Legal work experience

How best to gain legal experience when you are a student

Gaining work experience is an important part of your journey to becoming a lawyer. Firstly, it shows you are proactive and committed to the field. Secondly, it is important to have first-hand experience of what it is like to work in legal practice or Chambers. This is not only for the benefit of your CV but also for you in terms of deciding whether law is in fact the right career for you. Firms like to see that you understand what life as a lawyer entails, and have therefore made an informed decision in pursuing the field (besides the prestige and pay-cheque!) Gaining experience also gives you a lot more to talk about on your applications and interviews.

So how do you go about obtaining work experience?

If you have written to multiple firms and received polite emails explaining the firm does not offer work experience, it can be disheartening. However,

Resilience is one of the qualities of a good lawyer and now is a great time to use it! If you are targeting specific firms or being selective, it is better to have experience in a high street practice or with a solo practitioner than none at all.

Another tactic is to just pick up the phone and ask to speak to the firm’s HR Department to introduce yourself and enquire about work placement opportunities (make sure you research the company first!). This may seem daunting but speaking to someone gives you the opportunity to build a rapport and make a good impression – something that an email, however well-written, cannot convey. If you can think of any genuine and useful questions to ask HR about their work experience scheme, this is even better.

Besides your traditional law firm, there are many companies that utilise in-house legal services. This tends to be seen in larger organisations but with some good research (another important lawyer skill) you can locate smaller practices that employ Counsel.

Think outside the box

Many practices are extremely busy and do not have the time or resources to offer work shadowing. Alternatively, if they do offer work experience, they are inundated with emails requesting the same from students. To stand out from the crowd, try thinking of ways you could benefit the firm. If you have previous experience in secretarial, reception or admin work – highlight this and mention that you are happy to actively support the firm wherever possible. Or perhaps you are a whiz at Excel and can navigate spreadsheets/databases to help compile and process information. It may seem like a brave move, but competition is fierce and it may just land you that all-important placement.

It is often overlooked that experience in a legal practice in any capacity is useful. Whilst shadowing a lawyer or working as a paralegal is of course ideal, working as a Legal Secretary, Admin Assistant or even in the IT department of a law firm is all good experience as it shows you understand how a law firm operates. In addition, if you make a good impression, there may be room for progression. You would be surprised how many Managing Partners started their legal life as a Secretary or even in the mail-room!

So be open, be proactive, be unique. And most importantly – don’t give up!

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