Applying for legal work experience can be very daunting. If you are a non-law student, you probably feel like securing legal work experience is impossible. You may think all opportunities are reserved for those with an LLB.
This article provides you with the insights of five non-law students on how they secured law work experience. It will hopefully debunk the myths and inspire you to start applying now.
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“I got my first week of work experience in a law firm because I sent out CVs and cover letters to pretty much all of the law firms in York. I then made follow-up phone calls.
It took me about a week, and almost all of them just ignored me. One sent a very fancy calligraphy-on-expensive-paper rejection.
Then finally, Lupton Fawcett Denison Till was kind enough to take me on. And I’m so grateful that they did because it was a brilliant week. It really helped me to figure out what sort of law I was interested in, and where I might like to do it.
I also went to a number of open days, law fairs and workshops run by different firms. It’s easy to overlook the importance of these events, and it can be off-putting if you have to travel far. But it is so important to go to firm events.
Firstly, they give you the opportunity to ask questions that help you fill in the application form. I used to talk to trainees about what they were working on, and then describe in my application why I found that work interesting and why I’d like to do it.
It also helps your application stand out if you’re using information about the firm that isn’t on Google.
Secondly, firm events are a chance for you to make a great first impression on the graduate recruiters. If you stand out (in a positive way) at a firm event, you massively improve your chances of getting invited to an interview.
Volunteering is also a good way to build up your work experience. For two days a week I helped out at the Witness Support Service in the Belfast Crown and Magistrates court.
This is something I can really recommend. It was a great opportunity to work alongside barristers and the police, and you play an important part in helping the criminal justice system to run smoothly.
While I always planned on working in the commercial sector, volunteering at witness support meant that this decision was an informed one. I had found out about the alternatives (both being a barrister and a criminal solicitor) and concluded that I definitely wanted to work in a commercial law firm.
I think it is really important to try out different areas of law. Not only does it help to develop transferable skills, but it also makes it easier to answer the ‘why commercial law’ question.”
2. George Christodoulides – Philosophy, King’s College London
George is a future trainee at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and a Philosophy student at KCL.
“Most of my legal work-experience has come in the form of vacation schemes: before securing my training contract by way of winter vacation scheme, I completed three summer vacation schemes after my second year at university.
If you’ve gotten this far in the article, then I’m positive you’ve read articles on how to secure vacation schemes. Research and assessment centre preparation, along with extracurriculars and self-awareness for what you want in a legal career and what your strengths are, is crucially important. Therefore, I’ll focus on information particularly relevant to me for achieving legal experience.
Firstly, I’d stress the importance of non-legal experience. Prior to securing any vacation scheme experience, I worked a summer job where I had the responsibility of touring young international students across London and teaching them English.
Furthermore, I also worked part-time in a restaurant in order to fund my living expenses and rent (London is an expensive city!). These positions gave me a wealth of skills and experiences to talk about in interviews with law firms, and they were positions that I worked hard to get and succeed in.
I’d argue that work experience like this shows more character over work experience that is gained by use of a contact. Getting work experience like this shows recruiters that you’re not afraid of hard work and is a crucial first step to securing legal work experience.
Secondly, recognise where you are in your legal development – if you are a second-year non-law student, you are very early in the game. So, I’d stress this – don’t be afraid to write as many applications as you’d like. Doing this will greatly help you discover what kind of firm is suitable for you.
Furthermore, any rejection will help to build your character and determination and will help to improve your applications. This will help you grow from mistakes, to where you could successfully reapply in the subsequent application window!
I also advise that you should apply to a whole breadth of law firms. My three vacation schemes ranged from a Silver Circle firm, to two regional firms. Experiencing different firms will expose you to entirely different cultures, different cities, and will give you varying types of work and different workload responsibilities.
This will greatly help you give examples of legal experience in any training contract interviews and will genuinely allow you to recognise which firm you should apply to.
For instance, my vacation scheme experience made me realise I wanted a career in a firm which handled international and complex work. My experiences in multiple divergent practice areas also helped me pinpoint which firms will best satisfy my legal interests.
Finally, especially for non-law students, recognise the particular strengths and abilities your degree gives you! My philosophy degree gave me analytical skills; all of my time cross-referencing through papers and books ensured that I was able to quickly adjust to assessing legal passages.
Philosophy also gave me the ability to conceptualise information; my three-years of analysing difficult and abstract theories came in useful in vacation schemes where I often had to conceptualise information (such as analysing how tax law applies to abstract revenue flows between businesses).
It is so important to reflect and hone in on these skills; they will be invaluable to you.”
3. Justin Farrance – Management, University of Warwick
Justin Farrance is a future trainee solicitor at Allen & Overy and the first non-law student in the UK to take up the position as president of a university Law Society.
“While at university, I joined my university law society and progressed to become president.
What helped me secure work experiences places was incrementally gaining experience by learning from others, attending talks at my university which helped me gain places on open days and international insight schemes and use those experiences to then secure vacation schemes, which all contributed towards securing training contract offers.
Here’s three ways that helped me secure legal work placements:
1. Law Society Involvement – Your student law society can be a great place to assist you in securing work experience.
As a non-law student, most law societies run tailored events to help non- law students gain experience. A lot of societies have direct contact with a wide variety of firms and chambers, which can be a useful way of supplementing your research for application forms.
If your student law society doesn’t have a non-law officer or events dedicated to non-law students, speak to the society president about establishing a dedicated area within the society.
2. Explore multiple career paths – To make the most informed decision, I attended a number of events and opportunities in investment banks, asset management and consulting.
These experiences reinforced my interest in commercial firms and allowed me to evidence on forms and in interviews why, as a non-law student, I wished to pursue a career in law over other explored career paths.
3. Open days and general work experience – As a non-law student, it is particularly important to demonstrate motivation and commitment to the legal profession.
As a starting point, your careers service can be a great place to attend talks and presentations.
I would also encourage you to apply for and attend firms’ open days before applying for a vacation scheme, or directly for a training contract. Open days or first-year schemes were an ideal way for me to learn more about a firm and the legal profession, as well as hear about current challenges and trends from legal experts within firms.
All work experience is relevant to your application. Having a hobby or part-time job is also a good way of demonstrating transferable skills. Regardless of how diverse your interests may be, firms enjoy hearing that you have interests outside of studying and that you utilise your time well.”
Antonio is a current GDL student and did his degree in Politics at Aston University.
“As a politics student at Aston University, we were encouraged to take a placement year. At this point, I knew I was interested in law however I had little experience.
I would encourage everyone to not be disheartened when looking for work experience especially when you are a non-law student, with perseverance you will find some. I believed a placement year would be a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the legal profession.
I knew I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and decided to live and work abroad. It took persistent rejection emails and numerous Skype interviews spread out over seven months before Dacheng Law Offices agreed to take me on.
Shortly after this, the firm merged with Dentons to create the world’s largest law firm.
This was an incredible experience working as a foreigner in Beijing learning about a profession I was unfamiliar with. I learned about the fast paced nature of an international law firm and was exposed to new areas I had little knowledge of such as mergers and acquisitions.
What I really grasped was the team effort needed to achieve the most difficult demands. If you have the opportunity to take a placement year take it! I am so grateful for the lessons I was able to learn because of it.
The portals I used to find opportunities in Beijing were the British Council, www.ihipo.com and Recruit.net. They are all credible international job search engines, which I found equally helpful in finding legal work experience.
As someone from a minority group that is under represented, organisations such as the Black Lawyers Directory and the Black Solicitors Network have been crucial to providing access to under represented groups in the legal field.
Through BLD, I have been fortunate to gain valuable career insight and tailored sessions such as a mergers and acquisition simulation session held at Baker McKenzie.
Additionally, it was a CV clinic with BSN at BPP University that led me to gaining work experience with Brabners in their Manchester office. This was a great opportunity especially as I was able to learn about private client and family law. These were two alternatives I had never properly considered, as well as corporate whilst being accompanied by wonderful mentors.
I think its important to have a proactive can-do approach to every event you attend as you just don’t know what can happen or who you will meet.”
Claudia is a future trainee at Herbert Smith Freehills and did her undergraduate degree in Modern Languages at UCL.
“When I was 14 and again at 16, my school had enforced ‘work experience weeks’, during which my entire year group was required to find and complete a week’s placement in a work environment. I lived in a fairly rural town, so I sent out my CV and cover letter (written with the help of my dad!) to all of the surrounding high-street law firms.
It was a pretty rigorous process and around 80% of the law firms never replied. However, I did receive one acceptance and – ultimately – you only need one acceptance to kick-start your legal career!
I really enjoyed the initial week of shadowing solicitors, so I again applied to law firms at 16, though this time I wanted to aim a little higher and decided to set my sights on London. I must have easily submitted 100+ applications with only one reply from family law firm Vardags, who even offered to pay me for the week.
My two pieces of advice for applying for informal work experience is:
Volume, at the early stages of your career.
That said, the process changes somewhat when you start applying to formal open days or vacation schemes. Rather than focusing on quantity, it becomes essential to focus on quality.
I would really recommend attending as many open days/on-campus events as possible in order to work out what firms you think you are the best fit for and to gain crucial information for applying to vacation schemes/training contracts.
When applying to open days, make sure you research the firm in order to avoid generic answers to the questions. It is also really important to make sure someone proofreads your application as potentially all that lies between you and that open day is a couple of grammatical mistakes!
I’d really recommend that you have a think about what you want from a firm and then apply accordingly: if you can convince yourself you are the right fit for somewhere it’s a lot easier to convince the firm.
It’s also crucial to remember to really tailor your vacation scheme applications: I would suggest spending a minimum of twelve hours researching the firm, followed by a couple of days writing up the application.
Also, take every single opportunity to talk about the firm in the application: even if the work experience section asks you to detail your role, link that back to how it will help you as a trainee and how it will help you specifically match that firm.
Finally, I would say don’t panic and don’t compare yourself to others! If you aren’t gaining firsts in all of your modules, take on some volunteering or extra work experience to bolster your application. If you are getting a large number of rejections, take a step back and read through your applications to assess what it is that you’re doing wrong.
At the end of the day, application skills can be learned, and I’d highly recommend checking out Rosie’s blog or some of The Lawyer Portal’s blog posts to find out how.
I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but each rejection is pushing you one step closer to the firm you’re destined to work for.”
And there you have it. Five non-law students on how they secured law work experience. They each offer a unique insight and have hopefully inspired you to go out and start applying too.
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