Dream, identify your passion…and then apply: how to bag a TC or pupillage as a non-law student

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By Legal Cheek on

Earlier this year Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks urged students to make time to “dream” before embarking upon their careers.

“Seemingly the least practical activity turns out to be the most practical, and most often left undone,” he wrote in The Times. “Dreams are where we visit the many lands and landscapes of human possibility and discover the one where we feel at home.”

It is only having completed this underrated stage, adds Sacks, that you are in a position to follow your passion. And “nothing — not wealth, success, accolades or fame — justifies spending a lifetime doing things you don’t enjoy.”

Legal Cheek editor Alex Aldridge reckons that dreaming about the law — and working out which aspects of it you find attractive — is one of the main things which differentiates successful applicants for training contracts and pupillages from unsuccessful ones. And he argues that non-law graduates are often at a disadvantage in this respect, with it being much harder to get excited — or repelled — by the law if you have never studied it formally.

As applications open at many firms for final year non-law students to apply for training contracts, Aldridge puts this theory to Slaughter and May partners Sarah Lee and Gavin Brown, Hardwicke Building barrister Jonathan Titmuss and Travers Smith solicitor-to-be Raphaella Gabrasadig — all of whom, with the exception of Lee, did the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) after completing arts and social science degrees.

Pictured above (from left to right): Lee, Legal Cheek editorial assistant Lydia Wilson, Gabrasadig, Brown and Titmuss.

While there is agreement on the importance of devoting time to identifying your passions, Lee is concerned that the method Aldridge recommends for doing this — which relies heavily on losing oneself in law-related novels and films — should not come at the expense of doing legal work experience. “It’s about being creative about where look for the information,” she says, “but I would say don’t be too idealistic either, because you might end up having an unrealistic view about what the career is about. So you need to both dream and get the passion, but see what the reality is too — and still be excited about that.”

Fellow Slaughter and May partner Brown agrees, explaining that a combination of idealism and realism is one of the things his firm looks for in non-law graduates.

“When we see non-law graduates we want to talk to them about why they want to do law, and get out of them a credible story as to why they are going down this route rather than doing something potentially equally as interesting,” he says.

It is not a good idea to attempt to fake this “credible story”, Brown adds: “If we see someone who doesn’t appear to be open, honest and being themselves, you can just tell…Clearly they’ll have their interview face on and that’s OK, but in the end you want to find out who that person is.”

The same applies to CVs, he continues: “Students on campus ask us, ‘What do you think would look better on my CV?’ The answer to that question is, ‘What do you actually want to do?’ Because the way to sell yourself in an interview is to be hugely enthusiastic about the things you have done.”

At the Bar, too, it is crucial for non-law applicants to have undertaken enough groundwork to allow themselves to be authentic, says Titmuss — although he thinks that non-law graduate wannabe barristers are at an advantage here in that they typically apply for pupillage towards the end of the GDL, and so have more to base their application on.

Still, plenty of candidates end up “trying to tell you an answer that they think you want to hear”. Titmuss continues: “There’s also a practical point: if you’re playing somebody that you think chambers wants and that isn’t actually you, and you then get the job, are you going to be happy in that moving forward?”

So how did Gabrasadig, who bagged a TC through Rare in the final year of her degree in Ancient World Studies at UCL, do it? She says that a ten-week internship at Goldman Sachs was crucial in that it allowed her to explain convincingly why she wanted to work at a corporate law firm rather than in other popular areas such as human rights.

“Having done the internship and seen how the law works in relation to banking, I could show my interest in the business side,” she says, adding that feeling confident about this aspect of her application enabled her to relax sufficiently to bring up other smaller things she had done, such as playing football and working in a cinema, which she also felt were important.

Listen to the full discussion in the podcast below.

Further Reading

  • Jonathan Sacks: Five rules for life [The Times]
  • Gary Slapper: Ten things to do before starting law school that are mostly enjoyable [Legal Cheek]
  • The ‘If I knew then what I know now’ series [Legal Cheek]
  • Interview hints and tips [Slaughter and May]
  • The pupil supervisors’ views [Hardwicke]

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