Advice

I suffer from depression: should I even bother to apply for vac schemes?

By on
81

Please don’t tear me apart for asking

Depression

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, an anonymous undergrad worries about law firms’ attitude to mental illness.

career

I am currently in my second year of studying a non-law subject at an excellent Red Brick university (not Oxbridge). I have done plenty of relevant work experience and extra-curricular actives — being particularly good at debating. Eventually, I hope to pursue a career in commercial law. However, due to the profound isolation I feel at university and a traumatic event that occurred a few months ago, I have been crippled with severe depression. For most of the academic year I have lacked the motivation to do any work. I am quite sure that I will perform poorly in the forthcoming exams. I know that law is highly competitive. Even if I had been well, I am sure that there are many others who are more intelligent than me. Should I even bother applying for vac schemes? My parents do not have the resources to fund the GDL and LPC, so my only option is to obtain a TC. If I apply for one, will my mental illness be seen as a sign that I am too ‘fragile’ to cope in a high-pressured career? This email was written after two days of no sleep (I am very worried about the future), so may not be terribly coherent. It would be greatly appreciated if LC commentators did not tear me apart. Not because I am too delicate to acknowledge reality, but because I know that there are others in my position.

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

81 Comments

Anonymous

First things first, if you haven’t done so pop to your GP as soon as possible to discuss options to deal with your situation. I’m a trainee at an MC firm and I’ve been on anti-depressants since I begun, so please don’t let anything like that stop you in your tracks.

Don’t let your mental health be a block for a career that you desire. That’d almost be like letting it win. Whilst it’ll be very much mind over matter, keep focused, submit great applications and know that if you’ve been called to interview, you deserve to be there and act accordingly.

(111)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t know who wrote this post but you are spot on!

There are two points I think would be worth adding. First, it important to have goals and objectives in life. This will give you something to look forward too. A vac scheme could be an objective in the short term whilst seeking a TC could be something more long term.

Second, this our profession is perhaps a little afraid to talk about mental health openly. But you would be surprised how many people do have mental health issues. If you really want to succeed then be open about it, I have a stammer and yet I am having a successful training contract and do a 60/40 split of advocacy and non advocacy work. Proof that small problems aren’t problems just part of life.

(19)(0)

Anonymous

This guy knows what he’s talking about. Listen to him and ignore the deluge of horrible LC comments which will inevitably flood the article.

(5)(4)

Undergradinquestion

Thanks for your kindness.

I’m very worried for what will happen if on results day I get a 2:2 for my second year. This is obviously a black mark on my record.

Will declaring my illness (something I am profoundly uncomfortable with) be sufficient for them to overlook this dip in performance?

I’m very grateful for your advice. Also, thanks to LC for publishing this. Although I think that quote about ‘not tearing me apart’ was taken out of context.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

First anonymous commenter here.

Stop fretting about results day. We were all there. There is no point in worrying about something you can’t change at this stage.

Speak to your GP about things first. You can also speak to HR about these matters even before applying. They’ll give you fantastic advice for doing so.

All the very best.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Do not let it hold you back at all! When you get an offer (which I am sure you will – you seem proactive!) you declare any mental illness anonymously in your screening. This is what I did and it is pretty reassuring . But before that it would be good to get a letter from the university as to why your results dipped rather than tell them yourself. This could also be vaguely worded so as to avoid you having to declare it directly.

I would also just say though I think being in touch with yourself can give you certain advantages, but at the same time if I am being completely honest it’s not wise to wear personal mental health issues on one’s sleeve in interview/application situations. Instead, demonstrating to them that you are introspective and thoughtful rather than just a ‘happy-go-lucky’ all round superstar I think can be advantageous – although this does of course depend on the firm’s culture and what they are looking for. I know who I would rather hire, anyway.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I got a 2:2 in first and second year as I was very unwell with cardio problems got 2:1 (63%) overall as final year pulled my grades up. I’ve also got w training contract.

(3)(0)

unanimous greek

I believe you should try to change your attitude by becoming more positive, if one thing is sure is that negativity makes everything more difficult if not impossible. Deep down you know how you’ll take that training contract and you already have a lot on your cv as you say , so just take a piece of paper and write down what your goal is and how to achieve it (you know the possible paths). Take 1 step at a time , maybe the first step is a vac scheme and making sure you’ve got good grades , fixing your cv and applying for training contracts after that . Make sure you practice before the interview by talking to yourself on your laptop camera . You need the confidence to secure any kind of job in your life ,so just try t0 get out f your comfort zone everyday and its ok to have faced depression as long as you fight every day to get over it . Also , if you feel like you have no one to talk to , give a call to a helpline which is free and confidential like the samaritans

(2)(20)

Anonymous

This comment was clearly written by somebody who has never suffered from depression, or lived with somebody who does. It really isn’t as simple as – ‘be more positive’ – and this is completely the wrong thing to say to somebody in their position.

Getting out of ones comfort zone is incredibly difficult for somebody suffering from depression and writing anonymously on this forum was probably difficult enough!

I agree that she should try and speak with her doctor however. My missus’ doctors have been fantastic and she has had real help from both the NHS and her University during the past three years.

You are not alone, even if you feel like you are, and there is help out there to allow you to achieve.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Funny how, when I had leukaemia, no one told me the trick was to “become more positive”. Idiot.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Your focus should be on getting better first. Doing your Vac Scheme while suffering from depression will only guarantee you bombing out and not securing a TC with that firm. Better to wait next year or when you get better and apply for TCs directly.

(2)(26)

Anonymous

The thing is though so people just don’t get better: it’s uncontrollable. Next year could be a fantastic year for him/her, or they could be in a far worse state.

(8)(2)

Anonymous

Make sure you take care of your mental health first! I suffered with crippling severe depression throughout my second and third year, graduated with a first but because I failed to take care of my mental health I was forced to take a year out and had to deter taking my LPC.

(3)(0)

GM

My advice is if you feel that you will not do well because you have been suffering from a traumatic event, and depression as a result of that, tell your university. Either defer the year and repreat or see if you can get exams put off until summer. If you are not well and suffering bombing these exams will only exacerbate your depression, increase anxiety to make it up next year and add to the pressure to secure a TC.

I had a pretty rough Christmas in second year with a family illness and my Christmas exams were a right off. After you sit the test there’s nothing the uni can do. I was playing catch up until I graduated.

So go to someone in pastoral care, your tutor, your family, your friends and talk about it and it will be ok.

You seem to be in a fragile way and you need to give yourself the best chance for a commercial TC. That aside, it isn’t the most important thing, your health and mental well-being is. Going to someone is not a sign of weakness.

Good luck 🙂

(12)(0)

Undergradinquestion

Unfortunately, this email was sent three weeks ago. My exams have already been taken.

I also cannot defer for a year. A lot of my depression has been due to the lack of contact hours, and my parents aren’t terribly supportive. Normally, being at home tends to make my mood even lower.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

My father passed away unexpectantly in the middle of my final year exams. I suffered with my mental health prior to this, and obviously even more following these events and I was hospitalised etc. this year. Luckily for me, I already have a TC, so it was just about passing my exams and the LPC whilst I worked towards my recovery.

I found that when I was focused, I could really knuckle down in work. I tried to push myself and ensure I did as much as I could when I felt up to it, so that I didn’t have the guilt when I needed some time to myself.
I also found that, sometimes, thinking about the future and consequences might not help. As someone else has said, focus on the exams right now. Not VSs, not TCs, not even the LPC. Just try to do your very very best in the exams you have; do the best you can.

Most importantly, as my Mum repeatedly tells me, just be kind to yourself. If you need a year out, take one. If you just need an afternoon off, do it. Eat a biscuit and watch a Disney film if you need to. Don’t be disappointed in yourself when you don’t achieve everything you wanted to right now. You’ll get there.

(26)(0)

Trainee

Obviously your mental health needs to come first but, as long as that is ok, go for vac schemes. Don’t let it hold you back if you feel like you could get through a vac scheme. Loads of people have mental health problems – that’s a key point to understand. Are employers in this kind of sector ready to be really open about it and make concessions – probably not. But as long as you’re at a decent uni you have every chance of getting a TC. It’s more about practical application of general skills and common sense. There’s no harm in applying as long as you feel healthy enough to do so/it won’t harm your mental health.

When it comes to applications, it’s less about academics (as long as you meet the minimum requirements) and more about knowing about the sector in general – learn some schpiel about the changing legal world, Susskind, etc. (even if it’s not totally relevant to your firm, it shows that you are broadly “commercially aware). Learn about what the firm does, why they see themselves as unique. Regurgitate that.

Mention your skills and, importantly, why they are relevant to trainees – eg communications skills are essential in order to effectively manage expectations of clients, as well as talk appropriately with differing levels of staff (peers v partners). Essay writing/debating are good examples of such communication. Teamwork, analytic skills, being proactive. Give examples of why trainees need them.

At the assessment centre, just use common sense and think commercially. Don’t worry about everyone else.

If you’re unsure about applying, then as long as it won’t harm your health, there’s no reason not to! Go in with no pressure – you weren’t going to apply anyway. So if you get it, great. But if you don’t, well it doesn’t matter – you’ve gained experience and can use it on some vac schemes next year (especially if you choose the same seats).

(2)(0)

Trainee

Just to add, obviously your academics need to come first too. Getting a 2(1), or even a 2(2) if that might be a challenge because of your situation, is more important than getting a vac scheme and then missing your grades.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I did a vac scheme at the end of second year of university, while suffering from pretty severe mental health issues. it was really great and the mental health issues did not interfere at all. it’s obviously about the severity of your condition, but mental health issues are definitely not a bar to doing vac schemes or working in the legal profession. if you haven’t already, you need to get medical treatment.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

It’s encouraging to see such positive responses on legal cheek for a change. The advice people have given seems to fall into two camps: (1) there’s no reason why you can’t do a vac scheme now and (2) you mental health comes first and you should defer if you need to.

Both are absolutely good advice, and whether to go ahead and make applications now or wait until you feel better is something you need to decide based on how you feel and what will work for you. I know that when I’ve had problems in the past knuckling down and getting on with work or job applications or whatever it might be helps dig me out of the hole, but different people work in different ways and you should do whatever feels right. Delaying things a year will not harm your career prospects at all, but equally if you feel like pushing on will help, then go ahead and push on. Put yourself first, and things will start to look up.

(3)(0)

Anon

I had mental health difficulties at university and whilst on the GDL. But with the help of a GP I got through and got a TC at a top global firm in the City in the summer after my GDL.

It can be really tough in law but you just have to keep going and give yourself breaks and time out as much as possible.

I actually found the satisfaction I got from working hard and doing well helped. Maybe you will find the same. So don’t be put off!

(4)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(7)(29)

Pecbrah

I kno rite, wat a total beta, such a time wastr, us lawyahs no kneed such weeklings

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I hope you never have to deal with mental illness. cunt.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Barrister on antidepressants since uni here. Agree with the sentiments above. If you need time out from your degree to recover, take it. I don’t recommend trudging on through a haze (I did so and got rubbish marks in my second year, but recovered by finals to get a first). You are likely seeing everything – your ability, your prospects etc in an unduly negative light. You WILL be okay. You are likely surrounded by people on antidepressants whether you realise it or not. The very best of luck to you.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

On vac schemes people are usually very nice to you. They treat it as an opportunity for you to get to know the firm and the work they do. It’s not a high-pressure situation and you probably won’t get real work to do. You’ll probably have a good time and meet interesting people. I recommend you make a few applications.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Speak to your tutors/or a teacher that you are close with, confide in them and be honest with your situation. They can help you with guidance, next steps and advice.

Being on antidepressants isn’t always the cure but finding solutions to problems through practical steps can be.

Never give up, brighter days are ahead.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

There is some great advice from people on here, so I’m not going to repeat.
I was actually in the same position as you, but I kept it completely hidden from everyone (except my doctor). It’s because I met a partner once at an open day who said “there was this one trainee who got “depressed” a few months in. If you can’t handle the heat, you shouldn’t be here”. I’m sure they’re not all like that, but after that experience I’ve just kept it completely private.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I am also a successful junior barrister at a commercial chambers, and I earn £300k per year. I feared that I would not be able to succeed at the Bar, but I was wrong. Don’t ever let mental illness limit your ambition.

(11)(5)

LonelyLondoner

Much of this mirrors the situation I’m in right now- depression and not being able to do any work etc… I’d say, get better first then pursue law. I fell ill with disruptive anxiety and depression mid-LPC and it affected my grades. I’m now looking at doing re-sits at the end of the summer, with no idea if I can make the grade in the June exams. I should’ve tried to get help earlier on and I’d say, make that a priority. Unfortunately, I haven’t disclosed my situation to my TC firm provider- something that makes it harder to manage the firm’s expectations. I don’t know if I’ll make it far enough to become a commercial lawyer, but don;t do what I did. Seek help now, delay starting law school if you need to. Unless there’s a revolution, the law will always be there.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Same here! Good advice!

(0)(0)

MCTrainee

In the space of two months on the LPC I lost an immediate family member and my girlfriend at the time. I didn’t take any time off and joined the firm straight away as I was completely overwhelmed with grief and thought it was a good idea to carry on as if nothing had happened and basically had a mental breakdown in my first trainee seat as I was also being overworked (hardly uncommon at a city firm).

I think I agree with those saying concentrate on ‘doing you’ for now and getting well. The sad truth is that when you arrive at these places, they do not care about your health and cannot possibly police your health either with so many hundreds of employees they need to manage.

I’m now in my third seat and whilst things are better, the unfortunate reality is that in this business, any sign that a fee earner is mentally ill or struggling with something is a sign of a faulty cog in the system that needs to be ‘fixed’.

These are deeply traditional places and you need to be well and healthy before you start.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Agree and that’s why for me I chose not to apply for the city because I couldn’t have coped with that kind of pressyre

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Wow I’m actually surprised about how many people are in a similar situation as me. I thought I was the only one struggling with depression during uni, but I guess nobody exactly shouts it from the roof tops.
I’m still carrying on despite my depression. It’s not easy and a real struggle and it would be great to take time off. I’m at uni and applying for vac schemes. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing though, maybe a break would be good but I can’t afford to do so.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Remember, a break doesn’t mean without employment – sometimes having even a crappy job in a bar that’s full time for a while is good enough. It gives your brain a break and gives you time to deal with things. Also, employers love such jobs – shows grit etc. Better than being a 2:1 grad who sits at home on their parent’s sofa complaining about how they can’t get a job – everyone hates those people.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I agree about not letting your depression win, and agree that ADs can be a godsend. However I think you also have to be realistic about your personality. If you know you thrive in less pressured environments and crumble under pressure, it seems sensible to seek out careers that allow that to happen.

Although drugs help and firms pay lip service to mental health, I’ve known previously rather chipper people degenerate under the strain of a hierarchical environment in which people don’t see you as a person, and difficult, boring work that stretches into the long hours. If you don’t have the drive to get through this, and aren’t the sort who can convince themselves that this corporate deal is really important and exciting, then it’s a bit shit for anyone.

The other problem is that when you’re in a firm, people won’t talk about this, because there’s a very strong ideological attachment to the idea of being a successful lawyer. It’s seen as a dream job, and assumed that the people there are higher achieving than their mates who are piddling around working for startups/charities/smaller firms for lower paying jobs. The problem is that most people outside the legal world do not see things in the same way at all. But this can make it difficult to leave and can also make people who are unhappy feel very isolated.

Honestly, I would say that if you are having doubts at this stage, consider other options – civil service, PR, 3rd sector etc. No matter what anyone says, you don’t need to earn £60k at age 24 to lead a decent life. If after you’ve worked a bit (and perhaps built up some resilience) you still fancy law, you could always apply for TCs later on.

Btw in case it’s not obvious I’m speaking as someone who was in your position a few years ago and decided to go into law. I regret it and am looking to leave!

(9)(0)

Anonymous

I’ve suffered with mental health issues including eating disorders and depression and I’m in my final year. Last summer during a TC interview for a Silver Circle firm they asked how I overcame a difficult situation and although I was in two minds about whether or not I should say it (as I was worried about their perception of mental health and a demanding career) I did tell them about my struggles with mental illness…they offered me a training contract, and although they didn’t make a direct reference, during the phone call they said they valued my honesty

(12)(0)

Comments are closed.