When I first began studying law at university in 2018, I never could have imagined that my final year would be spent on zoom calls with my lecturers, completing virtual work experience and the likelihood of not having a graduation ceremony. Amongst many other aspects of life that the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting, one of the most challenging for myself has been completing my final year of university throughout it all.
Almost a year on from the beginning of the pandemic and the concept of online university hasn’t got any easier, especially due to the lack of government guidance given to university students. As someone who thrives from social interaction and being in a set routine, studying from home has taken some time to adjust to. To go from being on campus and able to interact and socialise with both your tutors and peers to facing the reality of a final term without ever stepping foot in a university building has been a challenge for many students, including myself.
Being stuck in the house and watching the news every day takes a massive toll on your productivity and motivation levels. It seems as though whilst everything else in the world is shutting down, your studies are expected to continue as if everything is normal. Trying to maintain some form of a routine seemed impossible in the first few months of online university. As someone who, in a pre-Covid world, would have escaped to the library to complete an essay and come home knowing that I have done my work for the day, being unable to do this meant that I often found myself up late at night working because of the guilt I would feel if I switched off. Personally, I find that having a set amount of working hours in a day, for example between 9am-5pm, is really beneficial for both striking a balance between university work and time for myself as well as for my productivity, as I know that after them hours, I can switch off feeling accomplished for completing a full day of work. I also make sure that I am up to watch my 9 am online lectures live on zoom rather than catching up on them at a later point in the day as I feel like this also helps keep some form of normalcy to university life.
Studying from home has also been challenging in terms of learning how to adapt to studying in an environment with more distractions than usual. For myself, it has definitely taught me more self-discipline as I have had to make sure I am staying focused on my work rather than getting distracted by other family members or things going on around the house. On the topic of staying focused, this is also something which took a while to get used to with the new method of Zoom lectures and seminars. Having to try and maintain concentration throughout a two-hour lecture at university was hard enough before they were made virtual! For me, online lectures are much harder to engage with, especially if they are pre-recorded. Not only this, the technological issues which often come with online sessions also adds to the inconvenience of trying to complete your university work online.
Another new challenge to our university experience that 2020 brought was the completion of exams online. When my university announced that all of our exams would be changed into alternative assessments, I was unsure how this would affect my performance as this was the first time in my life where I had completed an exam in this format. When exam season rolled around, I was at first apprehensive as to how I would adjust to the new system, however, my university provided lots of support on how to approach this new type of assessment and was lenient with the completion dates, with most modules giving a couple of days to complete an essay-based question. It was definitely the most relaxed exam season I have ever had and, for the first time, I felt like I was able to actually read into topics which interested me rather than worrying about memorising specific information which would get me marks in an exam hall. The strangest part of it all was sitting down to take a university exam in my pyjamas with a cup of tea!
As an aspiring lawyer, the current situation has been quite unsettling for my career goals and has added pressure on my post-graduation plans. With law being an extremely competitive field in which experience and networking with professionals are extremely valuable for your CV, the impact that the current times have had upon law students is immense. Before Covid, I had been completing weekly work experience at MSB Solicitors throughout the entirety of my first and second year. Here, I was shadowing an experienced family lawyer - which confirmed my desire to pursue a career in family law. I absolutely loved it and was extremely excited to begin another year of volunteering with plans of attending court more often and eagerness to take on more responsibility within the role. I couldn’t thank the team at MSB more for all of the experience and knowledge I was able to gain attending the office every week. Unfortunately, this experience came to a halt in March 2020 due to the closure of the office and the shift in dynamic to working from home. In an attempt to adapt to the new way of life, I have tried to make up for the loss of this experience by completing online programmes.
I have just completed the Linklaters’ virtual work experience programme and I am about to begin the Pinsent Masons programme. Although these are not as insightful as attending a law firm every week with real-life lawyers, it is the best I can do during these strange times and the skills that I have gained will nonetheless be beneficial to my future career. However, I do feel as though there needs to be more of these online experience opportunities ran by law firms for those students who, like myself, have had their hands-on work experience cut short and are struggling to enhance their skills during this difficult time.
Networking is a huge part of the legal world, especially when it comes to sourcing work experience or employment opportunities. Obviously, due to the new socially distanced way of life, networking events are taking on a different approach than usual. Personally, I have attended a couple of webinars hosted by my university on Microsoft Teams which have been extremely useful in terms of forming new connections, getting to hear first-hand from solicitors and barristers and having the opportunity to ask them any questions. I have also been using this time to update my LinkedIn profile and connect with professionals on this platform. I feel as though more firms could focus on running dedicated virtual sessions for students who are about to graduate and wish to pursue a career in the legal field. At this challenging time, it would be extremely reassuring to have more resources readily available to advise us on our future career opportunities and how to best reach them in these unprecedented times.
As a soon-to-be graduate, I worry about the impact the coronavirus is having on the recruitment world. There is no denying that the coronavirus outbreak has had a major impact on a number of industries in the job world. As somebody who is a few months away from graduating into it all, it is a scary thought that the already extremely tough process is going to be tougher and so, it would be helpful if employers provided some more assistance in the process, perhaps providing sessions on how to perform well in virtual interviews or assessment centres and other techniques to enhance your CV.
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has created, the current situation has given myself and many other students an opportunity to utilise these uncertain times as a chance to be more adaptable and prove their resilience to future employers. One of my proudest moments this year was attaining a first in my family law module, which was a personal academic goal of mine as it is the area of law which I am most passionate about and wish to pursue as a career. This achievement proved to me that, no matter what is going on around you, if you are committed to working hard then you can still achieve your goals. Although finishing my final year at university in the current circumstances was not how I envisioned it, the experience as a whole has taught me a lot about myself and has challenged me in more ways than I thought and, although I am anxious about graduating at such an unsettling time, I am looking forward to hopefully make a start in my legal career and begin my journey in training as a solicitor.