Leicester Uni law grad Hannah Blake used her Kaplan Law School LLM LPC scholarship as a springboard to a City training contract
“I’m not sure why, but there aren’t that many students who apply for scholarships,” explains Hannah Blake, a Leicester University law graduate, who last year secured Kaplan Law School’s ‘Pro Bono Scholarship’ — which covers the full £14,250 cost of the lucky recipient’s LLM Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees.
According to Kaplan, around a third of applicants for its Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and LLM LPC scholarships are successful. With the Borough-based law school offering six GDL scholarships and five LPC scholarships annually, it would seem that only a fraction of the combined 200 students studying the two courses at Kaplan each year are taking a shot at getting funding.
“I don’t think people realise that the odds are in their favour,” adds Blake, who has enjoyed quite a year since landing her scholarship last August. This year’s deadline is on Wednesday 5 August.
Without a training contract after graduating in summer 2014, she was planning on taking a year out to earn some money and make more applications. Despite building a pretty impressive CV, with a strong 2:1 augmented by lots of pro bono-related experience gleaned while at uni, Blake had a sense that she wasn’t quite the finished article that law firms would be looking to recruit. She reflects:
I lacked commercial awareness, and looking back I can see that more than ever.
Blake had done work placements — in the legal team at Leicestershire County Council, high street law firms and at her local County Court in Reading — but no formal vac scheme at a corporate law firm, of the type she hoped might fund her through law school. And without that hands-on experience, landing a training contract was going to be tough. What she needed, she figured, was a stint in the commercial work, ideally as a paralegal.
And then she heard about a scholarship based exclusively around pro bono work.
The Pro Bono Scholarship application form, says Blake, was “similar to law firm vac scheme applications, albeit with a greater focus on pro bono experience”. At interview, she was required to do a five-minute presentation about a project she would implement if awarded the scholarship.
“I did it on an outreach project featuring an employability workshop for sixth-form students from a local school to help give them the skills and confidence they need in interviews. The panel of four interviewers then asked me a series of questions about the likely challenges it would involve,” she recalls.
With the interviewers impressed by Blake’s vision, she emerged victorious. The last year has seen her complete the LPC — for free — while bringing to life her outreach project with the local Sacred Heart Roman Catholic School in Southwark.
The centrepiece of the programme has been a workshop for 90 sixth-formers run by Blake and fellow LPC students that she enlisted. She has also helped established a relationship between Kaplan and the school that will see the two organisations work together to help demystify the legal profession to school kids.
Meanwhile, Blake was spending the rest of her LPC year — which began last September and finished this June — furiously bolstering her knowledge of how the world of finance works, attending the ‘Breakfast Club’ commercial awareness sessions run by Kaplan’s head of careers Lorraine Petheram.
It was these chats — they take place over a croissant and a coffee every week during the GDL and LPC — which Blake credits with landing her a TC at Fieldfisher, secured after completing the leading City firm’s vac scheme in April. She comments:
Having the opportunity to debate issues in the financial news on a regular basis helped me accumulate a degree of commercial awareness that, on top of all the skills I had learned through pro bono, took me to the next level.
Now Blake hopes to continue her passion for pro bono with Fieldfisher while building a career as a commercial lawyer. Her advice to students graduating this summer from uni?
Don’t lose your confidence. I made so many applications prior to being successful. Sometimes I got close — only to miss out at the assessment centre. Looking back, all of that experience, although painful at the time, is part of the process of becoming the sort of candidate firms want to recruit.
The deadline for Kaplan Law School’s GDL and LPC scholarships is Wednesday 5 August. Apply here.
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