My Experience with the Law in Society Mentoring Scheme: Why I Did it and Why You Should Too

As part of ‘Mentoring Month’ this October, we caught up with recent law grad, Haneet Sagoo on why she chose to apply for the Law in Society mentoring scheme and how it helped shape her career aspirations. Find out how you can do more with law below.

It’s safe to say that signing up to the Law in Society Mentoring scheme was one of the best decisions I made in my final year. Here I’ll tell you how it worked and why it was such a beneficial experience.

Who Should Apply?

Anyone who is thinking about what they’d like to do after uni and wants to explore their options! The scheme is especially great for law students who are looking at careers outside the straightforward commercial law route. For example, I wanted to explore a career in international humanitarian aid and I was able to match with a mentor with years of experience in that sector.

Getting started

I applied for the scheme because I’d always had an interest in human rights focused work but I didn’t know what the steps were to get there. So, when I heard about the mentoring scheme where you could be matched with a professional in a sector you were interested in, I jumped at the chance!

The scheme is set up in a really interactive way from the off. After applying through PLN and being matched with our mentor, we were invited to the introduction evening where we got the chance to meet our fellow mentees, chat about what we all wanted to get out of the experience and set up a plan for our first official meeting. Our mentor was working abroad at the time so we had a virtual mentorship – all this meant was that our meetings were on skype rather than in-person! You also have to appoint a team leader which I highly recommend putting yourself forward for if you’re looking to practice your organisational/admin skills.

Mentor Meetings

So, these were the main focus of the mentoring scheme and BY FAR one of the most important things I did in final year. Every group is different but our setup was just to come to the meeting with a few questions for our mentor as starting points and then let the conversation flow. The advice and insight we gained was invaluable and really helped me to narrow down what areas I’d be interested working in. We were also incredibly lucky in that our mentor was so engaged and would send follow up documents with links to internships, volunteer programmes etc. to do with things we had discussed. One of the best things to come out of the scheme for me was my mentor giving me a contact who was doing the same volunteering abroad that I was interested in – you don’t get this kind of career help every day!

Tips to make the most of your meetings:

  • Build a set of questions between each meeting so you can get the most out of your time with your mentor, rather than just turning up for a chat!
  • Follow up on any tips or leads your mentor gives you before your next meeting – this gives you a chance to build a good back-and-forth and helps your conversations to progress.
  • Work as a team with your fellow mentees! Since you have similar interests they are the best people to collaborate with and talk to about your ideas for the future.

Why I Recommend the Scheme

Overall, I didn’t realise how much I needed the mentor scheme until I did it. Not only did it give me a chance to build connections and get advice directly from an industry professional, but I was also able to practice my communication and organisational skills. With graduation looming the pressure to know what you’re doing next can be intense but my advice is to get involved with schemes like this, explore your options and you’ll go forward with a much clearer idea of what you want!

Further information

Securing a mentor can help you to develop key skills that employers are looking for, such as communication and personal skills, increase your confidence and motivation and provide you with an opportunity to delve deeper into an area of law or non-law that you are considering pursuing.

The Law in Society Mentoring Scheme opens for applications on Monday 12 October. Many of the mentoring schemes on offer through the Law School close for applications at the end of October 2020, so make sure you read about each scheme before applying. Find out more about our various mentoring schemes and how to apply here.

Working in legal tech – an interview with law grad, Adam Hunter

Adam is a legal tech IGNITE Trainee Solicitor at Clifford Chance, who was recently recognised as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Junior Lawyers in the UK by The Legal Technologist Magazine. During his training contract, Adam has worked in the Real Estate, TMT (Technology, Media and Telecoms) and Corporate Financial Institutions teams and has completed a client secondment at Amazon. Adam has also recently joined the Law School’s Professional Mentoring Scheme as a mentor for 2020-21.

Understanding Legal Tech

What is legal technology?

Legal technology or ‘legal tech’ essentially means using technology to provide legal services. It is increasingly becoming a strategic focus at  law firms, chambers and in-house legal teams, who are all looking to utilise new and emerging technologies such as chatbots, contract automation and e-discovery platforms to become more efficient and add value to their services to clients. Often this technology is built and designed by or in collaboration with legal tech start-ups.

When did you first become interested in legal tech?

I became interested in legal tech in my final year at Bristol Law School when I had an idea to modernise the traditional legal recruitment ‘milk round’ and help make it more accessible to students from under-represented backgrounds using technology. I built and launched an AI-based chatbot that provided students with free applications advice and connected them to graduate recruitment teams. In its first year, the chatbot was used by over 2000 students across several universities and I had the opportunity to partner with eight international law firms.

Why is legal technology important?

There are four key reasons why I think legal technology is important:

  • Being more client-centric – Legal tech provides us with an opportunity to challenge traditional methods of providing legal advice. Instead of sending advice to clients in lengthy Word documents and emails, we can consider whether it is more useful to communicate our advice to clients through tools such as online portals and sites.
  • Efficiency and competitive pricing  – Law firms are under pressure from clients to reduce their fees. Legal tech can help make our processes as efficient as possible, by reducing the more mundane tasks and automating or outsourcing some of these. This includes integrating tools such as document automation (e.g. CC Dr@ft), machine-learning contract review (e.g. Kira) and e-signing platforms (e.g. DocUSign). Ultimately, this allows us to offer more competitive fee arrangements to clients.
  • Diversification and new legal products– A lot of our clients come to us with global, complex issues. By designing and offering new products and solutions, we can have closer relationships with clients, where we are more integrated into their processes and better positioned to support their in-house legal teams with their most pressing legal and commercial challenges.
  • Influencing the future of the legal industry– Some of our ideas are best described as ‘blue sky thinking’. Perhaps they aren’t ready for our clients yet but as legal advisers, we want to anticipate our clients’ future needs and be a part of shaping the future of the legal industry.

Training Contract Advice

What would be your advice to students who want to learn more about legal technology?

  • Look to other industries for inspiration– My top tip would be to look at businesses in other industries and see how they have used technology to transform and grow. A lot of my inspiration comes from looking at tech strategies that other companies have adopted and considering if these ideas can be applied to legal processes at Clifford Chance.  In particular, I would recommend the Stratechery blog or Harvard Business Review’s Exponential View podcast, which are accessible ways of learning about the strategy and business side of technology.
  • Keep an eye out for developments in the legal tech market – I wouldn’t worry too much about conducting detailed research on the legal tech market (unless you are super interested!). However, it is useful to understand what technology is out there and any general trends in the market. I would recommend blog posts by Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, The Legal Technologistand The Artificial Lawyer.
  • Legal tech events and internships – Some legal tech start-ups offer short internships over the summer. There are also lots of events to meet like-minded students and individuals working in legal tech. The largest legal tech event in the UK, Legal Geek, is coming up in October 2020 and is free to sign up. I’ll be attending! The Law School has also partnered with international law firm, Osborne Clarke to create a LegalTech placement for current students. This opportunity partners law students with a computer science students to tackle real-life projects, using emerging technologies. Find out more about the scheme here.

What skills should students interested in legal tech look to develop?

  • Coding is not required– A lot of students ask me if they need to be able to code to get involved in legal tech. Coding is not always required. I rarely code as part of my legal tech training contract (only as a hobby). What I think is more important is understanding the different tools that are out there so that you can make suggestions such as “perhaps we can provide that using an app or an API”. There are quite a few online courses and short YouTube videos that can help get you up to speed on the latest tech that businesses are adopting.
  • Learn how digital products are developed–  Entrepreneurship is the process of turning ideas into actual products or services and when it occurs in large organisations this is often referred to as intrapreneurship. Being able to understand this process of how to turn an idea into reality (from idea, to prototype, to launch and beyond!) is super important. A great starting point is the book “The Lean Startup” which has a lot of principles you can apply as a legal tech lawyer.

How can I talk about legal tech in a training contract interview?

  • Remember it is a legal training contract interview first and foremost– Don’t forget that legal tech is an important topic that is likely to come up in your interview but it is unlikely to be the main or sole topic for discussion. It is important that you understand the firm you are applying to, can talk about your skills and experiences and also demonstrate your interest in law and commercial awareness.
  • Show you understand the implications of legal technology– Technology provides a lot of opportunities for law firms and their clients. However, it also has a lot of challenges and you must be able to show that you understand the implications of legal tech when discussing your ideas. A key concern is often cybersecurity!
  • If you discuss a legal tech idea, appreciate that your initial idea may not be perfect– Often our ideas are not perfect the first time around. Your interviewer may have more experience and provide a new perspective that you had not considered. Designing legal technology is a process. It involves learning, testing and validating your ideas step by step. Be prepared to ‘pivot’ or redesign your ideas as the interview progresses.

Good luck!

Further information

For more information on exploring specific career options, current law students can access tailored careers advice through our regular Employability Bulletin and a wealth of resources on our Blackboard page here. See our full Careers and Employability webpages here.

Do More with Law – why it is time to learn about Self-Sovereign Identity

A blogpost by recent Bristol law graduate, Alex Tweeddale who now works in the area of data protection and privacy law.

The ‘Route-1’ approach of firing applications to law firms and hoping one will land is almost outdated. Perhaps this was the best approach for previous generations, however, there is a now a new modern, agile way of working which simply isn’t spoken about so much in University career days. For example, going to work in a developing start-up gives you experiences you simply would not get by jumping straight into a training contract.

Moreover, if you do work in a start-up and want to transition into a city law firm, you will have built up such a strong portfolio of skills, publications and contacts, meaning you may stand out from people who have been trained rigorously to the practices of a city law firm for 2 years.

An Emerging Industry – Self-Sovereign Identity

Alex Tweeddale, a recent graduate from the University of Bristol has joined IDWorks, a London based start-up, who are creating a Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) solution for companies and individuals. Alex is attempting to spread awareness about the benefits which an SSI model can provide society and wants to encourage Bristol students to get involved in the industry.

What is SSI?

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is a new, innovative, technological approach to digital identity, which puts the control and ownership of personal data into the hands of an individual, rather than multiple organisations. It also adds trust to digital interactions by using signed digital attributes called ‘Credentials’.

Currently, an individual’s digital identity and personal data is scattered across multiple companies’ centralised databases. For example, your Facebook profile is owned by Facebook, and if Facebook were to shut down, you would lose part of your digital identity. Similarly, to rely on a copy of your University diploma, you must request a physical copy from your University and it often it must be sealed and stamped. SSI is a technology which takes the concept of this sealed and stamped envelope and puts it into a digital format (Credential), using cryptography, and anchors it to an individual’s mobile device.

When the individual needs to share this digital diploma as proof of their degree or their identity, the verifying party can ascertain, through cryptographic resolution, that the diploma credential had been issued and digitally stamped by the University. This is more efficient and trustworthy because it removes the potential for fraudulent documentation.

Why is this necessary?

In short, the current state of data management is fundamentally insecure, and as such, individuals have lost their security, control and privacy on the internet. Individuals no longer know where their personal data is being used and companies are exploiting your data for commercial gain behind your back, and by using ‘clickwraps’ which skirt round the GDPR’s consent requirements.

It is time to take back control of your identity online!

Why should you consider this route?

Working in a start-up in an emerging technology allows you to be more creative and flexible than working in a traditional law firm. You can be creative in how you market, pitch and sell your product and the working hours are often flexible and allow remote work. Additionally, you are working towards something which will genuinely make a difference in how the world functions at its core. And if I haven’t convinced you already, often you will earn a higher salary per hours of work than starting in a law firm.

Sounds cool? Want to get involved? Drop Alex an email at: alex@idworks.io 

‘My journey from law student to pupillage and everything in between’ a blog by Harrison Burroughs

Harrison Burroughs studied LLB Law at the University of Bristol Law School, graduating in 2019. Here Harrison details his journey throughout his course and the steps he took along the way to bring him closer to his goal of building a career at the Bar.

I started my law degree at Bristol in 2016, fresh from finishing my A Levels. Coming to a university like Bristol to study law can feel like a daunting experience; thankfully Bristol could not have been better at supporting me during my degree and my career aspirations.

Work Experience

Key to any application in the legal sector is work experience. Experience is vital to show both interest and skill in a chosen area. Admittedly, when I began my degree, I didn’t even know where to find these experiences, let alone how to be successful in obtaining them.

My main tip to anyone looking for work experience would be to start small. One or two days shadowing or volunteering is a great place to start, allowing you to build up your CV over time and go on to attain more substantial schemes. Equally, pay attention to your student societies, such as Bar Soc or Pro Bono Society, as these can be a great place to find work opportunities.

Scholarships

What separates becoming a barrister as a career choice is not just the significant financial investment, but also the immense competition for pupillage spaces.

Scholarships and awards are vital to overcoming both of these issues, covering some of the costs of the BPTC year and looking great on your CV.

Each year the four Inns of Court offer millions of pounds of awards to prospective barristers, significantly contributing to BPTC fees and other expenses. Each Inn has a slightly different application process and marking criteria, but all generally focus on aspects important to a barrister like academic ability and public speaking skill. The written applications for these scholarships close in November, with interviews in the spring, so keep an eye out!

With the help of the Careers Service and Law School Employability team at Bristol, I was able to tailor my application to best suit my strengths – both on paper and in interview – and was lucky enough to be awarded a Lord Denning Scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn.

However, it is important to remember that there are many other scholarships out there. For example, the Guru Nanak Social Mobility Award is provided by Mukhtiar Singh each year to offer funding and mentoring for aspiring barristers from disadvantaged backgrounds. As the inaugural winner of this scholarship, I can’t stress enough how important and helpful this award has been for my career.

Pupillage

I was receiving my first invitations to pupillage interviews when Corona virus struck. This offered the slightly odd experience of taking almost half my interviews in person (pre-lockdown) and half over a combination of Skype, zoom, teams and practically every other video-conferencing software available.

Despite the oddity of delivering answers to your laptop’s webcam, the fundamentals of video interviews are ultimately the same as those in person. You have to be calm, clear and concise and deliver your answers well – albeit sometimes with the added difficulty of your neighbour conducting DIY through the wall.

After a stressful spring period, balancing interviews with exam prep, I accepted an offer of pupillage with No5 Chambers, specialising in Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence.

It’s hard to put into words the amazing feeling when you receive that phone call informing you of your success. For me, this was the culmination of years of work and studying. It made all my hard work feel worth it.

I hope this blog has helped any students considering a career at the Bar. The Bar is undoubtedly an immensely difficult career path and my own experiences show it requires a lot of hard work. However, with a great deal of perseverance, success can be within reach.

Further information

For more information on exploring specific career options, current law students can access tailored careers advice through our regular Employability Bulletin and a wealth of resources on our Blackboard page here. See our full Careers and Employability webpages here.

‘Beyond your tassled caps’ – rising to the challenge of adulthood, a law student perspective

Originally posted during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2020, we look back on law student, Iona Holmes’ thoughts on coming to the end of university and handling the stress of ‘the real world’.

Her blogpost was originally posted on the ‘That’s What She Said’ magazine. That’s What She Said is an award-winning online and print magazine comprised of many student writers, illustrators and photographers at the University of Bristol. Find out more on their website.

Leaving the university bubble is daunting. Not only is there pressure to get an actual, real life adult job, but the days of free rein over how you spend your time suddenly disappear. Don’t get me wrong, university has its ups and downs. But studying (hopefully) engaging subjects, revolving your time around friends and finding people passionate about the same things as you, is a pretty sweet lifestyle.

As I’m approaching my final term, this is something I’m trying to keep in mind.

Speaking to friends who’ve already made the transition to working-life, I’ve realised how important it is to embrace the opportunities open to us  – whether that’s throwing yourself into campaigning, finally learning how to tango or simply enjoying the luxury of spending a Thursday hungover in bed. In our last few months, we should reflect on what we’ve learned throughout our uni years, both personally and academically. Recognising the hurdles you’ve already cleared is just as important as looking for the obstacles up ahead.

Despite my best efforts to focus on the here and now, inevitably, the dreaded question hangs over me. Whether it’s from distant family members round the Christmas dinner table, or over a pint with school friends I haven’t seen for months, the words  ‘so, what are you going to do next?’ seem to be coming at me from all angles. I know they don’t have malicious intentions, but this doesn’t stop the fear setting in as I reluctantly admit that I’m not quite sure. As much as I’m delighted for friends who have had their five-year plan in place since day one of freshers’ week, I find it terrifying how secure the next few years of their lives are, while I’m still floundering in a state of limbo.

Whenever I feel a bit lost about what to do, I turn to Maya Angelou’s ‘Letter to my Daughter.’ Part memoir, part poetry and all-round feminist guidebook, her words echo like comforting blues rhythms. With graduation looming, I’ve been flicking through the pages, searching for both comfort and inspiration around approaching the next chapter of my life.

As ever, Ms. Angelou’s words of wisdom deliver. Her advice seems intuitive but is often obscured in anxiety-inducing conversations about the future. If I were Hugh Brady, I’d have this extract etched onto the walls of every teaching space:

Look beyond your tasselled caps,
And you will see injustice.
At the end of your fingertips
You will find cruelties,
Irrational hate, bedrock sorrow
And terrifying loneliness.
There is your work.

Find what moves you. Find what makes you feel, what makes you outraged and what you want to change. Of course, this line of thinking does not directly lead you to a job. But, it’s an important starting point. Sometimes, it may even be a case of carving the space for that work by yourself. University of Bristol alumnus Liv Little channeled her frustration at the lack of diversity at university into creating the sensation that is gal-dem, to platform stories of women and non-binary people of colour.

Once you’ve worked out where your passion lies, reflect on your strengths and what you can contribute to the big picture. This could be conducting empirical research, directly supporting vulnerable individuals or developing budgets – we need to utilise our various skills and work collaboratively to make a difference.

Beyond this, consider what you want to achieve outside the workplace. Just as essays aren’t all there is to university, work isn’t the only component of ‘adulthood.’ Ponder how much time you want to spend working, where you’d like to live and the role you want to play within your community. The career path you follow will impact what you’re able to do out of the office.

It’s also important to remember that even if you think you have it all planned out, your first grown-up job may not be everything you hoped. Our expectation that things will fall into place once we land that grad job tends not to reflect reality: life is always messier than we’d like. Your 20s are your time to explore your options and allow yourself to grow. A significant part of this is being able to admit when things haven’t quite gone right and figuring out how to move forward.

To rise to the challenge of adulthood, we should continuously reflect on what we’ve achieved, where we are now and where we want to go. Nobody can tell you exactly what to do next. Nor do you need them to, because in Maya’s words: ‘’you are intelligent and creative and resourceful, and you will use your life lessons as you see fit.”

Artwork by Laura Stewart-Liberty.