My Journey from Oxford, to becoming a Lawyer


Rebecca Whant
Created: 4 months ago
Last modified: 4 months ago

I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, and I now have a job as a solicitor at a leading city law firm. This might seem nonsensical – how can an English student become a lawyer? In fact, the UK has a fantastic system that makes the solicitor career path accessible to a wide range of subjects and financial backgrounds.

English

From the age of 16, I was certain I wanted to study English at university. I loved reading and enjoyed every English GCSE and A-Level lesson, even though I found them difficult. I truly believe the best academic subject to pursue is the one that you are most passionate about – if you love what you are doing, you will naturally try harder and keep motivated when studying gets tricky. So, when it came to applying to university, I had my eyes on the top English courses in the UK at Oxford and Cambridge.

Rejection

After a tough entrance exam and even tougher set of interviews, I received a heavy-handed rejection from Cambridge. This really got me down – I loved English so much and thought I had the grades to make it. I did a lot of moping and wallowing for around a week.

Re-applying to Oxbridge

It didn’t take long for my head to clear. I loved English, I believed was good enough, and I was determined to get into Oxbridge – so, I decided I would re-apply, this time to Oxford. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an easy decision. Re-applying meant taking a gap year I hadn’t planned for and facing concern and doubt from those around me. My teachers, though incredibly supportive of my decision and helpful when it came to practicing for the next entrance test (I couldn’t have gotten in without them), were worried I was gearing up for another letter of rejection. Despite everyone’s kind-hearted concerns, I buckled down with my Year 13 studies, aimed to improve my grades, read more widely and deeply than ever before, and kept believing in myself. If I didn’t get in to Oxford, it certainly would not be the end of the world, but hey – I deserved another shot. So, after I finished my A-Levels, and after a lot (a lot) of practice and determination, I managed, in the beginning of that unplanned gap year, to secure a place to study English at Oxford.

Gap year

I was over the moon that my hard work paid off and looked forward to starting Oxford next October. But until then, I had almost a whole year to fill, and I was pretty clueless about what to do. I needed a job for starters, so I applied to around 20 different places and ended up working in some weird and wonderful pubs, companies, swimming pools, and the like. Then I turned to volunteering: I did some research and found the UK government-funded programme, International Citizen Service, which enabled me to live and volunteer in Zambia for 3 months entirely for free, after fundraising through a local pub quiz and running a half-marathon. And how about work experience? Was it time to start thinking about my future career? This brings me, for the first time, onto law.

The UK law-conversion system

From researching in my gap year, I discovered how I could become a lawyer. Essentially, the UK academic system is split: students can either:

  • study law at university undergraduate level for 3 years, which takes students deep into the historical and contemporary discussion of law, then study the more practical, vocational parts of the law at a different institution
  • study another subject at university undergraduate level, then undertake a one year ‘law-conversion’ course – which is basically a boiled down, fast-track legal education – THEN move to the next institution for that vocational study part

Option number ii) was right up my street – I was going to study English, then undertake a law-conversion.

Solicitor training contracts

If, like me, you like the sound of the law-conversion, you might be thinking – how on earth will I afford another year of academia? Well, here’s the best part: it’s possible to get a law firm to sponsor your legal studies after university.

Now, there are two main types of lawyers in the UK: solicitors (who work in law firms) and barristers (who stand up in court). I am writing about the solicitor-route and don’t profess to know much about how to become a barrister.

One way to become a solicitor is to apply for a ‘training contract’ – a trainee job at a law firm. You apply for these training contracts in your first or second year of university, whatever you are studying. If you can get a training contract, a lot of law firms offer to sponsor your law-conversion and vocational study years, which means you can study law without taking out any more student loans.

During my second year at Oxford, I applied to number of different law firms to try and secure a training contract. This consists of writing a CV, ‘cover letter’, answering application questions and attending interviews. Now, this process isn’t easy. It took a lot of hard-work and research about law firms and the commercial and corporate legal system, and I faced a lot of rejection. In fact, I didn’t get a single training contract offer in second year, despite all the hours I put into applying. However, I kept my head up and tried again in third year – I now have a training contract with top law firm, Travers Smith, full of kind, hard-working individuals. This firm has sponsored my law-conversion course at a university in London and paid for me to sit the vocational study year – now called the SQE. I will start working at the firm next year, when the SQE is complete, and I am really excited.

All-in-all

All-in-all, it is possible to study a subject you truly love, then go on to become a lawyer in the UK. This path isn’t an easy one. By no means do you have to attend Oxbridge to study the law-conversion course, but you do need to work hard at university and be on-track for at least 2:1 degree classification. Securing a training contract takes a lot of hours, research, and rejection, and it is important to apply to law firms that you would enjoy working for and match your personality type. Finally, the law-conversion and SQE are academically-rigorous – so make sure you know what you are getting into. BUT, all-in-all, if you have an idea of what you’d like to study at university and think you might make a good lawyer, this might be the path for you.

If you’ve got any questions about Oxford or Law, or would like some advice, please feel free to reach out via LinkedIn at Rebecca Whant.