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The real-life experience of a Graduate Diploma in Law student

As one of a flock of hundreds (thousands?) of training contract-less graduates flying headlong into my summer GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) exams, I thought it might be productive to find out what kind of career awaits me after I have spluttered through this and next years’ exams. The usual resolution of “working extra hard this year” to get a distinction predictably having dissolved into a determination to binge revise for a pass, I turned to real life experience to add sparkle to my job applications.

The first hurdle to the fulfilment of this idea was my discovery that I have no “contacts”. Neither of my parents are solicitors, nor any of their friends, therefore the only thing for it was to dive into the training contract handbook and send hopeful emails to anyone who looked friendly, asking if they would take me in for a week. My enquiries resulted in two successes; firstly a February week spent at an immigration solicitors in Harrow and secondly Just Employment of Guildford.

Now although I will not be saying as much in any training contract interviews, I did not find immigration law fantastically interesting, which came as a surprise because I thought it sounded quite glamorous. With this in mind I entered the Just Employment office hoping to find something that could grip my attention and begin to justify two hideously expensive post-university years of study. Fortunately I was not disappointed because it turns out that employment law is interesting. The main reason for this is the variety of issues that employers and employees seem to face, meaning that each phone call a solicitor receives presents fresh challenges and the need for him or her to think on their feet. Clearly I took none of these calls because the consequences could have been disastrous – ‘let me just check my contract manual’ – however I learnt a lot from pure observation.

I think it is true that the man on the street would not include “soft skills” and the ability to sell among the attributes needed to be a solicitor – the stereotype being a rather dull type with good technical skills – however in fact these things are essential to a solicitor’s success. At Just Employment the solicitors have an all round aptitude which means that clients come back to them time and again. This was perhaps the most important thing I took from the experience, but I also had the chance to do lots of the work that solicitors regularly undertake. During the week I spent in the office I looked at current cases with a view to formulating arguments for and against the claim, attempted filling out an ET1 form, researched new points of law and much besides.

Thankfully my stunted ability to manipulate computers, photocopiers and the like was not too tested during the week although the time it took to turn my computer on, on the first day, must have been noticed. Perhaps for this reason I was briefly consigned to what I call the “sweat chair”, too far from the window to catch the breeze and agonizingly short of the fan’s reach. Every cloud has a silver lining and on that day I felt entitled to skip my bikram yoga class, just one more positive from an encouraging few days. The week was entirely satisfying and the whole team at Just Employment welcomed me very generously. It is with renewed vigour and an enthusiasm for the career I have chosen that I turn to my revision.

Simon McIlroy

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