Whether you are in your final year of university, just starting out, or just considering pursuing a legal career, gaining work experience is more important than ever. Being a third year law student myself, I know all too well about the competitiveness of the current job market for graduates, especially in the legal field. Therefore, the key to increasing your chances of getting that job of your dreams is perseverance and networking, networking, networking!
Before considering the different methods that can be used to gain legal experience, you must make sure you are prepared in a number of different ways. Firstly, ensure your CV is as full and as immaculately presented as possible. If you need help with this, ask family or friends to check it over or, even better, visit your university or school’s career service for advice. Secondly, do not underestimate your grades. Though employers look above and beyond academic achievement when employing someone, grades are still important whether they count toward your final degree classification or not! Thirdly and finally, make sure you do your research. This is essential when considering your future career and the experience you wish to gain. For example, if you want to become a solicitor, make sure you research the ins and outs of what this entails, such as qualification routes and different practice fields you could go into.
So, with the basics out of the way, let’s consider the different paths you could take when searching.
Official vacation schemes:
If you are pursuing a career as a solicitor or a barrister, or considering it and wish to find some hands-on experience, then applying for a law firms official vacation scheme or a chambers mini pupillage will be very beneficial. Gaining one of these placements is perhaps one of the best ways of gaining an insight into the legal world. For vacation schemes always make yourself aware of the deadlines, as for bigger firms these are usually as early as December or January, with applications usually opening in October. Do not underestimate your competition, you have to ensure you know what you are talking about. This may sound simple however, many applicants fail during the application process by producing a duplicate for each firm they apply for, rather than taking a personalised approach. The best advice I can give you in order to avoid this is to find your target audience. If you know you want to gain experience in the city within a midsize firm, research a handful that attract you and focus your attention on perfecting these applications. This way, you are making your chances of success much higher by showing an interest in that firm in particular.
Don’t be discouraged if you receive rejections. The good thing about vacation scheme applications is that you can try again next year, having learnt from your mistakes and perhaps seek outside advice on how to improve upon what you wrote before. If you are lucky enough to gain a placement, don’t waste it! Get as much as you can out of your time with the firm by working hard, asking questions and just having fun in a new and exciting environment.
Unofficial vacation schemes:
I personally, having achieved average grades during my first year at university and mistakenly sending out applications despite a lack of knowledge, decided not to repeat the process in my second and now, third year of my degree. Instead, as the summer term approached, I prepared a decent cover letter which gave an insight into my personality and goals and sent it off within an email to a number of smaller firms in the local and surrounding areas in search of work experience. Of course, I received many polite replies informing me that they did not offer any experience and if any placements were to come up in the future, they would be sure to contact me. As disheartening as this was, I persevered and did receive a handful of replies from a number of firms. This led to some informal and unpaid experience over the summer and a further chance to return to the firm in the future.
Do not underestimate the power of informal experience. You can gain just as much from a week or two’s worth of work in a firm without a structured scheme. I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the tasks I was given and the commitment the firm displayed at making sure I had an insightful experience. If it’s the larger firms in the city that you have set your sights on, this method can also be a very good way of gaining some informal experience. Though many of these firms will have official vacation schemes, many do not. For example, regional firms with offices around the country will often also have a London office, which could therefore be worth contacting for any opportunities.
As I mentioned earlier, networking is such an important part of the legal profession and if done well, it can lead to bigger and better things. Universities often put on events involving different employers coming to speak to students about career prospects. This is a brilliant chance to make yourself and your enthusiasm known to a firm you may be interested in and could lead to invites to future events. Once a firm is familiar with you, they are more likely to keep an eye out for those future applications. Open days within firms, chambers or larger recruitment firms such as Deloitte is another way of introducing yourself to HR and asking any questions you may have which will only make the application process less daunting. Finally, be cautious of social networking. More and more employers are becoming increasingly active on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and are using it as a way to advertise events and sift through potential applicants. Expressing your interest in a firm on Twitter and thanking them for hosting an event you may have attended may have more impact than you think, so keep an eye out!
Utilising your contacts:
The last tip I have to give you in regards to finding work experience in the legal profession is to utilise any contacts you may have. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a family member or friend who may work in a solicitors firm or in the court system, but if you are one of these people, make sure you ask if there is any advice they have, or, even better, if they know of any openings for work experience. These contacts could prove vital in helping you improve your skills and gain an invaluable insight into the law, whatever path you may choose to follow in the future.