Legal work experience is vital to obtain before applying for any vacation schemes and mini-pupillages, it answers the age-old question of ‘how can you know you want a career in law, if you have no experience of what the job entails?’ I have included in this article seven key points to bear in mind when looking for legal work experience.
Use prior non-legal experience to your advantage
By having a spread of both legal and non-legal work experience, you can demonstrate that you have considered other avenues before deciding to embark on a career in law. This will show employers that you have made an informed decision and chosen law above any other career path. You should also draw on the skills that you have gained from your non-legal work experience and the ways in which you think that they will benefit you in a legal environment. These are often referred to as ‘soft skills’ or interpersonal skills and include communication and social abilities. Depending on your previous work experience, you may have developed hard skills such as the ability to manage a team effectively or prioritize workload into manageable chunks.
Keep grades at a 2:1 or above
With vast amounts of applications for vacation schemes and pupillages every year, being able to stand out for academic excellence is a must. Most law firms ask for a predicted grade or actual grades received so far with a module breakdown, and many expect you to have achieved – or be on track to achieve – a high 2:1. In fact, many won’t even consider your application with grades lower than a 2:1. If this makes you feel uneasy, or there are a few grades which you are not satisfied with, see if you can re-sit them to achieve better grades. If this is not possible, try to work harder for the next round of assessments so that you can have higher grades to put on the application forms.
Use friends and family as a starting point for networking
The best place to start is asking friends and families about the firms and barristers they have used or have connections with, as often legal work experience opportunities can be found by word of mouth. I speak for myself when I say that I have managed to obtain legal work experience with a barrister this way, so you may be surprised to learn that a friend’s uncle is a barrister at the Chambers you wished to apply to. There is no reason why you cannot ask for an introduction or an email address to get you started. You start by emailing and giving a short introduction about yourself and the sort of work experience that you wish to have and if they can accommodate for you and hope that the answer is yes!
Phone calls will be your new best friend
Law firms and chambers are already swamped with emails from clients and other professionals; the last thing you would want is your email to end up in the junk box of the recruitment team. There is a way to avoid this, and it is by picking up the phone and telephoning the relevant people. The best time that I have found to call recruitment teams is between 10am-11am and 2pm-4pm: any other time is considered peak time. By telephoning the company they have a voice to the person who would otherwise have been a name at the end of an email. It will also benefit you as you can ask questions that you need urgent answers to without significant delays. You will also be able to explain to them that you need legal work experience to help you gain an insight into a life as a lawyer and, most importantly, why they should give the work experience placement to you and not another candidate.
Always research where you are applying to
You do not want to be that person who applies for a work experience placement at a family law set when your application is tailored to a criminal law set. It will not only make you look unprofessional but also give you a bad reputation should you wish to apply to that set in the future. Make sure to research into any important cases that the firm/chambers have been a part of and also individual members of the firm/chambers who have made a significant impact on that given area of law.
Manners and Gratitude
Never forget basic manners. A ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can genuinely take you so far in your career as no-one wishes to take on a work experience student who cannot show the correct level of respect to senior members of the firm (or to their clients). Always remember to be courteous to all employees and members of staff at the firm, whether in person or via email. If you secure a legal work experience and a particular lawyer has gone above and beyond to help you, you must make sure to thank them, either in person or in writing. Be sure to also stay in touch with them, as should another work experience opportunity arise, they may decide to email you about it.
Showcase your strength but do not neglect your weaknesses If you have strong organization skills or a good work ethic, showcase this with detailed examples: as I was once told ‘you can’t just say what qualities you have without demonstrating them’. If you have a weakness, instead of concealing it, explain what it is and how this work experience placement will allow you to build on it. It could then turn one of your weaknesses into a strength. I hope that you have found these tips helpful and you are not discouraged from a career in law due to lack of legal experience. Getting your first legal experience can be the most difficult to obtain but afterwards you will have understood the process and how to succeed when seeking out new opportunities. Good luck!