For the past three years, the most common response I’ve received when someone learns that I’m a Law student. (That’s if they don’t bring up how much reading I must be doing or how much I’ll earn as a lawyer.) has been: “Oh, you’re studying Law? Great! Now I have someone who’ll get me out of trouble!”
Two thoughts cross my mind whenever I get this response:
1. What are you planning to do that you’re anticipating will get you into trouble?
2. You may want to put those plans on hold because I’m not actually planning on becoming a lawyer.
For many, Law school can be a clarifying experience, either because it confirms that they do want to pursue a career as a lawyer, as a barrister or solicitor, or because it confirms the opposite – that they’re not as interested in Law as they thought, and they’d rather do anything else than have a 9am Contract Law lecture on the classifications of contractual terms.
My experience has also been clarifying, but in a different way. Law school made me realise how much I am genuinely interested in the subject of ‘the law’. Law both shapes and reflects society and I find it fascinating how the study of Law can interweave with other areas such as Philosophy, History, Sociology and even Linguistics. But being a Law student made it abundantly clear to me that I don’t want to pursue a commercial/corporate law career, and more than that, I don’t want to practise Law at all.
The first statement is easier to understand and justify because it turns out, there are actually Law students out there who wish to pursue careers as lawyers in non-commercial fields, and CLAW is made up of a whole team of students dedicated to facilitating opportunities in these alternative domains.
However, my second statement – that I’m a Law student who doesn’t want to be a lawyer at all – has always been harder to explain. I think it comes as a surprise to people that I’m studying Law because I just want to study Law. As though there could be no other reason why someone would choose to do the pages and pages (and pages and pages) of reading if there wasn’t the promise of a well-paid, well-respected job at the end of it.
Often times, I think a Law degree isn’t seen as more than a stepping-stone (or an obstacle, depending on your perspective) to the next stage. “Just a brief 3/4-year stint in Law school, then I’ll finally get to be out in the real world (a.k.a. the City), doing work that actually matters”.
My view is that the work we do as Law students does matter. It can be hard, complicated, and, dare I say, boring, but we get to understand the law from an internal perspective, whilst engaging with the people who research it, investigate it and sometimes advise, or even are, the people who make it. I think that counts for something, even if I don’t go on to secure an elusive TC with a firm in one of the circles.
Maybe the title is a bit misleading because I am being taught and trained to think logically, critically and analytically – like a lawyer. But what I’ve gained from this is isn’t that I have a deep and intrinsic passion for ‘the law’, rather I have developed valuable skills that can be used to produce good-quality work in almost any field. The ability to read texts closely, analyse and synthesise challenging material, construct reasoned arguments and then communicate your ideas effectively is valuable and actually necessary in today’s world. As Law students, we learn to assess cases, legislation, policy documents, reports, books, journal articles, case studies, news articles and other materials, which in the end exposes us to interests and opportunities in a wide variety of different areas.
In light of this, I had a confusing and frustrating time for a while, as I thought it was a contradiction to enjoy studying Law but not want to be a (practising) lawyer, but with the skills of logical thinking I have been so dedicated to cultivating over the course of this degree, I realised that my purpose in studying Law is simply that – to study Law. It might be the same for you, and that’s perfectly fine.
This isn’t a plea for every Law student that is planning to pursue the commercial route to abandon their plans, and CLAW has members who are actively pursuing the barrister or solicitor route. I think I’m just waiting for the day when my stress levels don’t rise every time someone asks me which vacation schemes and firms I’m applying to because I know it’s none for a reason.