raising the bar

Confessions of a First Class LLB Graduate

So you want to be a lawyer? Why?

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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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Author: Valya Georgieva

A recent first class LLB (Hons) graduate from the University of Portsmouth with over 2 years' experience in supporting the Litigation Department of a leading regional law firm. Currently leveraging social media in search for a training contract with a medium to large corporate/commercial practice. Part time LPC student at the University of Law, Guildford.

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