What Does It Mean to Be a Graduate?

Have you ever thought about what it means to be a graduate? Now that you have proven your ability to learn and can wave that degree certificate around, do you see yourself differently?

Francine Ryan, senior lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice Centre at The Open University, outlines the skills a law graduate will have gained and how they can apply them to beginning a career.

During your time at university you have probably spent a lot of time being immersed in learning about the law- you are now familiar with legal principles, cases, statutes and treaties. And if someone was to mention Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 A.C. 562 you would probably automatically think about a snail in a ginger beer bottle and tort law.

But going to university is so much more than learning about law. It has provided you with the opportunity to develop skills, capabilities, and attributes that shape the contribution you will make both as a citizen and as a legal professional. The skills, capabilities and attributes developed during a degree are known as graduate attributes, and they shape your identity as a graduate, and help you succeed in the workplace.

Many universities define what it means to be a graduate of their institution and your university may have been explicit about graduate attributes, but if not, graduate attributes are broadly defined as including characteristics such as critical thinking, communication skills, teamworking, creativity, self-awareness, leadership, and resilience. You draw upon these generic skills in your working life and they are essential to working in legal practice. However, they are more than a set of skills. They form part of the mindset you develop through your studies.

The skills, capabilities and attributes developed during a degree are known as graduate attributes.

You can probably think of examples from your degree that embedded these attributes. Some of them may have been developed as part of learning and writing about law, such as critical thinking and communication skills. Some may have evolved from participation in practical legal activities such as working in a law clinic, giving a street law presentation or volunteering with a free legal advice charity.

Your degree has equipped you with capabilities and attributes that go beyond knowledge of the law, in your search for a training contract, a pupillage or paralegal work you need to articulate these attributes to a legal employer. Your applications should evidence these skills, capabilities and attributes. Think about all the things that you have done at university. Like it or loathe it, you would have participated in group work that is an example that showcases teamwork that develops skills of negotiation, conflict management and collaboration. You have may have given presentations in tutorials or as part of public legal education activities that is evidence of your ability to communicate and confidently present your ideas. An employer will be interested in any work experience, internships or extra curricula activities you have engaged in whilst at university. These types of activities are particularly useful in developing transferable skills.

Before you start drafting your CV and applying for jobs you need to make a list of all the skills, capabilities and attributes you think are required by a legal employer. You then need to find examples that evidence how you have developed those skills. These examples will be especially helpful at interviews as you will be asked to give specific examples that demonstrate a particular skill and competency. The more motivated you are to spend time putting in the work to create a good impression in your CV, at interviews and at assessment centres, the more opportunity you will have to highlight to an employer that you possess the skills and attributes they require and the more likely it is your applications will be successful.

It is important to remember that being a graduate is more than just having a degree, a degree alone is never going to be enough to secure your dream legal job. University is an incredible opportunity to develop the attributes, capabilities and skills that will help you be successful in your working life. You need to be able to tell the story of how all of your university experience has contributed to you being the law graduate that a legal employer should hire.

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