Advice to first year law students from a second year

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By Adam Jordan on

‘The key is preparedness’, writes Durham undergrad Adam Jordan, as he offers up his top tips to first year success

First-year can be quite a daunting time for law students, particularly for those who do not have precisely defined career goals from the get-go. The background work for your future career can pile up over time, so you may as well start now, and you can find almost everything you need online. Remember, it is never too late to start, but it is better to start as soon as you can, to make the process as smooth as possible.

From someone who did next-to-nothing in their first year, I know the pitfalls you can fall into, and I know where a lack of preparation can get you. With that, these are my tips on how to best prepare yourself, so that you do not end up having to go through what I have.

1. Start your research early

First, start early. It is best to take things bit-by-bit, so that you do not overwhelm yourself. You’ll find out what you want to do soon enough, but the best thing to do is at least start looking, so that you learn about the options available to you.

If you are interested in commercial law, find the firms that you like the look of. Use a wide array of sources: go through their websites thoroughly — you will learn about firms’ locations, sectors, people and culture. They also often publish news and insights. But using other sources of information means that you can paint a more complete picture — websites such as Legal Cheek and Chambers Student, to name a few, are both great resources. Starting early means you build up all of this information and knowledge over time, and means you also open yourself to more opportunities that firms and websites such as these may be providing.

2. Use social media to your advantage

First of all, if you do not have a LinkedIn account, make one. It’s a great way to interact with different players in the legal world, keep yourself updated, and expand your potential network of contacts.

Second, most commercial law firms are on social media so make sure to follow them, and if they offer the chance to interact with them, i.e. ask questions, then do so! Most firms will have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now even Instagram accounts, so be sure to follow them on whichever platform(s) you’re most active on. Social media is also a way in which firms notify others of particular events, insights or opportunities, so it is worth following a good number of them. By using social media to your advantage, you can expand the pool from which you draw your knowledge and from which you can gain insights into a career in law.

3. Find areas of law that might interest you (even ones you haven’t studied)

You may, or may not, be starting to get an idea of what type of lawyer you want to be. You might also have some notion of what sort of areas you would like to practise in. But don’t worry if you don’t — you don’t particularly have to think about it right now, but it helps to know your options and what might interest you.

Many law firms, for instance, specialise in sectors of the law that you won’t study for at least the first two years of your degree, so it is useful to use their websites to explore these areas of the law. It may not result in anything substantive, but it’s helpful to expand your horizons and find out about the different options available to you — even to cut off completely areas of the law that you really do not find interesting at all. With that, it’s also important to keep yourself updated on current affairs.

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4. Keep yourself informed

You will begin to hear the phrase ‘commercial awareness’ quite a lot as you delve into the world of legal careers. You will have to build this up over time, so keeping yourself up to date on the news is particularly important, and, of course, it’s best to start early.

Downloading news apps, or visiting news websites is a good start. Favouriting or bookmarking particular topics of interest also helps. Universities may have subscriptions to sites like the Financial Times and the Economist, but if not, you do not have to subscribe to them — there are a range of free sources that you can use, like BBC Business News. Many law firms also publish their own newsletters or email updates that you can sign-up for.

Another useful outlet is podcasts. There are many podcasts out there that focus specifically on legal issues, so do not limit yourself to one or two.

Explore, and try to find the platforms that help you the most. If you do not enjoy reading, podcasts are a great alternative. If you do not listen to podcasts, try and keep up with the news via websites, apps and social media — or even newspapers, if that is your style. There are plenty of viable platforms, so you have to find a combination of what is best for you.

5. Prepare and update your CV

If you haven’t already, create, format and update your CV. You do not have to have a complete CV ready by next week (your CV is never really complete anyhow) but start with an outline, choose a format, and update it over time.

If you are stuck with your CV, there are plenty of resources to help you out. Lots of websites have CV templates. Perfecting your CV over time, rather than rushing it out when the time comes, will help you significantly, and there is plenty of information out there to help you, so there is no excuse not to use it.

On this note, know the skills employers will want or expect of you, and if you find you are lacking, look for opportunities to expand on them. Most employers are looking for good communication, the ability to work in a team, ambition and drive, innovation or entrepreneurship, resilience and work ethic, and commercial awareness, among other skills. You do not have to have all of these skills, nor do you need legal experience to show them. Any experiences you have had are worth mentioning, so long as you can draw out transferrable skills from them. Keep it simple, honest and concise, but be sure to show potential employers what makes you stand out from the crowd.

6. Attend events and take advantage of opportunities that come your way — pandemic permitting, of course

This includes law and careers fairs, whether university-led or otherwise, where you can interact with employers and gain first-hand insights into potential career prospects. Additionally, law firms run open days and insight programmes and events, and webinars have also become increasingly prevalent. Note that the vast majority of these opportunities remain available, albeit online due to the pandemic.

Attending a variety of these types of events shows a commitment to a career in law or can even show you that it may not be for you, so try to attend as many as you can over time. Starting late means you have to go to lots of events in a very short space of time, interrupting your academic work and filling up your schedule, so start your research early and get involved early on.

Lastly, join and get involved in societies, clubs and groups at university — being a member of a society can provide you with a range of opportunities to interact with others, engage more deeply in any interests you might have, and enhance your academic skills. They are also worth mentioning on CVs and in applications.

The key to all of this is simply preparedness. If you start now, you’ll thank yourself later. Even if you have no clue, get involved, do some research and be proactive. Use social media, research what you can and what interests you, and keep yourself informed, organised and involved. It all helps. Just do not wait until the last minute like I did.

Adam Jordan is a second year law student at Durham University. He aspires to become a commercial solicitor.

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