Samantha Stewart completed both her LLB and her diploma at the University of Strathclyde. She has accepted a traineeship with Thompsons Solicitors, Glasgow to commence in June 2016.
During my undergraduate years I had considered doing the diploma and hoped to progress to a traineeship. However, the cost of the diploma was one reason why I wasn’t sure about it. I would advise that you look into grants and scholarships as early as you can.
There are many out there that you might be able to apply for and that are available for undergraduates as well. They could be a vital piece of help to you in being able to carrying on pursuing your dream career.
Working within a ‘firm’ while you study
I had known for some years that the diploma at Strathclyde was unique. I knew it would be group-based work, but I was worried that my passing the diploma would rest on the failures and successes of others. This is not wholly the case.
In the diploma at Strathclyde, you are allocated to work in groups of generally four people. This small group of people is known as your ‘firm’ and each one has its own name and webpage. You carry out simulated tasks and transactions in your firms like real solicitors would.
While you are assessed mostly as a group, there are individual assessments and exams as well. Group activities are also well assessed and reviewed to make sure all firm members contribute. There are remedies available if any dispute amongst firms arise.
Overall, this setup worked well and I feel I learned more within a firm than I would have on my own. It taught me a lot of new skills and improved many others.
It was daunting and quite challenging at first, however. The members of my firm all worked differently and had different schedules that we had to take into consideration. Things happen quickly within the diploma so it helps to get to know your firm and your schedules as early as possible. Get key dates in diaries and let each other know if you’re going to be unavailable at certain times.
What's so great working with a 'firm'?
Get to know your firm members as you will be seeing a lot of them. You don’t have to be the best of friends but I would advise being professional in your manner as you will be working a great deal with them.
Just like in a real office you will be working with people who you might not know but that you rely on to carry out certain tasks. You will learn things from each other within a firm, which will be of great benefit to you as it allows you to question how you can do your work differently and perhaps improve your own way of working.
I felt I was a leading force in the time management of my firm and would always strive for us to be as prepared as we could. This allowed our whole team to each be involved in tasks and we were able to allow the exchange of ideas and amendments before we submitted work.
Throughout the diploma I saw all my firm members improve in relation to their time management. I feel I lead by example in this respect. I regard the good time management and preparedness of my firm, or indeed any group, as a big factor in our success.
What if I don’t like the simulated projects?
One of my favourite parts of the diploma was the simulated projects. These included things such as conveyancing transactions, private client cases and personal injury cases. Some students were less enthusiastic about working on projects that they felt were not in a field they wished to specialise in.
However, I would suggest you take full advantage of the projects and make yourself as involved as you can be. Ultimately you get out what you put in. Embrace the cases and realise that the skills within all projects are fully transferable to other areas of the law. These skills include things like dealing with clients, working with others, legal letter writing, the handling and upkeep of a case file and working to strict deadlines.
Is it Hard Work?
The diploma isn’t necessarily all hard work, but it certainly is a lot of work. Deadlines come at you fast and from all angles - from class tutorials and projects. However, you will have your firm for support and to help divide up workloads.
The diploma is mostly based on practical work rather than the academic work that you are used to from the LLB. The step up to practical work can be daunting as previously you may have not even done an oral presentation during your LLB. In the diploma you are forced to be practical and to learn by doing. This has greatly increased my skills set and my confidence in my own abilities.
You will be so busy with workloads that it’s easy to forget about applying for traineeships. I didn’t have a traineeship in place until I finished my diploma. Applications can be very time consuming so make sure to allow plenty of time for these.
It may help in trying to gain a traineeship selling the uniqueness of the Strathclyde diploma. In a very competitive field it can help set you apart to say that you have been taught using a unique process.
I hope this has helped give a perspective of what it’s been like to study the legal diploma at the University of Strathclyde. I feel my diploma has greatly prepared me for beginning my traineeship. I extremely enjoyed my time at Strathclyde and I would highly recommend it to others.