Well obviously if you’re studying law and planning a legal professional career this question is an easy one. Or is it? I’m not so sure, I see lots of applications from students wanting to work “in a fast paced, ever changing environment”, sometimes also “in an international context” or maybe with a desire “to help others”.” It sounds good until you think a bit more seriously. Just how specific is this?
Fast Paced – ever changing?
Does this actually mean anything? I think you could describe my job in career guidance like this. It’s fast paced, some of my academic colleagues talk about my revolving door as students come and go, one after the other. It’s ever changing because no two students are the same or have identical questions. Not necessarily what you meant? Perhaps the bond trader’s job is more what you had in mind? Watching screens, doing quick and complex calculations and issuing instructions to buy or sell as fast as you can get your fingers to move across the keys. Still not quite right? Perhaps the phrase doesn’t mean much at all and isn’t a good way of describing what legal professionals do.
What do professional lawyers get up to?
It really is important to understand this. If you haven’t got a handle on it, how do you know that law is for you and how can you articulate your interest? What you will be doing will depend on whether you are a trainee solicitor or pupil barrister and on the kind of work your firm or set practices and how big it is.
Very broadly the beginning of most professional careers will see you researching law and drafting documents, anything from court documents, perhaps Particulars of Claim through to letters of advice. Some situations will see you very “back office” while in others you will be out seeing clients and as a pupil barrister you will be knocking around in court making a variety of applications.
The big thing all of this has in common is that you will be engaging with black letter law and quite possibly also with rules and practice directions. You’ll need to make it clear in applications that you understand this. You might want to talk about your love of academic study, your fascination with solving puzzles, where you apply law to a set of “facts” and provide advice to a fictitious client. As a legal professional all the advice you give to your client will be grounded in your knowledge and understanding of law. If you can recognise this, then your “why law” answer will have avoided the first pitfall. It won’t be something so generic that it can be applied to a multiplicity of different career paths and occupations. Many law firms tell me that they will read your application and see if they can replace the word “law” with something else, perhaps “banking”, “consultancy” or “accountancy”. If they can, your application will be fast tracked to the bin!
There must be more to it?
Of course there is. Think of constructing your “Why Law” answer as being like building a wall. The first brick is the law, once you have got that clear you can move on to why this particular kind of law. Want to do private client work? Then talk about engaging with and helping individuals. Human Rights work? You’ll need to talk about your campaigning and volunteering experience and your drive to make a difference to society. More interested in commercial work? Then you need to be referring to your fascination with the business world and your desire to give advice nuanced by your understanding of your client’s business, its drivers and aspirations and of the challenges and opportunities faced by the relevant sector.
What about the fast paced bit?
You’re right that big law firms talk about this a lot. Maybe what they actually mean is hard work and long hours, the ability to multi task and be accurate even when the pressure is on and the hour is late. Without doubt all of this brings its own adrenalin rush and can be both addictive and exciting. It’s a part of the story for swathes of the legal profession. You might be able to demonstrate your appetite for this by reference to all the juggling and multi-tasking you did at university when you played sport, engaged in drama or music and ran societies while ensuring that you continued to get the best marks in your degree.
Still want to be a lawyer? I hope this puts you in a better place to persuade an employer of your suitability.