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Studying Law – advice from Fran and Philippa

In the next in our series of spotlights on our CHS Sixth Form alumni and how they chose their next steps, we spoke to Fran and Philippa who both started their degrees in Law this term. Fran studied Business, Economics and Psychology A Levels, moving on to study Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, whereas Philippa chose History, English Lit and Biology and is now studying at Bristol.

Crompton House Sixth Form doesn’t offer Law as an A Level, however no university Law courses require Law A Level – instead universities accept students with a diverse range of A Level subjects and look for students who can demonstrate their interest in Law through their work experience and wider reading.

What made you choose a degree in Law?

Fran: I chose to do law as it is such an expansive career path – you can do anything with a law degree. I have a passion for music and media, so I knew I wanted to do something in that area. After some research I found that law has so many niche areas that there really is something for everyone whether it be criminal law, commercial law, white collar law, human rights or family law. Law also opens doors to other things such as activism or business management.

Philippa: I chose Law because it seemed like a natural progression from the subjects I studied at A Level (History and English, with Biology as well) and it’s a very good degree for employability.

Did you do any work experience before applying? If so, what did you do and how did it help?

Philippa: I did lots of work experience before applying, although specific law firm work experience is not essential. I worked at Evershed Surtherland LLB, Persons Solicitors in Oldham, work at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Ayres Waters Solicitors to look at family law and also I did some teaching experience in Fairfield High School for Girls as I am considering secondary teaching as career option. It’s not about how “prestigious” your work experience is, universities don’t care if your dad is the Lord Chief Justice- it’s all about what you learned from it and what sparked your interest academically.

Fran: I was lucky enough to be accepted onto The Social Mobility Foundations Aspiring Professionals Programme allowing me to get work experience in Pinsent Masons, a solicitors firm, and Byrom Street Chambers, a barristers chambers. This opportunity led to spending time with judges in their chambers and invitations to events where you get to meet incredible people. The Social Mobility Foundation also give you a mentor to help with personal statements, so for example I had a Barrister who has been practicing for nearly 30 years. However, if you don’t manage to access any programmes, many law firms and chambers will happily accommodate work experience students for a week: all you have to do is email and ask.

We don’t offer Law A Level – what A Levels did you do and how have they helped in your plans?

Fran: I did Economics, Business and Psychology. They’ve helped me greatly as a massive part of being a lawyer is commercial awareness and by doing Business and Economics, I now have an understanding of how the economy is working and changing. This is vital for future lawyers to understand in order to help direct clients, especially if you’re wanting to go into a corporate or commercial area of the law. Psychology provided me with and insight into the world of criminal law via the forensics unit. As well as this they are all essay-based subjects giving me a lot of practice in writing and forming my own way of writing essays which makes condensing judgements a lot easier.

Philippa: I studied A Levels in History, English Literature and Biology, and did an EPQ that looked at the role that the Jack the Ripper murders had on attitudes to women in the late 1800s. All my subjects prepared me well for the vast amount of reading that is required when studying Law! The EPQ was a perfect opportunity to research a topic that I was interested in as well as one that is hugely relevant to society’s changing attitudes to women. This is an area of law that I find fascinating, so doing the independent research for my EPQ was great.

How did you choose the university you wanted to study at?

Philippa played Elle in the Crompton House production of Legally Blonde – laying the foundations for her joining the Musical Theatre Society while studying Law at Bristol.

Philippa: I’m at the University of Bristol and it’s been the best few weeks of my life. The law school is fantastic and I have met the best friends ever both in my halls and on my course! In terms of applying to uni – go to lots of open days if you can (or virtual ones if you can’t go in person) and really tailor your university choice to your specific needs. For example, Bristol has a fabulous drama and musical theatre societies and that was a big requirement for me! Make sure you look at the course structure and speak to the tutors specifically at open days!

Fran: I chose the university I wanted and now am studying at because of the area, the staff, the extra curriculars and the modules. For me, the decision was heavily weighted on what modules the course offered as I already have a specific area of law I’m interested in and Manchester Metropolitan offered me the modules I wanted and more. The staff at MMU are extremely involved and determined in making you the best law student they can for example the Head of the Law School is always involved in the teaching, and they provide a lot of extra help such as personal tutors, peer tutors, as well as the Law School which has opportunities for mooting and pro bono work.

What advice would you give to students who are thinking about pursuing a degree & career in Law?

Fran: Work experience and networking. Try and get any work experience it doesn’t even have to related to law so long as you gain some transferable skills from it, it’s useful. In regard to networking, email law firms about work experience and if you can do work experience ask lots of questions while you are there. If you can’t get work experience, ask if there is someone who can answer some questions for you to find out more. Also, I would recommend having a LinkedIn account as having connections in law is essential and you have got to make sure you keep in contact and LinkedIn is a great way of doing that.

Philippa: Some advice to people wanting to do a law degree- go for it! Be really ambitious, and don’t let the prestigious nature of the degree put you off at all. Law is a lot of work and reading but in my opinion it is one of the best degrees you can study in humanities- it’s very interesting, will certainly increase your brain power and will bank you fantastic postgraduate opportunities! Any kind of experience is good- and I would recommend “What About Law” and “Letters to a Law Student” as some books to get you started!

What should future Law applicants think about when writing their personal statement?

Fran: For me, it was trying to show how my characteristics and skills apply to being a lawyer and doing some research as they want to know when you realised you wanted to do law what motivates you to complete the degree so having a vision or some idea of what area of law. I would also recommend reading a few laws related books “The Secret Barrister” for example or “Under the Wig” just to show that you have looked into doing law and not randomly thought to do a law degree. A lot of what I wrote about was work experience not just in law but also volunteering and having a part time job as it shows dedication and hard work. Make it clear and concise don’t use flowery language as it wastes space that could otherwise be used to sell you and why you’d be the right person for the course. Show you have ambition and knowledge on the subject and you’ll be okay.

Philippa: When writing your personal statement, make sure you don’t just list random things you’ve done- make it concise but talk about what different experiences have taught you and what you find academically stimulating. I remember just typing out a big first draft over a weekend and handing it in and felt much better once I’d done it. Don’t worry about going over the word limit at first- your academic tutor will attack it with their red pen and make sure you cut out the waffle! Also remember you want to be a law student and this is the only bit of writing admissions tutors will see- make sure you structure your points logically and be clear and concise. Personally for law I would recommend keep it 90% academic and super-curricular and then a little bit about your hobbies towards the end, especially for Russell Group universities. A little note about Oxbridge- a lot of law students go for it and I would definitely advise applying and giving it a go. I got an interview and was pooled and I am proud of that. But DO NOT put loads of pressure on yourself- I did in Year 13 and it did me no good whatsoever. If you get in- great! But do not define yourself on whether or not you got into Oxbridge as I know so many intelligent people who didn’t get in. My nerves got the better of me at interview- I advise you chill out and give it your best go!

How has the start of uni been? Obviously it is a different experience to normal this year!

Fran: It’s been interesting so far, at MMU we started quite early so had a few lectures in person but due to another rise in cases we are online for the next week or so; so it’s a lot like being on a rollercoaster, but so far I have loved every moment meeting new people from all over the country and the world, learning new things and starting a new chapter towards my future goals.

Philippa: I’m currently in my first year at Bristol staying at gorgeous Wills Hall in Stoke Bishop. After my gap year I was definitely ready for a new adventure and I can honestly say it’s been brilliant. I’ve got so many friends all over the university and a lovely group of nine girls who I’m already planning on sharing a house with next year. Despite Covid I’ve loved it. Law is a lot of work but you will learn to get though cases and the reading efficiently- your tutors will guide you through it. There is no better feeling than contributing to lectures and being stretched academically by your Professors. I don’t think I’ve ever used this much brain power in all my life! Online learning is fine- it gives me and extra couple of hours in bed in the morning. I’ve also joined Musical Theatre at Bristol and the Bristol Big Band as a vocalist and it’s a great continuation from what I did at Crompton House. I also do Bristol Jets Cheerleading and hopefully Varsity Gamedays will still go ahead after Christmas so we get the full uni sport experience!

Philippa’s last advice for our current Year 13s is “Good luck with applying- please don’t get too stressed. I know I had to balance a lot of things in year 13 and it led to lots of stress and worry. Please take care of yourselves!”

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