The Four Questions To Answer
You need to answer 4 basic questions for yourself:
1. Do I want to be a barrister, or a solicitor, or something else? And why not the alternatives?
2. In which city would I like to be based? And why not the alternatives?
3. Is there a specific area of law in which I’d like to work? And why not the alternatives?
4. Am I good enough?
The Careers Advisor will tell you that if you’re doing a Law degree, there are really only two exit strategies – the Solicitor route, or the Bar. In reality, there are a host of jobs in the law, each with different skill sets required. Doing a Law degree does not mean that you’ll be a lawyer, any more than doing a degree in Politics makes you a politician. It does, however, give you a particular way of thinking, and of analysing material.
That said, some people are suited to work with the written word, some with oral advocacy, some with people, some with esoteric research. Importantly, there is no one combination which makes an individual a barrister or a solicitor. The skills of a criminal advocate bear little resemblance to drafting a complex multi-party contract. The empathy required when working with injured clients is completely different to the number-crunching that might be required in commercial litigation.
Understanding what you’re good at and where you fit in is the crux of your work experience, but you have to understand that it might not cover the precise area of practice in which you’re interested, or that the area of law which you find fascinating in your studies is very different in real life. Undertaking work experience, or mini-pupillage, is often about identifying things that you would rather avoid in the long-term. That is not a negative: it’s defining your parameters in a far more pragmatic and constructive way.
To put that in context, rather than do 15 criminal mini-pupillages with every set you can find in Cleethorpes, if you see Family work with solicitors in Leeds, Employment with barristers in Birmingham, Commercial with solicitors in London, and Crime with barristers in Liverpool, you will build a portfolio of experience where each placement answers more than one question. Of course, you’ll probably end up doing Personal Injury work in Manchester…
Start by looking at your CV, and looking at the 4 basic questions. Have you thought about any of those questions as either/or questions before, or have you only ever asked yourself the leading question: Do I want to be a barrister?
Work out a plan for answering those questions. You don’t need to visit 4 different cities, but you at least see the difference between London and the provinces.
Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Send out a tranche of applications and see how you get on. If you receive three offers from similar chambers, don’t be afraid to say to one of them: “Thank you so much for your offer. I’ve actually had a very similar offer three weeks ago from someone else and I don’t want to waste your time. I’m happy to come and see you, either for the full period you’ve offered me, or just for a quick chat, because I’d love to get a feel for the place, but I know that there are other people out there who might not have had as many offers as I’ve received.” You might, of course, be missing out on an opportunity, but equally your maturity and self-awareness might count in your favour. The important thing is to have one eye on answering the necessary questions.
Each time that you get an offer, or a rejection, think about what you’ve gained from that. Even a rejection letter can be used to your advantage. Why did they reject you? Have they offered you feedback? Do I now have a contact name which I didn’t have before? Is it worth me repeating my application in the future?
Where have I been?
What have I seen?
Who did I see?
What did I learn?
How does this feed back into the 4 questions?