Imogen Walton-Binns is a 3rd year law student at Sheffield Hallam University and has secured a placement at SHU Law as a Law in Practice student. She commits one day a week to this role and in this article she explains more about what’s involved, her experience and her future.
I chose to study at Sheffield Hallam University because of its focus on the practical aspects of learning about the law, with opportunities such as the Law in Practice module to work in real life law firms and the clinics to work on real client cases. I recognised the level of choice (compared to other Universities) that was made available to us in choosing options regarding our studies and the friendly but dedicated approach of the staff I met when attending the open days. I liked the approachable atmosphere of the course and the external opportunities the university encouraged to build up our skill sets, as well as the focus on pastoral care and ensuring the maximum possible wellbeing of its students.
The placement will be extremely useful in helping me apply for training contracts given the application for this module mirrored the process of training contract application to get us used to what’s involved. The module gives me an advantage on my CV which makes me stand out as not many students have practical legal work experience over such an extended period. Such an addition to my CV helps with the perception of my competence and willingness to work hard. The module gives me invaluable experience of a legal setting and legal scenarios that arise, meaning that I will be advantaged at assessment days as I am used to undertaking that sort of work on a regular basis, also allowing me to be calmer than my competitors. I hope that having undertaken the placement I’ll interview better as my experience of working and speaking with legal professionals should mean I’m more confident generally, as well as having a better understanding of what they are looking for in a potential employee.
I anticipate that I will have a higher base level to begin from, compared to other trainees. I am used to undertaking legal research and drafting so I will be building on these skills, rather than starting from scratch. Whilst at SHU Law I’ve been introduced to aspects of daily practice such as client care, conflict of interest and GDPR regulations, giving me a greater awareness of wider issues beyond simply the black letter of the law. Another advantage is that I am used to working within the parameters of a law firms’ administrative system. Whilst systems will vary slightly from law firm to law firm, my experience should give me an advantage and I hope to be able to settle into roles more quickly and comfortably.
I feel I am improving my verbal and written communication skills on this module as I am regularly in contact with clients by phone or letter to discuss aspects of their cases. This increases my confidence in being able to handle unexpected scenarios and adapt accordingly. I have become more skilled in legal research as I have more experience of researching issues and making decisions based on my findings, as such I find coursework easier to manage as I am more aware of legal tools I can use to speed up a process. My confidence has increased as has my self-belief since taking on this module as I feel better prepared for working in the outside world. Furthermore, I have developed my time management and prioritisation skills as I am in charge of my own workload and what order in which to undertake tasks. Finally, my client care skills have improved as I am more aware of the needs of a client and how to individually tailor work to suit their needs and circumstances, whilst making myself an approachable and trusted figure.
On this module I have access to many client files which I review and may be asked to undertake legal research on, I draft letters to our clients regarding the status of their case and to gather further information. I speak with clients on the phone and can be asked to undertake administrative duties such as manning the reception desk; filing or bundling helping me to develop my overall abilities. I sometimes attend meetings with my instructing solicitors and will have discussions with them about my opinion on cases or firm strategies, thus giving me access to the business side of how a law firm is run. I keep a portfolio of my work throughout the module which keeps me organised and up to date but also allows me to watch my development and responses to feedback giving me the opportunity for self-reflection and improvement.
I like the freedom of this aspect of my degree because I have more control over my workload and learning, meaning I can set the pace to my standard. I enjoy the professionalism of coming in to work once a week and getting the feeling for what it is like as a permanent member of staff in the firm considering the amazing level of respect I am treated with. The work that I undertake is varied so I appreciate learning a lot every day when I come into placement, even if that knowledge came from making a mistake. I love the relaxed atmosphere at SHU Law which I am very comfortable working in and a grateful for all the feedback I am provided with relating to my work, I truly feel the firm have my best interests at heart.
I was surprised by how friendly and welcoming the staff at SHU Law were considering this was the first year they had accepted placement students, the level of feedback I received on my tasks was exceptional and the solicitors are always willing to answer my questions. I did not expect to be welcomed so fully into being a member of a team straight away or to be treated like an equal so the level of responsibility and respect I was given from the start has been amazing.
The application process to get onto the module was designed to mirror the process of a training contract application. It began with a formal written application with a word count to express why we were best suited to the module. Those of us who passed this stage were then invited to an assessment day to complete the kind of tasks we would complete on placement to check our ability to prioritise, our speed of work and our professional attitudes. The final stage was an interview with the academic supervisors for the course to teach us how to best present ourselves and sell our skills when it comes to getting a job. It was not a hard process but required a level of engagement and attention to detail to be successful.
I have a huge amount of support when working in SHU Law, the staff are all very friendly and helpful if I need anything and try to have frequent catch ups to ensure I am happy with what is going on and I feel comfortable in the office. I get support from my academic advisor who associated with my placement provider to assess how well I am doing on the module. I am also well supported by the other staff at the university who appreciate the importance of this module, I feel I am given everything I require to succeed and more.