Ian Robinson: How to get your first job in immigration law
Ian Robinson tells budding immigration lawyers what he wishes he had known at the outset of his career.
As a firm we work in every area of immigration, other than asylum. That means helping skilled people, entrepreneurs, families and others move to or stay in the UK, including pro bono support for vulnerable people who can’t afford a lawyer.
It also means keeping people and employers compliant — there’s more to it than simply obtaining a visa. There’s an awful lot of legal admin if you want to stay in the country or continue employing foreign workers.
It isn’t a particularly adversarial job — our people don’t spend their days in court — but, elsewhere in the sector, it can be. Our days are essentially spent solving puzzles, helping often stressed people move and helping other people — clients, assignees, colleagues, whoever — do their jobs better.
I like the job and my colleagues and peers do too. So just how do you get that first job in immigration law? Is immigration law for you?
It’s these questions that led us to set up the Fragomen Immigration School – a series of free online seminars to be staged in October and November that offer insights into this fascinating sector.
Our UK event is for fifth and sixth-year pupils and university students and you’ll hear from lawyers, MPs, civil servants, charity leads and others as they talk about their jobs.
First up, however, here’s my take on gaining entry to the immigration world. I hope these tips below – and others in the profession may well have alternatives – help those of you looking for your first job, but please don’t just rely on this article alone.
Getting a graduate job isn’t easy so you’ll have to take time to learn about the places you’re applying to, research what you might be asked and practise your answers.
Job hunting was all a mystery to me when I graduated, so this is what I wish I’d known 20 or so years ago:
- Maybe you grew up around lawyers and professionals, maybe you didn’t. Either way, you’ve as much right as anyone to be in the sector.
- You’ll need to know what sort of jobs to apply for. The dream is a training contract straight out of university but the competition for that is fierce. You can also look for legal assistant, paralegal or consultant roles. An internet search would also be worthwhile.
- The role and title for these sorts of entry-level jobs will differ, but they will generally involve helping a solicitor or immigration caseworker advise their clients. At first the job will involve preparing emails of advice, completing application forms, making sure that invoices go out on time and other admin. As you learn and progress, you will move on to researching and giving advice to clients.
- Take time over the drafting of your CV and the content. A degree is great (but not necessarily essential) and summer jobs and work experience can help you differentiate yourself from other candidates. For new grads I also like to see what people have learned, as well as what they’ve done.
- Which brings us to: how can you get work experience? Honestly, you just need to ask. Not everyone will say yes but some will. Have a look for local firms or see who stands out in legal directories. Contact the firms that interest you and if they say no, you should shrug and try another. Easier said than done, but it is a good thing to do.
- You can also show you’re interested by staying on top of things. Mention on your CV that you read Free Movement, for instance. Following experts or interesting law firms on social media is also worthwhile — Colin Yeo is the best starting point on Twitter, or myself and (the brilliant) Vanessa Ganguin post reasonably often on LinkedIn. And of course, if you’ve spotted firms you would like to work with you should probably follow them.
All of this is intended to help you learn and give you a richer CV, to help you get an interview. Again, you’ll want to research the types of questions you might be asked at interviews. If I were to interview a paralegal now, I’d ask:
- Why do you want to work with us? The point here is to see how much you know about the firm and if you seem enthusiastic.
- Why immigration? I’d be asking to see if you know what the job is or if this is a fishing expedition.
- When was your last mistake? I like this one because it checks for self-awareness. You’re going to make mistakes – everyone does – but do you recognise and learn from them?
- Similarly, when was the last time you let a colleague down? Again, you are going to get things wrong sometimes, so I’d expect most people to have done this, and it is so important for people to recognise when they have. That’s what makes for a nice workplace.
- Then lots of functional questions about experience, working under pressure, meeting deadlines and being part of a team. A search online will be better at producing that list than I am, but do think about your answers before you sit down in an interview. They all paint a picture about you and merit some preparatory work.
Above all, be yourself throughout the process. I’m not sure if this is realistic advice – it took me years to consistently feel comfortable in my own skin at work. But if you can’t be yourself, you won’t do yourself justice, and anyway pretending is just so tiring. And as part of that, don’t worry if interviews make you nervous – that is perfectly normal and any good interviewer will understand.
The Fragomen UK Immigration School involves five two-hour sessions during October and November this year. The deadline to apply is Friday, October 1.
Ian Robinson is a partner at Fragomen