This month, the OULS News Team has taken a forage amongst the undergrowth of the law sector, seeking out the latest vacation scheme deadlines, advising the best ways to apply for positions within top law firms and given an insight into the ever changing UK political sphere. In light of Brexit and the competitiveness of top legal positions, we took inspiration from friend of the OULS Heidi Cooper. Heidi studied her LLB with the Open University part time when she was 36, whilst bringing up a young family, working 30 hours per week and volunteering. She fits the classic stereotype of a hardworking OU student. However, unlike a lot of hardworking OU students, she has managed to secure an LPC scholarship with all fees paid for, and landed a dream job as a paralegal at a local law firm whilst she continues her studies.
Heidi left school in 1988 with 9 average GCSE’s, nothing to shout about. As is the situation for many of us, when she was growing up she was led to believe that the legal profession was beyond her reach – a profession for wealthy families with private educations. It was only when she was 36, with two young children, did she decide to prove to herself that she could obtain a degree and go on to work in the legal profession. Her husband also started to study a Physics Degree with the OU!
“We both worked during the day, so we had to study in the evenings when the children were in bed, and early in the morning before they got up. We shared the dining room table and would get cross with one another if our books encroached on the other one’s space.”
About the LPC Scholarship
Heidi has never attended a vacation scheme and her speculative work experience applications to law firms unfortunately recieved no responses. She eventually chose to take a different approach and start networking. She attended as many legal events as she could and secured some experience shadowing a Deputy District Judge on three occasions and finally landed work experience at Harrison Clark Rickerbys which led to a job offer as a Paralegal.
It is drummed into us from all corners, that in order to obtain the holy grail of a training contract, we must gain at least 50 mini pupillages, 100 days of work experience, 500 hours of volunteering, and win every single mooting competition in the UK… to an extent! However, Heidi secured her LPC scholarship through The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme, which aims to increase social diversity in the legal profession by supporting promising entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds. The DAS offers financial assistance through the provision of Legal Practice Course fees, access to high-quality work experience and a professional mentor. Not only do students from otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds gain the ability to complete the all-important LPC, but they are able to do so with no strings attached. Many top law firms offer LPC scholarships, however you are required to work for them for ‘x’ number of years or have other restrictions imposed. Not through the DAS!
“The Sponsorship is fantastic. I could not afford to enrol on the LPC. We have two growing children (and they grow so quickly) and a mortgage – our income only just covers our monthly outgoings with nothing to spare at the end of the month. The Law Society has given me the opportunity to progress on my journey in the legal profession. The scheme aims to increase social diversity in the legal profession by supporting promising entrants from less privileged backgrounds, or other obstacles to qualification. DAS covers the LPC fees and provides access to work experience if necessary and a professional mentor.”
OU Degrees – Are they really all they are cracked up to be?
Heidi, like many other students often wondered whether a distance learning law degree would be looked down upon by the legal industry. With top law firms actively advertising that they only seek candidates from ‘Oxbridge’ universities with top A-levels and 1st class law degrees, it can be easy to feel disheartened as an OU student. However, as has been reiterated many, many times by the OULS, having an OU LLB is actually a god-send when trying to get your foot in the ‘legal’ door. My personal experience as a Paralegal at one of the fastest growing specialist law firms in the UK allows me to see cocky, fresh-faced campus based university students who obtained 1st class degrees, waltzing into job interviews for entry level positions, and walking out horrified that the position was given to someone without a law degree. Work and life experience, which comes hand-in-hand with the OU student lifestyle, is viewed upon highly. Employers prefer to employ those who are used to hard work and having to prove themselves daily, rather than relying on University ‘names’ and irrelevant academic qualifications in jobs that require proven hard work and dedication.
“In terms of the OU, I often wondered whether a Law Degree from a “non-brick” University would be viewed as less valuable by prospective employers/sponsors. I have found the exact opposite to be true. Most people are aware of the commitment and motivation required to study with the OU. In fact, one of the other DAS awardees this year was an OU student, so the Law Society seem to think we are OK”
Keep Calm and Keep on Rolling!
It is all too easy to get drawn into a feeling of claustrophobia. The notion that you will never amount to the person you want to be because of your family commitments, social upbringing or lack of a top class education is prevalent. However, this is rubbish. Proven time and time again, there are opportunities for everyone to be the person they want to be in life. The only person preventing you from achieving your goals is yourself.
If you think that you have been disadvantaged due to your background, then I cannot recommend looking into the Diversity Access Scheme enough. It may well be the light you have been looking for in what you perceive to be a never ending dark tunnel.
“If I had one piece of advice to give it would be this: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’ – I’d love to claim that as my own but it was a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt”
Be like Heidi – Be awesome!
(P.S. Heidi wishes she had an awesome ant farm, and has also done over 500 bungee jumps… now that is diverse!!!)
Written by James Sudworth – OULS News Editor