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Sandwich Courses at University

Sandwich Courses at University

The great dilemma for many law students is balancing their degree with getting enough work experience to make their applications stand out, for pupillage or training contract applications. Sandwich courses offer a solution to this problem as they allocate a certain amount of your degree to working in a legal environment. Only a few institutions offer this type of course in the UK, they last four years and may be either ‘thick sandwich’ courses where a student takes a year out of their studies to do a work placement (usually the third year), or ‘thin sandwich’ courses where a student embarks on two six-month placements during their degree. This means that by the end of your study you could have up to 12 months’ work experience; students doing a normal three-year law degree will probably not have had such an opportunity to instantly put them at an advantage in the very competitive legal market.

Having completed a thin sandwich law degree at Brunel University, I found there are many advantages from taking such a course, and these start accruing almost immediately. The application stage allows you to start perfecting your CV and get all-important experience in completing application forms and perfecting your interview technique. I had the benefit of attending a panel interview for a placement with Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office (RCPO) and this stood me in good stead for a panel interview for a BPTC scholarship and made it a lot less nerve-wracking as I was better prepared.

Universities work hard to forge connections with law firms and chambers, thus another benefit is the sheer variety of placements available. At Brunel, placements were available with high street firms, sets of chambers including Matrix and the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS). There was something to suit everyone with firms of varying size and varying specialities. The problem with such connections, however, is that they are often local and with placements going on through the summer, if you do not live locally, securing such placements may not be possible. I had to secure my own placement with a firm because I could not afford to stay in London over the summer, so there may be some students unable to take advantage of these great connections. Some of the placements with larger firms were paid, but competition for these is fierce, and for my cohort our second placement came during the economic crisis and we saw a huge fall in law firms offering paid placements as well as a decline in the number of firms willing to offer unpaid placements. This illustrates just how the stability of the legal market can impact on the quality of placements available.

There was something to suit everyone with firms of varying size and varying specialities.

Once your placement is secured, there is the obvious advantage of staying with a firm for a prolonged amount of time. Most firm placements are only of one or two weeks’ duration, while mini-pupillages may only be three days, so the work and responsibility you would be given can be very limited. I spent six months with criminal defence lawyers in Birmingham; with time I was given a great deal of responsibility, even being able to attend court on my own and assist barristers on behalf of the firm – this was quite unique and not normally offered. I was also fortunate that the firm I worked with only briefed one set of chambers, so I got much more contact with barristers than a mini-pupillage would have offered. This is another great reason to gain work experience in both professions. You will get the benefit of seeing what it is really like to practice law and the many issues it raises; for me this included seeing  the great strain placed on law firms due to legal aid cuts, as well as developing practical skills in drafting and research. There are some things that you simply will not learn until you have spent some time working within the legal profession.

The contacts you will make during these placements will be invaluable.

Other than the benefits brought by the experience itself, the opportunity provides the added advantage of boosting your CV. Most students on leaving university, even with multiple examples of work experience, will not be able to boast of the levels of experience you would have gained during your sandwich course. At Brunel University you will receive a Law LLB with Professional Development to recognise the work experience you have gained, so that future employers can see that you have spent time working in the legal sector and hopefully provide you with that added edge. The completion of such placements can also lead to a partial exemption from the training stage of your legal education later on. And of course the contacts you will make during these placements will be invaluable; indeed some students have gone on to secure training contracts with the firms they undertook their work placement with.

The legal market is only getting more competitive, and students are struggling to set themselves apart but, these placement courses offer a good place to start. You will leave university with some practical experience of the legal world which will be a great help if embarking on the LPC or BPTC, you will be more confident about going into legal practice and possibly have a better sense of where you see yourself in this dynamic legal market. These placements will open your eyes to what practising law is really about, and enable you to go into the profession better informed and better prepared.

 

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