raising the bar

Confessions of a First Class LLB Graduate


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So you want to be a lawyer? Why?


When we were five, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Our answers were things like, Astronaut, President or in my case, a Princess. When we were ten, they asked again.  We answered rock star, cowboy or in my case, a gold medalist. But now that we’ve grown up, they wanted a serious answer. Well, how about this – who the hell knows? 

So I watched the third installment of the Twilight saga the other day (lame I know!) and if there was one sensible thing that I managed to pick up from that movie, it was Jessica’s (Anna Kendrick) speech during the graduation ceremony. That speech made me wonder… (as I do when I get bored…)

Looking back over my life, I’m thinking about what my life would have looked like had I lived it differently.  I was always the good kid, the one that did her homework and went to school on time. The girl that was afraid to love because she thought that love could wait as she had more important things to achieve in life first. The girl that was constantly aiming higher, never happy with her achievements and always striving to perfection. That same girl who, at the age of 18, packed her bags and travelled to a country far away from home. She did it because she thought better things awaited her in life. She did it because she did not want to be like everyone else around her. She had found it difficult to fit the mould over the years. And there she was with her suitcase full of dreams she set off to a better future.

Five years on, and here I am. With my dreams bigger than they have ever been and with me being just one step away from achieving a long-waited goal. Securing a training contract. I hear you all aspiring lawyers sigh with despair!

For those of you who have been through the training contract application process (as painful as it is) you would know that one of legal recruiters’ favourite questions is ‘Why have you chosen a career in law?’ followed by the dreaded ‘Why us?’ question.

The majority of people who are meant to be answering those questions are penultimate year law students or final year non-law students.

Judging by my personal experience and looking back three years ago, the truth is I had no idea what the legal profession was really like. What I had based my answers on was purely second hand knowledge. But that simply wasn’t good enough. The thing is that recruiters expect you to be pretty convinced not only that you want to work in law, but also that you want to work at their law firm in particular.

And fair enough, their expectations can be perceived as widely justified based on the presumption that they see you as an investment. And clearly they want to be certain that you aren’t going to turn around in a year and say, actually I decided this isn’t for me. I want to be an astronaut instead (that’s what I wanted to be when I was 10).

However, having worked at a legal practice now for nearly three years, I can see how unrealistic those expectations really are. Looking at the various law firms’ websites, it strikes me how common words like “good work life balance”, “responsibility early on”, “leading law firm”, integrity, excellence, enthusiasm, support, training, value (the list goes on) are. And it makes me wonder, if law firms themselves struggle to stand out from their competitors for graduates (let alone clients), how can they expect that law students can do the same almost straight out of college.

And whilst I have met many inspirational law students who have managed to gain a variety of legal experience prior to applying for a training contract, the truth is that this doesn’t quite work out for everyone. It didn’t work out for me for example as I had to balance a busy part time job in order to support myself financially, with the challenge of studying a foreign legal system in a foreign language (purely my decision and no regrets whatsoever).

The truth is that I wasn’t even planning to be a solicitor, looking back three years from now. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to be. I did want to work in law but I hadn’t quite defined my pathway as precisely as some law students do.

What happened was life. I applied for a placement year at a law firm purely to try my luck. My application was inspired by the speech of a Professional Support Lawyer who came to speak at my law school about her job. So I thought to myself it would be kind of cool to work with her. I sent my application off and thought I would never hear back. Three months later I started my first office job in that same law firm.

Today, three years later, I am still employed with said law firm although now as a paralegal, handling my own caseload of 40 odd cases and pretty much living the dream. I have learned more than I had thought I would ever learn at this stage of my life.

Now the truth is I love my job. But I would obviously want to take the next step and qualify. I am still working on that. Every day I get a step closer but not quite close enough. There’s still time… (I’m young).

I guess what I am trying to get at is the following: You never quite know what awaits you round the corner. It could be just one simple decision that changes the course of the rest of your life. Until you change your mind…

If I had to go back and live my life again, with the same knowledge that I have now, I may have lived it slightly differently. I may have tried to enjoy my childhood, fallen in love, made mistakes with the risk of not always being perfect. But then again, who knows where would that have brought me to in life. And would I have loved my life then as much as I do now? Who knows….

The truth is that our every day decisions and interactions are what defines who we are and what we want in life. How can we be expected to know the answer to either of those questions without having had some real life experience first? There is no way.

I know some lawyers who are today regretting their career choices. And whilst it won’t be impossible to change their career at that stage, most of them are slightly reluctant mainly because of all the hard work they had put in to get there and perhaps people’s expectations.

Having said that, more and more students today follow a non-conventional pathway to qualifying. They, like me, would gain some experience in a law firm first before deciding they want to be solicitors. Only then would they try and convince a law firm of the same. And that is only fair enough in my view…

And so, in the same line of thoughts, Jessica (from Twilight) went on to say….

This isn’t the time to make hard and fast decisions, this is the time to make mistakes. Take the wrong train and get stuck somewhere. Fall in love – a lot. Major in Philosophy because there is no way to make a career out of that. Change your mind and change it again because nothing’s permanent. So make as many mistakes as you can. That way someday when they asked what we wanna be, we won’t have to guess – we’ll know.

I will leave you to chew on that for a while…

Lawfully yours

Val

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I have a dream….


My lovely readers…

Let me start with an apology. For I know I have not been a great blogger over the past few months. Some of you may wonder why. After all, I did graduate from my LLB (with flying colours ;-)) so my life should have been a lot easier since then, right? Wrong.

But let us not start my first post for 2014 on a negative. Let me tell you what I have been up to in the last few months since graduation. I have been dreaming.

Funny things they are… dreams I mean. Those dreams that you are pursuing since God knows what age and then you come to a point in your life when you say to yourself, ‘Hang on a minute.’ How long did I actually spend enjoying that last moment? That moment when I got a First Class Degree in Law. That moment when I got two awards for my academic achievements. That moment when I got a (dream) job in a Law firm. That moment when I met that amazing person and got to be their friend. A day? A week? A month? How long did it actually take me before I set myself yet another goal and set my eyes on it, ignoring everything else on my way as ‘less important’. 

Someone clever once said that we spend too much of our time dwelling on the past and dreaming of the future while the present moment slips away unnoticed. Have you ever found yourself so focused on ‘the next big thing’ in your life that you failed to notice all those ‘little things’? The little things that added together to make you happy. I imagine you have. As humans, we often feel uneasy about ‘living for the moment’ without any plans for the future. For if we did not have any plans, then our life would have less meaning to it. And in many ways I cannot agree more with this, being someone that has had my whole life built on goals. Goals I have set for myself and goals I have achieved. But how sweet have those achievements been when there has always been another goal to follow? A bigger, more meaningful goal. 

The point is, my dear readers that I got a bit tired of living this kind of life. I never felt entirely happy or entirely complete because I was always contemplating what my life would be once I got past that next hurdle. Be it getting a First Class Degree, passing that BLP exam on the LPC or securing that allusive training contract. In fact, I can sadly admit that I had gotten so obsessed with that goal of mine, that I found myself wrapped in a ‘bubble’ whereby no distractions were allowed.

And then one day I had that moment when I was getting so tightly wrapped in that bubble to a point where I found myself getting suffocated. I should probably say that this happened a couple of months after my last blog. A couple of months after my last moment of glory – the day of my graduation. It was only a couple of months later that I found myself stressing about life again. I was (and still am) in full time employment and I had also signed up to study the LPC part time. I found this to be yet the next challenge in my life. The next challenge which was supposed to take me closer to the big Goal of being a lawyer. But yet again a few steps too far away from it.

And it got to the  New Year’s eve celebrations when I found myself surrounded by all those people who have supported me through thick and thin and yet again I had somehow managed to drift away from them. And this is when I said enough is enough.

So unlike previous years when I had set myself the goal of securing a training contract, or getting a first class degree, my resolution for 2014 was somewhat different. I promised myself that I will spend this year expanding my social circle of friends. I promised myself that I will spend every day of my life being grateful for the things and the people that I have in my life. Because believe me, those are some amazing people. I promised myself that I will spend less time killing myself over whether or not I will get a distinction on the LPC. Because this is something which I will spend about 2 weeks being happy about. 

This does not mean to say that I have given up on my goals or dreams. I am still aiming high and higher than ever. I am still determined to go all the way until I get to the top. In the meantime though, I would keep those around me closer than ever because after all they are what makes me happy day in and day out. 

Finally, I have a dream… Other than becoming a solicitor that is. Remember the movie ‘What happens in Vegas’? There was this scene where Joy (Cameron Diaz) tells Jack (Ashton Kutcher) about the last time she was happy. It was when she got on a ferry and went to a lighthouse and walked on the beach all alone, no job worries, no commitments, no responsibilities. I wonder if this is at all possible…. Just for ONE day. No thoughts of tomorrow. No worries about the future. No deadlines to keep to. 

Maybe some day….

Until then, remember… It is often the best things in life that are overlooked by the human eye. So pay attention to the small ‘insignificant’ things on the way to your ‘big goal’. One day you may turn back and realise, that those were indeed the big things in your life.

Lawfully yours

Val

 

 


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Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel


My lovely readers,

I started this blog as a diary of my journey as a final year law student. For those of you who have stumbled upon my posts before, you may have noticed that my blog headline has slightly changed from ‘Confessions of a Final Year Law Student’ to ‘Confessions of a First Class LLB Graduate’. That’s right! I did it!! I got me my First Class Degree!

Looking back through the past few months, or in fact ever since I started my final year, two things spring to mind:

1) It sure seemed challenging and unbearable at the time. To a point where I wanted to break away from it all BUT

2) In a little bit of perspective, it was one truly tremendous year.

For what is worth, it did prove one thing, something which you may have come across a lot in my posts recently – Hard work pays off. 

This year was all part of a little experiment with myself – it involved pushing my limits to the max and hoping for the best. It worked!!

I must admit that I had some really tough last couple of months, particularly revision and exams (those who had to be around me could testify for it! to them I sincerely apologise!). BUT I managed to nail all of my exams. My secret? A hint of strong nerves, a pack of chocolate coated coffee beans per day. Of course, that was coupled with my usual daily dose of caffeine and sugar. I must admit, my head was buzzing. My real saviour however was my revision board. And my motivation.

If you ask me what my top tips for revision were, I’d say the following five:

1) Concentrate: Make sure to go over the last revision lectures and concentrate on what is important without spending too much time going over minor points. Do not revise everything, BUT make sure you don’t limit your revision too much either;

2) Drink a lot of water: I had to remind this to myself a lot. The brain needs water. Especially after all the caffeine you’d have had by that pont!

3) Do not panic: I know this is easier said than done, but both your memory during revision and your performance on the day of the exam make a lot of difference if you are calm;

4) Practise your answers: Time on the exam is limited and a lot of my peers were let down by the speed of their handwriting. It makes a big difference to planning your answer if you know how much you could write in, say, an hour;

5) Repetition: Make sure you leave yourself enough time to go over your revision notes. If you have visual memory, all the better – you could use highlighting system to remember case names.

The exact approach you take to your revision depends on what works best for you. Most importantly, however, make sure you don’t lose your motivation!

And if you ask me what tip I could give for succeeding in your final year, it would be Persistence, Motivation and Hard workAt least that is what worked for me.

I have now opened a new page in my book of life: the life of a recent law graduate, starting full-time employment in July and starting part-time LPC in September. Whether my future journey would be of interest to you, I intend to keep you posted of my endeavours and I expect to face even tougher challenges than I have so far. By far the biggest to overcome would be securing a training contract.

BUT on the positive side of things, I now have a proof that hard work pays off. For real! You only need to believe …

And until you see it for yourself…

Do all the things that make you feel good! Create the life of your dreams! Allow the universe to give you every good thing that you deserve by being a magnet to them all! I believe in the law of attraction. I believe that when we think about good things, when we genuinely want good things, then good things happen. And even if we feel like we are stuck in a tunnel, there is a bright light waiting just round the corner. All you need is some strength and motivation to reach it. It’s just that simple. Sometimes.

Lawfully yours

Val


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Spotlight: the Little Girl who worked hard…


My lovely readers.

Remember the story of the little girl that was aiming high in the big strange world? Today this same girl has a little something to tell you.

Hard work pays off.

Yes – exactly this. Over the last few months I have been working so hard to a point where I was starting to get insecure about whether it is all worth it. It may all sound a little too familiar to you. Particularly if you are an aspiring lawyer. But let me get into a little bit more detail.

Those of you who have read my blog would know that I am a final year LLB student. Those of you who know me would know that I wasn’t always as confident in my abilities as I am starting to be today. My confidence I owe to two people in particular – my mentors in life and at work, @emmersimms and @JCMFTOLL. And I am sure, if they are reading, they won’t be surprised to hear it :)

I’ve got to say it did take a load of work on their part to make me believe in my abilities. And I still find myself falling back in the black hole every once in a while.

One of those times was a few months ago when I was writing my legal dissertation. Even if you are still to go through that, you can probably imagine that it is not exactly fun. Nothing that involves a constant lack of sleep, overdose of caffeine and reading through hundreds of articles and cases is fun (I am still to be proven wrong on that one).

Anyway, I did write it and I did submit it eventually at the end of March. Those who know me could say that it wasn’t exactly fun being around me during the weeks before submission. To them, I sincerely apologise.

Submitting it wasn’t exactly fun either. It was a very strange feeling. Some would say it was, in a way, my ‘baby’. I didn’t want to part with it. And even more so, the idea of handing it in was, in a way, like handing the control over my degree classification, on to my law school. I did everything that was within my abilities. I thought I had done my best. Yet again, you can never be sure about these things, can you?

Well, it has been a month since then. A month of thinking about it, wondering if I did well. Wondering how much I would get.

Until today. I was revising for my exams when I received the following email from my dissertation supervisor:

Many congratulations on your dissertation.  I know the marks are provisional etc, but it really was an outstanding piece of work.  I suggest you consider publishing it.  A successful publication would be a remarkable achievement for your CV.

And then, two minutes later, I got this email from my dissertation co-ordinator:

I would like to congratulate you on achieving such a fantastic mark for your dissertation. You should be very proud of yourself as it is an exceptional mark. Well done.

You can imagine that I was already shaking by this point, trying to open the website with the results, which ironically refused to load for about 30 minutes.

And there it was… My result… I got a 1st! Not only a 1st, but a high 1st – 80!!!

I am still in a little bit of a shock. But I am utterly happy too. This has, by far, been the best news I have got since I started my final year!

So, here you are, my dear reader. Just in case you are in any doubt about whether hard work pays off, I’ll tell you now. You bet it does! I’d like to think I am just one living example…

Lawfully yours,

Val


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Don’t drop the glass ball …


Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by your own life? Juggling too many balls and dreading the possibility of dropping one of them? Are you worried that you won’t be able to catch it before it hits the ground? Are you worried that it is going to smash in pieces right in front of you?

100098_jugglerAll too often we find ourselves having to do more than one thing at once. Whether it is because we are not able to say ‘no’ to what others throw at us; whether it is because of the feeling of satisfaction and achievement of being able to keep the balls up in the air; or whether it is just the unavoidable turn of events. It may all seem fine at times but every once in a while, there comes a moment when you start feeling the pain in your arms from juggling for too long. Perhaps it has been too many long days and short nights; perhaps it is the overdose of caffeine in your system; or maybe it’s just your body instinct flashing the red light, asking you to slow down.

Today is one of those days for me. One of those days when I feel every inch of my body aching. One of those days when I am insecure about my abilities, again. One of those days when I’ve come to realise that I have been juggling all of those balls for way too long without hearing any round of applause. Does this sound familiar?

Perhaps you are a fellow law student, climbing that ladder that seems to have no end. Giving up your everything in a strive to reach your dream. Asking yourself every single day of your life whether you are doing enough to deserve that dream of yours. And if you are, then I know exactly how you feel. Well, my dear reader, I have a little message for you.

……………………….

Someone clever once said that the trick to juggling is determining which balls are made of rubber and which ones are made of glass. Which balls we are able to drop and pick up again without any impact on them or ourselves, and which ones will smash in little pieces upon hitting the ground. Have you got yours determined yet? Do you know what you are aiming for? Do you know what it takes to reach your goal? If you do, then please stick to it. It is very easy to find yourself distracted from your main goal. It is very easy to move your attention from the glass balls to the rubber ones. And it can take only a glimpse of a second until you hear the shatter.

Once you determine which are your glass balls, take a look at the rubber ones. Those are the ones that have been straining you and stressing you. Take a close look at them. Consider how much you value them. Can you afford to ditch them?

Most importantly, make sure you learn how to say ‘no’ and only pick up new balls which will either take you closer to your goal, or will give you pleasure. Because to be honest, no-one, I mean NO-ONE, can understand exactly how you are feeling and what you are going through. It is you that can determine how good you are at juggling and how much all of the balls are worth being up in the air.

There is one more little thing I need to remind you of. Hard work does pay off.  And so the little girl does grow big and confident in the big world. And the little juggler does get the well-deserved round of applause in the end. What does it take? As much you think is worth it. Plus a large dose of motivation and determination to succeed.

And if you ever lose hope, and think you can’t handle the juggling any more, remember…

A diamond is just a pile of coal that did well under pressure…

Lawfully yours,

Val


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Half Light


Today is one of those days again. One of those days when my body is sat at my computer attempting to memorize a long list of case-law in preparation for the upcoming final exams. Yet my mind is someplace else. Many places indeed. I keep thinking about my future, trying to get a glimpse into what awaits upon graduation. Who knows? It all seems a bit distant at the moment. And that scares me a little bit.

Then I start thinking about the present. About where I am now and how I got there. I still wake up every morning thinking how lucky I’ve been.

I went out for some departure drinks for a colleague of mine on Friday night. As I was sat there, chatting away to all of those amazing people, lawyers and partners in my firm, I couldn’t help but smile. I came home loaded with all that positive energy which would keep me going during the upcoming revision and exams. It feels like I’m living two lives at the same time. One is the life of a final year law student, trying to make ends meet, writing coursework, dissertation and studying for exams. This final year law student is getting a little bored with her life and a little impatient to jump into the real life head first. She is also getting a little insecure, wondering if all of her hard work will eventually pay off, if she will get that First class she has been dreaming for. If she will manage to land the Training Contract of her dreams.

Then there is this other life – the life of a litigation assistant in a large regional law firm. This other girl that’s living this life is completely different from the insecure final year law student. She has a smile on her face. She has some confidence in herself (which I must point out took some time to build in the first place). She enjoys what she is doing. She loves the people she is working with. She draws energy, inspiration and motivation from this part-time life of hers. Enough energy to keep her going, through thick and thin.

Thinking in perspective, it all boils down to one thing. Finding something in your life to hold on to. Whether that would be your job, or your friends, or your dream. And once you find that one thing, squeeze it tight because it’s a rough journey out there. The life of the final year law student is not as exciting and fun as the little girl thought. But there is a light in the tunnel. At the moment, it may only seem half-light, but you hang in there! It will all be worth it eventually. In that I believe. Of that I am confident…

half light

Lawfully yours,

Val

 


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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…


Last night I attended the Annual Charity Law dinner organised by the University of Portsmouth’s Law School. This was a charity event raising money for Children with Cancer and The British Heart Foundation. Guest speakers for the evening were retired judge, Tim Milligan and Barrister, Rachel Spearing.

The evening was a great event with a good opportunity to network with students, lecturers and professionals. One part of the evening was a particular highlight for me – Rachel Spearing’s speech which really got stuck into my mind. It revolved around the idea of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the legal profession. Despite being quite short and succinct, it did bring a smile to my face a few times so I thought I’d pass on the message to other aspiring lawyers out there. The key message reflected through my eyes, can be summarised like this:

1. The Good

The legal profession is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling professions out there. Legal services is one of the few sectors where you can really make a difference to the world that you live in. Each and every one of us will at one point of our legal careers get to contribute to the shaping and development of the rule of law. Whether it is by helping clients out with their everyday problems or advising big businesses on their next global strategy, by writing articles and legal papers, by being innovative and creative and driving our law firm / barrister chamber forward in the competitive world — the dynamics of the legal landscape makes each day unique and fosters an enjoyable, fulfilling work experience.

2. The Bad

In order to get the rewards of the legal profession, one ought to work hard. Whether it means writing that essay, or getting ready for that exam, preparing for a client’s meeting, or trying to find your way around through the legal maze in order to solve your client’s problem – it is challenging. For some, this is exactly where the beauty of the law lies in. For others, this might turn out to be quite tough at times. Whenever you find yourself stuck or struggling, refer back to point 1. Be certain as to why you want to enter the legal profession and most importantly – stick to it. It will all be worth it eventually.

3. The Ugly

The legal world out there is fiercely competitive. Whether you are competing tooth and nail to crack into the legal profession, or you are fiercely  trying to survive within the changing legal landscape – it may get ugly at times. And if it does – refer back to point 1. It will all be worth eventually.

Finally…

There is one thing you should be certain of. You should know WHY you have chosen this exact career path. You have to be certain that this is something that you have to do because it’s compelling, because there is a voice inside of you telling you that you ought to do it. It is a long way and hard work to success but you should always remember that hard work helps you get through life. With hard work, determination and commitment, you can be successful and you can achieve anything as long as you keep trying. And even if you find yourself in circumstances where your hard work didn’t quite pay off, you’d still get to learn something – most likely to try a little harder next time.

And if you lose all hope, and start wondering why you are pursuing a career in law – DON”T give up yet. Remember (as @ParalegalTony once tweeted)….

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Thank you to everyone involved in organising this evening. And thanks to Rachel Spearing for the inspiring speech…

Lawfully yours,

Val