Law is a tough field. Sure, a lot of people say that for pretty much every sector going, but some of the numbers behind the legal industry are truly wild. One study last year found that there were 28 law graduates to every industry vacancy, for example, a stat that’s barely changed since 2017.
So, what if that does end up being you? It’s a reality no one really wants to think about, but every year thousands of graduates do have to come to terms with the fact they haven’t got a job lined up yet. Especially in law it can feel like the end of the road, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities aren’t still out there.
For many grads a brief pause can actually give you the time and space to press the reset button, allowing you to carefully plan your next move and make it a successful one. It can feel overwhelming knowing where to start though, so here’s our simple five-point guide on what to do next.
Take A Critical Look At What You’ve Done So Far
If you’ve been applying for a decent number of jobs but consistently felt you’re banging your head against the wall, it’s time to take an honest assessment of everything you’ve done so far.
Use Your Data To Work Out Blockers
First things first, you need to work out where you’re going wrong. If you haven’t been tracking your applications already, now is the time to start. All you need is a simple spreadsheet or to set up some kind of project management software like Trello or AirTable.
Take a look at the number of jobs you’ve applied to so far and how far you’ve got with each one. If you’re finding that you’ve applied to a large number of jobs but aren’t hearing anything back, for example, it signals the problem might be with your applications, and it could be worth spending more time on less applications in order to get it right.
On the flip side, if you’re doing alright at getting to interviews but very rarely hear back after that, then it’s time to invest in some decent interview prep. For example, are you putting as much effort into research and prep for this as you are your initial application? Does your application actually reflect who you are? Do you simply need more practice in interview scenarios? It’s only once you’ve realised what the blockers are that you can do something about it.
Equally, it’s worth looking at the range of jobs you’re applying for – do they all broadly fit within the same sector or have you basically taken a scattergun approach? If there’s no real logic or link between the jobs you’ve applied for, it’s a strong signal you might need to take some time to refocus on exactly what you’re looking for within your legal career.
Take A Second Look At Your Applications
Once you’ve looked at the broader data around your own job seeking, it’s worth taking a proper deep dive into your applications to date. If you haven’t been saving your applications, this is 100 percent something you should be doing going forward – we basically have a Google Drive folder for each application, which includes a copy for the job spec, any written applications from you, and any notes you’ve made immediately after any interviews or assessments.
Be critical and ask yourself if you’ve fallen down any common traps. Or, if you’re not sure you trust yourself to be critical, don’t be afraid to reach out to lecturers or careers advisors who helped you out while you were at university. After all, universities want you to succeed for their own figures if nothing else, and many will offer support for up to five years after you graduate.
Common pitfalls we see fairly often at Debut include things like:
- Centring your applications around how jobs would benefit you and not how you can help companies with their vacancy,
- Not personalising your initial applications to individual jobs – every CV and cover letter needs to be specific to the role you’re applying for,
- Leaving gaps on your CV which aren’t explained – even if it’s just for a gap year, you need to make sure employers see the full story,
- Putting less effort into preparing for the interview than you have for the initial written application – they should take roughly the same time.
All in all, it’s worth taking a look at what you’ve done so far and being honest about what hasn’t worked so well. This is your opportunity to change things up and do things differently. As we said before, Law is a competitive field, so don’t discount little changes actually making a big difference to the results you get back.
Bolster Your CV With Additional Experience
Even if you’ve got a couple of bits of legal experience on your CV, if you’re struggling to get a break it’s worth thinking about what you might be missing. Plus, the period straight after graduation is a great time to top things up without the pressure of exams and deadlines.
By now you should also have a clear idea of the area of law you’re looking to go into as well, so you can now try and target work experience which is directly related to the field you want to go in. Finally, if we need to sell you on any more benefits, taking on some additional work experience means there isn’t an awkward gap on your CV either.
For those looking to become a solicitor, vacation schemes are basically Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, while for those aiming to become a barrister it’s all about securing a mini-pupilage. By all means, throw your hat in for these if you haven’t got one already, but bear in mind they are extremely competitive.
If you’re looking for something which has a bit of a quicker impact on your CV, you might want to consider things like:
- Pro-bono legal work, for example with organisations such as The Innocence Project or The Free Representation Unit. It may also be still possible to get involved with any pro-bono work run by your university.
- Legal work experience in other sectors – for example, you might be able to gain work experience within a charity’s legal department or a smaller local legal firm. Try to think about places which won’t get hundreds of applications.
- Applying for mentoring schemes. The Law Society, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, and Legal Geek, for example, all runs schemes to help give you experience, confidence, and expand your networks
- Other part-time jobs. If you’re able to secure work in another sector, even as a temporary measure, it can often yield more transferable skills than you think.
- Student journalism. There are a huge range of legal publications and journals run by students that are a good way to increase your knowledge and comms skills. Take a look at the members of the Student Publication Association, for a start.
Consider Taking A Look At Different Kinds Of Roles
If you’re finding that your applications are often falling flat, it might be time to have a serious conversation with yourself about if law really is for you. We’re absolutely not saying you should throw in the towel if you know it’s your calling, but what we are saying is it’s okay if priorities have shifted since you applied for a law degree five years ago.
Is Law Still The Career For You?
Many law graduates finish their degree and feel the next step has to be working towards getting a training contract or a pupilage, without even stopping to think if it’s still what they want to do. A law degree actually provides you with a treasure chest of transferable skills, so don’t be afraid to think about other areas you might be interested in working in.
For example, you might want to consider roles like company secretaries, licensed conveyancers, data analysts and scientists, accountancy, civil service roles, or roles in audit. Seriously, the list of things you can do with a law degree really is endless, and while it might seem like a scary prospect, taking a look at all your options could open up doors you didn’t even know existed. Think of it like Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement, but you need to actually find the room first.
Could You Try A Different Angle?
Similarly, if you’re determined to make it in the legal sector but keep coming to a block, it’s worth thinking if there could be another way around. Competition for top training contracts is notoriously tough, so you might want to consider looking at smaller firms for whom the competition is less intense.
Or, you could just decide to shun the training contract side of things all together. As a law graduate you’re more than qualified to take up a job as a paralegal, for example, a role which is offered at far more firms than ones with training contracts. Sure, you’ll be starting out a bit lower down the rung, but there are still ways to work your way up to a full-blown solicitor once you’ve got your foot in the door.
Jump Straight Into Further Study
The deal with getting into law is complicated, and whether you’re looking to become a barrister or a solicitor, you will need to take extra study. If you’re planning on becoming a barrister, that comes in the form of the Bar Professional Training Course (though that is set to be tweaked and changed in 2020). If you’re looking to become a solicitor, you’ll need to take the Legal Practice Course.
For many graduates it can feel tempting to hold off on these until you’ve got a job secured – especially as training contracts can come with up to a two year wait once you’re successful, and both come with hefty course fees if you’re self-financing. However, if you’re looking for a way to stand out to potential employers, it could be worth jumping right in.
Funding May Be Available
For the BPTC it’s worth looking at what’s on offer from the Inns of Court. Every year these barrister’s clubs provide approximately £4 million to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.
For the LPC, even if you haven’t got an employer to sponsor you, there are still ways to make it happen. Most law schools will have a number of scholars and bursaries in place, so it’s worth checking what’s on offer before you apply. The Law Society Diversity Access Scheme also helps to fund places for students whose background isn’t typically represented within the legal profession as it stands.
Finally, you might also want to consider a law postgraduate course that comes with the LPC built-in. The government now offers student loans for masters courses too, which is paid back in the same way as your undergraduate student loan is.
Think Carefully About Where You Want to Study
Finally, if you’ve decided to take the plunge and go for further education to help get your foot through the door, make sure you’ve fully researched the course you’re doing, the provider, and the location. While the courses might all be the same in content, for barristers you’ll probably want to complete the course near where you plan to study, for example.
For solicitors, you may also want to bear in mind the way the course is taught – while the standard course is a year long, some providers will offer sprint versions so you’re finished quicker. And, on the other end of the scale, you may also be able to study the course part-time so you can continue working or racking up experience.
All in all, the main thing is to choose the course that works best for you and to use the time wisely – while you’re there you need to be thinking about the gaps in your experience and how to solve them, as well as putting out considering applications to schemes you’re interested in.