Q&A

The path to qualifying as a lawyer is a minefield. But do not fear, Lawyer 2B’s very own careers agony aunt KAY PEARSON is here to help


Q
I have a 2:1 in law from a non-traditional university but have been unable to secure a training contract. Is it worth studying a masters so I can get a more reputable university on my CV?

A
Your university isn’t necessarily the reason for lack of success with a training contract. You need to look at what you can offer in its totality. If a recruiter doesn’t like one aspect of your application, they need to look at other factors, including non-academic factors (work experience, language skills etc), as well as academic achievements. However, a masters is not a sure-fire way to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere. Any higher degree should be relevant to the employer you wish to apply to. For example, an LLM or masters in international law will have little value to a firm that doesn’t operate overseas. In practice, relevant work experience goes down better than additional qualifications. This doesn’t have to be paid work, it could be voluntary work, work-shadowing or paralegal work.

Q
Is there any work experience, other than within law, that would benefit someone looking for a training contract?

A
The simple answer is ‘yes’, although which particular experience will be best for you depends on where you are heading within the legal profession. Many employers value non-legal work in a relevant area as much as legal work, because you develop skills that are easily transferable to law. You are also more likely to spend longer in such roles compared with the typical two-week legal placement. Where possible, try to target sectors or employers that are relevant to the area of law you are interested in. For commercial and corporate firms, roles in accounting, banking or finance are useful. Indeed, any role with a commercial element is valuable, for example marketing and sales. For personal injury and medical negligence, experience in hospital administration (especially claims work) and insurance would be relevant. High street, general practice and legal aid firms will value customer services/complaints experience and anything that exposes you to the needs of the ‘man in the street’, for example student helplines.

Q
When law firms ask you to describe your greatest achievements on application forms, what are they looking for?

A
Not necessarily anything earth-shattering. Employers use this sort of question to gather evidence of key skills in the form of specific examples from your life. The focus is usually on how you behaved in certain circumstances and/or the skills you demonstrated. Asking about achievements allows firms to probe your values, interests and motivation. After all, you have to be pretty motivated to achieve your goals. When choosing your examples, try to stick to the recent past; you’re more likely to remember the details. The best examples should be:

  • As significant and unique to you as possible.
  • Easy to discuss at interview – nothing too personal that you might not want to expand on face-to-face.

  • Ideally relevant to the job.


So try to forget about climbing Everest and focus instead on things that you feel proud of. Learning to drive, visiting a particular place that has meaning for you and fighting for a particular cause are all possibilities. The bottom line is that anything that has taken you out of your ‘comfort zone’ can be seen as an achievement.

Q
I am a wheelchair user and was wondering whether I should disclose my disability on application forms?
A

The question of disclosure is a personal choice, although you are obliged to mention any disability if asked a direct question about it. Early disclosure can allow employers to make adjustments that may benefit you later, for example at interview. However, you may feel you wish to disclose later on to avoid any possible discrimination. Skill (The National Bureau for Students with Disabilities) produces an excellent guide on the subject of disclosure of disability, complete with pros and cons. Go to www.skill.org.uk for more information.

The bottom line is that, with the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2005, the law is on your side. Not only is it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you when applying for a job, but they also have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce or remove any disadvantage to a disabled applicant, such as changes to premises or allowing more time for selection tests. If you do disclose at the application stage, do it positively. Mention any skills you have gained as a result of your disability as well as achievements. Finally, don’t assume employers will be negative. Skill produces an ‘Into Law’ booklet giving advice on qualifying in law and profiles of successful disabled people. See the website for more details.

Kay Pearson is a careers consultant at the College of Law. Letters to Kay should be sent to Lawyer 2B’s editor Husnara Begum

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