Law - student stories
Alex James Hawley, Law Pupillage
Why I studied at the OU?
I studied Criminology at a conventional university but it made me realise what I really had an aptitude for, was Law. So I applied to the OU to do my LLB because I thought the flexibility of the OU would suit me. Doing my Law degree with the OU gives me more time and because of the way OU materials are written, there’s not so much research as there is at a conventional university. I have more time because the OU allows me to get material before the course starts, making it easier to prepare ahead of time.
The guidance I received from the OU was very different from the full-time course. I get six tutorials a year so most of the time it’s more like doing it yourself and getting a bit of a nudge in the right direction but that’s the nature of doing it by distance learning.
Before I began studying with the OU I didn’t really have any impression of it. I knew it existed. It’s changed dramatically though since my first year. You used to be sent DVDs, now it’s more online. Because I’ve experienced another university I find myself constantly comparing the two. There are good and bad things about both ways of studying. I would definitely recommend the OU for someone that wants to get on while working. That’s where it really wins: you can study while gaining vital work experience and build up a CV attractive to an employer when you finish.
Studying with a disability
It isn’t my physical disability (cerebral palsy) that causes me the greatest issues; it's the dyslexia. Studying part-time gives me time to deal with things at my own pace. When I studied full time, my dyslexia was more of a challenge. I finished the course but didn’t get the result I wanted. Before applying to the OU to do Law, I realised there was no point in having two degrees if I had no experience to offer as well. With the OU I could do both - gain the Law degree I wanted, and work at the same time. I was more concerned about getting funding for a second degree than I was with signing up for the course. But that didn’t prove to be a problem as I received funding from the OU’s discretionary fund for students with disabilities.
It was hard for me to take part in the online forums because I can’t type so someone has to do it for me, which means you don’t get the same privacy as someone who can type themselves. I couldn’t take advantage of mooting competitions because of the way they’re laid out. There were also transport issues and there isn’t a local team I can join as it isn’t set out regionally. It’s a shame because this would have been a really good skill for me to learn as you can actually practice being a lawyer without the pressure of having a case.
However, there are many advantages for a disabled person studying with the OU. It’s given me more confidence, thanks to combining studies with voluntary work. I’m also aware that being disabled doesn’t entitle you to get a job afterwards. If I was an employer looking at someone with no experience, only a qualification, I would be inclined to prefer someone with experience - it’s as important as the qualification - that matters more than my disabilities.
The benefits of work experience
As a disabled student I have found that the OU’s flexibility has given me the chance to undertake voluntary work to increase my likelihood in finding a job after completing my degree. I recently did a mini-pupillage at a Chambers in Nottingham that enabled me to take advantage of the flexible nature of the OU. The mini-pupillage was an essential look at how law works on the ground and some of the problems a disabled person would face when trying to work within the law.
Access in places was awkward but not insurmountable. The reality of law appears to be a highly collaborative affair and nothing at all how it appears on TV. All arguments and objections are dealt with prior to the case commencing. An important part of the mini-pupillage was ensuring that you become known within the industry as soon as possible. Experiences such as observing client and witness interviews helped me understand how the system works and the importance of the solicitor’s role within the criminal justice system. In the future, it's my intention to look into this role further as another career option. The possibility of becoming a solicitor-advocate does appeal to me.
As it’s difficult to find work with dyslexia and because of my physical disabilities, I undertake voluntary work for the experience and to ensure I have a solid CV for when I finish. I am now working with Victim Support and also training to work with Framework, a homeless charity. I arranged these placements myself.
The attitude of people towards me when I did my work experience placement wasn’t a problem at all. I found them very open, but it did show me that it’s going to be really difficult to find a job after my degree due to access issues. Most of the buildings are too old to be adapted for disabled access so the practicalities of getting round are going to be tough to overcome. That can be a problem even with new buildings.
Options with a Law Degree
That’s the thing I most like about studying law - there are lots of options. As well as enjoying the subject I want a career out of my studies. I’ve been on benefits since I was 16 and I want to boost my chances of getting off them as well as making sure I don’t go crazy! My OU Law course is only the first stage of a long process. I’ll be 33 by the time I can earn money and even then there’s no guarantee of a job. It’s similar to the long training doctors have to undertake too, but a degree in Law opens up lots of other jobs. It doesn’t have to mean working as a barrister, though I do plan to take my Bar Exam when I finish my degree.
Some people assume when I finally finish that I’ll want to specialise in law around disability rights, but I want to do the full range of law, not just that. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. There is less and less demand now for criminal law due to changes in funding so I need to look at civil law too and that’s a very wide area. The interesting thing about law is that it’s such a wide diverse subject.
How the OU Careers and Employability Services can help
The role of the OU Careers and Employability Services in this process has helped me to tighten up my applications and highlight the importance of the skills I learned while volunteering. The OU careers adviser helped me to compile a credible legal CV which I will use when applying to solicitors for work-shadowing sessions. I feel that my time at the Chambers has been a realistic look into how life as a lawyer could be, and would recommend it to any student as an essential part of learning law.