I’m sure that anyone who has told, well, anyone about wanting to be a lawyer has been told something like ‘you’ll be selling your soul to the corporate world’ or ‘ I hope you’re ready to give up all your social life’.
I am pretty sure that no person (or at least no person with any common sense) applies to a magic circle firm and expects to clock off at 530pm everyday. But just in case, if you mention the well known firm you are applying to, someone you know or meet will make absolutely sure you are under no false illusions about how much work training to be a lawyer there is.
And so it begs the question..Do I have to sell my soul, my life and my uni years to get into law?
First things first, selling your soul is a very drastic analogy and one that requires a much more thought through blog post on Socrates ideas of the soul. A simple answer is: becoming a corporate lawyer is not as drastic as selling your soul.
I think for a long time people have seen (and some still do) see corporations – law firms included – as the money guzzling, environment destroying, workaholic institutions of the 20th and 21st centuries. Whilst there is a long way to go on this, law, business and corporations are changing the way they view the world and their own worlds and are looking to address these issues on a scale unseen prior. More and more firms are pledging to be carbon neutral, actively contributing to social responsibility outside of the conventional pro bono remit, and are addressing the stereotype that all lawyers are overworked.
Law is hard work, undoubtedly, and anyone signs up does that knowing that some days they may be staying late to deal with a pressing issue that has arisen. But, at the same time, more and more firms are looking to help balance the work/life binary more than before. If you’re unsure about the kind of hours you are committing to as a trainee, there are three main ways to find out:
1. What is the size of the firm? This is not always accurate, but often the bigger the firm the more hefty the hours.
2. Talk to actual trainees and lawyers at these firms. Sure, cynics will tell you that they are all prepped to tell you they get to leave early on Fridays, but often you,l be able to have a really honest conversation that allows you to work out whether you’d manage the working schedule.
3. Chambers Students. This online source has a ton of information including surveys taken of trainees and their experiences so this is the place to go for firm specific information.
How committed do I actually need to be to get into law?
As law is competitive, a lot of people become very focused during their uni years on getting a TC. I don’t think you need to know you wanted to go into law from first year to be a lawyer. Lots of people decide in second or third year, or even after they graduate. That’s really normal, so don’t panic. When law firms want to see commitment they want to see a few different things.
First, that you have an interest in the area of law you apply to. If you’re looking at family law, that could be through childcare you did or volunteering at youth clubs. If you’re looking at commercial law, you could demonstrate that interest through a part time job you had in a business, or a topic you chose to study or write about at university. I think the idea that you need to throw away any fun or flexibility of your uni years is nonsense – the important thing is that you are making the most of them. By that I mean finding out about what you’re interested in. Reading around topics, and using your summers to do things that you enjoy and will benefit you regardless of what career you take. Whether you undertake a summer job, or an essay competition or volunteering, any experience is useful for demonstrating different skills you have acquired and different areas you are knowledgable in and able to talk about. I get a lot of messages from people in first and second years who have’t had any legal work experience and are stressed by others getting it – try not to panic, because huge numbers of people get onto Vac schemes or TCs with transferable skills from non-legal jobs and experiences. The strongest candidates will be the ones who can show that they used their time and experiences to prepare them for the future and future roles. Firms want to see that you take an interest on your own personal and professional development, whether that is through reading, getting a job or attending extra lectures or events on things you are keen to learn about.
On to the final question…
If I don’t get a TC by graduation…is my law dream over?
If you are coming to the end of uni and don’t have a TC in place, things can seem uncertain and scary.
But, whilst it may feel like a lot of people get TCs whilst still at uni, huge numbers of TC offers are actually allocated to masters and GDL students, as well as career changers. If it really is your dream to become a lawyer that does not end if you are still looking for a TC after graduation – it’s just important that you focus on your own personal development and how this can help you in your future career in law. Many people take up paralegal positions or internships prior to getting a TC, and remember that there are loads of new and upcoming jobs in law such as legal engineers and legal technologists that are looking for law graduates too. It is likely that one day they will be doing the same work as ‘conventional’ lawyers and possibly more in demand than your average TC trained lawyer. So keep all these things in mind!