 is drastically reshaping the legal world and it is important to follow the lasting impacts of the pandemic on your potential employer and the world you will be developing your career in.
4. Utilise social media - Social media provides a huge platform to enhance your legal connections and prospects during this lockdown period. Arguably, LinkedIn is your most valuable resource. Following firm’s pages gives accesses latest deals, developments and partner profiles. A LinkedIn connection could be your key into legal experience or advice so ensuring your profile is professional is essential. Ensure your photo is clear and friendly, and your profile is a summary of your current academic position and what your career aspirations are. I would refrain from putting ‘seeking a training contract’ or similar to your current position as the majority of firms do not recruit for training contracts via LinkedIn. Instead, use the platform to connect with associates or graduate recruiters who may now have a little more time on their hands and be up for mentoring you.
Additionally, social media should not be overlooked as a valuable research tool into firms and chambers. Firms often Tweet about their latest deals or issues affecting their clients, offering an up-to-date insight into the firm’s work. It is also work checking if a firm has a separate graduate or trainee account which will give you an insight into life as a trainee or recent graduate opportunities. Most firms also have Facebook, Instagram and Youtube account that post updates of the firms work and graduate opportunities. When applying for a firm, social media accounts offer a different dimension to your research and offers information that you can weave into your application.
5. Virtual internships and online courses - If you want to gain actual legal experience during this time, InsideSherpa offers virtual internships provided by some of the world’s biggest law firms. On completing your virtual internship, you can add your achievement to your CV or use it as evidence in ‘why [this] firm?’ questions on applications.
If you just want to expand on your knowledge of the business world or further your understanding of the buzzwords you will see regularly in the news and a firm’s work, FutureLearn and Coursera offer lessons on business and finances, including mergers and acquisitions. Youtube videos on business and the City should also not be overlooked as a valuable learning resource. Moreover, Coursera provides a wide range of courses that you can undertake purely out of interest. For example, I am currently enrolled in Women’s Health and Human Rights because it compliments my interest in human rights law. All of their courses are free, but there is an option to pay for a certificate that can be posted onto your LinkedIn profile.
6. Telephone and remote volunteering — Finally, there are various remote volunteering positions available that can enhance your CV and improve your transferable skills. Doit.org houses an online database of various positions that require commitment via telephone or online. Currently, I am volunteering as a befriender for a refugee and asylum seeker charity. In this instance, COVID-19 has enhanced some volunteering prospects as people can contribute to a charity in any part of the world from their own homes. My role has helped to develop my capacity to emphasise and telephone communication skills - both essential competencies needed to be a successful lawyer and the experience has given me a point of discussion for interviews and applications.
Of course, the most important thing you do during this period is to look after your physical and mental well-being. If you are wanting a break from your university studies or find yourself with a bit more time on your hands, I hope this list of resources can help develop your legal prospects.
By Harriet Storey-Brown