A letter to the graduating class of 2018

kylie - yeaaln

After all the glamour and excitement from graduation has died down and the dust begins to settle, reality kicks  in and suddenly you realise that you have graduated from being a law student to an unemployed citizen. I call this period the “post-graduate anxiety syndrome.”

Upon reflection I realised that all our lives up until the point we graduate from university has been spelt out for us. It is a general expectation of ours that our parents will see us through primary education, secondary education and even tertiary education in most instances. The journey has been similar for most of us: parents advocate for their children to study courses like law and medicine in university, charting out our lives with the singular notion of an “ideal” career.  There is comfort in this similarity, most of us primed with this promotion that doing this particular course will easily get you a good paying job. What they fail to tell you is that once you join university the narrative changes. It stops being about you “so and so’s child,” an extension of your mum and dad, to being about you as independent entity. You are now your own person. Your biggest motivation and fiercest competition becomes you. Nana put it best in her post “A law degree is not a one track road”. This shift to focus on yourself can be problematic for people like me who have been drilled into an education system that uses standardised tests as a measure of our competence. It teaches us to thrive off competition with others and not so much self-motivation. Some may argue that is one of the greatest flaws of our education system. However, that is for another piece, and I will not digress into that debate at this juncture.

Recently, I graduated with a Bachelors of Law from a reputable U.K. university and fell victim to the post graduate anxiety syndrome. Panic kicked in as I compared myself to all the other amazing law graduates, not only in my home country, but also across the world. In my mind, they serve as my competition in the workplace, they are my pacemakers as well as my opponents. As I thought of the limited employment opportunities in comparison to the broad pool of worthy law graduates I almost cried. In fact I think I did shed a few tears. I was so distraught that I even began to regret my decision to study law abroad. I feared that I would return back to my home country ill equipped to compete with my peers back home who have already been assimilated into that work culture. There goes my obsessive comparison disorder (another post-graduation mental disorder) robbing me of my joy again.

You know that we opted for a very unique degree – unlike other degrees, an LLB only gets you halfway there in your vision of dramatic court trials or multi-million dollar M&As (as advertised in Suits).. The reality is that after graduation you learn one of the key differences between a “lawyer” and an “advocate.”  If you choose to pursue the practice of your degree, you will most likely have to sit and pass the bar exam for you to qualify as an advocate of you respective High Court. You can find more information on Craig’s post “The Kenyan guide to becoming an advocate”. You  have now also been made aware that without a masters degree you are not as marketable or equipped for the legal workforce. It is likely that you are then further advised to buffer this supposed “shortcoming” by seeking out work. Ironically, internships require you to have an adequate amount of work experience prior, making the process all the more paradoxical and complex. If you do manage to successfully snag an internship you may be like me and be surprised to find that a lot of paralegals do most of the heavy lifting for the lawyers they work for: enlightening me to a further facet of the actual “practice” of law. I for one spent a summer carrying around a ridiculously heavy briefcase in and out of the High Court during one of my internships. Not exactly how I envisioned “work experience.” I digress again, but my point is that we need work experience (be it a personal muscleman to the advocate or legal research assistant) to add some bargaining weight to our resumes when trying to apply for LLM programmes. An undergraduate law degree alone just does not cut it anymore. Many law graduates believe, with good reason, that one simply cannot fully prosper with just an LLB.

In most cases, post-graduation anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown. For the first time in our lives we have to decide for ourselves what steps to take next in our academic and professional lives, which can be daunting. You may have friends who have opted out of typical careers in law, taken a gap year, enrolled into the bar, started a Masters in law, and even those who have started working as advocates. No matter what path you have opted to take, I tip my hat to you my fellow graduands of 2018. You have completed a major milestone in your life for which you must be proud.

Think of your legal paths as a journey that you do not have completely mapped out just yet. Accept and embrace the unknown by exploring all your options until you settle on what works best for you. As you figure out your route, join platforms like this one and interact with people who have been in your shoes and learn from them. If you take nothing else from this, please do remember to enjoy and trust the process because soon enough you will be facing a different milestone.

If you enjoyed this post, check out a video I shot on the same discussion (https://youtu.be/FsF9XR3dZDM)

All the best my learned friends!

Kylie Achieng Ochuodho

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