Guest Student Blog: Sean Walkden talks about his placement at Support Through Court and Professional development

Sean, standing at the School’s Mooting final heald at the Supreme Court.

During my final year I aimed to develop myself professionally while working towards my degree. After a phone call with the Employability Development Diector in the Summer of 2019, where we dicussed some activities that the University puts on which could help. As well as working hard in one’s studies, I believe that it is imperative to develop practical legal skills to make one’s application stand out. Hopefully I can highlight how indispensable professional development can be and the importance of obtaining legal work experience.

The Clinical Legal Education module is an excellent opportunity for students to gain legal work experience, which looks great on a CV, while contributing to their overall grade. I was given the opportunity to work at Support Through Court in the Chelmsford County Court where I provided practical support to litigants facing the court without legal representation. This allowed me to become familiar with the court setting and the issues people face in litigation. The placement allowed me to develop my confidence, analytical skills and integrity.

I started by shadowing other volunteers in order to get to grips with how to provide practical support and how to manage general office duties. On my third day I was thrown into the deep end, being asked if I wanted to speak to clients. I interviewed my first litigant, a young parent seeking custody of their child. The client was very grateful for the support, although naturally I felt inexperienced assisting them. It was made clear to me that if I had made mistakes, I would have been made me aware by the other volunteers. This enabled me to continue to face challenges confidently. Having that network of support made me confident in my legal knowledge, a trait which will aid me in any future role.

Having the opportunity to attend court hearings with clients tested my analytical skills in a way that a law degree cannot. I had to prepare a drop-in client 10 minutes before their hearing, so thinking on my feet was essential. As I could not advise, I had to understand what the client wanted to say in court and formalise it in such a way that made them feel prepared. Thinking on one’s feet is a very difficult trait to teach, hence why developing this skill in a practical environment is important. When a client is happy with the work you have done it also shows you the importance of volunteers as not everyone can afford hefty legal fees.

Working at Support Through Court gave me invaluable insight into the direction I want my career to go as I found the work gratifying. I thoroughly enjoyed my placement and I think students should push themselves into similar experiences to make the most of their degree.

As well as Clinical Legal Education, Essex provides various optional activities for professional development. The Commercial Awareness workshop tests and develops one’s knowledge of commercial issues by teaching about due diligence, M&As and negotiations. Interviewers will always need applicants to show an understanding of their company and a genuine interest in the legal sector so commercial awareness is important for all law students as it can ultimately make or break an interview.

Arthur and Sean after winning the internal Client Interviewing Competition.

Competitions such as Client Interviewing and Mooting test students’ practical skills. Arthur Sutton and I were fortunate enough to represent the University in Brown Mosten’s Client Interviewing Competition after winning the internal competition, after which we became experts on invasive weed legislation. The competitive setting tested our soft skills with a mock client and showed us that anyone can understand a legal issue, but it is equally important to respond to the client’s emotional needs while remaining formal. Unfortunately, informality was our downfall in client interviewing. Competitions allow for students to improve their weaknesses. It’s better to do this before charging a client £100+ an hour for a service they won’t be happy with.

Arthur and I would go on to win this years Mooting Competition, where one is assessed on their professional etiquette. Every law student should participate in Mooting as it is one of the best ways to professionally develop. Mooting pushes everyone out of their comfort zone, forcing you to research an issue, develop a legal argument and try not to cave under the pressure. It prepares you for real life pressures of being a lawyer and helps build confidence.

To summarise, competing against your peers is great fun and strengthens your abilities. Spending my time outside of lectures contributing to my employability was something I do not regret doing. However, speaking to real people and helping them with real life legal issues was rewarding. The skills I gained will support me in any career I choose.

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