Blog · Trainee Lawyer

Route to Becoming a Lawyer – Tips, Advice and Myth-Buster

Welcome back to my page!

Hopefully, if you’re reading this post, you might have already read my first post on what I do, and will know that although the process to becoming a qualified solicitor is heart-wrenching, disheartening, painful, etc., it can and it WILL end well. If you have not read it yet, please do!

For the purposes of brevity, and to avoid sending to you to sleep, I am assuming that anyone (if there is anyone!) reading this post, is either at a similar stage to me in terms of their journey to becoming a lawyer (and just want to compare notes, or tell me how wrong I did the process), or are at the start of their journey, and are looking for some advice, guidance, tips, etc., or you have a similar journey in your chosen field.

Before I begin, let me state, I am not claiming that I have the, or, any answers, that will guarantee you success. I just thought it might be useful to note down my experiences, those beneficial and those which weren’t, and any areas where I think I could have benefited from some hindsight. Someone should learn from my experiences, you know!

Once again, if you have any questions, or aren’t sure about something I have said, don’t hesitate to contact me – I am only too happy to share my experiences and help any way I can!

I thought that first and foremost, we should bust some myths!

1 – You have to know from age 10 that you want to become a lawyer, or you should just forget about it. WRONG

You absolutely do not need to know from such a young age that you want to become a lawyer. I personally think that this one comes from the fact that traditionally (I’m talking in the times when going to University was a rarity), those who became lawyers knew they’d have to take on further education, and so it was a decision from a much younger age.
Obviously, it does significantly help your path to #SolicitorLife, if you know early on what you want to do. It helps be organised and have a specific route to follow.
But, that does not mean that if you haven’t got it all figured out by the age of 15 that becoming a lawyer is an impossibility.
I am typing proof of that!
Yes, it’s true, I did think about it a career in law from the age of 15/16, but it wasn’t until I was in my penultimate year of undergraduate university study that I truly went about making it happen (those who have also followed this path will know that that does in fact make life much more stressful!)

2 – You need to know what type of law you want to do from the beginning of the process. WRONG

Why should you know exactly what kind of law you want to do from day one? Yes, some people might have a strong idea about what they think they might want to specialise in, but how can they know for 100% certain if they haven’t yet had any experience in that field of work?
Something I learned from undertaking work experience, and from many an interview, is that employers (often senior partners in law firms) frown upon those candidates who claim to know exactly what they want to do. In a way, it makes you seem obtuse. The purpose of the training contract period is to learn, to be flexible and to be open to the opportunity of finding something interesting, something which you would have never have thought might be.
Those who know what they want to do, and have qualified into that area, they are lucky. But, in my experience, it’s rare for someone who knows what they want to do, to be doing that exact thing.

3-  If you don’t succeed with your applications the first time, you should probably give up and move on to another career or job. WRONG

Umm, no. Obviously, that is entirely the incorrect attitude to have. (Full disclosure – I was this person. I told myself after endless rejections, I was not good enough, my grades were not high enough, and “no firm would ever pick me”).
What ever happened to “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again“?
For those starting out, and not yet thrust into the fire pit that is “securing a training contract”, I warn you, with the very best intentions, it is a battlefield. You need to be resilient. You need to have an abundance of confidence (or people around you to tell you how amazing you are when you doubt yourself – it happens to ALL of us).
Do not give up. Take a minute (or a day, maximum), re-group, dust yourself off, and go for it again. I promise, when it happens, it will mean that much more to know that you have tried (for what feels like a million times).
If you whole-heartedly believe that a career in the law is what you want to do, then do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Just go for it, and watch it happen. It might take longer than you’d like, but if it’s what you want to do, nothing and no-one will stand in your way (including the voices in your head that tell you to let it go).

4 – Being a lawyer, is just like being Mike Ross in Suits. WRONG

SO, I thought I’d slightly lighten the mood. The previous myths are a little bit heavy for what is supposed to be a reasonably light yet informative uplifting read.
Who watches Suits?
How many people have asked you (since announcing you desire to become a lawyer, or since you have started training/ studying/ or have completed work experience), “oh my goodness, are you like Mike Ross?”, “Is it just like being in Suits?”, “Is it that dramatic?”
Well, let me tell you, there might be glimpses once in a month or two, where you really get to see how intense and exciting the law can be.
But, generally, it entirely depends on which area of law you are concentrating on. I think it’s safe to say, on a daily basis, life as a trainee solicitor, is nothing akin to playing Mike Ross. But oh boy, I wish it were…

5 – If you want to make a lot of money, become a lawyer. Let’s discuss this, shall we…

You’re probably thinking that this is not a myth.
Well, I am here to tell you that once again, it entirely depends.
It depends which type of law firm you work at; it depends which region of the world you work in; it depends which area of law you specialise in; and of course, it depends on your level of seniority.
Therefore, if money is a driving factor behind becoming a lawyer, make sure you do your research on the list I’ve mentioned in the above paragraph and figure out where is most lucrative (if you’d like any further information on this, please comment below.

As you can see, I’ve selected a variety of myths to discuss. Obviously, the list goes on and on, but I just chose a few that have always haunted me or which I think are most pertinent. If you can think of some others that you  would particularly like to hear my opinion on, do let me know!

Steps and timing towards becoming a solicitor 

The information which follows is subject to the fact that as of September 2020, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam regime will take over, and so, this content will cease to be relevant.

Therefore, the following, is my experience, and hopefully some of it will still be useful and relevant, albeit for a different process.

Steps to becoming a Lawyer:

N.B. in my opinion, choosing to study law at GCSE and/or A-Level makes no difference to the steps that follow. I chose not to study Law, until after completing my undergraduate degree at University. That is not to say that GCSE/A-Levels are not important, believe me, they are (they are what most employers look at when trying to whittle down the list of candidates applying training contract – so choose wisely, work hard and get good grades!).

N.B. 2 – I speak only from experiencing the journey to become a solicitor, not a barrister.  Therefore, I omit to detail the route to becoming a barrister.

As another side point, I chose the solicitor route because I am a hugely organised person, I (oddly) enjoy paperwork and administration. I liked the idea of having client contact but not having the stress (seemingly to me) of having to go to court regularly (though now I am coming round to the idea). I am also a team player, so I like working with others and enjoy having daily interactions. It’s commonly known that Barristers spend most of their time working alone, and for these reasons (among many others, I chose the solicitor route). Again, I am in no way downplaying the role of a barrister, I am simply saying that when I was choosing what I thought best aligned with me.

Steps:

1 – You choose to take a Law degree at University;

2 – You complete the one-year Legal Practice Course (“LPC”) – the vocational part of studying

3 – You complete a 2-year training contract with a law firm

4 – You are a qualified solicitor – congrats!

The only way the above differs if you do not choose to take a Law degree at University, is the additional one-year Law conversion, known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (“GDL”), which you complete prior to the LPC.

From my experience, law firms are pretty 50:50 on selecting trainees who have or have not obtained a law degree at undergraduate level. I personally thought that because there was the option to take the GDL, I could “add another string to my bow”, and enhance my CV by studying Spanish and gaining a skill for life, which hopefully would help me stand out as an applicant.

When to apply for a training contract?*

IF YOU ARE TAKING A LAW DEGREE AT UNIVERSITY:

Apply for training contracts/vacation schemes from your penultimate year of study. Of course, this will depend on the firms you choose to apply to. Larger firms tend to recruit two years in advance, whilst smaller firms can recruit one year in advance. That is why it’s crucial to do your research.

I would suggest that in the Summer leading up to the start of your penultimate year, you start investigating which sort of firm you are interested in, and compile a short list, together with the dates for application deadlines, so you can work into your diary from Day 1 of the first term back at university, how you will manage your time to apply for these and balance academic work.

IF YOU ARE NOT TAKING A LAW DEGREE AT UNIVERSITY:

Apply for training contracts/ vacation schemes in your final year of study. The same rules as above apply.

General advice:

  • Starting your applications early provides you with the most opportunity to amend and improve your technique as the year goes on. If you are unsuccessful, you can often request feedback and can learn from any mistakes you have made in your future applications.
  • Make sure you have family/friends read over your applications to proof read, sense check, and provide feedback.
  • If you know from the start of University that you intend on heading down this route, make sure you attend the University fairs (specifically Law Fairs, if your University has them), attend relevant talks, join law societies, and do your best to network and meet as many people within the field, or connected to the field of law.
  • On that note, try and secure some work experience during free time from University, ask to shadow a solicitor, and just gain as much experience in a legal environment as you can. This is crucial for your CV, and is often a hugely popular topic in interviews. Interviewers love to hear about your experiences, opinions, and like to know that you have been pro-active in seeking this.

*Notwithstanding all of the advice, rules, procedures I have listed, as I said, I was behind the curve and effectively skipped the research and making lists of where I wanted to apply to. That’s to say, if you know ahead of time what you are trying to achieve, then you are ahead of the game. But, fear not, if like me, it has taken a little while to make your decision. All is not lost and you can still be successful. It just causes more of a headache.

Have you made it to the end? Phew…. it’s a lot to take in, right?!

Well, for now, I will leave it there.

As I said, if you have any questions, comments, feedback on any of the content above, or if you just want to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to feel like I’m not the only one!

Applying for training contracts is a scary and lonely time – so, feel free to get in touch.

My last thoughts… PERSEVERE!

Until next time, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” (Steve Jobs), and from me, “Stay Hangry“!

~The Hangry Lawyer, xoxo~

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