As an undergraduate, there are several avenues you can explore to make you stand out when it is time to hit the labour market. These are avenues through which you can acquire invaluable skills and imbibe work ethics and values. The following are a few of the avenues for a law student to gain work experience that could positively impact on his future career.
- Participating in Student Politics
As an undergraduate, I realized early that since advocacy is an indispensable aspect of legal practice, I needed to hone my advocacy skills. I knew that if I was going to defeat my greatest inhibition, I had to be ready to speak more often.
My greatest challenge with speaking was not shyness or fear of addressing the crowd, it was my accent. This fear prevented me from speaking up in places where I should have voiced my thoughts or made contributions. Thus, in a bid to overcome this challenge I decided to run for elections in my state students’ association as the Public Relations Officer, knowing well that vying for that office was going to require me to speak more often.
From campaigning, presenting my manifesto and eventually winning the election, I greatly improved on my public speaking skills. I also honed my advocacy skills as I had to engage in persuasions, presenting arguments and most importantly, I had to communicate the objectives of the association to the members at large lecture halls and cafeterias.
For the rest of my University days, I continued participating in student politics and in the process, I developed human relations skills, team spirit, creative writing and dispute resolution skills. Years down the line, the ability to persuade an audience or present an argument in the calmest ways has proved to be an invaluable skill acquired by just running for an election.
These skills are no doubt prerequisites to becoming a sound legal practitioner.
Volunteering is an effective way of gaining experience. This could be volunteering with faculty committees, religious organizations or campus associations. One major thing volunteering does is to present you with real-life challenges. Your ability to work in a team will be tested, you will need to translate instructions or objectives to concrete goals, and your ability to multitask will also be tested. Volunteering presents you with the opportunity to develop the ability to carry out tasks under pressure.
Equally, volunteering as a senior student mentor can help you understand how to relate better with junior colleagues at your workplace. In the course of volunteering, you gain experience and imbibe workplace ethics like meeting deadlines, punctuality, professionalism and dedication.
- Attending Model United Nations (MUNs)
MUNs are simulations of the United Nations. MUNs seek to inculcate in participants caucusing skills which majorly involve the art of diplomacy. Beyond diplomacy, these MUNs present participants with opportunities to network with people from different backgrounds. These skills can be invaluable in the workplace.
There are quite a number of MUNs in Nigeria and beyond, such as, the Lagos Model United Nations which is organized annually by the University of Lagos, the National Model United Nations usually held in New York, the Harvard Model United Nations and a few other domestic and international MUNs. Often times, these MUNs require funds, however, sponsorship for them can be provided by international donors and local fundraising means.
- Summer Internships Outside Law Firms
Though internships are becoming increasingly popular among law students, many still believe the only place they can gain valuable internship experience is in a law firm. Many have failed to maximize internship opportunities provided by insurance companies, banks, and companies engaged in businesses other than legal practice.
For those who intend to go to into commercial and corporate law practice, the ideal places to get internship experience, other than corporate/commercial law firms, is at these corporate organizations. Internships in these organizations expose a law student to firsthand experience in corporate practice.
Many would have heard that law is a business. It is not just a hobby; hence, the aim is to make money. Your entrepreneurial skills can make you very valuable to an employer. Employers are often looking for rainmakers, that is, employees with business sense. Thus, your entrepreneurial experience can make you stand out in the labour market and endear you to your superiors.
This could be by learning graphic designs, with the intention of receiving contracts relating to the printing of publicity items for student programmes; learning photography with the aim of being paid as a photographer; or securing contracts to supply refreshment for faculty programmes among others.
- Anchoring Programmes
Compering programmes seems ordinary but it is definitely one way a law student can further develop his communication and presentation skills. Compering programmes involve being able to carry the audience along in the course of the programme.
Developing this skill will help one not to struggle to hold the attention of a Judge when presenting an argument or to hold the attention of colleagues and superiors when making presentations at work. As a student, you should seek out and embrace opportunities to compere programmes.
- Research Assistant
Lecturers and PhD candidates often require the services of Research Assistants to review literature on their areas of study, collate and analyze data essential to the study; meet and conduct interviews with research subjects and also ensure confidentiality of the information gathered from questionnaires administered. Taking up Research Assistant roles will not only help you build professional relationships that could foster your career advancement, but it will also help you hone your research skills which are essential for legal practice.
All the above and more are essential if a law student must be distinct and fit for the labour market. This is in the light of the changing expectations of employers.
Omotayo Akinrinwa is a recent graduate of the Nigerian Law School, Kano Campus. He is an alumnus of the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria where he obtained his LL.B. in 2017 and B.A. in 2013 respectively.
As a student, he held various leadership positions including Head of Chambers of the Gani Fawehinmi Students Chambers, University of Lagos. Omotayo has interned at various top-tier law firms in Nigeria where he has been mentored by notable lawyers. He is an avid reader and writer whose articles and essays have been published in Nigerian legal journals, print and online media. He has taken part in Moot Competitions and Mock Trials.
Omotayo aims to be a notable corporate and commercial litigation lawyer and believes in contributing to national development. He loves reading national dailies, networking and talking about national growth.