10 practical career tips if you want to be a human rights lawyer

Lawyer 2B attended a Law Society event on how to become a human rights lawyer earlier this week.

Speakers included Stephen Grosz QC of Bindmans, Adam Wagner of One Crown Office Row and the UK Human Rights Blog, and Human Rights Lawyers Association chair and Doughty Street barrister Alison Gerry. They spoke about how they got to where they are and took questions from attendees on how to do the same.

Here’s what we learned:

1) Think flexibly. Not everyone can make test case litigation their main area of work. You do not have to hit headlines every week to make a difference.

2) Don’t worry about taking your time. Working within human rights is not like searching for a City training contract. There are fewer jobs and the route is less linear. It will take longer.

3) But use it wisely. Work experience and internships may be less formal and harder to find, but they are there. Seek them out.

4) Don’t limit yourself to human rights firms and chambers. They’re small operations with a limited number of opportunities. Consider working at relevant NGOs and think tanks.

5) Make sure you get direct client experience, even if it is not related to human rights. At the beginning of your career you will be on the ground rather than providing strategic direction. Even working regularly in a law centre will prove your commitment and experience.

6) Work out how to make money. This is especially pertinent for barristers. Human rights work is often badly paid and you may need to do another area of work such as personal injury or immigration alongside it to balance your practice and earn your keep.

7) If you feel let down by your academics at undergraduate level then consider doing a Masters if you have the resources. Many people working in the field have done related masters degrees and a great result can prove you’re academically capable.

8) Go online. Establishing a blog or engaging on Twitter is yet another way to prove your credentials. There is a caveat, however: do it properly. Treat your blog as if an interviewer is looking at it before you meet them and make sure it’s as good as it can be. If you can’t commit to this then stay away.

9) Do the BPTC or LPC part-time. These courses are incredibly expensive. If you’ve decided to embark on one then consider doing it part-time so that you can balance it with paid work and work experience. Again, taking your time is no bad thing as it allows you to rack up experience.

10) Be authentic. If there is a particular cause or issue you feel strongly about then consider making it a ’headline experience’. It will help your CV stand out as well as being a rewarding experience.

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