The desire to be a lawyer is shared by millions across the world, all with hopes of carving out a successful legal career. This article covers topics that are key to a law student's success and which provide insight into the legal profession through the eyes of a candidate attorney.
My name is Caleb Kipa. I am a big mouth with a personality to fit and I am obsessed with reality television, Fanta Orange and sleep. I obtained my BCom Law degree and LLB (Cum Laude) at the University of Johannesburg. I am currently a first year candidate attorney at Webber Wentzel.
Your degree, your responsibility
Your law degree is subject to your purview and you should take it seriously. It is your responsibility to ensure your boat does not sink. At university you are the captain, you call the shots, you determine whether or not you will do well in a course. We all want to do well; what separates people who obtain good marks from those whose marks are lacklustre is the ability to understand what is required. Each law subject is unique, as are the study techniques for each - you need to be flexible in how you study.
It is important to set yourself study goals, both short-term and long-term. Once you know what your goals are – and they should be realistic, develop and execute a plan of action. The worst thing you can do is set yourself up for failure. My late father always said your attitude determines your altitude. Simply put - the level of your success is determined by your attitude and your actions. This applies equally to the working world.
Work Work Work
The ingredients to successfully completing your law degree are too many to enumerate. However, it is unassailable that hard work, perseverance, and determination are key. Keep your eye on the ball at all times. It is easier said than done, but that's our survival technique. As a law student you must adopt a proactive and reactive approach to studies; ensure that your study notes are up-to-date; consult your lecturers as much as you can; record lectures where possible and take advantage of the assistance provided by tutors, librarians and support staff. It is a mistake to study solely from past papers in preparation for tests and exams. The role of past papers is to gauge your understanding of the module, illustrate the structure in which the paper and its questions are organised and to highlight the way in which a question should be answered.
Balance is key
You need to enter into a personal expedition where you demarcate your time to ensure that it is properly allocated and spent. If and when you study is your prerogative.
Many law students face the challenge of trying to balance a social life with their studies. There is no science to achieving the perfect balance. A good rule of thumb is that too much of anything isn't good, that includes "over-studying". Yes, there is such a thing as over-studying - people do nothing but study, they do not socialise, they do not go out or participate in extracurricular activities. Indicators of over-studying include, inter alia, imprisoning one's self in a library, study or closed room, burning out, being aloof and having a poor set of people or communication skills. According to Academia International, symptoms of studying too much include an inability to concentrate and a decrease in efficiency and productivity.
EQ (emotional intelligence) is as important as, if not more important than, one's measure of IQ - it is necessary to build people skills if you plan to succeed in a team-based environment like a law firm. Having a hobby to de-stress and apply your mind in a different construct helps to ensure a balanced lifestyle. Interacting with people helps to acquire networking skills. Extra-curricular and non-academic activities make you a well-rounded individual, which ultimately will make your CV stand out.
A career in law
The saddest myth amongst law students is that the only path to be followed after obtaining an LLB is a position as a candidate attorney in one of the top law firms. A degree in law exposes graduates to a world of opportunity and career options, which include, inter alia, being an advocate, a judge's clerk, a prosecutor, a legal adviser or a legal consultant. The kind of training you choose when building your legal career will shape your future. For example, smaller firms may be more attuned to building practical litigation skills, while some bigger firms tend to focus on the corporate and commercial sphere.
An important tip when applying for a position in the legal profession is first to submit your CV for review to your lecturer and/or writing centre. Timing is everything - if you are not satisfied with the marks you currently have or they do not meet the minimum requirements, rather focus on improving them before applying for, amongst others, vacation work or articles. The reason for this is that some law firms do not allow students to re-apply once they have been rejected. To ensure a prompt reply from your potential employer, you should only include pertinent information in your CV, particularly information that showcases your skill set, talents and experience.
Take full advantage of the law career fairs held at your university. This is a great opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion with the different HR teams, to connect with them and, possibly, secure an interview.
Lessons learnt thus far
My experience thus far has illuminated the fact that a career in law is a career in problem-solving. We are to our clients what Olivia Pope (the fictional character in the political drama television series Scandal) is to the President. We develop strategies and techniques, based in the law, to circumvent or resolve issues our client may encounter.
Rejection is a real thing. I was rejected by a "Big Five" firm which demotivated me from applying to other firms because I thought, "If this one firm does not find me to be a suitable candidate, then how will other firms find me a suitable candidate for articles?" However, I soon learnt that different law firms apply different employment criteria. It is important to remember that rejection by one is NOT a rejection by all. It is also imperative to remember that when seeking employment or interviewing at firms, you are also interviewing your employer - you too must be comfortable and happy with the environment, values, organisational culture and structure of the firm.
Procrastination is the reincarnation of the devil. Avoid it all costs. It's a deadly sin that comes with a high price.
Taking part-time jobs during your studies will provide you with the soft skills needed to prepare you to face the corporate world and to succeed.
Mistakes are an inevitable part of our journey. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on. Take heed of the lesson learnt from the mistake, it will help you overcome your shortcomings, and remember that every setback is a set-up for a comeback.
Learn to laugh at yourself. Embarrassing moments are also an inevitable part of our journey. I once wore tight pants to the office which, to my misfortune, tore. Lucky for me, I always have an extra pair pants in case of any emergency.
You are never too smart to be undermined by the company printer. It will humble you.
Never tag your law firm on social media posts - be aware of your own social media presence; the cloud can come back to bite you for what you did four years ago!
In conclusion - do not allow your years at university to amount to a coincidental series of unfortunate events. Dream of greatness and open yourself up to all the possibilities - do not let your goals remain fiction. Active participation will set you apart from the rest. The journey to success is not a lonely one, there are people to help you, and you should take full advantage of their advice.
Kipa is a Candidate Attorney with Webber Wentzel.