If I had a penny for each time I heard a Law student say ‘don’t worry, first year doesn’t count’, I would probably be richer than Uncle Scrooge.
Although reassuring, this much-repeated phrase is not necessarily true. Here are a few reasons why…
This is your chance to learn legal skills:
First year is the only year of your Law degree that will not contribute to your final grade. It allows us to make mistakes without making it feel like it is the end of the world. However, this is the exact reason why first year does in fact count.
While first year may be a great chance to apply for Open Days, summer schemes and work experience opportunities, this is not the main aim of your first year at university. The sole purpose of first year is to allow you to develop the attitude of a lawyer. It is all about learning to become resourceful, organised, and meticulous (with a few mistakes along the way, of course).
The choices you make in first year will set the foundation of your degree. If you decide to treat the first year of university like an extended fresher’s week, then don’t expect to learn the vital aforementioned skills last minute. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your Law degree. If you learn to manage your time and priorities well from day one, then you will be thanking yourself a year or two down the line.
This is your chance to prepare for second year:
Hang on, hasn’t first year only just started? Why bother thinking about second year already? Let me tell you why. The more ahead of the game you are, the more time you have to prepare yourself for training contract applications.
One piece of advice that I would give to any law student is to create a document of all your experiences and skills. This is very different to a CV.
A CV allows you to list only your best achievements. A skills document is far more flexible and adaptable. Here are a few benefits of writing a skills document:
- It is a glossary of your life experiences. We have all had an experience which we have forgotten after a week or two. However, it is these seemingly minor and perhaps irrelevant experiences that could really impress an employer. Whether this may be volunteering for a few hours or something that you did a few years ago, each experience is worth noting down. You never know when it may come in handy.
- Work experience is no longer a wow factor. The competition for training contracts is overwhelming. Each year it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out amongst the masses of people who are applying for training contracts. While it may show your determination and time management skills, balancing a part-time job with university is not something out of the ordinary. Many students do it. An Irwin Mitchel solicitor once came to my university for a speech, and the best piece of advice she gave us is that you should always have a fact about yourself that would surprise your employer (in a good way, of course). For example, telling an employer that you volunteered to work abroad at a coffee farm is much more rememberable than working a few hours a week at your local Costa. While to some this example may be quite abstract, the argument still stands. The more unique you are, the more likely it will be that an employer will remember you and potentially offer you a job. If you wish to find out more about what type of work experience will make you stand out on a training contract application form, then click the link here.
- Adapting to a firm’s values. Most, if not all, firms follow a set of values. For Linklaters they are: Excellence, Respect, Leadership, Integrity and Teamwork. On the other hand, Vardags stresses the importance of Fairness and Families, Equality and Excellence, and Giving Back. Two completely different firms, with two completely different sets of values. While many training contract application forms will not directly ask you to tell them about an experience which reflects the firm’s values (although some do), they will still be looking for it between the lines. The application process is stressful as it is, so make your life easier by planning for it in advance. Soon, you will find that you have plenty of experiences that may apply to more than one value in a firm.
- It will make it easier to write a CV. If you are applying for a job that requires a particular set of skills and experiences, you can easily refer to your skills document and fill in any gaps with experiences that are suitable to the job role that you are applying for. A skills document will help you out almost every time you have to show someone your skills – whether it is a training contract application, CV or any other form of application.