Originally from Nigeria, Henry pursued his legal studies at the University of Exeter where he hit the ground running from his first year. “I attended networking events from the first few months at Exeter. I met with senior partners and recruiters,” he recalled. Being proactive, prepared, and ready to fight from the start of your degree is one of the first pieces of advice Henry would give to international students – but also find time to enjoy yourself. “I burned out very quickly from an imbalance in all the networking and studying in my first year so that by the time I reached second and third year I almost didn’t want to continue my degree. I didn’t allow myself to have fun and, looking back, I think that was a mistake,” he commented.
Henry claims that although he laid the groundwork in his first year and was listed as a “One to Watch” by the reputable diversity initiative, Aspiring Solicitors in his second year, the pursuit of a training contract and internships prevented him from actually enjoying the university experience. He advises international students to be determined in their pursuit of connections and opportunities, but not to lose sight of the experience of living in a new country with new people. Whilst firms are attracted to highly intellectual individuals, they are also attracted to people who know how to find balance, live and ultimately be human, he emphasised.
While some international students may feel that their ability to outcompete the local competition for training contracts is borderline impossible due to the additional costs an international student would bring to a firm, Henry urges them to see the value in their nationality and upbringing. “As a Nigerian, I know I have value. I know the African market reasonably well and my network across Nigeria would be a good resource to any firm who has clients there or is open to expanding the business to this and other African jurisdictions.” In short, put away your violin, stop making excuses and stop comparing yourself to others. “Find the value in yourself, because the second you compare yourself to other people, you lose yourself and people can see inauthenticity.” It is important to be honest with yourself, focus on yourself and consolidate your wins.
Despite the networking, hard work and numerous summer internships under his belt, Henry still experienced a number of rejections in pursuit of his training contract. “I was taken aback, but eventually they became a part of everyday life. I had to keep trying because what else was there to do?” Even the best of us will fail at the start, he says, but that doesn’t mean you should stop. Perseverance is a strong skill to have — the more you persevere the more likely you are to succeed.
Finally, Henry stressed that students cannot rely on only one wow factor — networking, grades, or work experience — they need a combination of those and more. “It is so important to use the resources around you — resources beyond your university to access knowledge and experience. Join events or do online courses, anything to boost your profile and skills.”
To gain more advice on laying the groundwork and feeling empowered for your legal career in the UK, check out The Legal Startup’s website here
This article is part of the Africa Legal Graduate Development Series. The series aims to equip students, graduates and junior members of our community with the skills and knowledge to succeed in today’s legal market. To further prepare you for your future in law, take a look at our free online courses on Preparing for your first legal interview and How to draft your legal CV.
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