Why law? That’s a question you’re going to be asked over and over again if you are starting to think a career in law might be the one for you. You’ll be answering it on work placement application forms, during mock interviews, at tutor meetings, when applying for courses, at scholarship interviews… the list goes on.
It has some variations – “why do you want to be a lawyer?” and “why do you think you’re suited to a career in law?” – but it’s basically the same question.
So if you are at school or college and thinking about a career in law, it’s a good idea to start considering how you’re going to answer it. And not just because you’d look stupid if you fluffed it.
Once you’ve worked out “why law”, you will find you can apply yourself to the process of achieving your goal in a more focused, determined and disciplined manner.
“Come on, the question seems simple enough. What’s the fuss?”
When you’re filling out application forms, you need to be structured and logical in your answers. A personal question – “why law?” – can feel somehow unexpected and can be very offputting. It is easy to get into a muddle if you have not thought it through.
The first time I answered this question, I was applying for a mini-pupillage and had little legal experience. I wrote: “Law, being a vital component in the successful integration of people, impresses me with its in-built readiness to change in accordance with society.
“The long-standing legal system in this country and the relationship between parliament and the courts provide a dynamic professional environment within which to work.”
Although I had worked hard at my answer and showed that I knew a little about the legal system, I had not thought carefully enough about why I personally was intending to pursue a career in law.
My answer was not a convincing enough argument and I was unsuccessful as a result. How did I know that law is a dynamic professional environment within which to work? There was no proof to back it up.
“Ok! Just tell me what I need to say…”
Many different kinds of people succeed at the law, and the best answer really will depend on your personality.
Consider carefully your own reasons and source of motivation. We may agree with Aristotle that “the law is reason free from passion”, yet an answer as to why you might want a career in law is the opposite – it is a rare opportunity to show your passion, so don’t be afraid to.
It will help you stand out next to someone else, and an interviewer may well remember you by it.
This does not mean be whimsical or sentimental. Instead, be specific in your answer about your influences and your natural enthusiasm will shine through.
Law affects every part of our lives and it is really not difficult to find examples ot that: driving a car, buying something from a shop, getting into a fight, being employed, renting a house… There is no right answer, just a convincing one.
My own motivation came from seeing a small part of the law in action. I was employed as a student support officer when I was asked to research and present my findings to a board of directors on upcoming changes to visa regulations affecting students.
By gaining a practical insight I realised two things – first, the power the law has on people’s lives, and second, interpreting law effectively can mitigate loss of income.
Incorporating this into my answer to “why law?” gave me, in the absence of any real legal experience, the chance to show a more personal response. It also mentioned research and presentation skills. A better attempt!
“That’s all very well, but I’m 17 and never had a job before”
Get the best qualifications you can at school, at college and, if you follow the conventional route into law, at university. That goes without saying.
But don’t underestimate the importance of practical experience at this stage. It is not crucial to study law as an A-level subject or read a hundred textbooks.
There are some characteristics that your interviewers, tutors and employers will be expecting from you straight away, such as how good you might be with clients, how much commercial awareness you have, and what characteristics you can bring to a role.
Work experience helps prove you are competent in these areas, and leaves you with a wealth of examples to talk about on application forms and during interviews.
There are a whole range of options out there – you should apply to chamber sets, solicitors firms and courts, but if you struggle to get these placements immediately, you can also get great value from work experience elsewhere, such as in the financial sector, or in retail or charity work.
So before I leave you to mull over your answer to “why law?”, here are three useful tips to improve your chances getting work experience:
1. Write a tailored letter, targeting a specific person in a firm
2. Try requesting one to two days, not two weeks, as you are more likely to gain shorter placements than longer ones
3. Make sure you write a thank you letter – few people do this and it is a good way for you to be remembered positively, in case you want to go back.