Career Options in Law: Student
Still at university and considering a law career? An exceptional choice! But if you’re really serious about it (and you’ll have to be), now’s the time to make some serious headway on your legal experience and applications.
Undergraduate opportunities in law
- First year open days
- Law societies, law fairs and pro bono work
- Vacation schemes
- Mini pupillages
- Training contract applications
- Pupillage applications
Calling all aspiring solicitors: first years and non-law students can explore their options with law firms by applying for first year open days. Not all firms currently run these open day opportunities, but if you can get a place on one then it’s a great chance to network with firm representatives, start to make a good impression and find out what they are looking for in applicants. And it counts as work experience!
In your penultimate year, you ideally need to secure a vacation scheme which will either take place over the winter, spring, or summer holidays. Vacation schemes are increasingly becoming a crucial part of top law firms’ recruitment processes. They give you two or three weeks of work experience with the firm in one or two departments, carrying out real work under the supervision of solicitors and partners. If you secure a place on one of these, you could have a significantly stronger chance of getting a training contract interview. You might even be fast-tracked to that stage!
Training contract applications are the focus for final year. Bag one of these beauties and your path to qualification as a solicitor will be confirmed.
Wannabe barristers, on the other hand, should think about mini-pupillage applications around the penultimate year. This gives you the chance to shadow a barrister at a chambers for a week or so and soak up some serious silk. You’ll gain an invaluable insight into the work they do and have chance to make some useful connections. Final year should focus on applying for pupillage; the equivalent of the training contract in the solicitor route.
Students of any year or degree discipline with an interest in a law career (solicitor route or barrister route) can benefit from involvement in university law societies, law fairs and pro bono work, which is often coordinated by the university. Be proactive and get some of this down on your CV!
Law isn’t just for law students; it welcomes bright, talented individuals from all backgrounds and degree disciplines. In fact, it thrives on the expertise graduates from degree backgrounds other than law can bring to the table – just think of the advantage a science graduate can have in areas of law like intellectual property as an example. So don’t be put off if you aren’t studying law already: the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is the mandatory law conversion course for all non-law students who want to pursue careers in the sector, will get you up to speed in no time (a year of full-time study to be exact).
It’s crucial that you don’t let your eye slip off the ball in your studies as you’re beavering away gathering up all of this work experience. If you want to become a solicitor or a barrister, it’s important that you achieve at least a 2:1 in your degree result to give you the best possible opportunities. If you miss out, you may find it considerably more difficult to get interviews.
Deadlines to consider
Firms running spring and summer vacation schemes will usually have their application windows open between December and February/March each year for these opportunities. There are a small number of firms who also run winter vacation schemes (and they don’t always have as many applications so it could be a good way to sneak in early!) so when you are researching your top firms make a note of all of the deadlines, as they will differ slightly between firms. Vacation schemes and mini pupillages are typically for penultimate year students, so when this time is creeping up for you, make sure you’re in the know on your deadline dates!
D-Day – that’s Deadline Day – for the majority of training contract applications is 31 July each year, but don’t forget to double check with your shortlisted law firms to make sure you’ve got their exact dates in your diary. Earlier applications are still a better idea than leaving it to the last minute (it can eradicate the panic factor for a start!) but make sure you’ve got a decent amount of varied legal and other types of work experience on your application before you press send.
Application deadlines for pupillage mostly fall at the end of April/early May of each year, either via the Pupillage Gateway application system or for direct applications to certain chambers.