For my last ever article as your outgoing OULS news reporter, I wanted to tackle a question I have frequently seen law students struggle with and ask for advice about, particularly on social media. Application forms are scary. I want to help you make recruiters see how fantastic and dedicated you truly are and how you’ll be an asset to whatever firm/chambers/company you’re applying to.
A common question on application forms, and in interviews, is along the lines of ‘how have you demonstrated your commitment to the legal profession?’. The exact wording may vary, but the sentiment is the same. Clearly, deciding of your own free will to study the hardest degree in the UK to get a first in is not quite enough. You must do something else. Something more.
When I decided to study law, I wanted a challenge. I wanted a subject that would not come easily to me. Something I would need to think about: I am sure many of us choose law for similar reasons. Nobody has ever picked law because they think it is an easy degree to pursue. I feel I was well prepared for the workload and sheer amount of reading. I expected it.
What I was not adequately prepared for was how much extracurricular work would be expected of me. My eventual goal is to pursue a career at the bar, but the competition is fierce. Just having a law degree will not be enough. Most barristers and chambers agree that without mooting, at a minimum, your application has a very slim chance of being considered.
This can be especially challenging as distance learners. We do not have on-campus opportunities. Some campuses even have mock courtrooms in their law department. Most of us have jobs, families, caring responsibilities, health issues and many other commitments that perhaps younger, full-time brick university students do not have.
Just finding the time to fit studying in can be a real challenge, so how can we fit anything else in? In a pandemic when so many things have been cancelled, this is doubly challenging but has also provided new opportunities.
I hope I can help you with this. Firstly, get a notebook. I am certain you have one already, so dedicate a page to thinking of, and writing down, the extra things you do. You can, of course, open a document on your laptop if you prefer, I’m just old school! I am studying for my degree over 6 years, so by the time I come to filling in forms, I might well forget things I’ve done and not do myself justice on these questions.
Secondly, by reading this, you are on the right track. You are an active member of the Open University Law Society. You paid your membership, you keep up with the goings-on, you follow us on social media, you read the newsletters, you keep an eye out for opportunities. Write that down. ‘Active member of the Open University Law Society’.
Next, consider the things you do that you might not consider, that demonstrate your dedication because they take so little effort. Do you listen to legal podcasts? Follow legal Twitter? Watch the Supreme Court live feeds? Make sure you are always up to date with the latest legal news? Subscribe to legal newsletters so you are always on top of the latest legal developments? Read legal books that are not on your set reading list? Write it down. If not, I would really recommend you start.
Not only does this give you something to put on forms, but it may also help you get better grades, so it’s a double win. My previous article on legal podcasts will give you a starting point with those and you can listen to them in the shower, on your commute, when brushing your teeth. It will take no time out of your day, and you can easily add it to your list.
Now, the things that take more effort. Some of these may not be suitable for your personal situation, as they might require more time than you have available.
Volunteering, for example. Citizens Advice is a good opportunity, and law clinics in your area may benefit from an extra pair of hands. You can even volunteer to join the OULS.
Every year the opportunity arises for you to help with the society for the benefit of other students and there are a variety of roles available. You can volunteer to be a magistrate. It is a long process to be appointed (around 18 months in some areas) so if this interests you, investigate early.
Keep an eye out for essay competitions. You can mention you entered, even if you did not win and if you do win, they often have prizes. The Times Law Awards Essay Competition has significant cash prizes. The OULS also run one every year.
Work experience is an obvious one, usually either mini-pupillages or vacation schemes. These often have waiting lists, specific criteria, and intensive application forms, so again, consider these before the end of the final year of your degree.
Some chambers, law firms, societies and even other universities hold conferences and they welcome attendance from undergraduate students from any institution. I was fortunate to attend one two years ago, hosted by Women in Criminal Law, discussing the role of the media and journalists in criminal proceedings.
Due to the pandemic, there has been a big increase in conferences and talks available online, usually through Zoom. The OULS has hosted some and I have found others on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have attended several and found them hugely beneficial.
I have attended talks with barristers, judges, magistrates, solicitors, and recruiters. I have pages of notes of the invaluable information these have provided. These are ideal for distance learners as most of them take place in the evenings.
Mooting is important to try if you aim to go to the bar. However, mooting can be labour intensive and especially scary for beginners. The OULS run mooting workshops every year and from personal experience, I highly recommend attending. Mock trials and debates are less time-consuming than mooting and can also be a good way to demonstrate your advocacy and public speaking skills. Application forms will often also ask you to detail your advocacy experience, so this is another one that kills two birds with one stone.
Finally, when writing all these extra things down in your notebook, also consider what skills that experience helped you with. Mooting helps with legal research, reading case law and advocacy. Volunteering helps you see the legal issues that most affect your local community. Talks and conferences help expand your knowledge in a particular area. Podcasts and books also help expand your legal knowledge and deepen your understanding of the law. Essay competitions help you to hone your writing skills and critical thinking.
With summer fast approaching, perhaps you could set yourself a goal to achieve one of these things before you come back to your studies in the autumn. Remember your end goal and why you wanted to study law in the first place and take one positive step towards making that a reality.
I wish you all every success and for the final time, thank you for reading.
By Chloe Lydell.
Outgoing News Reporter