Newly hired associate at Norton Rose Fulbright, Daniel Femi-Alemede, and Africa Legal’s Sohayla King recently spoke about how he established his legal career in the UK as an international student from Nigeria.
For Daniel, the search for legal work in the UK began in his first year of study. This initiative to hit the ground running from the start enabled him to access crucial networks and experience early on.
However, it’s never as simple as just applying for roles. “The first and probably most important thing any aspiring lawyer can do is learn how to write good applications,” he said, emphasising that putting time into consciously improving your application strategy is what will separate you from the majority of applicants. He stresses that students should use online resources, free courses, university facilities, application feedback and friends to help improve training contract applications, and always get someone else to read through their applications.
Rome wasn’t built in a day for Daniel, and he experienced his fair share of rejections from various firms. This process is inevitable. As Daniel realised during his application journey, “LinkedIn can give you the impression that no one fails and writing a successful application is easy, because LinkedIn is where people publish their CVs or success stories, not their failures. So when next you see a success story on LinkedIn, see it as a story someone is sharing to motivate/celebrate/brag but not one telling you they have never failed in this application process.”
For Daniel, it is important that you have a healthy rejection strategy as part of the application process. In Daniel’s case he focused less on the rejection itself and more on finding what he could do to improve his chances and his application strategy. “I started strategically reaching out to people on LinkedIn to review my applications and CV,” he explained. He also tried to find those “easy CV wins” such as joining a student ambassador scheme, coaching high school students through mentoring schemes, participating in hackathons at university, and applying for extra and co-curricular employability achievement awards.
Looking back, Daniel urges students to have a plan. “I know it sounds ridiculous to say, but you should try to have a list of firms you plan on applying to, and how you would go about each application, from application stage to submission stage,” he said.
He would also advise international students to start learning about UK law firms very early, even if they are unsure if they want to work in the UK. “You should also apply to join organisations like Aspiring Solicitors, SEO London or Rare Recruitment, and actively (not passively) engage with these organisations,” advised Daniel, suggesting students look for open days, dinners and free events they can attend.
He notes that international students have the excellent opportunity to apply for summer jobs in the UK and also at home, and advises that their CV building strategy should not focus only on UK law firms but should also focus on law firms back home. “Getting experience is a requirement for future lawyers regardless of jurisdiction,” he added.
Whilst each person’s experience in establishing their career may feel unique, tens of thousands of students experience similar rejection from similar applications. Be ready for rejection, be ready for non-constructive criticism, constructive feedback and nothing at all.
“Be ready, don’t give up, reflect on your process and have a plan,” is Daniel’s takeaway.
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