Legal Cheek reporter and future City trainee Emily Hinkley offers her advice on making the jump from STEM to law
Every year law firms receive thousands of applications from candidates with a wide array of skills and backgrounds. Needless to say, the competition is strong and standing out can be a struggle.
Coming from a non-law background can mean that there is a lot to learn coming into law. However, it’s worth remembering that a science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) background can have its advantages and in this busy market, every advantage counts.
My own STEM background came in handy during the application process and I was fortunate enough to secure a training contract with the London office of a global law firm at the end of last year. Now, to help my fellow STEM graduates, I am sharing the insights I gained along the way.
Firms often emphasise their desire to find unique candidates, and a STEM background can be a really great way to bring something different to the table. Instead of thinking of your lack of legal training as a disadvantage, be ready to frame yourself as an enthusiastic outsider with a wide assortment of transferable skills and a fresh perspective.
Whatever area of STEM you come from, be prepared to communicate your work in a way that is understandable to a layperson. You’re unlikely to be speaking with a specialist in your field and if you use obscure technical terms in your application you may find yourself falling at the first hurdle.
Don’t forget transferable skills
STEM students’ unique skill sets make them popular graduate hires at law firms, so it’s really important to showcase your transferable skills at every opportunity.
Take a close look at your CV and identify the skills that will put you in good stead for a training contract. Examples of any time when you have practised problem-solving, written and verbal communication and an eye for detail are a great place to start.
The power of career change
Jumping from a STEM degree to a legal position is already a career change of sorts, but many STEM graduates — including myself — have had the opportunity to work in industry before coming to law.
It’s important to learn to harness your background in a positive way and consider how your experiences make you a well-rounded candidate. Some candidates approach a career change as a new start where you know nothing and that may be true, but it’s important to think about a more useful narrative.
Law is a subject that works within all areas of life and you should consider the areas of knowledge where you can offer insight and impress a firm’s clients. Start thinking about how your experience adds to your value as a candidate.
Know your narrative
One question you are pretty much guaranteed to hear during the application process is ‘why are you interested in becoming a lawyer?’ Having a good answer to this is often make or break.
Everyone has their own personal reasons for choosing a career in law and it’s worth really interrogating your own. It’s an answer you will give time and time again so make sure it is authentic and coherent.
Try to think about how your narrative will sound to your future employer. Avoid framing it around a negative reason, as this can ring alarm bells for interviewers.
Whatever you do, don’t lie about your legal knowledge. As a STEM candidate firms don’t expect you to have a law degree and if you are offered a training contract you will learn everything you need to start out during the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) and Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
Instead, focus on showing them that you have the aptitude to learn and are prepared to engage with a career in law. Attending Legal Cheek events, reading legal news and speaking to people that work in the sector can be good ways to get started.
Consider the areas of law where your skills are valued
Certain areas of commercial law work really well with a STEM background. Depending on their specialist expertise, STEM students’ can be particularly well-placed to understand niche aspects of clients’ work.
Intellectual property, energy, and acquisitions of pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are all examples of areas where a wider commercial understanding of the industry can add commercial value.
Don’t forget to work on your commercial awareness
Commercial awareness is important in the application process and beyond. Following commercial news and thinking about the legal aspects of each story can be helpful and you will start to build a picture of how it all works.
As a STEM graduate, it can be easiest to start by focusing on things that fit with your existing interests. For example, if you are interested in renewable energy make sure you know everything there is to know about this sector in the news.
Do your research
It can be daunting to learn about a whole new industry, but familiarising yourself with the landscape of commercial law is crucial when you are deciding which firms would be a good fit for you.
Put those research skills to good use and find out everything you can about prospective firms. Legal Cheek has loads of great resources for this purpose, from the Firms Most List to regular student events that give you the opportunity to network with firms.
STEM Future Lawyers is the UK’s dedicated law careers network for STEM students looking to make the leap into law. Since its launch in 2016, STEM Future Lawyers has grown to over 1,500 members, all of whom are STEM students. You can sign up to STEM Future Lawyers, which is a Legal Cheek sister site, here.