“Government is the greatest combination for forces known to human society. It can command more men and raise more money than any and all other agencies combined.”
David Dudley Field II.
The California penal code is well-known for being very long and complex, making it difficult to understand for everyday, non-legal clients. This means it requires specialist lawyers to navigate its complexities, who are more familiar with its changing nature and frequently added new sections.
In order to be able to adapt to situations like these, such lawyers must develop keen analytical and research skills. They will also have to possess great memory power, which is largely down to the fact that the California penal code is referenced by its section number alone. This is unlike some other sections of the United States code.
As a lawyer, being able to navigate your clients through some of the most complicated aspects of law prepares you to handle any situation. Dealing with some of the more challenging criminal codes in the world gives you a comprehensively strong grounding in law that you can then use to build a successful career. This article explores the historical nature of the California penal code, its complex exceptions, as well as its ever-changing nature through its constant additions.
The history of the California penal code
The code originated in 1872 as one of the original four Californian codes, being derived from the Field penal code that was named after David Dudley Field II. He was one of the original code commissioners for the New York code commission.
The California penal code contains six different parts, which are then subdivided into titles, chapters and sections. The code’s job is to organise criminal acts and their respective punishments. Therefore, it comprises of a very long list of offences, which are then themselves broken down again into sections leading to further information on subcategories.
Exceptions not covered by the penal code
Some particular criminal acts are recorded separately from the California penal code. Namely, there are two other codes which cover all of the other criminal activity and areas of the law.
The first of these is the California Health and Safety Code, which is where all drug laws relating to crimes and their respective charges are kept.
The second is the California Vehicle Code for anything relating to motorists, motor vehicles and traffic matters in the area.
New additions to the California penal code
As previously touched on, the code is constantly evolving. The California penal code is a leading example of a criminal code that adapts as the legal system and the world around it changes.
For example, the code was an early adopter of cyberbullying laws, detailing various laws and regulations surrounding anti-bullying laws initially, which were then later followed up with cyberbullying-specific additions.
The above is just one example of the code’s many additions over the years and, as such, it is a fairly expansive and thorough set of enactments for a lawyer to get to grips with. There is no doubt that there will be more additions to come in the future that they would also need to study to stay on top of its shifting nature of law.
The California penal code is a good reference point and example of what a complicated set of legal regulations looks like. Familiarising yourself with a system like this, as a lawyer, can enlighten you as to what other criminal codes from around the world look like – and how one can navigate them if they were required to.
Lawyers who are specialists in interpreting the California penal code can help defendants immensely, who would otherwise be overwhelmed by its complicated nature. They are a leading example of professionals who are able to put fantastic legal brains to use so that they can quickly adapt, recall information and stay on track of its changing laws.
“The beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do.”
Lewis Alexander Baxter.
Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is student, aspiring lawyer and The Blurred Line Group (TBLG) founder Lewis Alexander Baxter. Lewis founded his organisation with an aim to change the way local mental health charities are funded across the UK, whilst still studying at university. With TBLG, Lewis has organised and hosted his own launch event, as well as delivered a TEDx Talk titled “Mental Health: Where do we go from here?”. I spoke with Lewis about his current ambitions as an aspiring lawyer, the why, who and what of TBLG, as well as his thoughts on how firms need to change their approach to mental health in the workplace.
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
LAB: “I think the beauty of law is its diversity and variety – from the people you meet to the sort of responsibilities and tasks that you’ll do. With certain career paths, there can be days and even weeks where you do the same tasks, day-in and day-out. I know the same can’t be said for law. I’ve always been someone who thrives off being busy and working in a fast-paced environment. Working in a commercial setting seems a natural fit for me; but I’m still a couple of years off full-time employment and there’s certainly a lot of hard work between now and then.”
What inspires you?
“Young people do. Young entrepreneurs, young activists, young sports stars, young musicians – all of whom have such huge responsibility but are under the spotlight and constantly scrutinised by the public, due to their age. I’d like to think I am growing up in a world where young peoples’ voices are being heard more and they are getting the recognition they deserve. Change is coming but not quick enough – I aim to make my mark within the law and in the charitable sector too, but also provide opportunities for other young people to join my mission or provide support to their endeavours.”
So what then inspired you to start The Blurred Line Group?
“In late 2015, I battled with the dehumanising disease of depression which controlled every part of my life. In March 2016, after suffering from a mental breakdown, I considered suicide – seeing it as the only route to end the pain. Fortunately, with the help and support of mental health professionals, my family and friends, this tragedy was avoided and I began to see that my life was worth living and I have things to offer to this world.
Mental ill-health is a huge issue facing modern Britain; more people have mental health conditions than ever before, but are often unable to access support due to under-funded services and huge waiting lists. The Blurred Line Group is the UK’s first funding hub for local mental health charities and community projects. In 2020, we strive to provide easily-accessible grants to initiatives nationwide, and provide mentorship to them too. We want to see these charities and projects not only survive but thrive, so they can help more people get the support they deserve. With prior experience on the Board of small mental health charities, I have seen first-hand the challenges associated with trying to access funding. We know this mission won’t be easy, far from it, but we won’t stop until we have reached communities across the UK.”
How did it then feel to complete your first TED Talk on those topics?
“Amazing! I must admit, I do quite a lot of public speaking now and have learnt to deal with any ‘pre-talk nerves’, but I don’t think any amount of experience prepares you for a TEDx talk. The bright lights, the large audience and having to stand on the stage with the TEDx letters behind you is daunting but exciting. It’s never easy sharing my story about my battle with depression, but knowing it would resonate with someone in that venue makes it worthwhile.
My topic was ‘Mental Health: Where do we go from here?’, as I explored what we can do as a society to build upon the increased ‘awareness’ of mental health conditions, and turn this into action. Raising awareness is so important, but we haven’t yet seen the improvements in mental health provision that we need! I’d encourage anyone who has a story to tell to share it. Share it with a small group of close friends and family first, and then who knows, the TEDx stage may soon welcome you.”
If you want to check out Lewis’ TEDx Talk, you can watch it below.
University is a learning process in more ways than one. What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?
“Time-management, being able to juggle various commitments and learning to say ‘no’ – which all link together. Doing a law degree isn’t easy, I’ve learnt that by now, but it’s even harder when you find yourself short-of-time or having to rush your work. I’ve learnt over the last 13-14 months to make a personal timetable, which includes not only my academic commitments, but other commitments too (such as The Blurred Line Group work, public speaking / talks, writing vacation scheme applications and socialising). This has allowed me to keep in control of what I need to do and most importantly, when I need to do it. Like I have said before, I like to keep busy and I know I’m not alone when I say that. Being able to demonstrate that you can continue with other extra-curricular interests, clubs or societies AND do well in your studies, is a huge selling-point to recruiters – both legal and non-legal.
One of the hardest things I have had to learn is saying ‘no’ – whether to friends, employers or family. Obviously it is important to spend time with people, to socialise and to earn some money, but it comes down to your priorities. I try and set myself some time per week aside for this (well…I call my mum daily), play football once per week (if I can) and always find a couple of hours for Netflix.
You just have to work out time-management yourself; what works for me, won’t work for you. I’m confident that employers are looking for the ‘all rounded’ individuals, those that secure strong academic qualifications, but have other interests outside of their degree.”
What other ‘moment’, or mistake, do you feel you learnt a lot from?
“I don’t know whether I would call it a mistake, but not speaking to someone earlier about my mental health certainly taught me to be more open, honest and transparent. Talking about our mental health is never easy and hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing, but failing to speak sooner about my battle with depression nearly cost me my life. Today, I have learnt not to keep my worries internal, but instead to share them, in a confidential setting, with someone I can trust. Some of these worries have been very minor, whilst some haven’t been – either way, I have been able to find a solution quicker and get earlier support.”
How about career advice? What’s the best and worst you’ve ever received?
“The best advice I received from someone is about asking questions. I think we can all be a bit apprehensive about asking questions or thinking we look ‘stupid’ for not knowing the answers straight away, but we shouldn’t be. If we don’t ask questions, how can we get a more complete picture of X firm, X vacation scheme or X training contract. Admittedly, I am still torn between the solicitor route and the barrister route – it is not an easy decision to make. But by asking questions to solicitors and barristers alike, in addition to HR representatives and careers advisers, I feel I can make a more informed decision.
As for the worst, a trainee solicitor who said ‘follow the money’. I don’t think that can even be classed as advice…”
Speaking of advice – if you were in charge of a firm for the day, what’s the one change you’d make today to prepare it for tomorrow?
“Mental health and wellbeing programmes for all employees. Law firms are prioritising mental health in the workplace more than ever before; however, I feel there is more to be done. Sleeping pods, 45-hour shifts, 15 cups of coffee per hour – these things aren’t ideal for our mental wellbeing. (Not all law firms are like this; possibly very few to this extent)
I firmly believe that a (mentally) healthy workforce is a productive and happy workforce. Ensuring excellent pastoral and emotional support for staff, creating a culture of compassion and investing in the newest wellbeing technologies and programmes will lead to great improvements in the legal industry. This is not an overnight change, but rather a long-term culture change.”
And finally, any advice for aspiring solicitors?
“I think most aspiring solicitors are constantly told that it is crucial to show teamwork skills and communication skills; after all, when working in any firm you have to demonstrate this on a daily basis. However, it’s far too easy to show how you’re great at working in teams and fail to focus on your ability to be an independent thinker and be self-motivated.
Perhaps highlight times when you had to conduct research (such as a university project or essay competition), talk about your experience in sports such as running or boxing, or bring attention to the fact you played a musical instrument for many years. These activities demonstrate independence and often, lone-working.
My main piece of advice would be: to be authentic. Everyone’s lives, skills, interests and experience levels are very different and you should be proud, not sceptical, of what you have achieved. On application forms to law firms or chambers, show off your personality and share what is unique about YOU. I think the moment you start pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re heading into very dangerous territory.”
I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Lewis for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series. If you’d like to get in touch with Lewis, or learn more about the great work he’s doing with TBLG, you can do so below.
“We are led to believe that the route is ultimately LLB>LPC>TC consecutively and anything that goes against the grain is not to be given a thought. I disagree.”
The typical stereotype of a paralegal can conjure some unfortunate, negative imagery – a solely administrative role, acting as a yes-man to junior lawyers with little-to-no hopes of future career progression. As the legal sector has evolved, so have the responsibilities of a typical Paralegal. Many now complete work that is at least on a level with trainee solicitors, if not far greater, with the opportunity to work with clients directly and take on more personal responsibility. Despite such changes, traditional and historically-outdated myths have still persisted, primarily due to the views of more ‘traditional’ legal professionals and a lack of education or promotion of the role at university.
The Paralegal profession deserves better (and is better) than such misconceptions. The role is worthy of proper recognition in its own right, rather than continuous comparisons to other career routes or roles in the profession. To try and break such stereotypes, I collaborated with over 20 Paralegals from a vast variety of backgrounds to sort the fact from the fiction about what a Paralegal really is in today’s legal industry.
What made you want to become a Paralegal?
The Paralegal role is appealing for a wide variety of reasons. It is one of the few legal roles that is flexible enough to allow for part-time study of a legal course, such as the LPC or GDL, as well as often being open to anyone regardless of their degree or previous experience.
“We all know how much of a long road it is to qualify and I didn’t want to take a year out before the LPC, nor did I want to graduate and go back to my mundane waitressing job. It was right before graduation that I decided to apply for a paralegal position to fund my masters, which I then switched for the part-time LPC. I would recommend becoming a paralegal or at least having a few months of paralegalling experience before applying for TCs, to anyone. I receive a lot of “wow how on earth do you do it all?!” comments but it’s definitely doable!” – Abi Simpson
“Following graduation, I did not think twice before I applied for paralegal positions as I wanted to continue working in the legal field. I was only picky about specifics of my future job – I was really keen on in-house, preferably with international companies and in the tech industry. Funnily enough, it took me merely two weeks to receive an offer that ticked off all the above boxes.” – Dominika Westfal
“I wanted to pursue an alternative route by building my experience as a paralegal to then use that to apply for opportunities later on. I also wanted to put the skills I had learnt from the LPC into practice, so paralegalling was a great way of doing this.” – Zainab Hassan
“Firstly, I felt that this was one of the useful ways I would be able to develop a variety of legal transferable skills required for a career in Law. Secondly, I foresaw that the nature of the role would help prepare me for the type of challenges I will be expected to handle in future or that I may encounter as a trainee lawyer. Acquiring paralegal experience has allowed me to make mistakes earlier on and test out the type of work or duties I may have to undertake whilst on the VS and/or TC. I feel that this experience could be beneficial for people who have a neuro-diverse condition such as myself, as it allows one to build confidence and improve on where the condition lacks.” – Sarah Bamidele
What do you think is the best perk about working as a Paralegal, either in your current role or for how it may impact your future career trajectory?
Given the ability to work in a wide variety of legal sectors, Paralegal roles grant an immense insight into the industry. This is vital for allowing individuals to discover their preferred practice areas, as well as develop a broad, adaptable skillset to use throughout their career.
“The experience! I have learnt so much and it has more than prepared me for life as a trainee. I have also made many contacts along the way from a number of different law firms who have helped me in so many different ways.” – Ellie Llyod
“It’s the best way to actually test if being a solicitor is actually for you. It gives a chance to verify if you are okay with the pace of work, whether commonly cited ‘intellectual-stimulation’ is what you genuinely crave or is it too much at times, what areas of the law interest you, the list goes on forever. Being a paralegal you get to develop pretty much the same skills that firms require from its trainees, which puts you in great stead when that time actually comes. It equally helps with the application process itself too. I can’t recommend it enough.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“I am not limited to one area – I can work on employment, commercial contracts, corporate finance, intellectual property on the same day. Additionally, working for a company that has a significant international footprint, I get to experience the realities of working with colleagues and professionals from overseas on issues which cross different jurisdictions.” – Dominika Westfal
“Definitely learning on the job. Studying and working is a lot for anyone to handle, but it’s great to be able to put knowledge into practice and apply what you’ve learnt for your exams and assessments! I’d like to think my job has put me in good stead for when it comes to applying for TCs as hopefully, they would see that I know the ropes and would hit the ground running. It shows a lot about your dedication to the profession and your future career.” – Abi Simpson
“You are forced to learn and constantly be challenged. This is an invaluable skill that will help my future pursuits to becoming qualified. You experience a variety of legal practice areas as well.” – Sarah Bamidele
“You basically get the experience of a trainee! So, if you do then start a Training Contract, you are able to continue working hard and excel at your work.” – Zainab Hassan
What are the biggest misconceptions about working as a Paralegal?
“I am often met with two polar-opposite misconceptions. On the one hand, lay people usually assume that I am a qualified lawyer already which results in long explanations as to why it is not really the case. On the other hand, however, some people think that my role is purely administrative. Of course, there are administrative tasks that I am handling on a day to day basis, but I also get involved in a lot of legal projects.” – Dominika Westfal
“That it’s only for people who failed to get a TC. This might be partially true for some, but considering the frantic competition in the legal market, it really helps to approach this process not with self-hate and doubt (which I did for a while), but rather by thoroughly thinking through your strengths and goals to plan ahead.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“One misconception is that you don’t get given the good work. I think that you need to be proactive and make the associates you are working for aware of what you would like more involvement with. Another misconception is that you aren’t going to progress with the firm you work for but this is all down to you and how you fit with the firm.” – Ellie Lloyd
“That a paralegal is another name for a legal PA or the photocopier of the firm. Whilst there are some admin aspects to the role, this is not always the case! In smaller firms, you’re given more responsibilities and opportunities to undertake a variety of tasks which would usually be reserved for trainees and associates in larger firms. In my previous paralegal role, I was nominated to be an in-house company secretary and in charge of shareholders agreements! Moreover, I cannot exaggerate it enough that securing a paralegal role is not a cop-out to qualifying! It’s actually incredibly useful and can discount you up to 6 months off of your TC (upon application and submission of the relevant documents to the SRA) known as ‘time to count’ or ‘period of recognised training’.” – Abi Simpson
“Some people state that paralegals are for people that are ‘yes men’, only capable of getting the work done and falling short on the other qualities that makes a great lawyer. I totally disagree as I feel I am a creative thinker and a problem solver. I have come to appreciate that I will probably be working three times as hard to break into the legal profession at a global city firm given my background, disability and university grade. This is why I have had no choice but to opt into the paralegal route, to acquire more legal knowledge and experience that will enhance my skills and allow me to understand commercial law better, as I never knew what it involved until I started working as a paralegal at a US Law firm and attending commercial law-related events.” – Sarah Bamidele
What’s the best way to try and secure Paralegal opportunities?
Much is made of the traditional solicitor or barrister routes to qualification at university. Paralegals, however, are now starting to draw some more attention for the flexibility and benefits the role can bring – especially when it comes to future career progression.
“Try and get some work experience and then make several applications for paralegal roles. Law firms will see something in you if you are passionate about the work! Legal recruitment agencies are really helpful too.” – Zainab Hassan
“Begin looking in the run-up to summer and Christmas when individuals may be leaving their post to embark upon their TC or LPC.” – Abi Simpson
“It is paramount that paralegals have an understanding of the key issues, even if they lack direct experience. If you can talk about it and show that you are capable to learn quickly you could be hired despite a lack of direct experience. I was able to land my first paralegal job having shown a keen interest in law, demonstrable determination and how I would be committed as well as add value to the firm and this resulted in being hired without having the LPC or previous paralegal experience.” – Sarah Bamidele
“Try to connect with people directly through LinkedIn. This is much more efficient than trying some general number/email networking and potentially never hearing back.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“Check out F-LEX to gain some work experience, attend networking events and apply to as many paralegal roles as possible. I always wanted to start in a Corporate role, but I still applied for roles in personal injury, catastrophic injury and commercial insurance as well.” – Ellie Lloyd
How do you think the role of Paralegals may change in the future?
Much has been made of how the Paralegal role will function in the future of the legal industry. With the advent of innovative Legal Tech solutions, as well as shifting qualification routes under the SQE, it seems the role is now open to more opportunities and responsibilities than ever before.
“A lot of people believe that the role of the paralegal will be overtaken by the likes of AI and machine learning. Whilst that sector is growing, I think that the paralegal is paramount to supporting fee earners with their workload. It goes without saying that AI and machine learning inevitably poses accountability concerns and a lack of humanity in the workplace. However, I think many people will be turning to (and a large number already have) this alternative route to qualification. Taking time out as a paralegal before embarking on your TC is not a diversion from the goal, it’s simply the scenic route! We are led to believe that the route is ultimately LLB>LPC>TC consecutively and anything that goes against the grain is not to be given a thought. I disagree. What employer is going to turn down a paralegal who needs little training and can demonstrate dedication in their commitment to the profession?” – Abi Simpson
“It is definitely going to be impacted by the SQE and the wider reform of the qualification process. How exactly? I’m not so sure. I think no-one knows yet, but we are likely to see many more people going into paralegalling once the stigma of the ‘TC-fall outs’ slowly dies out. – Aleksandra Owczarska
“With the SRA making changes to the routes of qualifying, I think there will be room for more paralegals to qualify through the equivalent means of qualifying. The law industry is extremely competitive and as there are more applicants than roles available, this may continue in the future. Whether this actually deters applicants or not is an interesting thing to watch out for.” – Zainab Hassan
“The introduction of the SQE will surely have a significant impact on how paralegals are perceived. Since “the period of recognised training” totaling 2 years will open the doors to qualification, many paralegals will be able to qualify without completing training contracts. I could write a whole essay on this issue, but for now, I will just say that indeed big changes are coming!” – Dominika Westfal
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring solicitors, particularly those considering applying for Paralegal opportunities?
“Give it a go and consider paralegalling on an equal footing with any other job application. It’ll be an important step on your way through your career and opens many doors.” – Aleksandra Owczarska
“Do it! Being a paralegal straight after university was the best thing I did for my development. I would say make sure you really take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” – Ellie Lloyd
“Spending time as a paralegal most definitely trumps numerous work experience stints. Vacation schemes are good for making yourself known to big firms, however paralegal experience is invaluable and is always something you can pull out of the bag during application questions and interviews to demonstrate your practical knowledge and understanding of the workplace.” – Abi Simpson
“There are plenty of great, professional-looking resume templates on Etsy which you can buy just for a few pounds. I found that I received plenty of responses from recruiters once I invested in a nice looking CV – many of them admitted that my applications stood out for that reason.” – Dominika Westfal
“To go for it! They need you just as much as you want the job. Be yourself and genuinely consider the questions in the application and interview process. Imagine the job/life you want and work your hardest to get it. Most of all, don’t give up and be sure to ask for help – there is plenty around.” – Zainab Hassan
“Be proactive, sociable and make the most of every opportunity you can. Put yourself forward for as much as possible and try and mimic the professional qualities of your supervisors and the lawyers around you. And most importantly, don’t give up – keep applying for paralegal jobs, training contracts, vac schemes and constantly look for areas to develop, progress. Don’t let rejection or negative feedback set you back but use it as a springboard to develop. Ignore anything that seems personal and twist it into something you can use for self progression.” – Anonymous
“Absolutely apply for that paralegal job. You will gain invaluable experience from solicitors and lawyers at the tops of their friends and learn practical skills that cannot be taught in a classroom, and enjoy a challenging, fast paced but compassionate role. The experience, skills and networking gained will make all the difference when it comes to securing a training contract (or equivalent) in the future.” – Anonymous
This article would not have been possible without the collaboration of a great many people. Their insight and commentary on the Paralegal role was truly eye-opening and I hope it inspires aspiring lawyers to appreciate the role for what it is – an inimitable opportunity to develop your skills and garner real experience for your career. At the end of the day, all members of a firm have to collaborate in order to work towards the main goal of any legal service provider – serving clients’ needs. It’s time outdated misconceptions made way for a true appreciation of how important the work Paralegals undertake truly is.
I’d like to thank the follow people for their contribution to this article:
“Accidents—you never have them till you’re having them.”
We’ve all seen the adverts and listened to the cold calls asking if we’ve been in an accident that wasn’t our fault. In fact, we all know that there is potential compensation on offer should that actually happen. Negligence and accidents that could be avoided happen in the thousands, each and every day. For some, it’s a minor scrape and a lucky escape, but for others it can have a significant impact on their life and have a lasting effect.
In many cases, accidents such as motor collisions or sports injuries are down to human error or bad health and safety procedure and leave people needing a large amount of healthcare. A study by Newsome Melton found that those who were involved in an accident and damaged their spine spent an average of 12 days in hospital and 37 in a rehabilitation center following that. On top of that, only 11.5% of those injured are back in work a year after the accident, which can really take its toll both mentally and financially.
The stress involved in accidents is significant, which is why so many people seek compensation for injuries that were not their fault. What you can claim for varies depending on the accident and circumstances, but there are a number of common expenses which are covered by it. So, if you ever do have an accident feel you deserve to be compensated, you can seek financial remuneration for the following.
Naturally, while in recovery you will almost certainly miss out on a large portion of work, particularly if your role involves manual labour. You can seek compensation to make up for all the lost wages you have suffered as a result of the accident.
Medical care while in the hospital after the accident (as well as any future care required due to the incident) can be claimed for, such as prescription drugs, rehabilitation, physiotherapy and more. If you require medical aid in some capacity for the foreseeable future, you can claim for it.
If permanent care is required, you can make a claim in order to pay for this. This could potentially be due to a family member having to give up work, or you having to pay a professional carer to look after you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Support for Family
As well as support for yourself, you may also find that your family needs support either emotionally or to become more informed on the injuries and be able to help effectively. This can often be costly, as they may be required to go on courses, take time off work (unpaid) and more.
Specialists can often be based hundreds of miles away, meaning there’s no option but to travel in order to get the best care and rehabilitation programmes. Petrol, bus tickets and taxi costs can be covered for medical care, should you claim for compensation through the courts.
The above are just some of the many more factors that can be expensed for depending on your circumstances. By seeking a lawyer, they will be able to help you understand exactly what you can and can’t claim for based upon the specifics of the accident.
“I chose to go to law school because I thought that someday, somehow I’d make a difference.”
Studying law at university can be an invigorating intellectual challenge at times and a mentally taxing workload at others. Being able to balance the demands of your studies and social life is difficult, especially whilst also trying to be considerate of your future career plans and employability. Countless websites, blogs, podcasts and posts all offer their own advice for making the most of your university degree and I hope these law-specific ones will be of use to you regardless of what year you are currently in. Whilst not exhaustive, here are some key tips to help you manage the valuable commodity of time throughout your studies of law in the most optimal manner.
It’s no surprise that throughout your law degree you’ll be inundated with a plethora of reading, coursework, essays and paperwork. Keeping on top of all of these documents should be a top priority. Everyone works in different ways – be it on paper, a laptop, or through other means – and as such you will need to organise your work in the most effective way that accounts for:
Security: How secure are your files and notes? What would happen should you lose them? Do you have a backup or recovery option should that happen? How can you make sure you only allow access to your files to those you want to share them with?
Accessibility: Can you access your files from anywhere, or at any time? Can you access them across a variety of formats (mobile, desktop, smartboard)? Is your access reliant on any one network or device that could fail or break?
Shareability: Should you need to collaborate with others, how easy is it for you to share or develop your notes? Can you do so in realtime? Is this reliant on having a physical device, such as a memory stick, or access to a specific digital user account?
Usability: Once made, can you easily navigate through your notes, particularly by searching for key terms or cases? Can you utilise colour coding or highlighting to categorise your notes? Can you amend, comment or erase sections of your notes as necessary?
Go Beyond Your Textbook
A law degree is packed full of intellectually stimulating reading, cases and arguments – but law is increasingly starting to offer so much more than that. With a new wave of legal tech investment, alternate service provisions and a blending of the legal sector with a multitude of others, the average career path in the world of law is starting to fluctuate. Be sure to make time to network, attend keynote events and do some of your own research on what it is you want to specialise in. That way, you can augment what you learn in a textbook with some of your own passion-driven interests and further reading. When it then comes to applying for graduate roles, you’ll have a wide variety of experience and insight that can help demonstrate your interest in a particular field, firm or company.
First Year DOES Count
There’s always been somewhat of an urban myth that your first year of university doesn’t count and is therefore not a priority in the long-term. Whilst it is technically true that your first-year results won’t contribute toward your final degree classification, it will certainly contribute to your efforts to secure work experience or vacation scheme opportunities at university. Such first and second-year opportunities can be vital in helping you kick-start your career. Extremely poor first-year grades (for the sole reason that you did not take the year seriously, free of mitigating circumstances) will not only be a potential drawback on your initial applications, but will also not allow you to properly develop your writing and exam skills that will be vital throughout the later stages of your degree. The fundamental, basic concepts you will learn throughout your first year will also underpin everything you look at later on in your studies. Hit the ground running as best you can!
Think About Post-Degree Paths
Following on from the previous point, law is a unique industry that can start recruiting for your post-law-school graduate role as early as your second year at university. The fact that opportunities can open up so early means its vital to keep on top of application deadlines and what recruiters are looking for from their candidates. Schedule a meeting with your careers advisor to learn more about what pathways a law degree can offer, or try it yourself by attending law and non-law career fairs and events. Networking early is never a bad thing to try!
Keep It Short
Given the mass volume of information and paperwork you’ll have to process during your degree, you need to make sure your notes are up to scratch come revision time. Make sure to revisit key topics and build a concise set of notes you can quickly reference to understand the key points from any concepts or modules you’ll be tested on. Having easy-to-find, resourceful notes – be they digital or physical – will save you countless hours of unnecessary re-administration and research come the exam period, when you’ll most need your time. Making sure you’re as set up as you can be now by avoiding procrastination will help you tackle any tough deadlines or workloads later on.
If you don’t know something or are unsure of it – say so! Law juggles a lot of new concepts that you will likely not have learnt about before commencing your degree and it can easily feel overwhelming at times. There is no shame in using every single resource the uni can throw at you as and when you need it – it will be nothing but beneficial in the long-term, both for your mental wellbeing and (hopefully!) your final degree classification.
Be A Student
Law is an intensive course and you may have lots of lectures, reading lists or seminars to tend to (hopefully not too many of all three!). Make sure to make time for extracurricular clubs and activities, law-related or not. Not only will they help you manage your stress and improve your social circles, but also be great additional experiences to later talk about on an application or in an interview.
Build A Routine
Perhaps the most important and vital tip til last – build a routine! It will be nigh-impossible to even attempt the above tips without a solid foundation of a routine which must account for:
To do this most effectively, hack your habits! Take an honest assessment of which 10 negative habits you want to try and work out of your day-to-day routine (poor sleep, skipping meals etc.), as well as 10 positive habits (going to the gym, reading for 10 minutes etc.) that you want to encourage. Take 5 minutes to consider what you would like your life during your degree to look like across every axiom of your life – friends, family, health, studies etc. Then, spend 5 minutes thinking about what will happen if you allow your negative habits to spiral out of control and take hold of your progression through uni. Doing so will help you visualise where you feel you can focus on most to help you move toward that first plan for yourself and away from the latter. This is an example of future authoring, which I would heavily recommend to anyone, as it really helped me plot a pathway through how I wanted to approach my time at university.
I hope the above tips help you, regardless of what stage you’re currently at in your degree. If you’ve got any questions or want to learn more, feel free to get in touch with me at the links below or by email at email@example.com.
“Find something you’re passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it.”
The rapid development of the internet throughout the dawn of the 21st Century has revolutionised how we now consider something to be ‘accessible’. Everything from food to freelancers and TV to taxis are now almost instantly available from your pocket via a smartphone, or from the comfort of your sofa with a laptop. A new start-up based in Australia, InsideSherpa, is aiming to add one more item to that list – work experience. InsideSherpa has partnered with a multitude of industry-leading legal, tech and financial companies (to name a few) to allow individuals to try their hand at tailor-made ‘virtual work experience programmes’ (VWEPs), regardless of your physical location, financial status or current career role. This week, I spoke with Jeremy Grunfeld, Head of Product and Student Success, about how the company’s VWEPs work and, in particular, how they’re manifesting themselves in the legal industry.
So, how does a VWEP help individuals develop their employability?
JG: “During my 5 years at university, I learned a heap of theory that was incredibly valuable for my personal and professional development. It helped me to build my attention to detail, my communication skills, my advocacy skills, my confidence and the list goes on.
However, it wasn’t until I first stepped foot into a commercial law firm that I realised how important practical skills are. Being able to write clear and concise emails, calling clients, writing memos, to name a few. ‘Issue, law, application and conclusion’ is a great tool to learn, but it isn’t a completely accurate reflection of how work is actually done in a law firm.
Our VWEPs aim to give law students a genuine insight into what it’s really like to work at some of the world’s leading firms. They are the actual tasks that interns and graduates do day-to-day at leading firms. Once you’ve finished, you’ll have up-skilled in those aforementioned valuable practical areas – e.g. writing emails, drafting letters, legal research, leaving voicemails, conducting due diligence etc.
Equally though, while building those practical skills, you may come to realise that you don’t actually like being a commercial lawyer! And there is nothing wrong with that at all! It is much better to work that out whilst you’re still at university and experimenting with different career options.”
Using your experiences to gauge your interest in any career path is vital. My own time spent in family law firms, whilst enjoyable, made me realise it wasn’t the area of law for me. By putting yourself out there to new experiences and seizing the opportunities that may arise, you will have the chance to learn more about a profession and, at the same time, yourself.
“I don’t know if you’re like me, but when it came time for me to apply for vacation schemes, I was overcome by this really strange feeling. I realised suddenly that I didn’t know anything about any of the leading firms that I was about to apply to join. So all of a sudden you start going through dozens of search results on Google trying to understand what it’s all about.
From that, you’ll read the standard recruitment information and you’ll probably find yourself with plenty more questions! I remember thinking ‘there are 30 firms and they all seem the exact same. They all say the same thing and work on similar deals/projects’.”
Jeremy speaks to a wider point, which is the importance of having your own in-person experiences and sourcing your information about a firm from as many avenues as possible – law fairs, 1-1 networking, LinkedIn and other 3rd party websites. In an ideal world, it is best to source your thoughts and feelings about a firm from as diverse a number of sources as possible – though this is sometimes easier said than done!
“Something that no-one tells you at law school: clients don’t really care about legal information. They really don’t. They don’t want a lawyer to just tell them legal information – if they did, they would look it up on Google themselves.
What clients want is a trusted advisor. They don’t want you to rattle off pieces of legislation and names of cases. They want commercial, concise advice. Our VWEPs aim to get you used to that feeling of working with clients. You get a feeling for what they care about and what good, trusted advice looks like.”
Commercial awareness is vital in our increasingly connected and global world, but knowing how and why to develop it can often be confusing. If you’d like to read more about commercial awareness, you can check out my posts on it here.
“I studied a combined degree in finance and law. When it came time to pick a path, I chose law, but the reason I chose it was more or less based on a gut feeling. That’s not the best way to make a big decision like which career to pursue! I do wish that I could have participated in a digital internship to better understand what different career options existed and make a more informed decision.
As a more general insight into my own career path – you don’t have to follow the standard path. Forge your own and ask those around you for support. People generally want to help other people. Use digital internships as a tool to discover what it is that you are truly passionate about and what it is that you want to do with your career.”
How similar are the VWEPs to the work of a trainee solicitor?
“We want these digital internships to replicate what it’s like to work at one of our partner firms. To ensure that the experience is as accurate and true to life as possible, the content is designed by and created by the partner firms themselves. We help to guide this process to ensure that the digital internships are highly engaging, but ultimately, they are a direct insight into what life is like at that particular firm.
Alongside simply replicating work, we want participants to be engaged and inspired in completing these programmes. We also equally want them to have learned brand new practical skills that will help them in their careers and we want to provide an insight into the firm’s culture. When digital internships are being built, we (and our partner firms) are constantly thinking about the user experience. As much as law is often viewed as a conservative industry, it’s ever-changing and exciting! New technologies like AI are being used across the industry and we want people to get a taste of that, especially if they may not have had the opportunity before.”
InsideSherpa’s VWEPs are open to anyone and everyone to try. If you’d like to find out more about InsideSherpa or Jeremy, you can do so at the links below. Many thanks again to Jeremy for his contribution!
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
The legal profession is undergoing a revolutionary change right before our very eyes. The once conservative and traditional industry is being forced to rethink everything from qualification routes to fee earner structures, as a the ongoing march of digitalisation and automation continues. Clients can now be instantly contacted anywhere in the world through a smartphone. Lawyers are expected to keep up with global developments and anticipate how it will impact their clientele. Cloud-based collaborative working has promised greater flexibility and collaborative opportunities. Even entirely new roles, such as Legal Tech Managers and in-house freelance paralegals, are being created as a result of such changes.
Amongst these changes are a new appreciation for the broadening skillset that lawyers now require. Clients have always expected their lawyers to have excellent negotiation, advocacy and interviewing skills, but it has not always been clear where this development should take place in the legal education ‘timeline’ of an aspiring legal professional. The recent Bellwether Report echoed the importance of such skills, with 9 out of 10 solicitors agreeing they are of increasing importance if lawyers are to be successful. In his article for Forbes, Mark Cohen surmises perfectly that “[legal] practice is once again becoming the province of those lawyers best equipped to engage in it.”
Despite the above demands, legal education has remained somewhat resistant to change. The overwhelming majority of UK universities teach law via the historical lecture-focused approach to learning, with mooting and practical skills-based opportunities often only offered via optional societies and student-run events. Essential legal and personal skills, like negotiating, interviewing and researching, can therefore easily fail to receive the equal treatment they deserve alongside knowing what the letter of the law is. Interpersonal and group skills are more likely to be underdeveloped in a solely independent, private study style. One university, however, is aiming to change just that.
The University of York’s unique problem-based learning (‘PBL’) approach to teaching law is designed to teach students through life-like simulations of the legal problems that lawyers are tasked with solving. It aims to create a holistic approach to legal education, wherein future lawyers both know the law and have experience in how they can use it to solve client needs. In their own words:
“This is a modern, dynamic learning method that ensures you experience and understand law in its social and theoretical contexts, and helps to develop the skills and techniques you will need to work as a professional.”
York Law School Website.
So how does it work? I spoke with Dr Laurence Etherington, Admissions Tutor at York Law School (and ex-lecturer of mine) about PBL learning and how it translates to the world of law.
So, what exactly is PBL?
PBL established itself in the world of medicine before it made its way to legal education. Its structure is something like this, all guided with an academic mentor and complimentary lectures/reading throughout:
You and your group (Student Law Firm) will be presented with a legal problem, often in the form of a client’s email or similar
As a group, utilise a legal, solution-based approach to analyse the problem and identify its key parties, interests and facts
Brainstorm the legal questions that need answering, as well as any broader ‘normative’ academic concepts
In private or group study, research the answers to your self-generated ‘Learning Outcomes’
Present your feedback and complete your solution to the problem, before beginning the cycle again by picking up a new problem
I personally found that the result of this process means you not only finish the process fully satisfied with your legal knowledge, but can now apply it to future situations through the (often memorable) ‘non-legal’ details of the scenario you’ve just tackled. You generate vital legal research skills, an ability to work with others and fantastic opportunities to develop your interpersonal and legal skills along the way. For those of you more visually inclined, you can check out the Law School’s own explanatory videos below – with a familiar face featuring too…
How does this PBL process then help develop a student’s knowledge beyond simply ‘knowing what the law is’?
LE: “PBL involves a lot of research, still with support but less direction than more traditional approaches. So a key skill is the student learning how to research effectively and how to identify what they need to learn. There can sometimes be a misconception that PBL results in a focus solely on practical issues. There is no reason why this should be the case as the aim is to understand Problems, not (simply) solve, or provide answers to, these. In fact, the collaborative approach to learning should provide a great foundation for more critical perspectives, with a variety of views in the regular debates and discussions. The depth of analysis of problem scenarios also provides a deep understanding of the context within which the legal questions arise – why they matter, as well as how they come about.
Regular, intense, small group sessions mean that students should be able to develop their team-working, and related, skills. Really importantly, effective collaboration should become second-nature with the roles and responsibilities required for approaching Problems being identified and allocated to group members. Students also have the opportunity to learn more about themselves, what they like doing and what they are good at (which are usually the same things). I think that there is also less opportunity to shy away from things and so students can be stretched out of their comfort zone (hopefully in a supportive environment).”
Why should a law student consider PBL over more traditional teaching methods?
“That’s an interesting one because I wouldn’t say that all students should choose PBL. It’s really a matter of thinking about whether this style of learning is right for them (and it won’t be for everyone). I would also say that, although there are certain features which I think are very different and which may provide some advantages, that isn’t saying that PBL is automatically ‘better’ than other styles of learning for all students. However, with those caveats, I think that these are three of some of those potentially advantageous differences.
The social nature of PBL study means that students might find that they are more involved in the subject and their studies. That can be in a general sense of individually and collectively having to take more responsibility for their own learning and development, but also in quite specific ways, such as having to share research and debate complex issues. Explaining is a great way of developing deeper understanding, of course. Debate and discussion is obviously a part of most (possibly all) Law programmes. But I think that PBL demands more regular and deeper engagement with this aspect of study, making it a particularly rich experience.
On the ‘responsibility’ point, the degree to which PBL involves guidance can vary significantly but this is more limited than most other approaches. As well as encouraging more independent research, requiring students to identify their own question puts them in charge of the exploration – with flexibility around the specific issues and areas that are covered. This also helps students to develop ‘legal awareness’ in the sense of being able to see the world through the ‘lawyer’s lens’ – being able to identify where and how the legal issues arise for themselves.
Again, this can vary according to the format used, but with law it is natural to approach PBL through a less rigid frame than might be the case elsewhere. Problem scenarios raise ‘messy’ sets of issues and these are not always limited to single-subject areas. That approach should help students understand that traditional subject areas overlap in many ways – with property law being an important aspect of some theft cases, and tort and criminal liability arising out of the same acts, for example.
Finally, I also think that PBL is really engaging – students are generally very enthusiastic about their learning. It is usually a lot of fun, despite being very serious, which is fantastic for students and staff.”
How can PBL experiences help applicants stand out in application processes, for both law and non-law careers?
“I guess that this flows from the features that have already been mentioned. Independence and willingness to take responsibility are obviously really important for employers. Less obviously, that can also include understanding when guidance is needed – being self-aware enough to know the limits of your current knowledge and skills.
Problem-solving is often mentioned by employers as a key skill. PBL can help with recognising the different perspectives and approaches that might be taken, so that a variety of options might be developed and evaluated. The ability to deconstruct problems, breaking them down into manageable and meaningful components within complex scenarios, and to then develop a strategy for addressing the issues raised by these, is tremendously helpful.
Most obviously, the team-working skills and (very importantly) extensive experience of working in different groups, should be invaluable. Of course, there is a question of how much PBL actually develops students in this way, rather than attracting students who are already well-equipped and interested in PBL’s style. I’m not sure how much that is the case, but a PBL student should be more likely to have these abilities and they will also have had extensive opportunities to further develop them.”
I’d like to thank Dr Etherington for his comments on PBL in law, as well as the University of York for allowing me to use their photos. If you’d like to learn more about PBL, feel free to get in touch with me or the Law School at the links below.
Just a quick update post to let you know about my new ‘HarryClarkLaw’ Instagram and Twitter accounts! I’m hoping that these new platforms for the blog will allow me to share more of the creative behind-the-scenes process of my writing, as well as allowing me to keep in touch with my readers on a more frequent basis.
You can check out the link to my new accounts below, as well as my other main social media outlets for the blog. As always, you can also get in touch with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you there!
“A huge part of succeeding is simply showing up and taking small, specific baby steps to work towards your goal. If they’re even just a tiny bit outside your comfort zone, you’ll be growing.”
Today’s #LawyerOfLinkedIn is trainee solicitor turned entrepreneur Jaysen Sutton. Having previously worked in the world of commercial law, Jaysen decided to change career paths shortly into his Training Contract and start his own business – The Corporate Law Academy (TCLA). Having previously spoken on Jaysen’s ‘Trainee Talk’ podcast a month prior, I decided to reverse roles and ask Jaysen about his initial motivations to become a lawyer, why he instead founded his business, as well as his thoughts on the current application process for Training Contracts and the future of the profession generally.
Why did you initially want to be a lawyer?
JS: “I really like the law as a subject. When I was younger, I used to think of the law as a rigid set of rules, which tells you what you can and cannot do. I found it interesting to learn how it’s actually instead pretty fluid, always open to argument and opinion.
I didn’t want to become a commercial lawyer until a lot later. I actually used to find finance and business very intimidating. It was only when I threw myself into the subject and tried to understand the commercial world from the ground-up that I realised how interesting it is. It’s a bit like a jigsaw – on its own, the different financial terms can seem quite confusing and isolated, but when things click, I find it really satisfying. You really learn how interconnected everything is.
The ‘sensible’ advice would have been to stay in law, at least until I’d finished my training contract. However, I left life as a commercial lawyer very early. I really liked the firm I was at and the work I was doing, but I didn’t think practice itself suited me. I woke up one day and realised that really bothered me. It arguably would have made sense to ‘wait it out’ and I’m sure I would have been fine, but I eventually made the decision to leave.”
How did leaving your Training Contract lead to you founding your own business, TCLA?
“When I left, I knew I wanted to start a business. I had tried a couple of times before and I found working on something I had made myself really satisfying. The conventional wisdom for starting a business is to simply ‘make something people want’. With that in mind, I realised the best way for me to do that was to make something I would have wanted when trying to secure a training contract.”
Moving from the conventional rigidity of a typical office job to the world of entrepreneurship is a brave step to take. However, its becoming increasingly common within the legal sector. With the allowance of Alternative Service Providers (ASPs), the ongoing development of legal technology and the flexibility that collaborative cloud working allows, innovative new approaches to working within the legal industry are being created every day.
“I wish I could say I had more of a concrete outline of what I was going to do, but honestly, I didn’t. I had spent so many years preparing to work at a law firm and now I was quite lost. Being a law student and then a trainee solicitor was my identity. Now that I had left, I didn’t really know who I was or what I was doing. I only knew that I was going to put everything into The Corporate Law Academy (‘TCLA’) to make it work. I worked crazy hours when I started, mostly because I was compensating for a lot of the guilt I had for leaving my law firm.
Now I would say I wasn’t working completely blind. I personally felt there were gaps in the application journey I had undertaken. Dealing with rejection after rejection is such a blow to your self-confidence, and I felt the journey didn’t have to be so competitive. The TCLA forums were made to be a place where aspiring lawyers could support one another through such struggles.
I also felt there was a big gap between leaving university and your first day at a law firm. I realised we could help teach aspiring lawyers to better understand the financial markets, commercial news and how law firms work as a business, and I could do this online to build this at scale and reach far more people. “
Speaking of that ‘gap’ between university studies and a TC, what surprised you the most about the interview and application process?
“It was learning that performing at an interview is a skill.
In my first series of interviews, I wasn’t very good and I’d always think I could never be as good as other people. Over time, I started to become more confident in selling my ‘story’, responding to challenging interview questions and defending my point of view.
I realised that while some candidates may come across as more polished, they’d just had the opportunity to practice more, whether that’s through mock interviews, debate clubs or being surrounded by people who regularly discuss world events.
This was a big surprise because, until then, I had thought I was always going to be bad at interviews. The big lesson was that the skills and minimal confidence I had weren’t fixed, that I could get better over time.”
The importance of these skills can easily go overlooked when it comes to preparing your applications. Legal ‘letter-of-the-law’ knowledge is of course important, but transferable and ‘soft’ skills can be just as essential in a client-facing, team-based role.
The challenge of having a broadened skillset is already persistent for many aspiring solicitors. But what is the biggest difficulty that their employers – law firms themselves – will face in the future?
“First, let me qualify this by saying I’m speaking as someone on the outside looking in. But I’d say talent. I wrote a post recently on the disruption of the partnership model, the gist of it being that, for a variety of reasons, the incentive to work your way up to become one of a small number of equity partners to reach the top doesn’t have the same grab it used to.
Our generation of lawyers are going to be far more willing to jump between firms. The challenge is that law firms need to work out how to attract and retain lawyers, and that’s beyond salary and remuneration. Even though many London-based firms are engaged in a wage war at the moment, I think it’s unsustainable and ultimately doesn’t fix the problem.
Once law firms accept that, junior lawyers are going to be different. I do think initiatives like flexible working will make a big difference. If you build the right systems and manage it properly, lawyers could be far more productive (and saner!) working one or two days a week remotely.
That leads me to mental health. Work phones, incessant emails and long hours cause serious anxiety. This can’t be fixed directly with a quick-fix, because the type of clients we’re talking about will want their lawyers to be accessible. That’s why I think it’s about investing in stress-management tools. I don’t mean one-off meditation classes, but I do mean real investment in an open, supportive culture – where mental health problems are treated as important as physical health. While many senior lawyers are incredible, there are also others who aren’t great on this. This needs to be fixed, no matter how reputable a partner is.”
Jaysen echoes the sentiments of many other legal professionals in the industry. The practice of law is mentally taxing for a multitude of reasons and the dangers of a lack of mental health support are severe to say the least. If you’d like to read more about mental health within the legal sector, you check out my article on it here.
So, to finish, what is your number one piece of advice for aspiring lawyers?
“Be consistent. A huge part of succeeding is simply showing up and taking small, specific baby steps to work towards your goal. If they’re even just a tiny bit outside your comfort zone, you’ll be growing.
Want to better understand law firms? Go to open days and firm events.
Want to develop your commercial awareness? Read a few business stories every day.
Want to develop your interview technique? Practice answering challenging questions aloud or with a friend.
Put your time in, day in and day out, and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.”
I’d like to extend a big thank-you to Jaysen for contributing to my #LawyersOfLinkedIn series, as well as allowing me to speak on his podcast a month ago. If you’d like to get in touch with Jaysen, learn more about TCLA, or check out the ‘Trainee Talk’ podcast, you can do so below.