1. Do you need all A’s at A Level to become a lawyer?
Whilst this may still apply to a select few super strict firms, this is largely not true, you do not need all A’s at A Level to become a lawyer!
A contested way that law firms narrow down candidates has been to put minimum A Level/UCAS points requirements. Whilst many law firms think it helps them to find the best candidates, more places are now realising that A Levels are not the be all and end all! There are so many reasons that people may not have top a level grades – the quality of education across the country varies massively depending on what school you went to, sometimes it takes going to university for people to find the way that works for them with regards to studying, and others have circumstances which stopped them from attaining the A Level grades they were capable of.
The good news is that most law firms are cottoning on to the fact that often, A Level results are not representative of all applicants potential. Some firms have abolished having a minimum requirement altogether, whilst others allow you to put in information about mitigating circumstances or contextualisation data that sees how well you did given how good your school or area was. It will be clear on any application form and in the information you are given on each law firm’s entry requirements as to how strict they are on grades. Contextual information is becoming pretty standard to try and stop minimum requirements streaming out a pool of candidates who just didn’t get the same opportunities as teenagers as other people.
It is more important that you do well at uni and generally – unless you have mitigating circumstances – the minimum requirement for law is a 2:1. If you are on track for that, then try not to worry too much about your A Levels, and make sure you check each firm’s requirements individually.
2. Do you have less of a chance at being a lawyer if you didn’t go to Oxbridge?
Whilst some of the big firms have quite a few people on their books from Oxbridge unis, it is important to note that firms recruit from a wide range of universities!
Law firms are looking for proof that you are bright, inquisitive and have skills that would make you a good lawyer. As long as you have evidence and experience to show this, which university you went to is less important. I went to SOAS and my experiences at SOAS meant I had some really interesting regional insight into matters relating to Africa, the Middle East and China which helped strengthen my application. Firms want to see that you have learned to think critically and applied yourself by working hard at university and finding out about what interests you.
3. Do you need to wear expensive suits to interview?
The most important thing is that you are presentable! This means dressing conservatively, normally in darker colours, but your clothes do not have to be expensive. In fact, my outfit was almost entirely from H&M!
4. Do you need to speak a second language to work at an international law firm?
This totally varies. Most firms don’t require you to have a second language, it is just a bonus if you do! Law firms will do all kinds of work – some people will be required to liaise with clients in other languages and potentially on secondment, but for any firm that specialises in English law a lot of work is available for people who only speak English.
5. Are law firms bad places to work for flexibility or if you want to have a family?
Honestly, no. Law firms along with other other businesses are changing the way they work to accommodate more flexible working patterns and people who are starting/have families. Most firms now have a work from home policy, and some firms are trying to make part time working more accessible for people with young families. Furthermore, most law firms are now offering ‘qualification leave’ where, depending on which law firm, you can take between two to six weeks of unpaid leave once you’ve finished your two qualifying years. You will have worked hard for those two trainee years so definitely deserve that break either to go travelling, spend time with family, or just get all the life admin done you managed to keep putting off!
6. Will you have no social life as a lawyer?
Working hours depend on a lot of things such as what kind of firm you apply to and what department you work in. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the firm, the more hours you will probably put in. But, firms offer lots of different social events and try to keep in mind that you will also want to have your own life. You will be expected to work hard, but what I heard from current trainees and associates that the main thing is that you need to be flexible. Sometimes you will be out at 6pm every day for a week, other weeks you will be there until much later depending on what it going on. The best way to find out what sort of working patterns law firms have is to ask people who work there on your vac scheme and to check out the Chambers Student guide. Their website gives inside information on how trainees have found the firm and the kinds of hours they have worked, as well as what the social scene is like. Some firms have women’s networks and sports networks as well as lots of others that organise events during the week to keep you doing stuff outside of work and enjoying yourself, and even as a way to help you build relationships that will help your career development and team building. Work doesn’t always have to feel like work!
Keep in mind different types of firms will work between the 9am – 530pm framework more strictly. I did work experience once at a small, immigration firm where their hours were pretty predictable and as it was so small the associates were able to pick what kind of work they did and how much. If a predictable work life balance is really important to you, these are the ideal kind of firms to look at as they won’t be so focused on achieving billable hours targets and work may be less stressful as it’s not always about proving your as good as your competition, but instead focusing on individual work.