May 31, 2016

A Student’s Perspective: advice on securing legal work experience

Jacky Cheng, Oxford Brookes

(Inner Temple, Student Member)

Jacky Cheng

Background

I was born in Hong Kong and graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a First Class Honours degree in Law and English. These subjects fulfil my passion to explore the fundamental, yet complex, issues of humanity. The study of English complements that of law: poetry introduces me to a range of universal and timeless themes (e.g. slavery and feminism), which informs my legal research (e.g. vulnerability of asylum seekers and women’s procreative autonomy).

Oxford Brookes has a fascinating range of careers support. Law Fairs enable students to discuss their careers with lawyers from local chambers and practices. The Centre for Legal Research and Policy Studies undertakes scholarly research (e.g. migration, human rights, Law and Religion, Criminal Justice). The latter gives students the opportunities to understand the law in practice and develop particular areas of interest.

Experiences

To secure my first mini-pupillage, I strived to do well academically and participated in mooting (mock legal hearing), client interviewing and debating activities. I served as the Student Department Representative at my School of Law. I consulted tutors who have a wealth of practice experiences; and enquired directly with Chambers before making applications regarding their criteria and preferences on candidates’ legal background.

I am Research Assistant in EU and Family Law. Assisting with the forthcoming publication of a Special Issue in the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies enhances my research techniques and keeps me up-to-date with current legal issues.

I have 9 years of debating experiences, as (Chief) Adjudicator, Coach, Captain and Debater. This includes being invited by the Middle Temple Debating Society to sit as an Independent Judge at the Monroe Cup 2015 tournament. The invitation came about after I enquired with the Society about the possibility of contributing to their activities.

I endeavour to become a civil barrister in England and this ambition is firmly grounded in my experiences. Part of being a barrister is to ensure that my client’s ‘voice’ is heard, regardless of who they are, as long as it is within the realms of justice and ethics. Some interesting cases I have seen involve the courts determining the age of an asylum seeker without birth certificate; working out exactly how two cars collided in a road traffic accident; and reviewing the lawfulness of public decision-makers.

Advice

Know yourself. This helps identify your ‘Unique Selling Point’ (i.e. key skills and experiences you have or would like to develop). Then, actively explore opportunities with your USP. The skills and qualities you have are more important than your background ultimately. Know your weaknesses and actively ‘fill the gap’ by researching opportunities. It is noteworthy that some Inns have particular Award schemes for students coming from underrepresented background, not least the Inner Temple.

Networking is important and strategic preparation helps. Imagine you are meeting barristers and solicitors in a careers event tomorrow. Specifically, know the sets/firms’ areas of practice, recent cases, trainings and publications. Plus, what you think about them and any questions you may have. Generally, think about which areas of practice you are interested in, and why; your relevant experiences; and current issues which are of interest to you and the legal profession. This substantiates any personal conversations you may have.

‘Which Inn of Court should I choose?’ If your priority is to get a BPTC scholarship, it would be advisable to compare the Inns’ specific criteria and interview processes. Alternatively, you might wish to see if an Inn has particular input in an area of law you are interested in. It could be worth visiting the Inn(s) to experience the environment yourself.

The Bar is constantly enhancing its diversity. To those who truly desire a career at the Bar, I encourage you to make the most of the opportunities and resources around you. It is better to make mistakes and learn, rather than not make any and not learn.