Cool infographic from bbecklaw.com – The 7 Most Sinful Criminal Defense Trials. Click for a bigger image.
This article has been written by Justin from LawTeacher helping law students with their law essays since 2003.
Drafting a legal letter is not something that should be undertaken lightly, or on the spur of the moment. It is important to remember that legal documents, including letters drafted for a supervising solicitor may, in time, become part of the legal process and may even be read out in court, if the information contained within the letter is pertinent to the case. There are several factors to consider when beginning to draft a letter:
What purpose will this letter serve? There are generally three categories into which legal letters can fall; information, guidance or request. Consider the purpose of the letter and once you pin down why the letter needs to written that will give invaluable assistance in the wording of the document.
Who will be reading the letter? The letter will need to be handled very differently depending on whether it is going to be read by a judge or other solicitors who will have a thorough understanding of legal terms and nuances, or if it is going to be pored over by a layperson with little or no legal training. The target audience of the letter must be considered so that the wording can be adjusted accordingly.
Legal letters can be read by frantically busy lawyers who have little time to read through a confusingly worded document; they may discard the letter, or put it to one side for later, which may have a negative impact on the case at hand. On the other hand, legal letters are often sent to plaintiffs or defendants, people who may be very worried by the legal bother they find themselves in, and who may not have a clear-cut understanding of legal definitions and terms. To avoid any confusion, a legal letter should follow a clear structure; an opening paragraph that summarises the details of the case, followed by a second paragraph indicating the action taken, or needing to be taken, along with any guidance that may be felt necessary to pass along. A concluding paragraph should indicate any other information and possibly repeat a call to action with a dead line or time limit. When ending a letter to a known and named person, ‘Mrs A Smith’ for example, the end salutation should be ‘Yours Sincerely’; while a letter addressed to an unknown or unnamed person, that is ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, would end with ‘Yours Faithfully.’
The tone of a letter should be dictated by the audience and the purpose of the communication. The recipient’s situation must be remembered when formulating the letter and tone adjusted accordingly. If the letter is dealing with an estate it must be remembered that there are bereaved people involved, who have lost a loved one, and a certain amount of sympathy and empathy should be employed. Likewise, if the legal situation is becoming urgent and needs to be dealt with in a very short time, the tone should reflect this state of affairs and insist on a response. A politely-worded missive risks being ignored until it is too late.
All legal documents must be 100 per cent accurate. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where a defendant has walked free because of a poor quality document which enabled the defence to cast doubts on the strength of the prosecutor’s case – a nightmare scenario to be avoided at all costs! Double- and triple-check all facts included in the letter, ensure names are spelt correctly and that addresses are not only correct, but up-to-date. Use a dictionary or a spell-checker, then read through the letter minutely, looking for any mistakes that may have crept in.
The Solicitor’s Code of Conduct 2007 emphasises that customer care is paramount in all dealing between solicitor and client and this must be adhered to strictly. Ensure that the client is given all the relevant information and be sure to include terms and conditions of the law firm including a recent, accurate price list. Clients must be informed of any potential costs they may incur, for example, if the case is lost they may be responsible for the other parties’ legal fees. Rule 1 of the Code of Conduct gives details of the Core Duties a solicitor must afford his or her customers and some part of a legal letter must include this information, or at the very least, mention the enclosures with the letter that supply this information.
In short, when drafting a letter for your LPC supervising solicitor make sure that you have all the information to hand, including the latest updates. Make sure you have no distractions while you work, and set aside enough time for a good draft to be made in one sitting. This will prevent accidental slip-ups, like vital information being left out, and will help the letter to flow in a readable and ‘user-friendly’ manner.
The following is a post from Kaplan Law School. On our full time London law courses we insist on small class sizes and combined with a personalised approach to legal training provide a collaborative and social learning experience to give you the best possible chance of Law exam success.
Completed your Law LLB or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and decided to pursue a career as a solicitor? Well then the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is the next step for you.
The LPC is more vocational based than your GDL or LLB and as a result, is more focused on providing you with the essential skills required to successfully practice as a lawyer. There are full-time, part-time and distance learning options available depending on your personal requirements.
Once you’ve decided which study option suits you best the next big decision is not just which provider to study with, but in which city. There are providers spread around the UK but we’re going to concentrate on the options available to you and the benefits of studying in London.
First up, a reality check: You should carefully consider your decision to pursue a career as a solicitor, make sure you conduct extensive research, undertake varied work experience, and seek out the opinions of others already in the profession. Studying the LPC course does not guarantee you a training contract with a law firm and competition for contracts can be tough. You should aim for a 2.1 or above at undergraduate degree and have a strong academic background; firms will look at your A Levels as well as your degree result.
Studying in London
Once you’ve decided that your ambition is to become a solicitor and you feel you have the right academic skills and attributes to succeed, you’re ready for the move to the big smoke! Studying in London can be an expensive option with living costs and course fees being higher than elsewhere in the UK but the advantages of living and studying on the doorstep of one of the world’s business hubs far outstrip any negatives.
If you start your LPC course without the safety blanket of sponsorship by a law firm, the hunt for a training contract will be a constant source of concern during your LPC year but you should work hard to balance study with research and time dedicated to making the best possible applications. Seek the advice of peers on your course that have gained a training contract, but more importantly make sure you take full advantage of the careers services available to you.
Meeting recruiters and careers events
By studying in London you will be in a unique position in that many of the world’s largest commercial law firms are based in the City. You should make the most of this by ensuring you take as many opportunities as possible to meet with representatives from any firms you are interested in. You should attend as many law fairs, law firm open events and legal conferences as possible. Your law school will be able to keep you up-to-date with such events and a good careers service will coach you on how to present yourself to firms and ensure you make the strongest first impression possible at these events.
More than just big law firms
But it’s not all about the big commercial law firms. If your academics are not quite what they’re looking for, or you aspire to work in another area of the legal profession, London is well connected for the many regional and high street firms located in the commuter towns and outer reaches of Greater London, not to mention well connected by national rail to other UK cities. The City is not the end of the story but regardless, London is a commercially and culturally vibrant and rewarding place to study and live. There’ll be plenty of time to explore all it has to offer, but only once you’ve finished in the library!
Recently I’ve been wondering how much law firms actually research their prospective employees online. An episode of How I Met Your Mother actually made me think about it when one of the characters had an embarrassing clip of them appear quite high in the search results. Watch the video for laughs.
If I was in charge of employment for a firm, I’d probably do quite a bit of Googling. It can tell you so much about a person. Probably some very positive things and some very negative things. For example, I like to think that if I was researching somebody who blogs on this site, it would reflect very positively on them. On the other hand you could find some incriminating pictures or forum posts.
Don’t think you’re safe by not using your name or using an alias either. I read about a situation on a forum in which a trainee got his training contract taken away. He was complaining / bitching about the firm he was going to take his TC at. He used an alias, but the firm were able to figure out exactly who it was making those comments. Just think; every single forum post gives away more information about who you are. The firm knew the individual had a training contract but he hadn’t started it yet. Then they found out his gender. This already could have given them for a good idea about who was making the comments. As you can imagine it didn’t take long for them to figure out who exactly it was. They eventually did find out and took away his training contract.
This is an extreme example. My point is, even if you make your digital footprint as anonymous as possible, there’s still a risk of being found out. But you should do all you can to minimise it.
As I said, I’d probably look at potential candidates online if I was running a firm. The more information you have to make a decision the better. Yet at the same time I think it’s very very sad. It’s sad that the best candidate is essentially a corporate drone who never does anything out of the ordinary or impulsive.
Unfortunately you’ve got to play the game. But it is possible to remove some of the stuff online. Is it hiding who you really are? Yes. But if you’re going to get stalked by a prospective employer, then it’s the logical thing to do. First of all set all your social media profiles to private. This means only friends can look at your pictures and view your messages. Secondly Google your name. If you’ve got a very common name, it may be hard to find yourself. So type in your name along with more information like your university and where you live etc. These extra details will narrow it down. Once you find the relevant results all you need to do is go through them and see which ones might not be seen favourably by a potential firm. If you can remove some of these yourself then great – go ahead and do that. To delete some other things you may need to contact the site owner directly and request a take down.
What if this isn’t possible? What if you have a really bad reputation online!? Hopefully no one is at this stage, but if you are there is something you can do. You can create a website which is like an online CV. This will hopefully be at the top of the search results when your name is Googled. This therefore pushes the other search results further down. Still not enough? Why don’t you put up a video on youtube – kind of like a video CV. Even if the bad results are still visible, these pages should at least offset the damage.
Yes, you read that right.
For all of you law graduates that are out there and struggling to find even a paralegal position, I want you to read this post and think ‘This could happen to me!’ In a time when legal jobs are at their most competitive, you have to explore every opportunity in front of you. I chose Twitter to do this.
I found one mysterious tweet saying ‘A little birdie told me Eversheds has paralegal positions going…’ and an email address was given along with this tweet. I seized the opportunity and applied speculatively at first, inquiring if any positions were available and attaching my CV along with the email. I was told that it was the Litigation department that was recruiting paralegals and I thought ‘Perfect!’ – it’s where my background lies and the area in which my strengths are based.
I had a telephone call a couple of weeks later inviting me to interview, which I attended in November. The interview was fairly tough, over 15 competency based questions and many overlapped so I tried to expand every answer and give examples from every job I’ve had in law…along with trying to build rapport with my interviewer! A week later I was offered the position and I accepted, with no regrets yet. One thing about Eversheds was that I was completely surprised by the way everyone I met at the firm was so friendly and professional. Even now, two weeks into the job, I feel exactly the same way.
So I’ve now moved half way across the country, from Kent to Yorkshire to pursue a six month contract as a Litigation Paralegal with Eversheds, and I am loving it. I may joke about my social life being over since being given a Blackberry for my work emails, but in reality this is the job I have been working to for so many years and hopefully it paves the way to a training contract. I look forward to the late hours and putting in the effort because only I know how hard I have worked to get here….as I’m sure every one of you has too! And you know what, a job will not come and sit on your doorstep, you need to be dedicated and go out on the hunt, and not half-heartedly!
Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with an idea for a blog post. You can think and think, yet nothing interesting comes to mind. Then you can be doing something which isn’t related to blogging or law at all, and an idea will jump out at you.
That happened when I went a walk earlier. It was a really obvious idea too. I’m going to tell you about the time I was on jury duty. Nothing too specific, just my general feelings and thoughts. This post was actually longer and a bit more interesting. But I didn’t want to give too much away and be in contempt of court so I deleted some!
Getting jury duty at the time was actually really convenient. As anyone who has been on jury duty (or has worked in courts) knows, there can be a lot of waiting around. This was good because it gave me time to read my law books for the upcoming year. I literally had nothing else to do. No distractions. No chance to procrastinate. And then I got to see bits of what I was reading in action.
There was so much waiting because, if you’re not assigned to a case, you just wait until you’re needed. It comes down to luck really. In theory you could be called up for jury duty and not be put on an actual case. Alternatively you could be called onto a case which lasts several months. I was on 2 cases over a two week period. And if I remember correctly I was only doing something jury related about half of that time.
The case started with your name being called along with the other people who may serve on the jury. You were then led by the court clerks to the location outside the courtroom. You got a brief overview of what would happen next. When in court the 12 jurors were randomly picked and sworn in. More than 12 people are initially selected to be potential jurors just in case one of them knows the defendant / others in the courtroom.
Obviously I can’t say much about the trial itself. But the offences in question weren’t overly serious. The facts of one of the cases was actually mildly comical.
Thinking about more general philosophical matters, one of the cases essentially came down to one persons word against the other. So believing that one person was telling the truth, rather than the other person, would decide the outcome. This made me think – can you ever be sure beyond reasonable doubt that someone is guilty when it comes down to this? I don’t think so. Not without further evidence. And the evidence wasn’t conclusive one way or the other.
Although you would think one person more reliable, and more likely to tell the truth than the other, this still wasn’t enough. Hypothetically speaking if there was a witness on the stand who I knew to be very truthful, what would I think? In my opinion it would still be very hard to say beyond reasonable doubt that they were telling the truth.
Think of all the times you’ve felt so sure that you’ve seen something happen. Or so sure that you’ve done something. You’d say “I’m 100% sure I locked the door.” And that wouldn’t be a lie. Yet you check the door and it’s unlocked. This happens from time to time – people make mistakes. They may also have preconceptions about a person and just believe they’ve seen something. They also could have other reasons to lie. Reasons you don’t know about.
Now think about the above in relation to, not someone you know to be truthful, but a complete stranger. You don’t know them, you don’t know if they hold any bias, you don’t know if they though they saw something when they didn’t.
I think there needs to be some more physical evidence there, apart from a witness. Otherwise you’re claiming some sort of psychic insight into others…
I’ve never liked the idea of one person essentially being able to get the other sent to jail because they seem more trustworthy. However I’ve seen a lot of TV/moves where someone get framed, so I’m probably a little paranoid.
However if you discount all witness evidence then it would be very hard to get a conviction. I suppose that’s why it’s better to have several witnesses and make sure their stories match up.
Overall I actually enjoyed the experience. My fellow jurors were reasonable and I believe the correct verdicts were reached in both cases. It was also a good chance to test some legal skills too. You need to put forward your own justifications for your decision and express yourself clearly.
If only law students could volunteer for jury duty!
Every wondered what a typical day is like for a solicitor? If you’re studying law with the view of becoming a practising solicitor then it’s a good idea to have a firm grasp of the type of working day you’ll be likely to endure.
Listed below is a one day diary from a real-life motoring solicitor who works at Just Motor Law. She recorded her movements throughout her typical working day to give students an insight into what their life could possibly be like once they have obtained the grades they need to become a solicitor.
07.50 – Set off on my journey to the office.
08.50 – Quick stop at the coffee shop for my usual Café Latte fix (a necessity to function for the busy day!)
09.00 – Now at my piled high desk – where do I start?
09.05 – Review my diary – what is on today’s agenda?
09.15 – Telephone call from a new potential client – accused of driving without due care and attention, failing to stop and failing to report an accident. Client denies the allegation and wanted advice on how we could assist. Advised client we could assist and took full details of his case. Payment on account also obtained.
09.30 – Set off to court to represent client at local Magistrates court for an offence of Driving Whilst under the influence of alcohol.
09.50 – Arrived at court and met with the prosecution lawyer and obtained disclosure of evidence. Reviewed its content in detail.
10.05 – Met with client at court and advised in relation to the disclosure of evidence. Evidence appeared fine and nothing to suggest that police station drink driving procedures not followed correctly. Advised client that best way to proceed would be to plead guilty and obtain credit for an early guilty plea. Also advised client that would be disqualified from driving for a minimum of 12 months but due to his alcohol reading being so high, the disqualification is likely to be higher.
10.35 – Met with court usher who advised there was a case on before our case but would get our case on as soon as that case finished.
11.15 – Still waiting at court for our case to be heard.
11.45 – Usher called our case into court.
11.50 – Court hearing begins. Client entered a plea of guilty and I mitigated to the court on client’s behalf in an effort to get him the very best possible sentence and to try and keep the disqualification to a minimum. Magistrates imposed a disqualification of 12 months with the option of undertaking a Drink Drivers Awareness Course where if successfully completed, will reduce the disqualification by 25%.
12.15 – Meeting with client following court hearing. Very good result for the client in the circumstances. Client happy with result.
12.20 – Travel back to office.
12.40 – Chat with my colleagues about my case and cases they had dealt with that morning.
13.00 – Off out to lunch with my colleagues – a pub local to our office that makes delicious homemade food! Steak and Ale pie with mash potato!
14.00 – Back at the office with an afternoon of paperwork to get through.
15.15 – Reception calls – an existing client of mine has called into the office and would like a quick word.
15.20 – Unexpected meeting with client in office regarding her ongoing case. My client has 9 points on her driving licence and now faces another 3 points for a speeding offence. 12 or more penalty points would result in my client being disqualified as a totter for a minimum of 12 months. Client accepts she was speeding but would like representation at court to argue exceptional hardship. If she were to be disqualified she would lose her job as a care worker, which would not only impact on the patients she cares for but also on her family as without her income she could not financially support her family. Reassured client that everything ready for her court hearing the following week.
16.20 – Back at my desk – another shot at getting through all my paperwork.
16.30 – My clerk enters my office and asks if can I attend the police station to represent an existing client. It is 16.30, 30 minutes before I am supposed to finish for the day! The police interview is due to commence at 17.15 which means I will be working late again!
16.50 – Set off on my journey to the police station.
17.10 – Telephone call from the office to say that the investigating officer will not be available to interview our client until 18.30. The solicitor on out of hours duty will cover the police station which means I do not have to attend the police station.
17.15 – Turn around – set off on my journey home.
As you can see, the day of a solicitor is quite like no other. It’s one which requires perseverance, concentration and the ability to manage and interchange between different cases and clients. It’s clear to see that it’s a fast-paced environment and this excellent insight into a day of working life as a solicitor demonstrates that no two days will ever be the same!
Imagine a towering building block, and travelling up the elevator to the 34th floor. Glass panes all around you, looking down onto Times Square where everything is as tiny as a pin prick. This is the sight you see when you enter the Thomson Reuters office by Times Square. I had the opportunity to visit these offices during my internship. I was attending a talk entitled ‘Making your Mark’ presented by Jolie Hunt, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Brand and Public Relations at Thomson Reuters (although she is now at AOL). Ms. Hunt has a great biography, and I was extremely interested in hearing her words of advice as to make my mark in my career of choice.
She was a great speaker and utterly inspiring which is why when she was closing up her talk, she asked the audience a hypothetical question: If she had a job to give away, how would you convince her to give it to you? And what Ms. Hunt wanted from this was an elevator pitch: a one minute persuasive piece to convince her why you should get this hypothetical job over any other person. About ten people out of the hundred in the room, stood up one after the other and pitched their reasons why they should be the individual hired. I was the last person to stand, heart absolutely pounding but I thought to myself, what is there to lose?! And the answer was nothing.
I vaguely remember what I said, that I was determined, motivated and focused and that if she was to hire me I would prove to her that I was better than any of the other individuals who had stood up. Others asked questions such as ‘Why should I hire the company to employ me?’ – twisting her question round and bouncing it back to her. Of course, being hypothetical there was no job, but what I achieved was the thrill of selling myself, being completely put on the spot and thinking ‘What are my real strengths? How badly do I want this?’ And I do this with every job I interview for now, confidence will get you ahead. I prepare my strengths and I prepare my elevator pitch for every interview.
And so the moral of the story: be prepared to sell yourself. Do yourself justice. Have the confidence and the ability to speak out boldly, no matter who is around you.
Even though the job was hypothetical Ms. Hunt invited those who stood up to pitch, to have breakfast with her several weeks later at Robert DeNiro’s restaurant ‘Locanda Verde’ in Tribeca. It was an amazing experience and it’s something I would have missed out on had I not had the confidence to be one of the ten people who stood up to speak that evening.
Law is infamous for being considered a ‘hard’ degree, heavy on the reading, academically rigorous and competitive. Not having studied anything else at university, I have no idea how accurate this is (although non-law students do often look a lot more relaxed!) But, as a parent it just added to the general anxiety concerning work-load, and how on earth it would be possible to fit everything in. I wished I’d been able to ask some questions of someone who knew what it would be like…
So I thought I’d write a blog on my experience so far; aspects which have been particularly challenging and things which have helped. Also, what it actually feels like to be a mature student with a family, studying alongside the majority of students who have just left school.
So, here are the major issues I’ve faced as a law student and a parent, beginning with those I’ve found most straightforward to deal with…
- Workload! So far, this has been the easiest thing to manage. Whilst other students are moaning about the amount of reading, parents tend to be fairly experienced at time management. Also, there is no choice but to have a routine. I don’t have a complicated social life or random nocturnal habits to fit my studies around. My study routine is pretty simple…put kids to bed, study until I need to go to bed. And sometimes I allow myself to watch some rubbish on TV, waste time on facebook etc. But mostly, that’s it. And of course, random bits of work can be squeezed in between seminars on campus.
- Timetabling…there is no getting round the fact I have to be home by 3, in time for my eldest to get home from school. After-school club (on top of nursery fees for the youngest) would totally stretch my budget into the realms of unmanageable. I was quite worried about this, but the law school have been excellent at accommodating the needs of students with dependants. All lectures are online (and frankly much more enjoyable from my bed anyway), and the timetabling office were able to slot all seminars into times I could be on campus.
- Life outside uni still goes on. Shopping needs doing, kids get ill, parents evening, pick up repaired glasses, pay a bill etc etc. My partner doesn’t live with me but has been an amazing support. Frankly, it would be virtually impossible to manage without emergency support to call on if a child gets sick on the day of an as assessment. Become one of those anal people who have a handbag diary, a calendar on the wall, and a whiteboard by the front door with all of the kids tasks laid out for that week. Make the kids help with housework and encourage independence. Forget organic wholefood meals, compromise with jacket potatoes, homemade pizza, pasta sauces and take aways! Use school dinners. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with childcare and housework from anyone willing…its not like you’re after a night out clubbing. This is to get you to a position where you can get a career to provide for the children, and be a more rounded and happier person yourself. I got pregnant at 17 and am ready for some education now I’m 29!
- Feeling like a law student can be hard when everyone else seems to be making friends, joining law society events you can’t justify a babysitter for, and discussing essays which a mature student not in halls is left puzzling over alone. Remember your reasons for being there…its sad not joining in the social stuff, but chucking tequila down my neck whilst slagging off the seminar leaders isn’t really my idea of fun these days anyway.
- Finance has been a nightmare. I cannot overstate what a pain in the backside this is. Whether you’ve been on income support or working, single or in a relationship, knowing where to turn for advice is very difficult. Student finance is generally aimed at the school leaver, with info for mature students and parents often hidden in far flung corners of websites. Call centres give contradictory or uninformed advice. Best bet…apply for everything as soon as possible, and make friends with the staff at the uni advice centre. Chances are you’ll soon be on first name terms as they sort out the nightmare which is student finance for parents. Not only are there student fees and living costs, but childcare fees, possible bursaries to apply for, access to learning funds regulated by the uni, scholarships, and don’t forget to check with state benefits you may still be eligible for. I am yet to find any source of advice which can give reliable info on all of this, but the uni advice centre have the time and skills to make the right phone calls to the right people and make my life a bit easier. Make use of services like this! Which brings me on to the biggest stress of all…
- Stress. Finally, I am studying law, something I have always wanted to do. But suddenly there are just so many things going on in my life! Studying, kids wanting to play, meals to plan and shop for, friends not wanting to get forgotten, partner wondering what’s happened to me, bills and finance applications piling up, Christmas around the corner…argh!!! No matter how much STUFF there is in your life, there has to be space to be you sometimes. Not mum/student/bum wiper/homework helper/socialist/domestic accountant/events organiser…just me. Who quite likes watching Eastenders. And collecting post-it notes. And reading Marxist theory, and being involved in socialist student politics as much as I am able. And doing the guardian quick crossword. And scribbling with a biro all over the pages of a blank notebook which I bought just for this very purpose. Stress can be manageable, its a natural part of life… but it also has a habit of suddenly overwhelming a person and making them want to chuck everything in. So look after yourself and take time out where you can to reflect and wind down.
So far, most people have responded to discovering I have two children with expressions of horror, pity or wonder. Apparently, I must either be a masochist exceeding even the bounds of R v Brown, or have some kind of superhuman power to fit stuff in, get the reading done and still turn up on time (mostly! and in fact I put my trousers on back to front the other day.) But one student who I sit next to responded with ‘wow, you are so lucky. I really miss my home country and family, it must be so nice to have a home, family and children to go back to after a day of all this.’
And she is totally right.
What got me here was determination, and a measure of masochism. What keeps me going is family, the support they give me and the fact they make it all worthwhile.