Career timeline for law students (not just for prospective lawyers!)

Annual Law Careers Fair 2017

Sponsored by

Michelmores logo

Wednesday 15 November 2017, 13:00-16:00

Great Hall, Streatham Campus

Applicable to all law students, particularly 1st and 2nd years (but not too late for 3rd years!)

Law Careers Fair Website

Planning your career can feel daunting, especially if you have no idea what you want to do when you graduate. The key is to realise that, whether you have a profession in mind or not, you do need a plan, to identify what you must do to benefit from opportunities.

Ideally you will start the planning process from the start of your first year, and this is vital if you wish to pursue a career as a solicitor or barrister. This Timeline will help you build your personalised career plan. Click on the coloured arrows for more information on each step:

  • the blue arrows (no scales symbol) are for all law students - including prospective solicitors and barristers
  • the purple arrows (with a scales symbol) are critically important for students who intend to become solicitors or barristers as specialist considerations apply and there are key deadlines to note.

Remember, you won't be able to attend everything, so it is important to focus on your career plan and your objectives during your years of study.

Year 1

Year 3

Year 2

Get organised.

From the start, get into the habit of saving all your employability materials in one place (in an electronic or hard-copy folder) and reviewing your plan every few months, so that you:

  • monitor your deadlines
  • prioritise the skills and knowledge that you need to develop
  • build an evidence-base of examples of your learning to use in job applications

This will save you much work later on and your applications will be of better quality. It is difficult to look back and re-construct a record of what you have learnt and, by recording as you go, you will find that you learn even more about yourself and your goals.

Build a general picture of the resources
available to you.

Many options are open to you

The Career Zone team can help you find potential legal and non-legal careers.

Competition for a top legal career is fierce - but you have won your place to study Law at a top university, so for all new first years this makes such a career well within your grasp.

Even if you think a legal career is not for you, do at least take a quick look at legal practice (the purple arrows) so that any decision you make not to pursue a legal career is an informed one.

Whatever you decide to do, as a student of the University of Exeter, you will be valued by recruiters, and we are behind you all the way! Good luck!

  1. Careers help is provided by the University's Career Zone service. It's a free service which will continue to help and support you for up to three years after you graduate. It is here to help you:
    • become more employable
    • make choices about your future career
    • find suitable opportunities
    • be successful in the selection process
  2. 'My Career Zone' is the University's online system that allows you to:
    • track your Exeter Award
    • track your Exeter Leaders Award progress
    • browse and book events and skills sessions
    • look for casual and part-time work
    • find internships and graduate-level opportunities
    • explore factsheets, resources and FAQs
  3. Log in to My Career Zone and set your preferences, then spend a while browsing the site to find out how it works.

    You will also have access to the My Career Zone facility for three years after you graduate.
  4. Go to My Brilliant Career on ELE, and explore that too.
  5. We also strongly recommend that, at some point (not necessarily at this stage) you read the excellent book, Employability Skills for Law Students by Emily Finch and Stefan Fafinski, which is available in the Law Library and the Career Zone library.

Refer to the complete trainee lawyer timeline for details of what to do when.

The complete trainee lawyer timeline gives you a month-by-month breakdown of what to do when. It should be read in conjuction with this timeline.

Achieve the very best grades you can (at least 2:1) throughout your degree
- for a legal career, this includes all your 1st year assessments.

"I got a 2:2 (or lower) - help!"

If you get a mark of 2:2 or lower for any of you work please don't give up - but do seek help from a specialist careers adviser.

Also, speak to your personal tutor if you have concerns or want to chat about your progress.

It is possible to succeed with lower grades, but you will need to demonstrate strong abilities in other areas and/or may need to consider alternative routes into the legal profession.

Bear in mind that smaller firms may not require such high grades, particularly if they get to know you through work experience.

It's best not to have illusions - competition in this field is fierce.

To become a barrister or a solicitor you need top grades: a decent set of A levels or equivalent (which you already have, otherwise you would not be here) and strong marks in your degree.

It is important to note that many top firms and chambers consider first year marks and require 2:1 or above throughout your degree.

For the purposes of your degree, the marks you receive in the first year do not count towards your final degree mark (you only need to pass your first year modules to progress to the second year); but for your career, marks in the first year that are lower than 2:1 can be a set-back.

Engage with employability opportunities delivered through your course.

You can find out about these events via:

It's a good idea to check these each week.

There will be lots of career development opportunities during your first and second year. For example:

  • Talks about careers from alumni who graduated with the same or a similar degree to the one you are studying
  • Presentations from companies in relevant industries or sectors
  • Skills sessions

There are many talks and workshops specifically for law students. Some are organised by the University, others are sponsored by firms and other organisations who are keen to recruit Exeter students.

You should find plenty to interest you but if there's an area you would like to know more about that isn't being covered, speak to the College Employability Manager, who may be able to help.

Make the most of practical activities on your course.

For example:

  • Curriculum activities that develop transferable skills
  • Mooting
  • Debating
  • Pro Bono

Tailor 1st year law activities to
your personal career plan.

Year 1 is about deciding where you want to work and what type of lawyer you want to be.

Seek out talks by a range of law firms, chambers and other organisations so that you understand the different opportunities that are open to you and what employers are looking for. Attend events that interest you because that is part of the joy of being at University, and because you are more likely to find a pathway that will lead to a happy and rewarding career.

Employers love people who are enthusiastic and open to ideas. Attend events that build your commercial awareness and understanding of the world of law and the changes that are happening at the moment.

Use events to start building contacts in the legal profession.

Complete the Exeter Award.

The Exeter Award is an achievement award for current undergraduate and taught postgraduate students.

It's designed to give you recognition from the University of Exeter for the activities you are participating in outside of your studies, such as:

  • Attendance at skills sessions and training courses
  • Facilitating sporting and musical activities
  • Engagement in work experience and voluntary work

Completing the Exeter Award can really boost your CV and help you develop a range of skills to take forward into the world of work. All employers, including legal employers, value the skills you learn from extra-curricular activities. The Exeter Award helps you achieve a balanced profile of activities. You will grow to recognise how much you have learnt, how to use your experience and maximise your impact in the employment market. The Exeter Leaders Award provides a valuable extension to your skills and experience.

You can complete the award at your own pace, but it's a good idea to make a start while you're in your first year. See How to achieve the Exeter Award to find out more.

Begin exploring career options

Starting to look at possible careers can be a daunting experience, but there are plenty of resources to help you:

The Prospects Career Planner is designed to help you narrow down your options by matching your skills, personality and interests to various careers. Many students find it useful to see what graduates with their subject have gone on to do - the What can I do with My Degree? section of the Career Zone website lists the destination of University of Exeter students, in each discipline, 6 months after graduation and includes links to relevant employment sector information pages.

Talking to people who are currently working in the industry you're interested in is the best way to get an idea of what it's really like day-to-day. Many Exeter graduates are happy to give career advice to current students and our Exepert scheme has been set up to help you contact alumni relevant to your career aspirations. You could also receive long-term support, advice and networking opportunities from a mentor in our pool of alumni through our Career Mentor Scheme.

Finally, get yourself along to our Careers fairs in the autumn term to meet top graduate employers.

There are two aspects to consider, which are interlinked: understanding yourself and understanding the career options that may be open to you/ might suit you. We have provided a glossary of terminology to help you understand some common terms.

Yourself

Take a long hard look at yourself – who you are and who you want to be. What do you know about your personality and how you like to work? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What inspires you and what bores you?

Carry out an honest review of your skills – what skills will a law degree give you that are valuable in the workplace? How do you rate your capability and how might you improve? You will have the opportunity to develop specific legal professional skills, such as legal research and legal analysis, and skills which are transferrable to legal and non-legal working environments, such as problem solving and presentation skills. The resources will help you list the skills that are important to legal employers, rate your own performance, identify where in your studies you have the opportunity to develop those skills and where you need to address gaps and/or enhance your skills to make yourself stand out from the crowd. You might find it useful to look ahead to some of the questions that are asked in application forms. Communication skills, problem-solving, team working, organisational skills and commercial awareness all feature highly. Use your analysis to build your plan and select appropriate events and extra-curricular activities.

Your career options

For Law students, the two big questions are (1) do you want to practise Law and (2) if you do decide to practise and you are aiming for one of the traditional professions, do you want to be a solicitor or a barrister? Don't drift! It is vital that you do the research and think it through. If, after that process, you decide Law is not for you, there are many alternative options, because your degree is widely recognised. There are non-traditional law jobs (e.g. licensed conveyancer); jobs where your legal knowledge and skills will be useful (e.g. in the police, social work, HR); and jobs where your transferable skills will be useful (e.g. teaching or journalism). Many other ideas are available through Career Zone.

However, before you make up your mind, do try to gain some work experience because law in practice is very different from academic law. Furthermore, daily life for a solicitor in a City practice is very different from the life of a family lawyer in the regions or a barrister working in the criminal courts, or a specialist intellectual property lawyer or an in-house lawyer for a telecommunication company. Use specialist resources such as the Chambers Student Guide, The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook, Target Law, Lawyer2B, etc. to explore the possibilities. Do you really understand what a solicitor does and how that differs from a barrister's role? If not, find out. Attend events where people speak about the work they do. Obtain work experience where you can.

When you have a better idea of your possible destination/s, the next consideration is how to get there:

  • What skills are required?
  • What are the routes to qualification?
  • What further study is required?
  • What are the entry requirements?
  • What will it cost and how do you hope to fund it?
  • Will you go "straight through" or take a work/gap year?

Map out an action plan with key deadlines. The standard pathway to qualification for a law student entering the traditional professions and going straight through the system is set out below. There are multiple variations on a theme. Many people apply in later years or re-apply where they have been unsuccessful in the first round and many firms, particularly in the regions, do not follow the standard pattern. The specialist resources mentioned above will help with the detail.

Solicitor

  • First year: consider options; apply first year vac scheme in large firm or informal work experience elsewhere;
  • Second/penultimate year: apply vac scheme @ end Jan; attend vac scheme Easter or summer; training contract applications @ June/July;
  • Final year: training contract offers September; apply Legal Practice Course (LPC) anytime in this year;
  • Degree +1: attend LPC, 1 year if full time;
  • Degree +2: training contract (now called "period of recognised training"), 2 years;
  • Degree +4: admitted as solicitor.

Barrister

  • First and second years: consider options; include Mooting in activities; apply for and undertake mini pupillages and other work experience;
  • Final year autumn: join an Inn of Court; apply for Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC); make arrangements to take Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT); apply for scholarships;
  • Final year spring/summer: Pupillage Gateway opens for browsing in March; submissions open at start of April and close at end of April; interviews May onwards; offers August onwards;
  • Degree +1: attend BPTC, 1 year if full time;
  • Degree +2: Pupillage, 1 year; non-practising 1st six, practising 2nd six
  • Degree +3: 3rd six or Tenancy

Career mentor

The Career Zone notes mention the Career Mentor Scheme. This is highly recommended. Mentors aren't there to find you a job and you shouldn't ask for that but they can provide invaluable support and independent advice on your career options, your applications and your prospects of success. Exeter alumni from many different backgrounds sign up for the scheme. Many are lawyers and some may even work in your target businesses. Some are senior figures in their organizations; some are relatively new to practice. What they have in common is experience of life in the workplace and they can provide a wonderful sounding board for your ideas and/or a safe place to discuss a dilemma.

Join clubs and societies

For many students, joining a club or society is a very important part of University life, it will also show employers that you are motivated, not afraid to get stuck-in and can work as part of a team. Getting involved with running a club or society, (or even starting your own!) is even better. Visit the Students Guild and Athletic Union websites to find out about the huge range of clubs and societies available at the University of Exeter.

Don't give up what you enjoy and don't fall into the trap of thinking that the only activities of value are those that will enhance your CV. Also, you should avoid over-committing yourself because that will make you feel stressed and your studies may be compromised. However, it is worth having that list of valued skills and attributes in the back of your mind. One day, you will need to describe "a time when you overcame a challenge" or "worked as part of a team" or "demonstrated commercial awareness", etc .and your extra-curricular activities should help provide you with examples. Get into the habit of noting some examples every few months so that you don't have to remember details 2 years after the event.

"Unpick" the activities you are undertaking. People often make the mistake of thinking that "the activity speaks for itself", i.e. "I was the captain of the taekwondo team and that allowed me to develop leadership skills". That isn't enough. Put yourself in the mind of the recruiter and work out what they are looking for. What skills did you develop as captain of the taekwondo team that would impress a recruiter and how do those skills link with legal practice? So………think (1) ACTIVITY (2) SKILL (3) LINK. How about this? "In my role as captain of the taekwondo team, I organised three demonstrations in local schools. This involved making the arrangements and allocating roles to my team, recruiting volunteers to help, giving a presentation and answering questions from the children. Schools commented on how much the children had enjoyed the demonstrations; that the arrangements were efficient; and the information was engaging and clear." A note like that gives you an evidence base which you can adapt; depending on the question you are asked.

Make notes of your successes and also examples of where things didn't go to plan and you needed to problem-solve to overcome the challenge. What did you do, what was your thinking process, was your plan successful and if so why? If not, what would you do differently?

Returning to your skills' list, try to select activities that will help you develop skills where you are lacking experience and/or confidence. There are a number of ways of doing this:

  • You might take up a role/office within the activity you already love, targeted to help you develop a particular skill. For example, if you need to develop and demonstrate your numeracy skills (don't under-estimate how important basic numeracy skills are to lawyers – even those who aren't tax lawyers need to make money, present bills, draw up accounts), consider becoming the treasurer for your society.
  • Grasp at opportunities to enhance the skills you need to practise. Don't randomly volunteer for everything but, for example, offer to write an article for a newsletter if you need to demonstrate your ability to write clearly and accurately; interview someone for that article if you need to demonstrate interpersonal skills; find an opportunity to give a presentation if you haven't had much experience of public speaking (be brave – this doesn't come naturally to many people and it is best to practise in a safe environment).
  • Carry out your favourite activity in a different way. For example, you may prefer calm, solitary pursuits – baking, reading, etc. Do you have examples of where you worked as part of a team? Could you organise a bake-off, a book club? • Try something new, aimed at developing the skills you need. Consider your objectives and the time you have available and find an activity that suits – volunteering to help at specific events may provide a solution.

Useful activities for lawyers

  • Membership of Bracton Law Society is recommended. It is run by and for the benefit of Law students and organises many useful events through the year – mooting, court visits, careers events with firms, networking events as well as social events. Standing for an elected office provides the opportunity to develop multiple skills. Many legal recruiters ask whether candidates are members of their student law society. It is not a good answer to say that it isn't for you because……… Recruiters may take the view that it is an important body that would benefit from your ideas.
  • Mooting, debating, negotiating, interviewing are all "skills rich" activities. Mooting is essential if you plan to go to the Bar but useful for others too.

Gain paid or voluntary work experience

Many employers simply will not be interested in candidates without some form of work experience or work-related learning, and years one and two are good times to do this without the pressure of final exams and deadlines. You can find part-time jobs and voluntary opportunities in My Career Zone. You can also find paid, part-time work on campus through our Student Campus Partnership (SCP) scheme and with local companies through the Student Business Partnership (SBP) scheme. You could also apply for Access to Internships fund to help you secure a paid internship placement.

Start planning work experience as early as you can. If you want to be a lawyer, some of your work experience needs to be around legal practice. It's not essential, but others will have it and you will be at a competitive disadvantage if you don't. It can be nerve racking to approach a law firm for the first time but take a deep breath and go for it!

General work experience, whether it is paid or voluntary, can help you develop an understanding of the world of work and how organisations operate in a way that is difficult to simulate through societies and extra-curricular activities. This is why recruiters view work experience as important if not essential. Similar themes apply as in the previous section – the role won't speak for itself: you must find examples to demonstrate the skills you have developed and draw the link with legal practice. Again, dig down to the detail. When you say you developed your interpersonal skills in working with customers, what does that mean? What does excellent client service mean to you and can you find an example of where you demonstrated that? How is that transferrable to law?

It is important to find some work experience in an environment that will give you insight into the day-to-day workings of the legal profession. This will build your confidence and strengthen your applications as well as giving you a better understanding of what you want to do with your career. At first blush, it looks tricky, because the businesses that recruit most trainees (larger law firms) regulate their work experience through formal vacation schemes which form an integrated part of the firms' recruitment processes and, for that reason, are fiercely competitive. Most are only open to students in Year 2 or above. There are few opportunities in these firms for shadowing or visiting informally. Applications for these formal schemes are covered in the final section on applying for graduate level employment.

Over the last few years, some of the larger firms in London and the regions have begun to offer special "open days" for first year students. The contents vary but they often have a structured skills programme as well as providing insight into the business of the firm/s. They aren't widely publicised and you will need to dig around in websites to find the details but that means there are fewer applicants than for the main vac schemes. It is definitely worth applying, even if you don't necessarily want to work in a commercial firm.

Speculative applications

Other than this, don't despair. The solution is to keep an open mind about the sort of work experience you do (it may not be in the organisation where you want to work) and take the initiative. There are many, many law firms (10,000+) and other statutory or voluntary organisations that offer legal services and it is surprisingly easy to convince people to give you a few days' experience shadowing a lawyer, helping take notes, carrying out routine tasks, if you approach them in the right way. You may not be paid for this work but you should see it as a crucial investment in your future. Don't be afraid to write speculative applications. You have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is that you are turned down (and you must write several requests and expect to be turned down) but you may well be successful.

Look in directories for law firms in your area. Outside university towns (and even in university towns) the firms are unlikely to be inundated with requests. Search against different practice areas so that you aim to build a range of experience. Write a short (one side of A4) carefully crafted letter (perfect spelling and grammar) with a polished CV (seek help), explaining that you are inexperienced but would appreciate the opportunity to shadow one of their lawyers for a few days. Crucially, spend some time researching the firm so that you can explain what interests you about them. Then explain what skills you have to offer and your enthusiasm and willingness to help out while you are there. Make sure you use the correct formalities. A letter addressed to a named person is more likely to succeed – you may find this on the firm's website or ring them and ask who would be the appropriate person to contact about a request for work experience.

Think laterally – visit the courts, consider marshalling with a judge, what about voluntary work with the probation service or CAB, what about work experience in the legal department of a big business, what about a local authority? The Law School has a number of really interesting pro bono projects to join if you have time for a regular commitment.

Mini-pupillages

If you want to be a barrister, you should aim to do at least 2 mini-pupillages. There is ample guidance available on applying for mini-pupillages but, in a nutshell, they can range from a single day to 2-3 weeks. They may or may not include a piece of formally assessed work. Some are advertised in a formal way through the Pupillage Gateway but you will need to search out others via websites such as Legal Hub or generally by searching the internet for chambers in a certain location or practice area. Be persistent. You may need to make many applications. As with any aspect of the Bar, competition is tougher. This is largely a numbers' game – there are only @ 15,000 barristers compared to @150,000 solicitors. So…..keep building your skills and experience and polish your applications so that they are as impressive as they possibly can be and try not to take rejection to heart.

Remember: Each time you complete some work experience, add notes to your career plan about what you did and what you learnt. Use the notes to plan your next steps.

Develop your employability or career management skills

The first time you apply for a graduate level job you're likely to be faced with several challenges that you may not have come across before, such as:

  • writing a CV and covering letter
  • attending an assessment centre
  • psychometric testing
  • the dreaded panel interview!

These might sound scary, but you should view them as opportunities to show yourself in the best possible light. We offer a range of training sessions and resources to help you develop skills in these areas so you feel prepared and experienced when you start applying for jobs. See the Skills training and events section of our website for further details.

Demonstrating your knowledge, skills and experience in a way that allows your application to stand out is, in itself, a skill to be learnt. Start work on this early, before the pressures of academic life takes hold. When you have worked out a first draft of a CV and thought through some common application questions, it will be much easier to take the plunge and apply for work experience, and, in due course, complete thoughtful job applications with sound evidence to back them up. The flip side, unfortunately, is that too many applications are completed hastily and a shocking number contain simple errors that result in rejection because they do not demonstrate the candidates' potential. Remember, as well as describing your skills, your CV, application, letter, etc., will showcase your written communication skills and attention to detail (key skills for lawyers obviously). To choose one simple example, no one thinks they will make the elementary mistake of copy-pasting the name of the wrong organisation or misspelling the name of the target employer BUT………there is a reason why every recruiter mentions this error! Spell-checkers are not foolproof (consider the implications of confusing "prevent" and "pervert").

Of course, there is far more to learn than how to avoid a careless mistake. Do make time to attend Career Zone events where you can develop the skills you need. Look out for workshops with law firms and LPC/BPTC providers where they set exercises in a legal context. Go along with a few focussed questions, e.g. which answers impress them to a question such as "How Bird and Bird are you?" or "If you were a fictional character who would you be?"or ask what happens during work experience/mini pupillage at their organisation? Inevitably, you will feel that you hear the same information repeated if you attend several of these events, so choose judiciously, but there are always tips to be gleaned and networking opportunities to be grasped.

Take every opportunity you can for feedback and to practise the sort of exercises you are likely to face, e.g. online tests, group exercises, in-tray exercises and presentations. Mock interviews, particularly with someone who will challenge you hard on the type of questions you are likely to face, are particularly valuable. When you are approaching the time to submit applications, ask your Law Careers Advisor to review them for you and give you feedback.

Consider picking up a language or studying a year abroad

Did you know, 65% of graduate employers think that candidates with international work experience are more employable? Many recruiters are keen to hear from applicants with language skills and knowledge of other cultures. Our Global Employability Team can help you find international work placements and co-ordinate global employer presentations, drop-ins and employability skills workshops. See our Global employability web pages to find out more.

These principles apply to legal employers as to any other. Many have international businesses with offices in other countries and many more have clients in other countries. Languages are valued if your skills are above basic level.

A period working abroad could provide an attractive addition to your CV but draw the link with legal practice if you can. If you are interested in taking part in a law based voluntary scheme, Projects Abroad has some interesting ideas. There are also interesting summer schools available, e.g. through ELSA.

Enhance personal and professional skills

There are many attributes that employers actively seek when selecting candidates, these include: team work, listening skills, numeracy, problem solving, managing people, communication, project management, presentation skills, enterprise, leadership and networking.

You'll gain experience in many of these as part of your degree, but the Career Zone also provides specific skills sessions that will help you in these areas – check out the My Career Zone events listings on our Skills for the workplace web page.

Ideally, by Term 2 in year 1 (but remember – it is never too late!) you will have identified the skills that are valued by legal employers and rated your skills against that list. Hopefully you will have found activities, events and work experience to help you enhance those skills. Review your plan as you learn more and tailor your activities accordingly. Explore the Career Zone sessions as they can help you boost your skills in key areas and you can use what you have learnt for further development through your other activities. In particular, look for workshops where practitioners and/or vocational course providers are running events to help develop key skills such as drafting or commercial awareness (of which more below). Keep taking a pro-active approach. We will give you all the support we can but, when it comes to the crunch, only you can land that dream job.

Commercial awareness is very important. What does it mean in the context of Law? How do you develop it and demonstrate it? In a nutshell, it's about being able to demonstrate a genuine interest in businesses, how they operate and the concepts of the commercial world. Is it important if you want to become a family lawyer in a small high street practice? Yes, but the context is different. You wouldn't need to understand the concepts of City business but you will need to appreciate that the law firm itself is a business and understand how it makes its money. Whatever your business you also need to understand the world of the client and how that interacts with the service you are providing. So, in a generic sense, commercial awareness is always relevant but it is context specific.

A genuine interest doesn't develop overnight and can't be demonstrated by a quick reading of the Financial Times and/or the Law Society Gazette in the week of interview. Here are some quick tips:

  • Attend an event that will provide an introduction to the basic concepts of business – how they are organised, how they make a profit, how they bid for business, the issues they face. You also need an understanding of the economy, the City, the stock market – the level of detail depends upon the type of employer you are targeting.
  • Get into the habit of reading the business section of one of the "serious" newspapers or the FT (Lawyer2B runs an interesting feature called "What the FT?" which demystifies some of the concepts. Don't read passively. Find a story that interests you, follow it and think it through – what are its legal, political and social implications? In particular, think about how the issues affect lawyers and their business. Your interest will grow as your knowledge deepens.
  • Build your general understanding and interest in current affairs in the same way. Read the editorial of a heavyweight newspaper and do a similar analysis – what are the legal, political, social implications? How might the issues affect lawyers? Follow a debate that is topical such as the UK's membership of the EU.
  • What is the common business model for law firms? What is the structure? How do they work out their charges?
  • Build your understanding of the world of law and the current issues facing the profession. What is an ABS and how do they operate? What are the Big 4 accountancy firms up to? Why are more law firms opening in China? Look for examples of globalisation, commoditisation, firms running businesses in novel ways. Is technological development a threat or a challenge? Where will the profession be in 10 years' time? Subscribe to LawCareers.net, The Lawyer and Lawyer2B for updates. LexisNexis also contains a useful commercial awareness section for students.
  • As you move towards applications to specific firms, consider their sectors of expertise and their client base. What are the issues affecting those clients? Showing an interest in clients and being able to enter into an informed discussion about their world is what many lawyers mean when they talk about commercial/business awareness. It is being practical, being able to advise in context and stepping beyond the "ivory tower"/ academic analysis of problems.

Research graduate level employment and further study

It might feel early, but throughout your second year you should be considering what you'll do after graduation. This could include researching specific companies in the sectors you're interested in and finding out what criteria they look for in potential employees, or thinking about where you'd like to live; the south west, London, or perhaps overseas. You might consider becoming self-employed (about 2% of UK graduates do after graduation), if so, there are lots of ways the University of Exeter can support you in this.

Many Exeter graduates are happy to talk to current students about their jobs and how they got into them. Our Exepert scheme has been set up to help you contact alumni relevant to your career aspirations and you could also receive long-term support, advice and networking opportunities from a mentor in our pool of alumni through our Career Mentor Scheme (second year only).

Further study is a popular choice for University of Exeter graduates, so this is a good time to start researching different courses and options, see our web pages on Choosing Postgraduate study for more information. It might be that you'd like to take a gap year before you go into employment, but rather than just sitting on a beach in Thailand for 6 months, include some work experience or volunteering to boost your CV too.

If you want to become a solicitor, the next stage of study will be the Legal Practice Course (LPC). You may go straight through from your degree to the LPC, particularly if you have a training contract lined up at a firm that will pay your fees. If not, many people decide to take a gap year before beginning the LPC, either to bolster their CV with additional work experience (perhaps as a paralegal or a research assistant) or to save money for the fees or just because they need a break from study. Applications for the LPC can be made in the same year in which you intend to study. There is little competition for places and providers set their own deadlines. Applications are made through the Central Applications Board.

Applications for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) are much more competitive. Applicants must pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT). There are English language specifications to satisfy. Applications are made online through BARSAS. You must have joined an Inn of Court by 31 May in the year in which your BPTC is due to commence. Each year the Bar Standards Board publishes an online timetable of key deadlines to follow, which are critical.

If you are interested in other types of LLM or further study, speak to your personal tutor and get further information.

If you have come to the decision you don't want to become a barrister or solicitor this link above will take you to a small sample of some other occupations that you might consider where a law degree is of particular relevance.

Tailor 2nd/penultimate year law activities to your personal career plan.

In your second/penultimate year, be ready to attend the November Law Careers Fair with an understanding of the market and the people attending.

At this stage you should not be drifting around but targeting firms and organisations that interest you as places to work. Research them beforehand so you can ask questions that demonstrate your interest.

Many recruiters will note the names of people who impress them and will revisit that list during the recruitment process.

Apply for internships

Gaining an internship is perhaps the most important element you can add to your CV in order to gain a good job after graduation. Most large graduate recruiters offer summer internships to undergraduates, usually to students in their penultimate year. Closing dates for applications tend to be very early in the academic year, so it's vital to apply early. Competition can be fierce and you'll often need to apply directly to companies as their internship schemes won't be advertised anywhere else.

The University of Exeter organises paid internship schemes to students and graduates – check out the Internships section of our website for details.

Law firms and barristers' chambers do not offer internships in the usual way. Applications for mini-pupillages and vacation schemes are covered elsewhere in this guide. However, you might consider an internship with a different type of organisation that will improve your understanding of the workplace and your skills. An internship which builds your commercial awareness and general understanding of businesses could be very helpful and provide a useful talking point. Look for ways in which you can use your degree, directly or indirectly, and ways to link your experience back to Law if that is your ultimate destination.

Summer vacation placements with international law firms often are referred to as "internships" and application usually is by way of CV and covering letter. The same principles apply as in the section above on seeking other work experience.

It's important to remember that all work experience is valuable and can demonstrate many skills and qualities which law firms are looking for. Most law firms will want to see some law-related work experience on an application to demonstrate commitment and motivation for a career in law, but if you also work part time or devote time to volunteering, which might limit your ability to get law work experience, don't worry.

Apply for vacation schemes, training contracts, mini pupillages or for graduate level employment.

Many students secure graduate jobs during their final year at University, and if you want to hit the ground running with top employers then you need to be on the ball straight away. We can help you by looking at your CV, covering letter or application and by helping you prepare for the interview itself. Check out our CVs, applications, interviews webpages for more information and, if you'd like extra help, please get in touch.

Note that Law students are recommended to start the application process at the beginning of Year 2. Questions can be challenging and take some thought. The key to success is researching and tailoring applications, which also takes time. Try to spend a couple of hours each week researching different businesses and thinking about the application processes. That will keep your applications fresh and save you running out of steam if you are trying to complete several at once. Most deadlines are not until 31st January but early applications are allowed and advised. Draw up a timeline and prioritise.

Training contracts

Details of firms offering training contracts and their application processes can be found in many of the specialist career publications such as Lawyer2B, The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook and Chambers Student Guide: Careers in the Law. These resources are available in the Career Zone Library and you can pick them up at the Law Fair. Cast your net widely. A handful of firms with effective publicity tend to receive a disproportionate number of applications and there are many other, equally attractive opportunities available where the competition is gentler. Choose your targets and work out interesting questions to ask them that go beyond the website. Many of them will be at the Law Careers Fair in November and/or attending events on campus in the autumn, giving you an opportunity to build your contacts.

Larger law firms

Most larger/medium law firms use formal vacation schemes as part of their recruitment cycle, i.e. applying for a vac scheme is a competitive process and the vac scheme itself is like an extended interview, often with a formal interview at the end, and with a significant number of a firm's trainees being recruited from the vac scheme pool. Some firms have a policy of recruiting trainees solely from the people who have attended the vac scheme. You may apply directly for training contracts at most law firms but having participated in a vac scheme at that firm or another firm/s will give you a distinct advantage. A week or two at a firm will give you a good understanding of its culture and of legal business generally. It also helps you decide where you want to work. Businesses often look very similar from the outside but appearances can be deceptive!

Most application deadlines are around the end of January, sometimes a few weeks later, but check on the websites of the firms you are targeting and draw up a timeline so that you focus in plenty of time. Is it worth you submitting an application in advance of the deadline? Yes. Some firms read all applications together, after the deadline has passed, but many make early offers. You have nothing to lose by applying early.

Training contract deadlines are usually at the end of July – again, you must check the details.

There are various hurdles to jump in applying for vac schemes. Check the resources so you know what to expect, Each firm is different but the usual process is a variant of (1) apply; (2) an online screening process of verbal reasoning, numeracy and/or psychometric testing; (3) a telephone interview and sometimes that is automated, so that you reply to a standard question within a set time; (4) an assessment centre, where you may have group exercises, presentations, interviews, in-tray exercises, social events.

Lots of advice is available from Career Zone about putting your application together and preparing for the exercises you will face. Study that before you begin and you will set out in the right direction and avoid simple mistakes. The key to success is making sure that you tailor your application to the firm you are targeting. This is hard work and takes time but you are far more likely to succeed if you prepare 10 carefully crafted applications than if you knock out 100 applications at the last minute.

There are two very important points which many people miss. First, successful applicants will research the firm, understand the business and demonstrate their understanding and interest in that firm throughout the process. The devil is in the detail and most people do not go far enough. If you are applying to a range of Silver Circle firms for example, you need to know the difference between them. Why are you applying to Herbert Smith Freehills/ King & Wood Mallesons/BLP/Ashurst? What interests you about that firm and the work they do? What deals/ cases have they dealt with recently? What challenges might they face? Are they likely to expand into new areas of business or new ways of doing business? If you can copy and paste your answers from one application to another, you haven't done enough research!

The second point is that you must provide evidence that you have the qualities that the firm is seeking. Again, detail is important. List what you have learnt instead of what you have done. Which of the following examples, referring to the same experience, impresses you more?

"I think it is important to keep fit and enjoy playing netball. I have recently taken up running and touch rugby which has further developed my team-working skills. I was chosen for the last Varsity game"
OR
"I have played netball for 10 years and this year I joined the touch rugby team. Having never played the sport, I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself and increase my fitness further. My competitive nature and dedication to improving my performance led me to take part in a Varsity game with X. I am also training to take part in a rock solid race in March consisting of a 10 kilometre run combined with 50 testing obstacles."

Your notes about the skills you have developed should be very useful. Try to make your examples relevant to the firm's business and the type of people they are looking for. For example, if you are asked which law you would change, it is tempting to choose a juicy topic around human rights, which is fine, but could you find a more apt example for a corporate context?

There is helpful advice through Career Zone about using the STAR approach to structure your answers.

Smaller/medium law firms

Application deadlines tend to be later. Often there are no formal vacation schemes but you may be able to obtain informal work experience. Application may be by way of covering letter and CV. Again, there is good advice on Career Zone to help. The principles mentioned above also apply to you – each firm is different and you must demonstrate that you have researched the firm, are enthusiastic about working there and have the skills and qualities they need. Reflect this in your covering letter by structuring it to include a paragraph about the firm and what they do that impresses/ interests you, then explain what you have to offer. Using the correct format is critical. If you aren't sure when to finish with "yours sincerely" or "yours faithfully", look it up. In your CV, it is best to follow a traditional structure and avoid gimmicks. Return to the section on seeking work experience for further ideas.

The Bar

The principles for applying for pupillage are just the same in that you must research thoroughly and tailor your application to the set you are targeting. You are likely to be faced with more exercises involving the Law. Use the specialist resources to help you prepare.

Everyone

It is always worth seeking advice from a careers specialist, who will look over your draft applications and CVs and help you through your next steps. Provide some documents for the advisor to review; then the advice can be specific and tailored to your circumstances. When you are preparing to complete online tests, attend an assessment centre or interview, again, review the resources and seek specialist help. Be brave and ask find someone who will give you a challenging practice interview. It will build your confidence and help you think under pressure.

Tailor final year law activities to
your personal career plan.

By the start of your final year you may have a training contract or pupillage offer. If so, don't sit back and forget about employability.

Your main focus this year must be on getting the best grades you can but you can also focus on building skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the workplace.

If you aren't lucky enough to have a job (maybe you haven't started applying yet – it's not too late – maybe your first year grades were disappointing and hopefully your second year grades are better), plan carefully to ensure you attend events that will help you get a job. Work out what help you need and go out there to find it.