2nd year undergraduates: Steps you can take to progress your legal career
In this article, we offer information and guidance for 2nd year undergraduates to help you start to progress your legal career on the way to becoming a solicitor.
By now, we would expect that your CV is relevant and up to date, and you have a professional profile on LinkedIn. Hopefully you have also decided if you want to become a solicitor and understand the role. So, now you are ready to start specific research, applying for opportunities, gaining experience and widening your legal network.
Focus and prioritise the area of practice and the type of organisation you want to work for
So we hope that in your first year, you will have explored the solicitor profession and decided broadly whether it is for you.
If you haven’t already, explore your own personality type, strengths and values through psychometric tests, as well as exercising self-reflection on your own work and life experiences.
In your autumn term, you will need to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the practice areas you are interested in and the firms you would like to work for.
Research is an important part of being a solicitor, hone those research skills by finding out all that you can about the organisations you are interested in. Consider the values that you have discovered about yourself, and what firms match these and offer opportunities to advance them. Nearly all the firms have career specific areas of their website, with testimonials from trainees and easily available information. Many are on Instagram too, giving an inside look into their graduate recruitment and offering short events, webinars and live sessions that can be easily fitted in around your studies.
Through the autumn term, continue your exposure to the legal profession. All those events you may have attended as a 1st year, now is the chance to attend once more, and to use them to answer your specific questions about the profession and learn about the application processes for trainee positions.
When you go to career fairs, open days and networking events with firms, here are some things you should be exploring:
- What’s it like to be a trainee at the firm, what’s the culture, the values, the work expectations? Do they work 80 hour weeks for example?
- What are the types of tasks that a typical trainee would carry out? How do they structure the work experience as part of their training contract or SQE programme?
- Ask about the things that are important to you, perhaps sustainability, diversity, networking or wellbeing and support for trainees.
- Find out what are they looking for in their trainees, in terms of academic record, skills, behaviours, experiences? How can you stand out from the crowd?
- Based on your research, create a shortlist of up to 10 firms that you would like to work for
- Follow them on social media
- Join their events
- Make a list of their deadlines
- It’s your responsibility to stay on top of it and be organised
Grow your legal skills and work experience
Build on your experiences from your 1st year, and continue to develop your portfolio of work that demonstrates you are committed to this profession.
Opportunities can include:
- Vacation schemes: Firms are starting to offer vacation schemes all year round, you can apply termly for winter, spring and summer vacation schemes, normally with a few months’ notice. These schemes give you invaluable time in the organisation alongside solicitors. Some firms will prioritise training contract applications from vacation scheme attendees, so getting your foot in the door could really help your chances.
- Legal skills development and experience: Extend your experiences in the legal sector. There are many ways in which you could do this; through internships in the Law School; clinical legal skills modules; law clinics; work with voluntary organisations or local firms. Ask your careers service for opportunities and speak to solicitors at networking events to explore what you might be able to achieve.
- University Law Society & Law School events: Many Law Societies and Law Schools will run writing, mooting, commercial awareness and networking events that will test out your legal and human skills in different ways.
Also remember that any work experience gained could be Qualifying Work Experience (QWE), so set up your placement that means you can get it confirmed as QWE at the end, and use your QWE training template to record it as you progress.
Apply for the roles where you identify with the firm and where you have the best chance of success
All training contracts processes are competitive, some very much more so than others. To gain a training contract or vacation scheme place it is likely you will need to demonstrate why you want to work at that particular organisation and in that area of practice. So we recommend that you pick those that you feel you identify with and where you can imagine working.
Be honest with yourself, if you haven’t got the academic grades or the experience that they need, and their trainee schemes are competitive then don’t apply. It is worth looking at the numbers and the chances of success.
For example, if you are on track for a 2:2, one of the best things you could do, is to focus on your studies, a 2:1 could be the best achievement for this year beyond anything else if you have aspirations to secure a training contract.
Also consider what kind of work pattern are you looking for, where do you want to work, what type of work would you enjoy? What sectors are you interested in? Do you want to be part of a large trainee cohort?
To help the application processes you could think about:
- Research the sector that the firms work in, develop your commercial awareness of their clients not just the firm and how they service their clients.
- Developing your interview technique. You can find sample questions, speak to others and your careers services and test out and practice the questions that you might be asked.
- Reflect on your work experience and how you will align it in an interview with what they are looking for.
- Develop your assessment centre approach. Look for online assessment centre examples, find out whether the graduate programme you are interested in has a particular style of assessment.
Look after yourself – be resilient
Getting a role in the legal sector is hard and can increase levels of anxiety. The good news is that the SQE route to qualification means you don’t need to go down the formal training contract route if it isn’t for you, or if you are unsuccessful you can still progress, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
How can you help yourself to be resilient to being unsuccessful with applications and receiving feedback?
- Develop a positive mindset
- Seek and listen to feedback through your studies with your tutor and lecturers, be receptive to feedback and look at it as a way of improving your skills and knowledge
- Recognise that there are many examples of people who aren’t successful first, second or third time around
- Keep doing those activities what help your wellbeing. Volunteering, social, creative and healthy activities will act as a source of release and support for you if things don’t do your way
- Stay connected and share with your peers. Sharing experiences and talking about applications will help you and your peers support each other. Yes, its competitive but you can learn from each other
- Use your careers services and personal tutors as support
- Vacation schemes: Applications 2/3 months prior to the scheme timeframe
- Training contract deadlines: Vary, still many run up to July 31st, after your 2nd year results are confirmed
Good luck, and look back on any activities that you have done in your 2nd year as progress towards your long-term goal. Through every application and conversation, you will have made some progress that will be viewed positively or help you in your career.
Find out more about the SQE
Published October 2022