Series: Letters From a Law Student No.3 – Is It Worth Taking a Gap Year?
Fundamentally, yes, it is worth taking a gap year as long as you follow the mantra of ‘you will only get out of your gap year what you put in to it’. Your gap year needs to be productive, and must try to include an array of work experience, jobs and activities. This should not only relate to your degree or aspirational career, but show that you are a well-rounded and interesting individual.
Deciding to take a gap year can be a stressful and tricky decision. One parent may advocate for you to take a year out and the other may be against the proposition. Perhaps you are deliberating whether you reapply to your dream university that rejected you or to settle for your insurance choice, and go to university in the September following your A-levels. However, it is important to block any external influences from shaping your decision to have a gap year, and you must weigh up the pros and cons of doing so.
Often it can be helpful to ask yourself a variety of questions to see whether you are erring towards having a gap year or are really ready for university. You need to consider practical, logistical, realistic and aspirational questions. These may include:
· How am I going to fund myself through my gap year?
· Is there work-experience on offer for where I want to go?
· Are there any Internships I can apply to for my chosen career?
· If I get a job, internship or work-experience, how am I going to travel to them?
· Do I believe that it is important that once you start in education you must carry on, as a break would be detrimental to my academic progress?
· Or, do I believe that I have a thirst for discovery strong enough to ensure that I will continue my academic studies but focus on areas of personal interest before being subjected to a fixed curriculum?
· Are there skills, perhaps social, intellectual or practical that I would like to improve on or assimilate, not having the time for in university?
· Do I need a year to work on my health and fitness, and do I reasonably believe this could be obtained during university?
· Do I feel mature and independent enough to go straight to university?
As you can see, there are a lot of questions that you need to consider before making an outright decision on the matter. Perhaps it would be beneficial if I explained why I chose to embark on a gap year, what I have done so far, and reflect on what I have found useful and not so useful as an aspiring lawyer.
I chose to have a gap year following the tumultuous COVID-19 period during my second year of A-Levels. Online learning alone was stressful, and when coupled with revision for internal exams and the untimely decisions of Gavin Williamson, the now former Education minister, made the period unbearable. I decided that I needed a break from academia; to get fit following the gained weight I had put on from sitting at my desk all day during online learning; to restore social confidence; to avoid the risk of online lectures; to develop personal skills such as my handwriting, learning how to touch type and passing my driving test; to read what I am interested in; to explore different potential careers through work-experience and internships and to gain culture capital by travelling. Essentially, I took a gap year to broaden myself as a person instead of just focusing on academia. So far, I have certainly not regretted my decision.
I started my gap year by writing a CV. Playing on the fact I am only 18, I decided that I could cram all my achievements into the document ‘not realising it should only be two pages’. Then I researched the law firms local to me – in my village – and personally handed them a cover letter and CV. From feedback, they were impressed by my confidence by going to them directly, and CV, noting my achievements at such an early age – a prime reason why grades are not enough; you need extra-curricular activities.
I did look to the magic circle law firms and the firms and chambers that offer outright work-experience and internships. However, most have not offered a course for this year due to COVID, notwithstanding the fact that they are not really targeted for people like myself anyway. Commonly, these courses are tailored for groups underrepresented in the Bar and legal world, or for people from deprived backgrounds who may have not considered going into the Law as an option. Thus, your best bet is to turn to local firms, even if they are not offering work-experience. There are thousands of high-street solicitors, and from my anecdotal evidence of the ones that I approached, all seemed willing to help. For instance, there are two solicitors local to me, one offering work-experience and the other a sort of internship. Remember, the worst outcome is that they can only say no.
One firm, specialising in regulatory law, offered me an internship managing Seneca, their case management system. I had a list of files I needed to search on Seneca and transfer the information onto a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet for it to be reviewed by the owner of the firm, where he would decide whether to keep or delete the files. It was a rewarding experience knowing that my work was having an impact on a real firm, and gaining experience within the administration side of the Law is something that will surely be useful in the future as everything moves online. Seneca has given me invaluable insight into the amount of correspondence between a firm and their client, how files are boxed, stored and entered into an online system, and I also gained an insight into regulatory law. Unfortunately, due to the Non-Disclosure Agreement I had to sign – a document akin to the Official Secrets Act - I am not allowed to speak of the cases and legal issues I was exposed to. However, I have certainly gained a higher knowledge of the Law, its formalities and the day-to-day life of a solicitor.
Another local firm offered me work experience within their Private Client Department, specialising in Wills and Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Trusts. The experience was invaluable in giving me an insight into how the law is applied in practice by solicitors in a community setting. I gained a solid understanding of the importance of making a Will in ensuring money and/or chattels are inherited by chosen beneficiaries rather than being distributed in accordance with the Intestacy rules. Further, a Will provides clients with the opportunity to appoint trusted family members or friends as Executors to distribute their estate in accordance with their wishes. Letting me act as a witness to a Will, also alerted me to the legal requirements for a Will to be executed correctly. I have developed a deeper understanding of the complexity of different types of Trusts available to clients and how they can be particularly useful, such as for second marriages in order to protect children’s inheritance or when used to mitigate the amount of inheritance tax payable on death, which presently is charged at a staggering rate of 40%, (after the nil-rate band and other exemptions have been applied). Furthermore, I gained knowledge about the two different types of Lasting Powers of Attorney on offer to clients and that by appointing Attorneys, you ensure clients have peace of mind in the knowledge that they have chosen an appropriate person, perhaps a spouse, child, relative or friend, to look after their property and financial affairs and to make health and welfare decisions when they are older or in the event that they become mentally incapacitated through a stroke or developing dementia. I had not realised that in the absence of a ‘Health and Welfare’ Attorney being formally appointed, a spouse or child may find themselves over-ruled by medical professionals or social services. It seems to me to be extremely clear that the preparation of these documents are just as significant as deciding to make a Will. I also developed my understanding of the huge responsibilities associated with running a legal practice, including the importance of complying with money laundering regulations. Being involved in creating a record of Trusts, I learnt about how trusts are created and the circumstances in which it can be particularly useful to appoint a firm of solicitors as professional Trustees, tapping into their legal expertise and trustworthiness. Whilst Private Client work might at first glance appear to be a ‘dry’ area of the Law, this work experience has shown me that this is not the case. This multifaceted discipline of Law is important. From Wills and Probate to Lasting Powers of Attorney, a local, accessible solicitor, who takes an active role in village initiatives is a welcome and valuable asset to any community.
Gaining experience in different areas of the Law has been crucial during my gap year, confirming that a law degree is probably the correct degree for me and that the Law is an area I would like to go into. I would strongly recommend that you do the same, and try to gain a broad range of experience in different areas as it may confirm the area you want to pursue or vice versa. I want to continue to gain an insight into the Law, not only by reading books and publishing articles on here, but by involving myself with people who regularly deal with legal issues. For instance, I have arranged work experience with a landlord to discuss the 1953 Landlord and Tenant Act, which I have researched, and plan to shadow a barrister, having already shadowed a judge.
Trying to gain a broad range of work experience, considering journalism as a potential career route and being a huge Liverpool fan, I emailed the media channel The Redmen TV for a week’s work experience. What was meant to be a week’s work experience turned into an internship. I now write opinion pieces, player ratings, quizzes and react to breaking news for the website. Learning what type of articles gain clicks on Nownews, how to prepare and research questions before interviewing a guest and how to write for a specific target audience has been fascinating. This experience has seriously made me consider a career route into sports journalism.
Gaining a broad range of work experience, not only within the law but elsewhere, is something I would highly recommend to an aspiring lawyer as this actively demonstrates you are a well-rounded individual with good life experience and capital of the real world. Possibly, your greater knowledge by having a broader perspective on different areas may come in useful legally in the future, having a greater understanding of the nuances in these areas which could be used in your favour. For instance, in the New Year I am undertaking work-experience at Yodel – the delivery company – to understand different areas of the commercial world, and considering whether they may offer a potential career route. If you are fixed on becoming a lawyer, don’t simply disregard other areas of work experience outside of the Law. All work experience placements tend to have a legal aspect where you can consider the law in a real-life setting. This may be something such as Tort Law in regards to health and safety etc...
In order to fund my gap year, I obtained a job at my local SPAR, working hours of 4PM to 10PM, which has allowed me to undertake my internships and work experience during the day. This point can often be overlooked, but working at the SPAR on the check-out and interacting with people from different backgrounds is something I have found incredibly enlightening and has certainly broadened my understanding of the real world. This job has also allowed me to save for travelling. Desperate to witness first-hand what I have read about, such as Nuremburg after reading East-West Street and other areas of historical importance I have studied during the course of my A-Levels and read about, my job has allowed me to save to travel Europe with a friend from May to July. Such a trip will offer me culture capital and hopefully widen my understanding of different cultures and societies, developing my opinions and views to become even more nuanced and mature. I will reflect on such an experience when back in an article, but I have no doubt travelling will be worthwhile.
In terms of personal skills developed, I have undertaken numerous courses on Future Learn such as An Introduction to Law by Cambridge University, in which I received a certificate of completion, further demonstrating my involvement and intrigue with the Law. It is activities like this, on top of Work Experience, Internships and Work that make you stand out, and prove a productive gap year. Moreover, I have undertaken touch-typing and handwriting courses in my spare time, which will hopefully be useful come university. Of course, there is also this website, Friedmanomics, which allows me to record my progress and publish my work. I have found it hugely beneficial to keep myself busy during my year, not only to cure any boredom but for my mental health.
However, don’t just think your gap year should consist of only work-related activities. I would recommend involving yourself in activities that allow you to escape from the real-world. Football is my activity, playing for a local team. It allows me to keep fit, make new friends and enjoy a wider social life. Activities such as these may seem to bring little utility towards your career. However, you understand the importance of team work, encouragement and comradery which is integral in a functioning working environment. It is also important to have a social life in order to prevent yourself from becoming a boring square; ‘all work and no play makes jack a dull boy’.
From how I have described my gap year, and what I have planned it may seem that I had it all figured out before starting the year. This is untrue. Progress throughout my gap year has been fairly fluid. My main piece of advice is to put yourself out there and give everything a go, even if the work seems dull and monotonous. You may not hear back from many of the places that you send a request for work-experience and that’s OK. If I haven’t made it clear so far, don’t just apply to places that are offering work-experience. None of the places I have gained an internship or work-experience were advertising and I didn’t have any connection to the place through people I knew. Just do it off your own bat.
In conclusion, a gap year is what you make of it. Put yourself out there. It is an opportunity to do what you want to do, and find out what you don’t want to do. This is by no means a completed article and I intend to revisit it regularly to fill in the other work-experience I have done. However, I hope it may serve as inspiration for those of you aspiring lawyers that it is a good idea to have a gap year.