This is a post about deciding what path to take, how to specialise within the law. (Although it’s two steps away, still, apologies to R.E.M.)
I decided to do an LLB rather than a GDL for two reasons. One, I think the intellectual underpinning of an LLB (more time to absorb, to learn, to gain and hone skills) is important (which is in part a reflection of my Australian bias. To my knowledge, nothing like a GDL exists there: you must do a law degree). Two, I need time to decide what it is I’m going to do with this. One would think, that as a mature age student, I’d had plenty of time to work that out, but in some ways I’ve come to the law later than most of my peers. I was going to be an ancient (legal) historian. That didn’t work out and I did a quick about face: what now?
I feel the pressure of having to make life altering decisions weighing on me. It’s some months away until I have to start applying to vac schemes in earnest, and more until I have to think about training contract applications (although the idea of being a barrister appeals in the abstract, the pupillage crisis looms large in my mind), but time moves quickly, and I like to be prepared. How does that one make that decision?
When I was stressing about what elective to choose for the upcoming academic year, I talked to many people to try to work out why it was bothering me and to help me decide. One of the people I spoke to told me that “decide” comes from the same Latin root as “homicide”: you’re killing off alternative routes. I must admit my Latin is near non-existent (the Greek sheds no light here), but from what I can tell, having had a look online, I’m not sure that’s right, “decide” appears to have its roots in cutting off, rather than killing. But the mental image is much the same. I felt like, choosing one subject over another, I was reducing my experience of and thus my potential opportunities in different areas of law. (I have gathered it doesn’t matter so much what one does at LLB level, but I’m trying to make the most of what I expect will be my last degree, to be prepared as possible for my career.) This cutting off or killing is only amplified when one looks at training contracts: although it is apparently possible to re-specialise, it’s apparently also very difficult to do. Much better to make the right decision from the outset.
But how do you know what that is, or what direction to head in? There are so many competing factors at play. Compensation, location, work-life balance, prestige, office culture and morale, employability, sponsorship for LPC, potential for international secondment, etc. The kind of place you want to have in the world, the impact you make on society. Your politics, values, and passions. Is this a job to provide for yourself and your (future) family, or a vocation? The last, but probably most important, is: what kind of law would you like to practice? I know what areas of law I’ve enjoyed studying, found satisfying. But I’ve nearly universally been told that degree study bears little or no resemblance to practice. So how would you know? (And then, how do you read, read around, read past, the glossy brochures to make an informed choice about where to train? Who offers the training that will best set you up for your career? Etc)
I certainly had my ideas when I applied for the degree. I’d rather not be publicly drawn on it, if it’s all the same: not because I’m ashamed (far from it), but because I don’t want my previous aspirations to be held against me (and I am aware – as I did this very much deliberately – that this blog is written with my real name attached). What I thought I wanted to do has drawbacks which I hadn’t considered. I went into the degree with a fairly open mind – anything except academia, you only try to do a PhD once – and, irritatingly, I find my mind is even more open after a year of study.
I find myself falling in love with the process of the law. There are rules, there is logic (even if it’s only internal logic, sometimes), there is application, there is argument. That seems to be applicable across all the areas I’ve studied so far. It perhaps goes without saying, but I love research. With the little pro bono experience I have, I’ve also found that I can engross myself and become quite invested in things I hadn’t thought would draw me in the abstract. I also, quite some time ago, did some part time work with someone who did a lot of work as an expert witness. I found reading (for the purposes of sorting) his legal materials very interesting. So perhaps I’m quite flexible. But that certainly doesn’t make this decision making process any easier.
As always, please do comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.