By Fatima Mumtaz
Good question as one may ask (one for which I do have an answer so keep reading)! In this article, I speak to those who may be thinking about pursuing a legal journey and those who may wish to reflect upon their own legal career.
The first time I came across this question was at the time of selecting which degree course to embark upon. From an early age, I had an interest in business and the law, from dare I say it, yes watching Dragons’ Den, The Apprentice, Suits etc. This by no means depicts a sufficient image of reality. The law behind the scenes often involves blood (several papercuts), sweat (literally heavy-lifting law books to daily scheduled lectures/classes) and tears (imposter-syndrome coming into play as well as being overwhelmed).
This picture is used for weighing two sides of an argument and as a metaphor for balancing your options for pursuing law.
You may have watched a few exciting shows from the likes of The Good Wife/The Good Fight (legal dramas), Fairly Legal (mediation based), Burden of Truth, Drop Dead Diva (citing from my personal favourites) or even a few movies such as Legally Blonde etc. and have decided that law is for you like I did? Contrary to public opinion, this is a good starting point as it provides a taste of the law to some extent as well as initial motivation.
Well as an LPC graduate I can confirm, they are not reflective of the UK court-system at all, albeit providing inspiration to a certain degree. Yes, they are entertaining and make for excellent binge-watching especially during lockdown (writing at the time of covid-19 outbreak) or at the end of a busy day where one simply wishes to let down their hair, but we must not underestimate how the law is applied in reality.
More so, the shows do not show the mundane, sometimes repetitive, administrative tasks of a trainee or the amount of paperwork often fast-forwarding to trial-day! However, one parallel drawn from both worlds could perhaps be the thrill felt from winning a case/mooting competition in the end.
Law degree: Freshers be warned but do not fear, advice is on its way
Studying law at university should not be taken lightly as it is a heavy subject. Commencing a law degree in reality often comes with a lot of pressure as well as elements of doubt.
The challenges of a law student (there are often countless blogs and diaries dedicated to listing shared problems) are many! That being said, by no means do you need to have done law before starting your degree.
Firstly, one must have a committed and determined mindset. Exam preparation requires heaps of reading (lengthy case judgments, textbooks, and journal articles) not to mention, memorising case names associated with their facts, legal rationales in order to underpin your arguments. Longevity is tested. Last-minute revision does not work for law students! Cramming intense knowledge in a short space of time will only increase stress and adversely affect performance. Adopting structure in a personal timetable and setting individual goals worked best for me. But do not forget to factor in breaks too!
Further, incorporate time for experimenting with different revision styles! Everyone learns differently. I used a variety of different techniques such as consolidating lecture notes with tutorial sessions in one folder (all colour co-ordinated of course), creating flashcards, large diagrams/flowcharts and in particular using the ‘blurting technique’. The latter involves putting away all notes and on a blank slate (such as a whiteboard/paper) writing out i.e. blurting, everything from memory on a particular topic. You can test your knowledge by practising past exam papers/undertaking mock assessments. It will also help in formulating your legal arguments in a logical manner under timed conditions.
Law assessments and exams are not easy. They require a certain depth of knowledge, rigour, being able to analyse the law, comprehend information, critically analyse and apply the law to the particular problem or essay question. Your grades are said to reflect the effort you put in so take initiative!
Rewarding career and other reasons
The law provides an avenue for victims of crime or those who have suffered a civil wrong to assert their basic fundamental rights in a court of law, following the rules of the land. It empowers individuals to have their voices heard through invoking a case before the judiciary. The judicial review process even allows holding the government of the day to account on certain matters of illegality, procedural unfairness and irrationality. Especially in certain areas, for example, human rights law, criminal law, a tragic family/child case, personal injury involvement, helping your client where you have seen the case from start to finish is incredibly rewarding, a feeling which money cannot provide. Equally, being able to serve your client’s needs on a large business deal in the commercial sector can be an invigorating experience.
Professionalism is a common value shared by all lawyers across the board (regardless of seniority) and you can call them upon that e.g. court etiquette. Working in law is a noble profession. Both the Bar Standards Board (regulating Barristers) and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (concerning solicitors) have certain standards and duties in place for the level expected of lawyers. Undergoing further academia, you will explore the different codes and principles of acceptable behaviour and working practices that lawyers must adhere to. Working within the legal services sector means that you are sworn to be upholding the profession’s integrity and acting ethically. Therefore, the law is a very respectable profession which is what drew me.
Another reason why I chose law is that like it or not, we are constantly surrounded by law, or encounter a legal issue/be curious at one point of our lives. For example, most of us will find a job and this means that employment law suddenly becomes relevant, or if you purchase/sell a product it gives rise to a contractual relationship potentially entering into the realm of consumer law or renting which involves property law. Consequently, the law is everywhere affecting our everyday activities.
I also like staying up to date with current affairs and with new business reads. Possessing commercial awareness (a phrase battered around in applications) ensures you understand the wider picture. Successfully applying that knowledge to legal issues, respecting the fact that law firms are a business, increases value added as you understand your client’s business.
Finally, I have enjoyed being in a highly intellectual environment, exchanging legal arguments with my cohort and speaking with others from different walks of life.
If you have passion for the law, you can develop that further and in an area that interests you. In my final year of my law degree and during the last stage of my LPC, I was given the opportunity to select electives from a wide array of modules. Some may even have a chance to do a dissertation outside the standard core modules and this can provide an edge in interviews as a talking point.
By undertaking a law degree, you attain sufficient knowledge about the inner workings of the law and gain transferable skills which can be used in any career!
As junior academic lawyers, you develop practical researching skills throughout your studies, and this only improves as you progress further into your career. Knowing how and where to find cases/judgments, locating certain pieces of legislation to various journal articles, all using different tools and resources is a key benefit of studying law.
Secondly, you learn how to proof-read work and how to summarise vast amounts of information in a clear, succinct and concise manner. Organisation is key, especially in the legal profession.
Thinking objectively from the lawyers’ point of view and delivering advice using compassion and empathy (depending upon the case at hand) are other professional skills one develops during a law degree. This can also be achieved by actively participating in mooting competitions throughout law school.
Managing your time well and self-discipline between the different subjects as you navigate through your years of law school are other invaluable skills derived from the experience.
Irrespective of your career path the lessons learnt, and skills obtained from studying law (at a degree, LLM or PhD) level will build upon both your personal and professional development.
Law is fun! Throughout studying the various modules, you may find a passion that you may have otherwise not followed and this, in turn, can open up new opportunities for you. Be ambitious (and realistic); you can make it if you can work hard to achieve it!