29 November 2012
Cambridge University law student Janina Moutia-Bloom tells students not to underestimate the importance of keeping up to date with the news, particularly with the legal press
Name: Janina Moutia-Bloom
A-levels:English Literature, Mathematics, French, Italian
Hobbies:Activism, Visual Arts, Singing, Cooking, Travelling, Salsa, Psychology, Poetry
Why did you want to study law at university? “I want[ed] to study the law because it goes unnoticed most of the time, but it has a long reach and hugely important implications. It governs our conduct and interactions, protects our freedoms and remedies wrongdoings, but to most of the world it operates silently, and I [knew] only a little about it. I [was] therefore curious and eager to learn more.” – from the opening paragraph of my Personal Statement.
The motivating factor behind my university application was the knowledge that the law is not necessarily a “force for good”, but it can provide a platform for those who wish to fight for social justice. I was also greatly attracted by the fact that the law has such an impact on social, political and justice issues in society.
What is the most difficult aspect of studying law? When you decide to study Law at university, it is important to remember that you are not studying it as a vocational subject but as an academic, intellectual discipline. Therefore you are not simply studying the black-letter law as you would doing a conversion course, but you are also encouraged to reflect on the law, think critically about it and consider whether the current state of the law is satisfactory. The difficulty I initially faced when I started my degree, was that I had to accept that there are not always definite answers to complex legal questions, because significant parts of the law are uncertain and controversial. One you accept this, you can participate in debates about the nature of the law with more confidence.
What is the best part of studying law? Apart from being an incredibly rewarding and intellectually stimulating course, a Law degree also offers the opportunity to develop the ability to think and write like a lawyer as well as to use and understanding technical vocabulary. It also teaches you to manipulate and apply the law to resolve complex legal problems and it enables you engage with a wide variety of legal arguments and debates which are most often related to current affairs.
What do you know now about pursuing a career in law that you wish you knew when you were doing your A-levels? A piece of advice I would give in hindsight is to emotionally prepare yourself for the academic challenges and financial commitment. At a time when obtaining training contracts and pupillages is increasingly difficult, gaining as much relevant extracurricular experience as possible should improve your prospects, not only for getting into a good university, but also for attaining a decent job on finishing your studies.
Additionally, do not underestimate the importance of keeping up to date with the news, particularly with the legal press. This will not just monumentally enhance your understanding of the topics you study at degree level, but it will also equip you with the necessary vocabulary and knowledge to impress a prospective employer when you are confronted with competency-style interview questions. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a City lawyer, it is never too early to start developing your commercial awareness. This is something which partners at City firms value above academic achievement.
What are your career goals? Due to my various work experience placements, I have had the opportunity to explore both branches of the legal profession and distinguish between the roles of a solicitor and barrister. I have decided that I would be more inclined to become a solicitor, specialising in commercial law. This is because it would enable me to combine my interest in the business world with my interest in international law. I am hungry for the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s best lawyers and be stretched by (as well as contribute directly to) the work and success of their “blue chip” clients on some of the most interesting, high profile, exciting commercial transactions. I think it would be hugely rewarding and fulfilling to be involved in routine headline-grabbing work.
What work experience have you gained in recent years and what have you learnt from it? I have gained work experience at Freshfields, Keating Chambers, and at 2 Bedford Row Chambers, and I also took part in the Hogan Lovells first year vacation scheme. Additionally, I completed an internship at a Human Rights Pro Bono law firm in Cape Town, South Africa and I gained work experience in the legal departments of The Outside Organisation (PR agency), Topshop, and Miss Selfridge.
From researching points of law and drafting letters to sitting in on conference calls to assisting a QC with a criminal manslaughter court case to preparing an appeal case against deportation in South Africa; I have gained a tremendous insight into various areas of the law. Interning, shadowing, and undertaking any form of relevant work experience is the best way to get exposure to and develop your understanding of how law firms operate and how solicitors/barristers collaborate to achieve the best result for their clients.
What have I learnt? You can never be too prepared.
What tips would you give to someone who is planning to pursue a career in law? I have been told that there are less stressful ways to earn a living, but if you develop a passion for it, there are probably not many that are more rewarding. BUT: Don’t think that a career in law will necessarily make you rich. It’s crucial to find an area of law that really interests you and that you can feel passionate about and love practising. This is not easy (especially if you’re indecisive like me!), but the best way to figure this out is to gain as much work experience as possible in different areas of the law and write many off before you ultimately discover your “calling”. If you can’t get work experience, try to attend open days at firms and go to campus events. This is a fantastic way to network and create a contact list for yourself. More often than not, if you email a trainee that you met at a campus event with any questions you have, they will be most obliging and give you invaluable advice.
What is the biggest misconception about the legal profession? It is not the case that your only two options are to become a solicitor or a barrister. Keep an open mind to the wide range of opportunities and experiences a legal career can offer.
Also, from the outside, there appears to be a tremendous amount of pressure to rush into applying for training contracts/pupillages and beginning your legal career as soon as you walk out of university’s doors. Try something else first. I have met countless trainees who took a few years out after uni to go on tour with their band, or who decided to travel South America or who decided they just wanted a couple of years for themselves; either to relax or to try a career in something else first. If anything, these people have more to talk about during interviews and often come across as more interesting, well-rounded individuals who could potentially relate to clients on a more personal level.