What I wish I’d known as a first year law student

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By Christian Stocker on


Future trainee solicitor Christian Stocker offers his reflections

If you are reading this in your first year of law, I want to say congratulations. You have already done incredibly well. However, you will also know how much there is to learn. The objective of this article is to lay out some of the things I wish I had learnt sooner; the importance of reflection, experience and commercial awareness. I hope what follows will make your university experience that little bit easier.

‘Why law’

The first thing I wish I had considered more is ‘Why law?’ Don’t get me wrong, I love the law. The application of an invisible set of rules which govern our day-to-day lives in a variety of complex situations is fascinating. But I always viewed this question as an assessment rather than as something I should have been reflecting on throughout university.

The reality is that you are likely to be asked this question for the rest of your life. Believe me, after spending my Christmas revising trusts law, I was asking myself this question relentlessly. However, it is an important one to source your motivation. Most importantly, it has to be true. Not only must you get past application stages, you have to sit the SQE, and I can tell you from experience that it’s no picnic, but if you have the right desire you will be fine.

One way to discover whether you have such a desire is to make a note of the areas of law you study. Make a note of what you liked and disliked about them. For me, I was always attracted to commercial areas but I wish I had asked myself ‘why?’ on more occasions. Not only might some interviews have run more smoothly but I would have had something there to guide me through the times when it was less fun.

The importance of experience and the resources around you

Another way to discover whether law is for you is through experience, either at university or outside it. For this reason alone, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking it from an early stage. Whether this is becoming more active in the university law society, undertaking community projects or even attending law firm events: they will all provide an insight into what you find engaging.

Hopefully by the time you finish, this is still the law and if it is then you’re in for an incredible career.

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Not only does an insight evening tell you whether you would like the life of a City firm lawyer, it is also an indication to the firm that you are genuinely interested in a career with them. Further to insight evenings, there are a multitude of work experience schemes which start as early as first year, sometimes exclusively: vacation scheme insiders; panel sessions; and pathfinder programmes.

When you get to second year, you can even become a brand ambassador for your chosen firm and represent them as a point of first contact.

It is also the accumulation of these experiences that will help shape any future applications you choose to make. But there is one important thing to bear in mind…

Not every law firm is the same

Not every law firm is the same — far from it. Those of you who have studied firms’ websites will probably have this burnt on your retinas by now, but it is true. You will need to research each firm thoroughly before you apply … and certainly before you attend any interviews. They will almost certainly ask you why you chose to apply to their firm. Do not flinch and do not embroider. Your answers will be more relevant if you know who and what you are dealing with.

Around 20,000 students graduate each year with a law degree, and many lawyers will qualify without one. This statistic is not designed to scare you but to make you appreciate that none of those students are the same and neither are the firms they will go on to make up. The easiest way to spot the difference between firms is to speak to these people, learn about the culture and evaluate whether it is a place for you.

I was fortunate in that I picked the right firm for the right reason. And, more importantly, they picked me! But the right outcome comes with research and making sure you focus any applications you choose to make. Are there specific areas of law they specialise in which you enjoy? How do they promote their culture online and does it align with yourself?

A vital takeaway here is to never view a rejection as one on your personality. ‘You may be the sweetest peach on the tree, but some people just don’t like peaches.’

Christian Stocker is a law graduate from the University of Leeds, a future trainee solicitor and a current SQE student at BPP University.


Kirkland NQ

I wish I had known that it is possible to own a townhouse in Chelsea, a brand new Lambo and have a model girlfriend all as an NQ – just fill out that application to the ‘land.


Really interesting read – can’t wait to start my law degree in September.



Hope this is sarcasm


I think it’s also important to start thinking about a career as a lawyer and how to get your foot in the door early on. A good way to do that is to go for open days, law firm events or uni career events where solicitors or barristers attend so that you could explore both paths and make a decision for yourself. Events like the ones I mentioned are good to build your knowledge of what a solicitor/barrister does but also gain an insight into the culture of a law firm or chambers. As to the application process, there are plenty of resources online that could help aspiring solicitors or barristers with tips on how to write applications. If I recall correctly, Commercial Law Academy had good tips on how to write applications and prep for interviews.

Distressed Lecturer

I’m a law lecturer. I’m starting to see some second year Personal Academic Tutors for the first time who go all surprised pikachu face when I (or someone else in the uni) can actually f—ing help them with the problems that they have been struggling through for over a year and didn’t think about bringing to me or actually showing up to any of the meetings I’ve offered once a semester for two years.

So yeah, first years – go see your tutor.

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