Something that comes to mind around this point of the LPC is the inevitable end of the course. Once the initial shock of the level of work and subsequent stress of exams is out of the way, the need to get a job springs to mind. Some may be lucky enough to have secured a training contract before starting the LPC; for the rest, this is the time you will need to seriously start thinking about it.[/two_third_last]
As you will all know, securing a training contract is a very difficult task. It is currently a highly saturated market and securing a place on vacation schemes or on assessment days is increasingly competitive. The LPC can be very time consuming, and it easy to let this overpower your search for a training contract. But it is important to continue to seek training contracts and to improve your CV throughout the LPC. Now that you have finished the core modules, you may have more time to dedicate to this task and anything you can do over the next few months may assist you when it comes to interview and applications.
Work experience is a key aspect for any training contract applicant. It demonstrates your dedication to the law and to legal practice generally. It is one thing to continue from a degree or GDL onto the LPC, but a perceived lack of knowledge of life as a solicitor will be questioned at interview. Work experience is one way to show that your choice of career is based in sound knowledge. A training contract is an investment for a law firm, and not a cheap one at that. The firm needs to be sure that any trainee they take on will be able to stay the course, and that they know what they are signing up for.
One of the more traditional routes is to get a place on a vacation scheme – don’t forget regional firms may have schemes as well as in the city; these can be just as valuable for your CV.
Vacation schemes generally take place over the summer, which typically will be too late to include on a training contract application. However, 50 per cent of training contracts are offered following work experience, typically vacation schemes. Don’t discount a vacation scheme because it will take place after the LPC – it might just be your ticket to a training contract!
Some course providers have made a week of work experience compulsory for all students, in the aim to improve your CV and to build contacts. If this is the case, actively take part in the search. Use your provider’s contacts and try to get a week either at a law firm that fits your career ambitions or a week doing something really interesting. If your week ends up being a week in the last choice firm or in an area you are really not interested in, it might be a wasted opportunity.
Contact firms in the area – a few days in a small solicitor’s firm is better than nothing, and could give you a valuable insight into the type of firm you want to work for. It gives you something to add on your CV, something to discuss at an interview, and the ability to go out and find the work experience yourself will undoubtedly be seen as a positive.
During my LPC, I wrote to a number of local law firms, with my CV, asking for work experience and also offering my services as a general office assistant – I was willing to do anything (within reason!) to get my foot inside a solicitor’s office. I had a lot of rejection but actually had a few positive replies. One firm in particular offered me one day a week’s experience in their firm, something that wasn’t advertised and I wouldn’t have got any other way. I also managed to spend a week in a law firm assisting with the closing of a very large case. Essentially I spent the week filing, but I was allowed to read all of the case papers and had a couple of hours with the matter partner discussing the case. Both of these opportunities arose through me taking the initiative and putting myself out there.
Your experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in a law firm. Experience of life in a law firm is valuable, but demonstrating you have experience and understanding of the law in practice could be equally as impressive on your CV. Consider volunteering for the CAB or for a charity that offers legal advice, such as Shelter. Choose a service that lends itself to the area you wish to practise in and see if you can help out. It will demonstrate your dedication to the law, give you valuable experience in the area you wish to practise and should be able to fit around your studies.
There are also in-house departments in companies or in government legal teams. These are not typical targets to gain work experience, but in-house departments often do a huge range of legal work and may actually be able to involve you more closely than a large law firm. You may have less competition too – a well-worded letter to the head of legal at your local county council may have a better chance of being read than the same letter to the training director at Eversheds.
Pro bono work can be quite interesting and can also be a good opportunity to network. They are usually overseen by practising solicitors and may involve corresponding, negotiation or meeting with opposing solicitors. It will also give you something to talk about, especially if you achieve a big step forward or complete a key part of a case.
In my opinion, any legal experience is something that should be on your CV, and therefore, any opportunity to gain legal experience should be taken. I would advise any LPC student who needs to get work experience to try their hardest to secure some. If you are using ‘cold calling’ letters, do your research; make sure they are addressed to the right person (either the HR manager or the partner in charge of training/trainees) and tailor the letter to the firm – explain why you want to do work experience at that firm. Effectively treat it like a cover letter for a job, and enclose your CV. If you are told they don’t offer training contracts, say that is not a factor in wanting work experience (because it shouldn’t be at this stage!). If your request is rejected, speak to the signatory on your sorry letter and ask if they could put you in touch with someone who could help – a lot of firms have networks with other firms who might be able to offer experience.
Do not worry about missing a couple of lectures if you need to – your lecturers will understand (although I am not advocating missing an entire term (!) and of course, you will need to make the work up). After all, the whole point of the LPC is to prepare you for legal practice; you are much more likely to get there with some work experience behind you. Please d0 not underestimate the value of work experience, it could be both your ticket to a training contract with the firm you visit, but also your key to opening doors via your CV.