Ben Follows, law student at the University of Leicester, challenges the rhetoric that the prestige of attending a Russell Group University trumps all else when it comes to job applications.
All too often I hear that if you don’t attend a Russell Group University or Oxbridge you will be at a disadvantage when applying for jobs. This myth is outdated and does not reflect the reality of the abundance of real-world opportunities available to students, regardless of where they study.
Firstly, some context. I am a final year LLB law student studying at the University of Leicester and an aspiring criminal barrister. I am also the chairperson for Leicester University Law Society (LULS) and actively take part in several extracurricular opportunities at Leicester Law School.
When applying to university I received offers from Leeds, Durham and Bristol, and was also interviewed at the University of Cambridge. I chose the University of Leicester after visiting each university’s open day. Leicester Law School showed me that it could offer more than just a law degree and provide me with the necessary opportunities to build a successful career.
I was particularly impressed by the award-winning pro bono society and the competitions run by the LULS, such as advocacy, mooting, mock trials and client interviewing. The level of support for these initiatives set Leicester Law School apart. I felt confident that I would be able to embrace these opportunities without having to worry about the demanding academic pressures of a Russell Group university.
I have never agreed with the notion that a law degree from a Russell Group university is the only way to ensure a successful career in the legal profession. This is because, while the Russell Group universities are well respected and are often ranked top in the UK, high-quality education and the opportunities available to law students are not limited to these institutions. All LLB students, regardless of where they are studying, have to undertake the ‘core modules’ of law. The content of the courses is the same, the only thing that differs between these institutions is the style of teaching.
There are many other reputable universities that offer excellent law degrees and provide opportunities for students to gain practical experience and build their skills. In fact, many law firms and organisations actively seek out graduates from a wide range of universities, as they value diversity of thought and a range of perspectives in their workforce.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the changing application procedure in many law firms. In recent years, there has been a shift towards blind applications, where personal information such as name, gender, and educational background is removed from applications. This process aims to reduce bias and ensure that all applicants are evaluated solely on their merits and abilities.
This change in the application process has levelled the playing field for law students from all universities, including non-Russell Group institutions. Law firms are more likely to focus on the skills and experiences that a candidate has gained, rather than where they attended university.
It is therefore now more important than ever for law students to focus on developing their skills, gaining practical experience, and building a strong network, rather than relying solely on the name of their university. Blind applications provide an equal opportunity for all law students to showcase their abilities and secure a successful legal career.
Here are some of my tips to help law students succeed:
Seek out opportunities for practical experience: participating in advocacy competitions, work experience, internships and can provide valuable hands-on experience and help students develop their essential legal skills.
Build a strong network: attend networking events, join law-related societies and organisations and reach out to alumni from your law school to build a network of contacts in the legal profession (join LinkedIn if you have not already)!
Develop a niche area of expertise: focus on a specific area of law that interests you, such as environmental law, human rights law, or corporate law, and gain experience and knowledge in that area.
Stay up to date with legal developments: Regularly read legal journals and news sources, attend conferences and seminars and participate in continuing education programs to stay informed about the latest developments in the legal profession.
Be proactive: Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you; actively seek out new challenges and experiences, and take the initiative to make things happen, especially programmes targeted at non-Russell Group universities.