Whether your goal is to become a barrister or a solicitor, for all law students at any stage of your studies, it’s likely that your legal education will have been disrupted by COVID-19.
From postponed graduations to taking the Bar exam online, vacation schemes going digital to delayed pupillages, there’s a lot of change to the way law students receive their education in the wake of COVID-19.
But, this change doesn’t have to be a negative thing for law students. In fact, with the proper awareness and preparation, you can take these changes in your stride and get properly prepared for a post-pandemic legal career.
So, read on for some of the ways you can prepare yourself as a law student in the wake of COVID-19 and the changing legal sector.
Prepare to continue your legal learning online
While in-person education has been suspended in many cases, a number of universities and legal educators have made adjustments to take their courses online to help law students complete their education during COVID-19.
For the safety of both staff and students, the majority of universities throughout the UK have moved their degree delivery to remote working while the COVID-19 threat is still present. So, if you are studying for your law degree you need to prepare for your course content to be delivered online for the foreseeable future.
And it’s not just university education that’s gone online, many institutions are providing their continued law education online in the wake of COVID-19. So, whatever stage of your studies you’re at, you need to prepare yourself for learning online.
Virtual Vacation Schemes for students during COVID-19
It may seem on the surface that vacations schemes would be impossible during COVID-19, where social distancing is limiting the number of people allowed in the workplace. However, some innovative law firms are finding ways around the COVID-19 restrictions to still be able to offer their vacation schemes.
Over 20 UK law firms have created virtual vacation schemes as a result of COVID-19 disruptions so law students at any stage of their education can still benefit from experiencing a taste of life within a law firm.
While a virtual scheme might not be what you initially had in mind for your vacation scheme, remember that the end goal is the same; to learn more about the firm and to make a good impression on its members.
The same advice applies to a virtual vacation scheme as it would to a physical one; be yourself, be positive and proactive, be professional and work to network with the most valuable people. You’re furthering your education through this vacation scheme so work to soak up as much information and experience as possible and always deliver any work assigned to you quickly and to a high standard.
Changes to the Professional Skills Course
For students wishing to become solicitors, it’s worth noting that, due to COVID-19, there have been some changes to the Professional Skills Course (PSC); the final training prospective solicitors need to complete before qualifying.
Many providers of the course have made adjustments to the way the course is delivered and moved the course online to ensure trainees can complete their qualification despite COVID-19 disruptions.
However, institutions providing the PSC need to apply for approval before making any changes to the way their courses are delivered, so check with your individual PSC provider to find out how they will be delivering the course.
Brace yourself for a tricky job market after COVID-19
An unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 crisis is that law students and trainee solicitors and barristers are going to be graduating into a tricky job market. Many law firms will have taken a financial hit during the pandemic and as such, there may be more demand than supply in relation to jobs for lawyers following COVID-19.
However, it’s still very much possible to secure a job in the post-pandemic legal landscape. For successful job hunting in the COVID-19 job market, law students need to be realistic, resilient and flexible in their approach to finding employment.
There are still opportunities to impress potential employers and stand out among the crowds of law students looking for jobs, placements and pupillages. Upskilling and filling out your CV with extracurricular activities such as volunteering with pro bono legal services can help you to stand out among applicants.
Try not to let your confidence be knocked by rejections or missing out on a position you really wanted. It’s important to not lose sight of why you wanted to get into a career in the law in the first place and to keep those ambitions at the forefront of your mind when applying for positions.
And, if you’re struggling to find work in the post-COVID-19 job landscape, try to be flexible and adaptable in your approach to job hunting. Maybe you can take an alternative route to get to your end career goals such as a solicitors apprenticeship or conversion course. Or take a year to volunteer with a legal charity to build up your real-world experience and return to the job search next year when the pressures of the pandemic will have hopefully passed and the jobs market is calmer.
Upskill and improve your CV to stand out
As we’ve said, standing out is essential to securing work in the post-pandemic legal landscape and the best way you can do this is to improve your CV by upskilling and gaining as much additional experience as possible.
While physical classes and courses might not be running at the moment, and virtual vacation schemes will potentially be oversubscribed, there are plenty of online course options available for law students to develop additional skills.
Extracurricular courses outside of the scope of your legal studies are an attractive feature to have on your CV for employers. These additional studies, which often offer certificates upon completion, show your dedicated interest in and commitment to your ongoing legal education.
Whether you want to develop your understanding of human rights law, increase your knowledge of business law or gain an insight into criminal law, there are plenty of free legal courses available online from trusted educational institutions.
You might use these online courses to get ahead in your studies or brush up on an area of law you covered in your previous university modules. Either way, taking the time to develop your knowledge of the law, and having a certificate to show for it at the end can help to make your CV stand out when it comes to applying for jobs.
And, if online courses aren’t your thing, why not try and find online volunteering opportunities for pro bono legal aid? Not only will this look good on your CV when it comes to applying for jobs, but it will also give you great real-world experience of offering legal advice and dealing with clients.
Get used to new ways of working
The COVID-19 crisis and resultant social distancing measures have meant that many of us have had to embrace remote working for the first time. And, while some offices are beginning to reopen, many workplaces are still utilising remote working and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Not only does working from home reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19, but it can also provide more flexibility to law firms in terms of the clients they work with, the legal staff they attract and has been proven to help boost productivity.
Getting yourself used to working from home, managing your time without the supervision of a superior and not getting distracted is a good way to prepare for remote working. If you do end up working remotely when you start working post-COVID-19, prepare for much of your client interaction to be held digitally.
When you start working in the law after COVID-19, if restrictions are still in place, it’s likely that you’ll be communicating with clients via video conferencing platforms, over the phone and via email. You’ll also likely need to present case strategies and other complex information via video, which can be a difficult and unnatural process if you’re not used to it.
Getting used to these virtual communication methods ahead of time will help you to be more natural when it comes to interacting with clients. As with anything, practice makes perfect, so familiarising yourself with working alone and presenting via video link can help to set you up for success when working in the post-pandemic landscape.
The COVID-19 pandemic is, undoubtedly, an unprecedented time and its effects on the legal sector and legal education are far-reaching, but there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Staying attuned to the latest developments and advice and being proactive in your approach to working can help you to weather this storm and come out the other side a stronger lawyer.
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