“Everybody and their mother has a book and a podcast these days.”
– Loren Weisman.
The surge in the consumption of podcasts over the last few years has been unrelenting. To put its historical growth into perspective, Apple introduced podcasts as a part of iTunes back in 2005. In under 10 years, iTunes grossed the phenomenal milestone of 1 billion podcast subscriptions. I added my own contribution to that pile a few months ago and have enjoyed every minute. That growth isn’t looking to slow anytime soon, with predictions that the industry will create $1 billion in annual revenue by 2021. So what’s behind this explosion of interest?
Unlike many other media outlets, such as live TV, podcasts offer an unmatched level of flexibility when it comes to both topic and time. You, the listener, decide what and who to listen to, the amount of time you commit to listening and when it suits you best. Audio formats have become equal to, if not surpassed, their written equivalent for this very reason. Time spent cooking, commuting, in traffic or doing laundry are now opportune moments to learn and upskill. Changes in habits and an increased appetite for on-demand content have been met with this technological remedy.
Ask yourself this – would you rather sit down and read a 100-page report, or hear the researcher surmise it and answer follow-up questions in a 15-minute discussion? Whilst a good read can’t be beaten now and then, our increasingly time-pressured lives demand we get to the bottom of understanding and discussion in the most efficient way possible. Podcasts are certainly one of the most viable media formats in that regard, ranging from 5-minute chunks of information through to in-depth discussions lasting an hour or more. They can consistently produce content for that length as their audiences are engaged in that topic and often have a free or cheap mode of access to it. That content can be shared across a huge multitude of networks rather than just being restricted to one.
It’s very rare to see news anchor present with copious amounts of personality. Everyone watching at home knows there’s a teleprompter in front of them directing what to say and what will happen next. Podcasting, however, is vastly different – it’s personal! In short, you can get content through podcasting that you can’t get anywhere else. Presenters are free to design a show in any way they want and inject their personality into their shows. They know that those listening will at least have some vested level of interest in what they’re talking about, given how most podcasts are divided into their respective topics. It’s therefore easy for those making podcasts to hear from their community what they want next and meet that need.
In light of the current lockdowns in place in response to COVID-19, it’s extremely likely that podcasting – alongside other on-demand, topic-central formats – will be seen as a go-to for information, recreation and education for many. Beyond that, long term, it’s hard to see this revolutionary media format going anywhere anytime soon.
If you’re looking to give podcasting a go yourself, click here to use my referral code for my podcasting software, Cast. If you’re just looking to listen, you can find details about mine here.
I’ve spent the last two months or so working on a little side project alongside my work and studies. I’m delighted to say it’s finally ready for release!
Firstly, thank you for visiting my blog and for your interest in downloading my new e-book to understanding, developing and utilising your commercial awareness. You can download a PDF of it, for free, at the link below:
I wrote this book to try and distill everything I knew about commercial awareness, that I had learnt both in my studies and going through the Training Contract application process for legal jobs. I’ve done my best to keep the advice given as broadly useful as possible so that anyone, from any industry, can take some actionable steps to try and improve this vital skill.
In the book, I cover:
What commercial awareness actually is
How to best develop it as a skillset
How to utilise it in interviews, or in your day-to-day practice
I’ve also authored and created a number of other resources alongside my blog which you can access here.
If you liked, or didn’t like, the book and would like to give feedback, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on social media. I would be extremely thankful for any recommendations or endorsements you may want to give on my profile with regards to my understanding of commercial awareness as a skill, or if you found my mentoring helpful. I’d also greatly appreciate any reviews you’d like to leave over on Amazon. Thank you!
“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:
“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.