Got to get a first year scheme or you can kiss goodbye to your career aspirations? No scheme means you’ll never work as a legal professional? Fact? No, rubbish! It’s really important not to allow yourself to be swept up into a state of panic. So what should you be thinking about?
It’s always important to work out what’s most important and then set your priorities accordingly. In order to progress at university, you only have to pass the first year but aiming for 40% is a pretty poor idea. If you’re thinking that you might want to work in one of the largest City firms then you’re going to have to disclose all your academic marks. For these firms (and a range of other employers) your first year marks will matter. The very top City law firms will be looking for you to have secured a 2.1 in your first year. Unlike at school, you can’t redo an exam if the mark is not up to your normal fantastic standard. Since this is your first year, you may not be able to judge just how hard you need to work to get the results you’d like. You might be much better advised to put your efforts into study than into careers at this stage.
What do you want?
Don’t just assume that you want to go to a large City based commercial law firm because you have met grad recruiters from these firms. They will probably have talked to you about what fun it is to work in a –
“fast paced international environment doing cutting edge cases for client companies which are household names”.
That work is exciting, but it will also be extraordinarily hard work. It is not for everyone. Are you fascinated by the business world? Really fascinated? If you’re not so sure, then by all means explore the options offered by these employers, but not to the exclusion of other opportunities and to the detriment of your studies.
Put your toe in the water
If you want to explore the world of the big firms then why not make a few applications? Each one will take you many hours if you are to have a good chance of success and some will offer overlapping dates. There will be a limit to the number of these schemes which you can do. One or two will be more than enough. Be strict with yourself in terms of the number you apply for.
What if your application is unsuccessful?
1. Don’t panic. You will maximise your employability if you do something over the summer but there are a huge range of things you can do to boost your chances of getting a great job. You might think about working in a smaller, local law firm. Try applying by way of a CV and cover letter. You can use the resources on the YouTube channel to help you put a compelling application together to encourage a law firm to take you on. Just remember that you need to be careful about the way in which you phrase your request. I have seen lots like this:
“I want to work for a City firm doing commercial work and need to get some experience of legal work over the summer. I live locally to your firm so working for you would be ideal”
Why would this be attractive to anyone? Think about it from the law firm’s position and not your own.
2. There are other alternatives to legal work which will also impress employers. Customer service jobs which involve communication skills and demand resilience are a big hit. This applies to shop work, burger bars and bar work. All will teach you invaluable teamwork skills and will show a work ethic. Another alternative could be to demonstrate your marketing and entrepreneurial skills. There are lots of ways to do this, setting up a local gardening round would do nicely.
3. If you want to make vacation scheme applications next year you will need to show you understand what the legal world is like. Take opportunities on campus to engage with law firms. They come onto campus regularly and offer skills sessions and presentations. You will have the chance to network then. Come to see a wide range of different firms to confirm your thinking about what would be right for you. Many firms also hold Open Days. You can apply to these. If you are thinking of joining Law Society visits to law firms make sure that you choose the opportunities which do not cause you to miss lectures and seminars!
4. You have plenty of time! Every year students succeed in starting legal professional careers when they have postponed career focussed activity until their third year or indeed until after they have left! There isn’t a one off opportunity for success in your first year. You’re probably going to be expected to work until you’re 70. You don’t need to start immediately.
Just in case you don’t believe me here’s what Gina Dolan from Simmons & Simmons had to say:
If you’ve missed the deadline for spring schemes there’s no need to panic. The schemes don’t usually act as a direct pipeline in to Vacation Scheme or Training Contract positions. It’s important to remember that in addition to first year schemes, there are lots of other occasions to meet the firms such as; open days, careers fairs and firm presentations on campus. If you want to work for a firm like Simmons & Simmons try to make the most of these events and make sure you know what you want to find out about a firm. Come prepared with questions in order to have valuable conversations. Whether it’s work experience, a vacation scheme or a casual conversation with a trainee, these can all be equally important in helping you make a decision where to apply and supporting your application form.