One down, one to go

Hi everyone,

I’m very happy to say that yesterday marked the halfway point of my Training Contract… Phew!! One year to go and I’ll finally be able to say I’ve achieved my goal of becoming a solicitor. All of the studying, coursework, exams and panicking will finally be over and hopefully worth it.

In my last post I said my next one would be more about the PSC and the financial and business skills course and I had planned on doing that, but I think now is a good time to reflect on my experiences, thoughts and feelings about my time as a trainee so far.

I’m not going to lie to you guys, this first year has not been plain sailing. I’ve had many ups and downs and sometimes I have felt like giving up. I’ve watched friends travel to the other side of the world, follow their dreams and move abroad etc. and I have honestly felt like giving it all up and following them. However, I have to remind myself that this is my dream and giving up would be throwing away all of the effort I have put into getting here. I couldn’t do that to myself. What would be the point?

I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom and it definitely hasn’t been a bad experience. I guess every job has it’s stressful periods and I am going to grit my teeth through the rough times and get through them.

Anyway, enough of the pity party, I have also had many positive experiences, some of which I never expected. I’m rather lucky in the sense that my TC hasn’t just consisted of photocopying, scanning and making coffee. I know of trainees who barely gain any legal experience during their two years. That’s definitely not the case for me. I have worked on commercial, property, probate and family matters. I’ve been to the Central Family Court in Holborn and the High Court Chancery Division (very nice building, by the way). I’ve drafted divorce petitions and whole witness statements from scratch, looked through share purchase agreements and even drafted board resolutions and a Part 36 offer. FYI, I was very happy to find out I knew how to draft the Part 36 offer whereas my supervising solicitor did not. I could go on and on about all of the things I have been able to do and accomplish but I don’t want to bore you. My point is, although I hate it sometimes, I am happy that I’m able to experience such a variety of work.

Now that I only have one year left I’m beginning to think about what area I actually want to go into once I qualify. I’m still not 100% sure at the moment, but that’s the problem with doing so many different things. I always thought I wanted to go into family law, and I still do, but know I’m starting to wonder if I would rather work in wills and probate, property or even commercial law. I must admit I’m finding it all rather confusing. I hated business/commercial law during the LPC but I’m a little worried to find I’ve (kind of) enjoyed it in practice. So much to think about before I qualify. I guess this is the whole point of a Training Contract!! Not just to train you into a competent solicitor, but also to help you figure out which area you enjoy the most.. Luckily I have a whole year to figure it out and, trust me, I’ll be thinking about it the whole time.

One thing that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how important it is to find the right practice for you. We have seen quite a few people come and go because they couldn’t deal with the work they were given/the way the practice works, or they clashed with those higher up. I know for many people the prospect of gaining a Training Contract is so tempting they’re prepared to go anywhere, and I was definitely one of those people when I first started out. However, you still need to find somewhere that will help you learn and grow rather than make you feel unappreciated and overworked. Don’t get me wrong, i think all trainees are overworked (and underpaid) but it helps if you’re in a firm where you get along with everyone and feel comfortable. Please, please, if you are offered a Training Contract anywhere, make sure you consider how it will help you. You’re not just there to help the firm, you’re there to progress in your career and also grow as a person. You’ll want to be able to learn as much as possible and gain experience in a wide range of areas. If you’re unsure about a firm and don’t think it’s the right fit for you, don’t take it!! Remember, it may only be two years of your life, but those two years may shape your whole future.

Well, that’s all I want to write about my first year as a trainee. I could continue writing forever but that’s just boring (for me and any readers!). So, I’ll leave you to ponder my experience of the first half of my Training Contract and I’d be interested to see how your first year compares with mine. Please feel free to comment or drop me an email through the contact me page (here).

P.s. I just booked the rest of my PSC courses (eurgh, advocacy) so I’ll be able to write about those once I complete them. 

The Professional Skills Course

Hi everyone.

It’s been a while since my last blog post and I was meaning to publish this post 2 months ago but I never got round to completing it. Blog writing hasn’t been on the top of my to-do-list and it has been very hectic and stressful at work. The last thing I wanted to do after a long day at work was write a blog! Anyway, sorry for the absence and I’m going to get back into writing again.

As I said, I began writing this blog a couple of months ago, so I will continue with what I wrote before and tell you a little bit about the Professional Skills Course:

The Professional Skills Course (PSC) is something all Trainees have to do during the 2 years of their TC. It comprises of three core modules (client care, finance and business skills and advocacy) and you also have to complete 24 hours of elective courses as well. I’m not sure about the College of Law, but BPP has a whole range of electives for each person to choose from and you can really tailor your experience to what you are interested in. That is, unless your TC provider tells you which electives you have to pick.

I am just about to complete the 12th month of my TC (woohoo!!) and so far I have completed two of the three core modules; client care and finance and business skills. I generally went into each course not really knowing what to expect or how intensive they would be. I’m going to write about client care briefly in this blog and will write another blog aimed at the finance and business skills module soon.

I was supposed to do my advocacy course in December but we have been so busy at work I decided to cancel it and leave it until next month (plus I hate advocacy and was dreading it!). So maybe by the time I get round to writing my next couple of blogs I will have completed the advocacy course and will be able to tell you guys all about it.

Client Care

Considered the easiest of the three core courses, client care is an extension of the things you were taught whilst studying the LPC, for example, about client care letters and the SRA Code of Conduct.

The course can be undertaken once you have completed 6 months of your TC. Many people recommend you do this one first because (as said) it’s considered to be the easiest course and it can be a good way to get settled back into “school” life again. It’s run over 2 days (mine was from 9:30 until about 4pm) and, if you do it at BPP, Mike and Geoff are both brilliant.

Because the course is based on what you were taught during the LPC it can be a bit boring and repetitive. I repeatedly asked myself why we were being taught all of this information again and our teacher (lecturer?) also said he didn’t really understand why the Law Society make us go over all of it again.

Also, one of the first things we did on this course was partner up with the person sitting next to us and get them to tell us about themselves. You know, the kind of thing you did when you were in year 7 and the teachers wanted you to introduce yourself to the class. Once we had asked all of the questions required, we then had to read out the answers to the rest of the group and tell them all about our partner. I personally hate this kind of thing and find it a bit embarrassing. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to do anything like that since I left school.

The course may be a bit boring but it can be useful to go over stuff you may have forgotten/things you didn’t take in whilst studying the LPC. For example, we were taught about the rules on advertising, which came in handy at work when we were having leaflets designed to promote the firm and our new office.

I don’t really think it was a particularly useful course, but hey, I got to spend 2 days out of the office with hours I could only dream about having at work. I’m not complaining!

Remember, I completed this module about 3/4 months ago so I can’t actually remember everything we were taught and everything we did. This blog is more to tell you about my impressions of the course and what I thought of it. 

Hope some of you found this useful. I’m going to go through my finance and business skills booklet for my next blog so I can give you a bit more information about the course. You can always leave a comment asking questions if you want to know more about the client care course and I will be happy to answer!

 

5 Tips on how to survive your first year at University

For many first year students around the UK, Freshers Week is now over and their life as a University student will properly begin. Most don’t know what to expect and some may be wondering how they will survive being a student who is now fully responsible for their own learning.

University is completely different to school, Sixth-Form/College etc. You will no longer be spoon fed and you will be expected to be independent and manage your own time to ensure you make the most of your lectures, tutorials and free time. Gone are the days of getting to Sixth-Form/College at a certain time, sitting in on different classes, and then going home again and ignoring the homework that is set. At most Universities, your lecturer will not even notice if you don’t turn up, particularly in the larger groups (although tutorials are usually different and your attendance will be marked for those). This is what makes University quite dangerous and it is easy to fall behind in your classes.

In order to help you guys out a little I came up with a list of 5 tips to survive your first year of University (and set you up for the following years):

1. Attend your Lectures

This one seems very obvious and I think most students start the year off believing they will attend every single lecture throughout the year and be a good student. This is how I started my year off. I was so excited at the thought of being an “adult” and attending lectures, I truly thought I would never miss one lecture, even if I was hungover or tired. I remember telling my neighbour in halls that I would “never let a hangover get in the way of my lectures”. It almost makes me laugh now how wrong I was.

It gets increasingly hard to attend lectures when you generally have no accountability and can borrow the notes from others who went. Your 9am lectures will seem so early and you could soon find yourself skipping them because you can’t be bothered to wake up at 8:30 and leave halls/your house by 8:45 to make it on time to study Contract Law (unless, you know, Contract Law is really your thing). This seems ridiculous when most UK students are used to getting to Sixth-Form/College by 8-8:30am every morning. But trust me, it becomes difficult, particularly when you’ve been to the Student’s Union on a Wednesday night and drank £3 (or less!!) double vodkas all night.

However, lectures are one of the most important ways for students to learn and understand the material given to them. Not attending your lectures can set you up to quickly fall behind on your course and cause you to panic when it comes to exam time because you missed a very important topic and couldn’t read your friend’s notes.

From my own experience, I would encourage all of you to do your best to attend as many lectures as you can. I know you probably won’t be able to attend every lecture, but if you do miss one, take the time to catch up – read about the topic that was covered and talk to your course mates about it. Fully understanding a topic will help youin the future.

2. Do your tutorial work

Following on from attending your lectures, you have to make sure you actually complete your tutorial (or whatever your University calls them) work. Tutorials can be so boring sometimes and it can be really hard to do the extra work required after your lectures to prepare. Sometimes, answering 20 questions about Criminal Law regarding mens rea and actus reus *if you don’t know what that is yet, you soon will* can seem so dull when you would prefer to socialise with your new friends and course mates.

Unfortunately, tutorials are a great way to consolidate the topics you have gone over in your lectures. They can really help to make sure subjects stick in your mind and can make it easier to revise when the time comes.

I think it’s important to make sure you participate in your tutorials as much as possible. Answer questions, listen to others, take notes and don’t be afraid to ask your tutor questions – if you think your question is stupid, just remember others in your class are most likely wondering the same thing and are too scared to ask. You could be helping not only yourself, but your course mates too.

3. Make as many friends as you can

University can be a lonely time. You’ve probably just left home for the first time, all of your school friends are going to Universities in different parts of the UK and you’re stuck with the daunting prospect of having to meet new people and make new friends. It’s just like starting Secondary School all over again and leaving your Primary School friends behind.

You will of course make new friends, particularly with your housemates. It’s hard not to when you’re around each other all the time. Sometimes though it can be too easy to become comfortable with just socialising with them. I would advise you to try to make friends with as many of your course mates as you can. After all, they’re the people you’re going to be spending the most stressful times with! They can help with revision, getting through lectures (or taking pictures of you when you fall asleep), completing tutorial work, etc. It’s a good idea to meet as many of them as possible and you could even start study groups to go through the notes together.

Another good way to meet new people is to join clubs and/or societies. Start a new sport. Always fancied playing tennis? Join the tennis club! You should also definitely join your University’s Law Society, they always plan social events for all of the Law students. This is definitely something I wish I had taken advantage of whilst I was at University and I think all first year students should do the same.

4. Take care of yourself

Everyone has heard of the Freshers 15. If you haven’t, you’ve been living in a bubble. First year students can finally cook for themselves and tend to eat a whole bunch of crap all the time. Add the alcohol they are likely to consume and you’re looking at a whole load of calories on a daily basis. This causes many first year students to put on weight, apparently as much as 15 pounds in the first year.

This doesn’t seem like much of an issue, but it can be really upsetting when you go home for the summer holidays and realise you can’t fit into any of your clothes anymore!

Take University as a chance to explore new foods, try new recipes and become more adventurous in the kitchen. This can be quite expensive but you can always cook with your housemates to cut the costs. Don’t sit around eating pizza and junk food all the time or you could end up regretting it later on.

I would also encourage you to take up exercise (join a sports club – see above). Join your campus gym, if you have one, and try to recover from all the pizzas you’ve eaten. This also helps with the day to day stresses of student life.

5. Finally, have fun!!!

Ok, the above 4 points are quite serious, so tip number 5 is simply to enjoy yourself and have a little fun.

You’re in a new environment and you should take advantage of all of the opportunities you’re going to come across. You can’t be serious all the time, you need to de-stress and chill out as well. Enjoy yourselves, get involved in University life and you’ll probably have the time of your life.

I hope this helps!

 

If you have any suggestions for topics you would like me to write about, please let me know! As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me by leaving a comment on this post or using the Contact page. 

How Tough is it Really to Secure a Training Contract?

We all know the legal market is an over-crowded and over-competitive industry. Unfortunately, there are just not enough Training Contracts (TCs) to cover every legal graduate out there (imagine how much easier life would be if there was).

The financial crisis of 2012 (and the years leading up to it) had a big effect on the number of TCs commencing each year. For example, in 2013/14 the number of registered TCs was just 5,001. This number seems crazily low when you think about the number of people who successfully apply to study Law at University (see below), not to mention the amount of non-legal graduates who then go on to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

Of course, the economy has begun to recover now and this shows in the number of  TCs registered in 2014/2015, which had risen to 5,457.  Unfortunately, although this number has risen, the case still remains that the number of legal graduates far outweighs the number of TCs available. In fact, the number of successful applications for law undergraduate courses has increased by 28% since 2007 and 3% since last year.

I know it sounds very depressing, but don’t give up! Keep looking around and applying for TCs that catch your eye and you will secure one. It may not happen as quickly as you would like it to (it certainly didn’t for me) but it will happen. You just have to keep gaining experience and make your applications as strong as possible. (Check out my previous blog about that here).

A number of excellent websites exist to help your search and I’ve listed a couple below for you guys:

  1. www.lawcareers.net  – this website is by far my favourite and is actually how I found my TC!
  2. www.allaboutlaw.co.uk
  3. www.thelawyer.com
  4. www.waterlowlegal.com 

Although the internet is one our greatest tools when searching for a job, please don’t forget about all of the other sources available..

Make sure you get in touch with your University careers team. Sign up to receive vacancy emails (BPP’s vacancy bulletin was very helpful to me whilst studying the LPC). Don’t be afraid to rely on word of mouth – ask all of your friends and family if they know anyone who works in a law firm – what’s the worst that can happen.

I think it’s important everyone who decided to study Law knows exactly what they’re getting into before they start. It can be very difficult to find a TC but keep searching, don’t give up and you will find one that suits you!


If you read my blog and have any suggestions for topics you would like to find out about, please let me know! As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me by leaving a comment or using the Contact page. 

Application advice

So, you’ve found a Training Contract you want to apply for and you’re probably wondering if your CV is good enough or if your cover letter conveys what a good match you are for the firm. The same goes for application forms which can be very long and, let’s face it, boring!

Don’t panic! This is how the majority of people feel when applying for a Training Contract (and most other jobs, to be honest).

Here’s my advice on what to do before applying:

1. Read the advert/person specification 

I know this sounds absolutely obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people waste their time by applying for Training Contracts that aren’t right for them.

You have to carefully read through the advert to ensure you are what the firm is looking for. If not, they will most likely not bother looking at your application. For example, if a firm states in their advert that they are looking for a a candidate with a 2:1 degree and you have a 2:2, I wouldn’t bother applying. It sounds harsh, but the reality is that firms get a lot of applications and will specifically look for people who meet the specifications they have listed.

You also have to make sure the firm is the right one for you. Don’t apply for every Training Contract you see, just because you are desperate to secure one, or you could end up in a place you don’t belong – you don’t want to spend the next two years (or more) of your life in a place that isn’t suited to you.

2. Do your research

Most people only research companies when they have been invited for an interview/assessment centre in order to impress potential employers with their knowledge of the company. However, I think it is important to research each firm before you even think about applying. The reasoning is pretty similar to no.1 above, but it is very important you apply for the right firms. If you are interested in family law, apply for firms that do family law. Again, seems obvious but I know a few people who have applied for Training Contracts that do not even practice the areas they want to go into in the future.

3. Read through your CV/cover letter/application form

I’m involved in the recruitment process at work; which means I get to read through many CVs and cover letters and I was surprised at how many contained spelling mistakes and simple errors. I even saw a cover letter that mentioned the wrong firm. I get it, everyone copies and pastes their cover letter, but you have to read through it and make sure you have personalised it to that firm! It’s a huge no-no when you read a cover letter that is clearly copied and pasted from a different application – employers know you’re applying to different firms, but you shouldn’t make it completely obvious.

I’ve seen a perfectly good candidate be turned down because they made a very simple mistake in their CV. Don’t make this same mistake. Read through everything a couple of times before you submit your application, it could be the difference between you getting invited for an interview or not.

4. Don’t make your cover letter sound too cheesy

Let’s be honest here, the majority of what we write in a cover letter is complete rubbish. We say a lot of things we think will impress the employer and try to make it sound as though their firm is the best thing since sliced bread and you are the very best person for the role. That’s fine; you should big up the firm and yourself, but please don’t make it sound like you’ve been dreaming of working for that firm since the day you were born.

Employers can see right through really long and complimentary cover letters and you can come across as being fake and disingenuous. My advice is to set out your skills and how that relates to the firm itself and the work they do. Just be careful not to look so keen it actually puts them off of you.

5. Sell yourself

The whole point of making your application is to be invited for an interview and, hopefully, be given a Training Contract following that. In order to do that, you need to sell yourself and show that your skills are better than all of the other applicants. Don’t be afraid to point out your abilities and why they make you an excellent candidate. You should be confident in your application.

Your CV/cover letter/application is the first opportunity employers have to get to know you, so don’t be afraid to sell yourself. Demonstrate how passionate you are about law and how the experiences you have had, whether at university or through working, have allowed you to hone the necessary skills to make you successful in your future career.

Remember, you need to convince employers to invite you for an interview!

You can find a whole plethora of advice and application tips online so look around and you’ll be making great applications in no time.

Good luck!

The Work I Complete Each Week

Last week I was ill with a stomach bug and ended up being off of work for 2 and a half days. While I was wallowing in self-pity I started thinking about what I would have been doing if I was at work and thought it would be a good idea to write about the kind of things I typically do to give you guys a taste of what to expect.

Before I get started, please remember that I work in a relatively small high street firm and this post is based on my experience only. Different Companies will require you to complete different tasks and working at, for example, work at a large international firm is of course going to be a lot different to what I do. It also depends on what seats you are completing. (I know a lot of that is obvious, but I wanted to make it clear)

Admin

There is a lot of admin to be done during each week. This can be anything from completing stationery orders, to photocopying, to setting up a congestion charge account for one of the Solicitors (random I know, but this did happen). Even 7 months in I’m still doing more admin than I’d like to and I’m sure I’ll be doing so until I qualify.

I think this comes as a surprise for a lot of people because they start with the expectation that they will be doing legal work from the outset. It took a month or two for me to get my first proper file that I would be able to see through to the end, not because I wasn’t capable, but because you have to prove you are willing to do the less important (and less fun!) jobs before you are given the responsibility of doing legal work. Luckily for me, my first legal job was as a Paralegal at a small law firm and involved a huge amount of admin work (including entering addresses into my boss’s SatNav), so I was quite used to this when I started my Training Contract.

Other Trainees I have spoken to have said their whole Training Contract is admin work and all they end up doing is photocopying and making teas/coffees.

It’s hard to predict how much admin you will end up doing, but my advice is to be prepared to do a lot and also be prepared to do some pretty weird things that will probably leave you wondering if you’re in the right profession.

Legal Work

Obviously legal work is the reason we all do Training Contracts – the idea being it will train us to a suitable level before qualifying as solicitors.

The legal work I carry out each week varies, sometimes it is difficult and sometime it’s relatively simple. As I said above, it will also depend on the seat you are in, although I must say, working in a small high street firm means I generally do not stick to one seat at a time. Sometimes I’ll do matrimonial and property work in the same week.

Typically, a lot of the legal work I do involves drafting petitions/claim forms, researching legal areas and drafting letters to explain the research I’ve done. I have also drafted written resolutions and board minutes (business law – yuck!) without having any prior knowledge of how to do this, with the exception of what I learnt while studying the LPC.

As I am currently working in the matrimonial department I mostly draft divorce petitions, write letters to the other side’s solicitors, complete Form Es (can be very time-consuming) and I have previously drafted a consent order from scratch on a file I barely knew. I am also required to draft instructions to counsel, liaise with counsel’s clerks and arrange conferences.

 

As with most jobs, some weeks can be pretty hectic, while others can be very quiet. You should expect to do a lot of different work, some you’ll be comfortable with and some will require a lot of thought and effort. You can also expect to be doing things you never thought you would do during your Training Contract. However, I would advise you to keep your head down, do the best you can do and enjoy yourself! You’ll learn more than you ever did at university or law school and, at the end of the day, it will be worth it. The two years will fly by (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself!)

I hope this has given you a quick insight into the life of a Trainee and, as always, if you have any questions feel free to get in contact with me via the comments or the contact page.

Law vs Non-Law Degree

A-Level results have just been released and all students who have just finished at College or Sixth Form will now be embarking on the next phase of their lives; whether that be University, working, travelling or taking time out to figure out what they would actually like to do in the future. Some may already know that they would like to have a career in Law and some have probably not even considered it.

It does not necessarily matter if you have decided to study Law at University or not and I think it’s a good idea to briefly explore each of these options.

 

1. Study a Law Degree

Undergraduate Law degrees are 3 years (or 4 with a placement year) and many graduates will go on to study the Legal Practice Course (LPC), once they’ve finished. The LPC takes one year to complete, if studied full-time, but there are many different ways of studying it. For example, you can study it part-time, evenings only or weekends only.

Of course, in the meantime you should be looking for a Training Contract and should, preferably, start looking in your second year as many Companies recruit two years in advance.

Writing it here makes it sound very simple, but completing your undergraduate degree will require a lot of hard work and sacrifices (sorry, but some Fridays you won’t be able to go to the University club with your friends!).

I think this is the most direct way to start your legal career and eventually qualify as a Solicitor. It can be pretty costly, but is more cost and time effective than studying a non-law degree.

2. Study a Non-Law Degree

Studying Law at University is not the only way one can start on their path to become a Solicitor. People who have studied a non-law undergraduate degree can decide they would like to change direction. If this is the case for you, you will need to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is a conversion course and usually takes one year to complete.

If you have studied a non-law degree and decide you would like to pursue a career in law, don’t worry, you can still do it. In fact, when I studied the LPC, I found that a lot of people I met had completed the GDL and many of those had  History degrees.

Many employers now actively look for candidates who have completed a non-law degree as they will have gained a different set of skills and are actually showing a commitment to Law by deciding to start on a whole different path from the one they originally started on.

As I said above, this is not the most cost or time effective route, but it is reassuring to know that studying a non-law degree is not the end of any hope of starting a legal career. It is also quite nice to know that you do not have to study for another 3/4 years to complete your law degree on top of the one you already have!

 

So,whether you study Law at University or not, there are plenty of options available to you. If you do decide to study Law, you do not necessarily have to pursue a legal career, just as you are not barred from a legal career by studying a non-law degree.

I have kept this quite brief, and there are many different options and legal career paths to explore, but I hope this has helped clear it up for some of you. If you have any further questions, please get in contact by leaving a comment below, or by getting in touch on my contact page!

My very first blog post – an intro

Hi everyone!

This is my first ever blog post and I’m excited to get started.

A little introduction; I’m currently 24 years old and I completed my LLB Law degree in 2013, achieving a 2:1 classification. After the summer break I immediately started the Legal Practice Course on a full-time basis and achieved a commendation in 2014.

From there, I started my first ever legal role as a paralegal in a very small firm in SW London. I was continuously looking for Training Contracts but was aware that I did not have much experience and there were plenty of others out there who were better than me in terms of both grades and experience. However, I managed to secure a Training Contract in December 2015 and began my role at a small high street firm at the beginning of February 2016.

I know first hand how hard it is to obtain that elusive Training Contract and I would like to pass any knowledge I have on to other people to help them through that process and, perhaps, make life a little easier for them.

As I sometimes work quite long hours, I’m not sure how much I will be able to blog but I am hoping to do so at least once a week. I’m hoping to provide you guys with advice, tips and stories throughout my training contract.

Anyway, I hope you guys will enjoy my blog* and if you have any questions or queries please let me know by leaving a comment on this post, or by using the contact page!

 

*I am new to blogging and will be changing the blog as I go along. It’s a work in progress.