In the latest post in the 'If I knew then what I know now' series, City University law librarian Emily Allbon explains why she did the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to better understand the students she works with as she developed Lawbore, the online learning portal she founded.
Staggering as it may seem(!), law librarianship wasn't something on my radar as a child. Even as an undergraduate I'm rather ashamed to admit I never really thought about the lot of those behind the enquiry desk — how did they get there and what did they actually do behind the scenes?
Like many who do English Lit I didn't really know what was going to come next. I liked reading, debating and writing but didn't really know how this transferred to the real world. My first step into law was as a graduate library trainee at the rather wonderful Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) in Russell Square. Here was where I found my spark for law...
The IALS has collections of legal materials from all over the world and their users can be academics, students or practising lawyers — no such thing as a typical enquiry. I found I loved the treasure hunt lure of legal research — the warm glow of tracking something down using techniques you have added to your armoury of skills over time. I qualified via an MSc Information Science at City University and a brief job hunt resulted in two offers: one from Deutschebank as an information officer and one at City as law librarian.
I tormented myself for days over this one — imagining myself swanning around in my glamorous suit, coolly meeting deadlines to save the day with that vital piece of information for the bankers. I was convinced that the corporate world would be far more exciting and challenging than "dusty" academia. Had I known then of the opportunities ahead I would have saved myself some angst. My first bit of advice is not to go with something because it sounds cool. Some law students I come into contact with have similar aspirations — being a commercial lawyer often seems a far more exciting, alluring prospect than other options. This decision can be made without very much delving around in the detail at all. Luckily I snapped out of it, taking the lower-paid, but ultimately more varied role, and almost 13 years later here I still am. I would never have had the freedom to develop services creatively, as the law school has allowed me to do here at City.
Following on from this, it’s important not to allow yourself to get hemmed in by a job or limited by what those around you are doing — be yourself and keep pushing to innovate even if you face indifference from others. If I knew back then how pivotal online engagement would be within higher education — and indeed within the legal profession — I would have started my work with Lawbore even earlier (it launched in 2002). I had no idea that this would be the element of my work which would make the most impact and lead me onto so many other streams of interest around learning and teaching. This sounds cheesy but if you believe in something, go for it. If I had my time again I would certainly spend less time worrying about the naysayers.
My final piece of advice is around those you are assisting — your clients (for me, this translates as my students and academic staff). Don’t underestimate the importance of getting to know them and work with them. I completed the GDL to give me a head start on this back in 2006 (this article should read “If I knew then what I knew now I would never have done the GDL — absolute hell!”). Doing the course, without a doubt, influenced the way I developed new resources, with the experience of the study as important as the academic content. Even now I spend a lot of my time listening — to students and the legal community — with the cogs in my brain whirring around trying to work out how I can use technology to engage students in their subject and make legal research a less terrifying a prospect.
Emily Allbon is the law librarian for academic programmes at City Law School, City University London. She is the founder of online legal learning portal Lawbore.
During the year between graduating from university and studying the GDL, I applied to do an internship at the European Commission. Months of eager anticipation later, I received a rejection letter.
Fast forward five years: I had just finished the BVC (renamed the BPTC in 2010), I had no pupillage and was struggling to find employment. One late dewy summer afternoon as I sat in a London park contemplating my future, my head suddenly turned towards the horizon and a calm and soothing voice overwhelmed me, "Look to Europe," it said...
Jobless LPC students and law graduates, have you considered fashion law? Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about it.
According to the Financial Times, which isn't known for its hyperbole: “demand for legal specialists with luxury goods expertise has risen stratospherically.”
Meanwhile, over at US legal website Above the Law, Staci Zaretsky writes: “Fashion law is a quickly-growing specialty practice area — a place where lawyers can aspire to dress stylishly while honing their legal skills in the glamorous world of haute couture law.”
And About.com’s legal careers section describes fashion law as “an emerging legal specialty that encompasses the legal issues surrounding the life of a garment, from conception to brand protection.”
Steve Wilson, a partner in the accident and injury claims team at Sills & Betteridge solicitors in Lincoln, isn’t the sort of person you’d immediately associate with the world of rap music. But first impressions can be deceiving.
Employing a spoken-word style reminiscent of former The Streets vocalist Mike Skinner, Wilson eschews long-held conventions of rhyme to cover themes including litigation, firm management and the hunt for training contracts in his songs.
Set to a hauntingly retro house backing track, Wilson’s first single, ‘Working as a solicitor’, is posted below.
For the legions of training contract hunters out there, being a lawyer is a dream. But it’s not a job that makes everyone happy. The British Hollywood actor Gerard Butler (pictured), who started out as a trainee solicitor with Edinburgh corporate law firm Morton Fraser, didn't enjoy his time in the legal profession.
“If I’d continued in the law, I don’t think I’d be alive today,” Butler told The Times on Saturday. “I was 27, I’d passed my degree and was working as a trainee solicitor, but I was heading down the wrong path and drinking far too much. The week before I was due to qualify, I got really wrecked at the Edinburgh Festival and was sacked. I now know that this was covering up the truth and that I was very unhappy with where I was headed.”
Butler wanted to be acting, not assisting companies with contracts. In a previous interview, he told Scotland on Sunday of his heartbreak at watching a Fringe production of Trainspotting as a trainee lawyer “because I thought 'this will never be me'." He added: “those days were incredibly miserable for me because I was trapped. Not even trapped in a law firm...but I was trapped in my life, I was trapped in my head, I didn't know how to make myself happy."
When I started my law degree, my thoughts were firmly focused on how it would aid a career in business. By the end of the course, I was moving to London to work for a charity.
I was very fortunate to attend the University of Strathclyde where they run a very successful pro bono law clinic. Unlike most other law clinics, emphasis is placed on student ownership of both the clinic’s direction and the cases that are worked on.
As an inexperienced second year student who'd never studied employment law, I was suddenly faced with explaining to a partner at an international law firm why my client wasn’t going to accept their offer to settle an unfair dismissal claim. To say this focuses the mind would be putting it mildly; they say teaching is the best way to learn something, but I’d argue that having to deal with a law firm partner on the end of a telephone is just as effective. To this day, I still feel like I know more about employment law than any other area I studied, purely from that one pro bono case (which eventually settled, making my client very happy).
Yesterday, it was with considerable surprise that I happened upon ‘Jogging with the FT: Mark Stephens’ - an interview with the high profile media lawyer conducted while he ran around Regent’s Park.
Now, Stephens (pictured below) may be many things – charming, down-to-earth, super PR savvy for a lawyer – but a shining example of physical fitness he ain’t.
Not that he attempts to hide this. “I’m unfit,” Stephens tells the FT. “That’s really the point. Like most lawyers, I go to a lot of cocktail parties, business lunches, business dinners."
Julian Assange’s former lawyer continues: “I’ve put on far more weight than I should’ve done,” adding: “The lawyer’s lifestyle takes its toll.”
So why's Stephens fronting an instructional piece in a national newspaper about keeping fit? My theory is that he ended up doing it as a consolation prize after something went wrong during negotiations to appear in the more famous ‘Lunch with the FT’ interview series.
Solicitor takes on paper-round, as barrister's fitness dominatrix sideline flourishes
Recent cuts to legal aid have contributed to a Plymouth solicitor doing an early morning paper-round and working three mornings-a-week in his family’s convenience store.
Stephen Walker, a senior lawyer at criminal firm Walker LaHive, then does a nine-hour day as a solicitor. He also works one night a week and one weekend in four representing clients at the police station.
Walker told the Plymouth Herald that he used to have “10 cases to myself in the late '80s and early '90s”, but “now there are three of us in court and we are lucky if we have 10 cases between us.”
He added: “I cannot see the volume of work going up in the foreseeable future. The amount of money we get for that volume of work is going down and down."
Walker isn’t the first legal aid lawyer to take on alternative work.
Follow @pondcat Law graduates' transferable skills give them an advantage in the non-legal job market, says Cat Pond
If you study law, you go into law. Simple enough, surely? Well, not to the growing number of law graduates currently branching out into a variety of different sectors.
A glance at a selection of university surveys on the destination of legal graduates, and a chat with my fellow law students, reveals a wide range of jobs taken after the completion of their studies.
Finance has an unsurprisingly large presence, but the property, marketing and voluntary sector are all well represented. Of course, there are the more unusual onward paths taken. One survey showed graduates becoming ski chalet hosts and taking on animal husbandry roles.