Pitching your bent

Lawyer 2B reports on how extracurricular activities can benefit your skill set and your CV

Until recent years a sandwich board reading ’Please give me a job’ was something seen only in photos of the Great Depression. But with industries such as law seeing dramatic rises in applications it is little ­wonder that some students are taking the words ’sell yourself’ a bit too literally when it comes to job applications.

So, with even the crème de la crème of would-be lawyers finding rejection letters landing on their doormats, what else can students do to boost their appeal to employers without resorting to transforming themselves into human billboards and scribbling their key skills and attributes across their fronts?

Well, according to graduate recruiters, they often favour students who show balanced lifestyles by getting involved in activities outside of their studies.

Added interest

Slaughter and May HR manager Mel Binks places great importance on a student showing they are “a well-rounded person”, believing that having a different interest can not only boost skills and personal attributes, but also make them into a more interesting candidate.

“It’s good to be in clubs and societies, in positions of responsibility or just to have a really good hobby,” she adds.

There is no doubt that an ability to juggle studying with additional responsibilities is important, but making sure your hobbies add to your CV by bringing out qualities
that appeal to employers is key – and what better way to cultivate lawyering skills and boost confidence than by taking part in law-based activities?

Second-year LLB student at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and chair of the MMU Student Law Society Jeanette Mooney has been involved in mooting since her first year atthe university and says that, for employers, involvement in activities such as mooting “shows you’re somebody who’s willing to do more than the bare minimum on your degree course and, regardless of what job you’re applying for, employers like to see individuals with drive and determination”.

Despite this, law-based activities are often overlooked due to some aspiring lawyers seeing little point in participating in a fictitious courtroom battle or mock meeting.
This is an inaccurate assumption, according to the chair of the national Client Interviewing Competition for England & Wales and lecturer at University of Westminster Graham Robson. “Constructing a problem and throwing in interesting bits of law, personal dilemmas and ethical problems all at once can really test someone’s skills and abilities,” he contends.

Putting theory into practice

Most universities have law societies run by students that offer a range of law-based activities. Mooting is perhaps the best known, which is great for those who enjoy the drama of the courtroom, but there are other activities far better suited to a budding solicitor wanting to put theory into practice and enhance the transferable interpersonal and communication skills necessary for a career in a law firm.

A couple of activities do, however, have a dual interest, such as negotiating and mediation, appealing to both aspiring solicitors and barristers. Meanwhile, client interviewing is aligned more closely with the career of solicitor, while budding barristers may find advocacy and mooting more useful. A range of universities enthusiastically deliver most of these activities across the country, and many also host national events.

A client interviewing competition works by outlining a legal dilemma to teams of two that they then address in a mock meeting with the client played by an actor. By delivering an emotionally driven performance the actor puts the students in “a buzzy and pretty scary” situation, according to Robson, testing their ability to handle all sorts of situations that may arise in meetings of this type. He says the key challenge of the competition is to provide advice to the client that is devoid of legal jargon and delivered in a coherent and non-patronising manner.

At the national event the teams also have to undertake a debrief with their partner to discuss the legal ramifications in greater detail. The national competition application closing date is at the end of November, with regional heats at the end of January and the final in March. The international final this year is being held in Maastricht.

Meanwhile, mediation competitions aim to help law students understand the value of resolving disputes through mediation and learn key techniques.

For the national competition each team is made up of three law students, with two assigned to perform as co-mediators in each round. In the same round the third team member takes the role of a client coming to mediation without the services of an advocate.

At least a week before the competition all participating institutions are given copies of the common facts relating to three disputes to be mediated and, around 30 minutes prior to each mediation taking place, the person playing the role of the client receives their confidential information. Each mediation lasts a maximum of 60 minutes, followed by a debrief, similar to theclient interviewing competition.

Competition days are intense, with the most recent winners (from the College of Law’s (CoL) Bloomsbury branch) saying the competition was “intellectually and emotionally draining, conducting mediations over the course of a weekend”.

Around 20 educational institutions get involved in the national competition, which takes place in November. The judges are drawn from a pool of local mediators or mediation practitioners along with the coaches of the competitor teams.

Advocacy was once described by a top barrister as “an art, not a science”, requiring a person to have the ability to be confident, charismatic and animated while conveying the necessaryinformation in a persuasive and coherent manner.

Herbert Smith has devised its national advocacy competition in partnership with The Times and has an impressive judging panel, including director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti. There is £6,500 up for grabs for the winners and runners-up.

The City law firm originally conceived the competition on diversity and inclusivity issues, with each years’ teams receiving a different question to debate, such as: ’Is diversity a trendy bandwagon or is it here to stay?’

The event tests a candidate’s ability to argue on paper and persuade a highly intelligent judging panel of their cause. It is open to all students in any discipline registered with a UK educational institution, with each entrant required to prepare a written submission of 400 words on the chosen topic, followed by a 90-second video uploaded on YouTube.
The final event is described as having “a benign Dragons’ Den-type atmosphere” by Herbert Smith, with the six finalists required to put forward 10-minute proposals followed by questions. The finalists and a shortlist of original applicants are also invited to attend a masterclass in advocacy prior to the final to help give students the necessary confidence and style while enhancing their skills.

“The competition is very much an experience for learning and can benefit all,” says Herbert Smith diversity manager Carolyn Lee. “There’s positive feedback and people see it as a chance to get their names on would-be employers’ radars. It gives them a real opportunity to start developing their own profiles.”

For all those gutsy aspiring lawyers who would like the chance of winning up to £3,000, the good news is that the competition does not go live until May, with the deadline at the beginning of July. Training is held from the end of August to the beginning of September, followed by the final.

Give and take

Negotiating, meanwhile, is another crucial component in practising law, with competitions helping to build students’ skills in persuading and influencing, as well as their ability to handle conflict. These competitions are becoming more popular among law societies, with students who demonstrate a flair for skilful negotiation going on to
appear at regional and national finals.

Each team is provided with common facts and one side of the negotiation. The scenario could vary from a massive property development to agreeing a sponsorship deal. The teams are judged on their levels of preparation, teamwork, relationships between the negotiating teams, the outcome of the sessions, negotiating ethics and self-analysis. The national competition is sponsored by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, which provides an advanced negotiation skills seminar to finalists prior to the final. The application deadline is mid-January and the competition consists of two regional rounds in February and a national final in April, with the winners going on to represent England in an international competition, which this year
is being held in Copenhagen.

Moot points
However, if you enjoy the drama of the courtroom, mooting competitions will certainly test your skills through presenting arguments in mock cases. MMU student Mooney says it is important for a wannabe barrister to get involved in mooting from their first year as it will help to develop skills in research, presentation (both written and oral), working in a team and the ability to work to deadlines.

“You may go into a moot with your own argument clear in your head, but you need to be prepared for a judge to challenge this or ask why you haven’t considered a different approach,” she explains. “At first the thought of this terrified me, but I quickly learnt that being able to change your argument and not having it in your head that this is the point you’re going to make is sometimes what a judge is looking for.”

As with the other activities, mooting is associated with national and international competitions, the largest being the European Law Students’ Association Moot Court Competition on World Trade Organisation Law and, for those situated in London, the London Universities Mooting Shield (LUMS).

LUMS, as the name suggests, focuses on London universities and allows each team to compete an equal number of times rather than having a knockout system. Each team features up to four members, with rounds every two or three weeks, meaning the caseload can be high. However, rounds are often scheduled to take into account lectures, essay deadlines and exams, enabling all universities to have some input. And the members of each team can alternate the moots.

The competition follows the academic year, running from October to March. The 2010-11 league has 10 competing universities and the final round is being held at the Supreme Court. This year the teams are being whisked away to a training weekend, courtesy of LUMS sponsor Kaplan Law School, where they will take part in advocacy skills workshops, lectures on career paths and other targeted training exercises.

The moots take place in a range of locations, including the Royal Courts of Justice, with the grand final held annually at the offices of Allen & Overy, which is also a sponsor of the competition.

Most national competitions are sponsored or linked to members of the legal profession, making student participation not only a great talking point at interviews and a good way to fill in the blanks on your CV, but also an efficient way of meeting potential employers through informal networking opportunities.

If you wish to get involved in any of the competitions it is important to check with your university law society and do some research to find out the deadlines and dates of each stage of the competition, as these vary slightly each year.

The competitions can be time-consuming, and as co-chair of the MMU Law Society Jo Crook says, being able to manage time effectively and prioritise are “skills you can’t afford to be without”. Despite this, students, especially first-years, should not be reluctant to get involved in these activities, but rather enter into the spirit of the competitions.

The important thing is to see them as a genuine chance to ’sell yourself’ when it comes to your dream job.