Hear from Dr Giles Proctor, the CEO of The College of Legal Practice on how the legal learning of today must be practical, skills-based and fully relevant to current legal practice.
Traditional methods of learning no longer fit in a world where practical experience and legal knowledge go hand in hand. The legal profession requires an extensive understanding of legal theory, but it is also really important that any course you take will benefit you in gaining practice-based skills. Any steps you take to become a successful legal practitioner must incorporate learning for the real world.
How does ‘learning for the real world’ benefit my legal skills?
First and foremost, a key skill required to prepare someone for the legal profession is excellent communication. Written and verbal skills are your shop window, the first thing people see when they meet you – whether that be colleagues in your practice or existing and potential clients. Whether you are qualifying as a solicitor or developing your expertise in a new area of law, being able to ask questions, share knowledge and give thoughts or opinions will make you better prepared for when you are working on a future real matter in legal practice.
Top tip: Having a learning platform where you are engaged with both peers and legal practitioners will help build this communicative mindset, alongside developing your theoretical understanding in a legal education course.
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), as an example, prepares students for the working world because not only do you get a good grounding in the key legal principles of the 13 subject areas defined by the SRA, through the SQE assessments, you also develop ‘real world’ skills from the chance to carry out relevant qualifying work experience in a firm or organisation. One major advantage of combining training and work experience is to be able to contribute more quickly to the tasks which you are assigned and you're more likely to enjoy and manage the challenges you face as you start your legal career.
The industry can be overwhelming as you first start out in your career. However, direct experience through training will help you feel more at ease fitting in to your new role.
Beyond my course, how can I learn to prepare for the ‘real world’?
When embarking on a career in the legal profession, it’s important to start building a good network. As part of your training course at the College, you will have supervisors who are experts in each area of your learning who are on-hand to give you advice on both your studies and your legal career. Aside from this, developing your network outside of your study or before you start your studies is a really valuable way to improve your ‘real world’ skills. There are a number of ways that young lawyers or aspiring solicitors can do this:
- University. Before you graduate or via your alumni network, there is often opportunity to contact your Careers Service or law societies to set up chats with fellow students or legal professionals to expand your network
- Internships and work experience. If you’re an aspiring solicitor at university then even before your qualifying work experience as part of the SQE, it is hugely beneficial to apply for internships with law firms. Even if they are just for a few weeks, this can really help both your CV and your relationships with legal professionals. This is often, also, the best way to secure a training contract.
- Social media - As well as building a network of contacts, don’t underestimate the value of keeping up with legal news and developments posted online or shared by social media. Keeping up to date with hot topics discussed online by industry voices, means that you will have a better understanding of what’s happening in the legal profession. Therefore, you will be able to hold your own in conversations with peers and legal professionals and bring in relevant and interesting insights into your discussion.
Top tip: You should always do some research on some of the more significant or complex more interesting legal transactions reported in the media that are happening at the moment. Alternatively find out if any firms you are interested in are doing a particular type of work and read around it.
How will a mentor help me in training and my career?
A real benefit of networking is also the opportunity for you to find mentors – whether these be formal mentoring programmes as part of your training, or just a professional relationship with a practitioner that you can learn from. Working with a mentor can really help your self-confidence and communication skills especially as you prepare yourself for the working world. If you’re a future trainee about to enter an office, there may be things you’ve never encountered before, and your mentor can be an excellent point of contact.
The best mentors are ones who are open and honest about how life isn't perfect and what hazards there can be in a legal career. It’s the kind of advice that you can't find online or in your books because it’s first-hand inside information, like gold dust to young lawyers. Mentors can also help you analyse the areas in which you excel and identify the areas that you need to develop.
A training programme that encompasses tasks and activities carried out by active and experienced practitioners will give you tangible skills that you can apply throughout your career. It will give you knowledge, insights and experience well above that gained from the traditional route of ‘classroom learning’. Alongside this, networking and mentoring will complement your studies to put you in the best position to make the next step in your legal career.
To find out more about how The College of Legal Practice legal education modules and programmes can prepare you for the real world, and how we create a community of learners and professionals, don’t hesitate to get in touch.