How to Increase Employability Even as a Student or New Lawyer

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You are currently at the university or the Nigerian Law School, studying largely the same curriculum with thousands of students across Nigeria. Upon your call to the Nigerian Bar, you and thousands of new lawyers will be released into the job market to sink or swim.

You have probably heard stories of how those senior students you looked up to spent many months searching for a good job. However, you also know that there are many other students who spent barely a week on the job market before they landed fantastic jobs.

The students in the latter category most likely able to distinguish themselves from their peers in some of the ways listed below.

Get good grades 

Good grades still hold a lot of weight when it comes to securing a good job. In fact, good grades are probably the most important thing employers look for when initially screening candidates for a job. At the most basic level, they at least serve a method to filter through hundreds of candidate applying for a role.

This does not mean that you cannot land a good job if you do not have a First Class or Second Class Upper, but, all things being equal, the journey around the job market is smoother with better grades. Good grades more often than not open the doors for you and give you the opportunity to showcase what else you have to offer.

Also, apart from the benefits that good grades offer on the job market, they also open you up to opportunities to further your education at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. This could, in turn, open up more/better employment opportunities.

Undertake internships

An internship serves various purposes even beyond being a good addition to your CV. Undertaking internships both in and out of the legal industry enable you to –

  • familiarize yourself with the work environment including legal jargon, office politics and so on.
  • adapt to the working life i.e. waking up early every day regardless of how you feel, and working for a certain amount of hours per day.
  • pick up soft skills such as communication and interpersonal skills.

All these, in turn, enable you to garner the skills you need to succeed both at job interviews and on the job itself. For instance, a candidate who has spent six weeks interning at a law firm has more material to discuss at an interview with that law firm or a similar one, than a candidate who has never undertaken an internship.

Work on your CV

At times, it’s not your level of experience that stalls your progress on the job market, but the way you present it. To ensure that you are putting your best foot forward, consider doing the following as regards your CV –

  • Tailor your CV to each job you are applying for. The CV that would be appropriate when you are applying to a law firm may not be appropriate when applying to a government parastatal or the compliance department of a multinational.
  • Identify the skills needed to be a successful lawyer, and then highlight how you have developed these skills in your previous endeavours. This includes paid roles, unpaid internships and even volunteer experiences. There’s no room for laziness here; you have to put in the work. Click here for more details on how to do this.
  • Follow all of the CV advice and guidance set out here.

Increase your commercial awareness

Wikijob defines commercial awareness as a candidate’s general knowledge of business, and specifically, their understanding of the industry which they are applying to join.

The economy of the country is slowly shifting such that the people who are able to add the most value in the workplace, are the people who understand their business and its customers. Employers value commercially aware candidates because they are able to think outside the legal box and provide practical solutions for their clients. They are also able to hold conversations with clients and potential clients about a whole range of issues that cannot be found in a law textbook.

You can develop your commercial awareness by reading material relating to the economy and various industries. Do not limit yourself to material that contains legal arguments or discuss the legality of an issue, but also become familiar with literature relating to business, technology, manufacturing, finance, etc.

Do not neglect soft skills

When employers and recruiters say “Nigerian graduates are not employable”, what they usually mean is that the average Nigerian graduate has attended school and studied the relevant material enough to pass the exams, but has refused to expose himself to circumstances that will develop the soft skills that improve his ability to actually succeed in the professional world.

Examples of these soft skills are communication skills, tact, attention to detail and team spirit.

How you develop these skills would largely depend on the skill in question. Read here to understand some of the skills needed to succeed as a lawyer and how you can develop them.

Take up additional courses

The internet is full of courses on a wide range of subjects – legal or otherwise, and a lot of them are available for free or at affordable rates.

Websites such as www.wipo.int are particularly helpful for students interested in Intellectual Property for instance, but again, it is useful to not restrict yourself to the law in the strict sense. You could take up a course in Cryptocurrency, Derivatives, Debt Securities, Employment, Immigration, etc.

Whilst employers realize that taking a two-month course will not make you an expert in the studied field, taking these courses shows a desire to further one’s knowledge beyond the confines of the restricted legal education curriculum. It also shows the candidate has exposed himself to legal and business issues that some of his colleagues may not be familiar with.

Network

Networking is slowly becoming an over-flogged topic in the business world, but the benefits remain immeasurable.

Networking here does not necessarily have to be physical. You can observe and be involved in the legal space around you even online. The reality is an increasing number of people both in Nigeria and abroad, secure jobs because of who they knew.

In conclusion, the time to start preparing for your career is now. If you wait until you are ready for employment to do so, you might make your job search longer than it needs to be.

Yimika Adesola is the Founder of Legally Engaged and an Associate in the Corporate/Commercial law arm of a top-tier Nigerian law firm.

She advises blue-chip companies on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.

She also seeks to provide direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers and make better career decisions.

Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.

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