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11 things you need to know if you want to be a lawyer

Your studies are just the beginning. Here’s how to get them right.

Studying law with the end goal of becoming fully-fledged lawyer is no easy task. Nor is it for the faint-hearted.

There are ups and there are downs, but with a few helpful snippets of advice up your sleeve, you too can successfully navigate the rollercoaster ride that is law school.

Here are some things you should know if you want to be successful (according to someone who’s been there):

1. Consider a double degree.

Even if you know you want to practice law and that’s all you’re concerned about, give some serious thought to a double degree. Is there any other field that interests you? Not only does it leave you with a solid Plan B if law doesn’t quite work out, it helps to break up your law degree. Law subjects are dense and require a lot of reading. Using other parts of your mind can really help relieve the brain strain. Additionally, it can make you a more lucrative employee as it shows you’re multitalented and have other interests and capabilities.

2. Work hard in your first year.

At the end of the day, you want to have a high grade average to be employed in this competitive field. First year subjects are typically the easiest, so why not aim for a Distinction or High Distinction? You’ll thank yourself later when you’re struggling to pass Admin Law or Civil Prac in your fourth year.

Not only does it leave you with a solid Plan B if law doesn’t quite work out, it helps to break up your law degree.

3. Attend all your tutorials.

We all know how hard it is to actually follow the advice, ‘Make yourself a study timetable.’

When you’re at uni and you have that much freedom, a study plan can often be more restrictive than productive, as you’re constantly modifying it and feeling guilty that you haven’t been able to stick to it. A more realistic strategy is to make yourself attend your tutorials as this creates a regular study pattern. It also fights against the trap of ceasing to attend university, feeling detached from your studies and consequently losing motivation.

Try hitting the library for one to two hours after every tutorial and go from there. You’re on campus anyway and everything is fresh in your mind.

4. Be friendly to your classmates.

Come exam period, they’ll be your greatest assets.

Studying together at university is invaluable as you’re likely to pick up on things you missed in your own studies/lectures. They also help to make you feel less alone and keep you on track with assessments.

5. Embrace the library.

Often with your uni timetable, you’ll have a couple of hours between lectures or tutorials. Absolutely feel free to grab a coffee with a friend but going to the library is a great habit to get into. That way, when you get home you can truly relax knowing you’ve done the readings for tomorrow. Relaxing at home? What a dream.

Try hitting the library for one to two hours after every tutorial and go from there.

6. Don’t be discouraged by marks.

Employers look for so much more than your grade average. That being said, if you’re truly shocked by your mark knowing you poured your heart and soul into it, don’t be afraid to appeal. No matter how far you are into your degree, it’s never too late to make a change and start bringing up that grade-point average.

7. Reach out into university life.

Not only can it reward you with new friends and countless good times but extracurricular activities make you feel more connected and involved with your degree.

It’s easy to let yourself be alone in the crowd at university, but joining the Law Students’ Society (and making an appearance at their bar-tabbed parties) or nominating yourself for positions (such as Student Representative Council or in the Student Union) makes law student life less of a drag and more of a fulfilling occupation.

I also cannot recommend competitions enough. Whether you’re in first year or fifth year, get involved in Mooting, Witness Examination, Client Interviewing etc. Mooting is hard work but does wonders for your studies, and Witness Examination develops your confidence, advocacy skills and not to mention it’s exciting and fun. To an employer, these really separate you from the masses.

8. Volunteer.

Volunteering is good for the soul, and it looks great on your resume. Enough said. Do it through university or take your own initiative to find something in your community.

9. Use personal connections.

It’s difficult to land an internship or position in a law firm when you don’t have much experience under your belt.

You may feel unnerved when it seems that everyone around you is landing jobs here, there and everywhere. It may be unfair or improper but use that one uncle or friend-of-a-friend who knows someone to gain experience. It’ll help you stay ahead of the game. Keep in mind that working in a small firm can be even better experience than working in a large firm, as employers know you’re more likely to have had your hands in real cases, not just photocopying 24/7.

10. Personal statement means everything.

When applying for clerkships, pay special attention to your personal application or personal statement (where you write about why you want to be a part of the firm and why the firm should take you on board). Just about every application before you and after you also has a distinction average with experience in mooting and has volunteered in Cambodia. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your resume alone can pull you through.

11. Don’t be blinkered by corporate life.

Corporate firm life is not, I repeat, not, the be all and end all.

Unless you have a passion for it or really have your heart set on it, consider the other career options available to you with a law degree. Corporate life can be relentless and unforgiving, particularly in the first several years. You could be a criminal lawyer, a barrister, an academic, a politician, a journalist, an in-house legal adviser! Above all, the greatest piece of advice is to follow your passions and happiness will follow you.

11 things you need to know if you want to be a lawyer
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