Our editor and former magic circle corporate lawyer, Husnara Begum, explains how to know if law is the right career path for you and why you shouldn’t always listen to what others have to say about your plans.
I have vivid memories of several people telling me that I should get real because someone with a disability will never successfully break into law. Undeterred, I decided to prove them all wrong and continued with my plans regardless and bagged a much-coveted training contract offer with Linklaters.
Using informational interviews to canvas others’ opinions can play a pivotal role in helping you to determine whether a career in law is right for you and indeed a realistic option. But some people’s views should come with a health warning because they’re based on outdated / incorrect information or simply formed on the back of a random throw away remark made by a stranger following a one-off negative experience. What’s more, the person offering advice may also be making incorrect assumptions about you and your situation.
The truth is many individuals in your network are likely to be ill-qualified to offer careers advice. And anything they say may be biased, overly simplistic, or made to sound all doom and gloom. Therefore, try politely pushing back when anything mentioned by someone sounds like a sweeping generalisation. Do this by asking them why they hold a certain position / view, and what evidence they have supporting such claim(s)?
As well as informational interviews, it’s imperative to try before you buy. Unlike the 1990s when I was a wannabe lawyer, there are now plenty of opportunities to gain insight into the world of law ranging from virtual events, internships, diversity schemes, pro bono work, webinars and commercial awareness podcasts etc. And that’s not to mention the legal directories, law firm websites and social media pages. The list is endless.
Whilst working your way through all the above ensure you fully appreciate your values, key skills and other core strengths. Drawing up a career bucket list will also help. Based on my experiences of life as a City solicitor I’d also recommend asking yourself the following questions. But be mindful of confirmation bias – ie avoid solely focussing on information that ‘confirms’ conclusions you’ve already reached and also pay adequate attention to stuff that contradicts your thoughts.
- Do your grades and experiences meet the minimum requirements set by your target law firms? If not, have you properly researched and considered all the alternative options? Applying to smaller or regional firms? Self-funding the LPC or SQE? Qualifying by alternative means? Paralegalling? Solicitor apprenticeships? And what about future remedial steps you can be taking to close any potential knowledge or skills gap?
- Are you a tough nut and do you really have what it takes? Breaking into law is tough. Progressing in law is just as tough, if not tougher. The hours can be long and unpredictable but that is also a major draw because no two days are the same. It’s also worth nothing here that contrary to popular belief law is not as glamorous as the media suggests.
- How much are you enjoying your law degree? Though the academic study of law is different to the day-to-day work of a solicitor the fact that I didn’t love my degree should’ve been a warning sign for me. But I foolishly chose to ignore this and caved into peer pressure. All my fellow students were applying for vacation schemes at top City firms so why shouldn’t I? Lesson learnt is that I should’ve forged my own path. The great advantage of studying law is that it’s a super credible degree subject and certainly doesn’t limit you to training as a solicitor or barrister.
- What are your values and main motivations? I’m happy to admit money was a key factor for me as was having a sponsored LPC place. Another key motivation was helping others. It’s ironic therefore that I ended up working for a City law firm representing corporate clients. Perhaps, if I joined a smaller firm advising individuals on areas such as family law or indeed employment law, I might’ve stuck with it. Lesson learnt here was to target law firms with practice areas and clients that are aligned to what I was genuinely interested in. After all, law firms come in different shapes and sizes meaning there’s plenty to choose from. For tips on how to tell if a law firm is right for you check out our this blog.
- How badly do you want it? As I’ve mentioned above, breaking into law can be a challenge for even the most capable students. It takes plenty of enthusiasm, guts, determination, and meticulous planning. Wobbles are inevitable as are some rejections. It’s important not to let others deter you. That said, aim to be realistic and don’t be afraid to experiment. Follow your own path, come up with your own definition of success, even if it involves a potential detour.
Finally, give yourself permission to get it wrong. Career planning isn’t a precise science and if you do end up being a square peg in a round hole you can potentially re-invent yourself. That’s exactly what I did – not once but twice and I don’t have any regrets!