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How To: Make the Most of First-Year Opportunities [Yasmin El-Briek]

“That day might be a day of all possibilities and make them ready to hit the ground running.”

― Erik Pevernagie.

In hindsight, there was one thing at university I really wish I’d made more of – the abundance of first-year insight schemes and Open Days available when you join university! In this guest article, Yasmin El-Briek breaks down her key reasons to apply for such opportunities and how they can help you with your next round of applications. Over to Yasmin!


As first-year comes to a close, a lot of students that I have been speaking to have been regretful of one thing – not making the most of first-year opportunities.

As a first year student, the time certainly flies by. whether it’s settling into a new home, finding a part-time job, spending time with friends, or cramming for the next exam, there are a lot of tasks on your plate which will eat up your time.

One thing which is often overlooked, however, is the importance of first year insights and open days. These offer a wealth of opportunities to learn more about law and can prove to be less competitive than schemes in other years. In this article, I’ll be giving some reasons why I think you should apply to first year schemes.


 Decide Early On If Law Is For You

I think this is one of the biggest reasons to apply for first year opportunities.

For anyone considering a career in law, exposure to law firms will be crucial in deciding whether or not it is the career you want to pursue. However, for a lot of people, this is not possible, as a lot of people are not fortunate enough to know someone working in the legal sector, or to have previously done any legal work experience. As a result, they have no one to directly ask their questions to in order to have a better understanding of the legal sector.

This is how securing a first year scheme can be really useful in helping you understand if a legal career is for you. In first year, it’s also a lot easier to experiment with different types of law firms and their respective practice areas. Whilst applications are still gruelling and competitive, it is a much better time to apply to lots of different firms and find out what interests you the most, without having to be fully committed to a legal career as you would with a Training Contract application.


Why not wait until next year?

It can sometimes be tempting to wait until other more fully developed opportunities such as Vacation Schemes arise in your later years at university. But there are a number of perks to getting your applications in early – namely that you do not end up wasting a year to find out whether law is for you.

By making applications to different law firms earlier, you can fully utilise a year at university to be certain that law is for you. You are in a much better position if, after the first year, you decide that law (or even a particular type of practice) is not for you. It means that in second year you can really tailor your application to a different industry, or the firm specialising in the type of law you might want to have a career in.

As well as this, if it happens that you find a firm that really interests you and you make a successful application in first year you can mention this in later applications to show you have a continued interest in that firm. This definitely goes a long way with firms!


Getting To Know The Application Process

Even if you haven’t been as successful as you’d hoped with your applications – it’s not a waste of time! By making these applications, even if you were unsuccessful, you will have learnt a lot more about the application process. More importantly, you’ll have also hopefully learnt about the areas of your application you need to strengthen for success in the next applications you make.

For me personally, I was not as successful as I would have hoped in a lot of the applications I made. I chose quantity over quality and the result was that I didn’t get the placements I wanted. Despite this, I gained so much from this experience – namely that I now know the application process much better and I have experienced first hand the consequences of rushing an application. It is only because I made applications in my first year that I now know the Watson Glaser test is something I can definitely improve. I realised that the same types of questions seem to come up in every firm. Exposing myself to these applications in my first year has ensured that making applications at a later date will be much easier. I will have already anticipated what type of things are successful in applications. Now that I am beginning to apply for other opportunities, the application process is a lot more digestible now that I already have a base understanding of different firms and the type of work they  do. This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t put myself out there in my first year by applying.

One tip I would recommend is keeping a spreadsheet of unique things which interest you about the firms you’re looking to apply to. When applying to law firms, it’s important you remember that you are choosing them just as much as they are choosing you. There are thousands of firms out there and they all have unique cultures and practice area strengths.This way, when you are making applications later, you can save a lot of time and build on the base research you have previously done.


Building Your Network

Finally, applying for a first year scheme is a great way to get to know people you’ll meet in a much less pressured environment. You can build up your network by meeting not just lawyers in the firm you might be choosing to apply to next year, but also meet other students who are in a similar stage of their career. I can certainly say that the people I have met at earlier stages of my applications have been crucial to me securing opportunities later on. Your peers can also be mentors to you – they can guide you to invaluable opportunities, or collaborate with you on a  project which will help you grow.Remember – one day the people you meet might now might end up forming part of your professional network in future!

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