Now that we’ve discussed the importance of legal work experience, it is useful to note the benefits:
Vacation Schemes (sometimes referred to informally as ‘vac schemes’) are the most obvious form of legal work experience for aspiring solicitors. Offered by law firms, vacation schemes are often a direct route into securing a coveted training contract. They are targeted at recent graduates and vary in structure from firm to firm, but will often last between one to four weeks, are usually paid, take place at various intervals throughout the year (usually winter or summer – sometimes spring), and allow you to experience solicitor life in a handful of ‘seats’ (different practice areas). Alongside your work, you’re likely to attend presentations from the firm, and get to know other vac schemers on your cohort. Vacation schemes are notoriously hard to secure (especially at the top firms), so you’ll want to check out our top tips on how to improve your chances of obtaining one.
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While vacation schemes typically target students towards the end of their education (penultimate or final year of your degree, for example), the firms running them are often interested to meet aspiring lawyers in their first year too. For this reason, a number of top law firms run first year schemes. Some will even offer training contracts via these schemes – although for the majority, it’s just an incredibly useful way to build your CV a year early before the actual vacation scheme applications begin. Aspiring solicitors who have participated in a first year scheme are often more likely to get onto vacation schemes (especially at the same firm). While not every firm offers first year schemes, high-profile examples include A&O First and Clifford Chance’s Spark.See Vacation Scheme Deadlines
Much like first year schemes, open days are typically targeted at students earlier on in their degrees – although you can attend at any time. It’s important to note that the phrase ‘open day’ isn’t being used here in the same way it might have been when you were looking at universities, for example – law firm open days are usually selective, meaning you’ll have to send in a fairly competitive application. On the actual day (whether online or in-person), you’re likely to have some kind of hands-on activity as well as talks from the firm. These events look great on your CV, demonstrating both an interest in the firm/solicitor work as a whole, and a level of competence to be accepted in the first place.
These are a relatively new form of legal work experience that many firms have now started to roll out. They’re non-selective and can be done at any time in any place – meaning there’s really no reason not to at least try out a handful before you send off vacation scheme applications, for example. For the limited amount of effort required, these virtual internships can be very rewarding to have in your application arsenal. They will usually involve a few pages of miscellaneous legal tasks, and might take a few hours to complete. At the end, you are usually presented with a certificate which can be linked to your CV or LinkedIn. Most are offered by a provider named Forage, and can usually be found on the individual law firm website.
If you’re looking to demonstrate an interest in one particular firm that you have your eye on, then brand ambassador positions are an excellent starting point. They also develop your skills in preparation for applications to come. Often, these positions involve spreading the word about a particular firm on your university campus via social media, events, etc. The Lawyer Portal have teamed up with top law firm Bird & Bird to provide a brand ambassador role worth considering.
Law firm work experience opportunities for younger individuals (i.e. pre-university) are more limited. There are certainly fewer structured law work experience opportunities available. That being said, there is nothing to stop you from making some speculative applications to law firms at this stage. There may be opportunities to build your legal experience before university with Law summer schools.
Many firms offer undergraduate students the opportunity to spend a week or so in their firms to get a taste of what work in their offices may be like if they choose to pursue a career in law.
Watch our video with former legal intern, Wing, for more information:
If the Bar is of particular interest, work experience in a barrister’s chambers and/or in a courtroom setting will help to give you a flavour for a career as a barrister and whether it’s right for you. Law work experience opportunities are as follows:
Aspiring barristers often look to mini pupillages as preparation for later pupillage applications. Securing one looks excellent on your CV, and usually involves shadowing a barrister for a week or two – an exciting opportunity for anyone interested in this career path. It can also be a sure-fire way to demonstrate your interest in a particular chambers, as well as providing a great opportunity to network with insiders within this notoriously competitive profession.See Mini Pupillage Deadlines
Outside of the structured format of a formal mini pupillage, it is often possible to secure shadowing-based barrister work experience in other capacities too. Judge Marshalling, for example, allows you to shadow the work of a judge. This demonstrates your interest in the career path and again acts as an excellent networking opportunity.
Court visits are not technically work experience in and of themselves, but they are still great ‘experience’ in a general sense. Attending open court rooms at the Old Bailey, for example, might allow you to get a better understanding of how the legal system operates for the most serious crimes – perfect for someone developing an interest in criminal law, for example. They can also act as anecdotal ammunition for future interviews.
In-house legal departments will often offer legal work experience. This is a great opportunity to develop your CV, skills, network, and more – while these opportunities are often less structured than training contracts or mini pupillages (and offered on a more random basis), they can be incredibly useful. This is also an opportunity to gain the unique experience of being at the other end of legal processes (as opposed to being at a law firm itself) – an experience which law firms value highly. An IP/patents-focused law firm seeing you have in-house legal work experience at a pharmaceutical company, for example, are likely to be very impressed.
It is also possible to gain work experience via volunteering. Citizens Advice often list such opportunities, or they could also be found within a pro-bono service at your university. This provides the opportunity to gain hands-on legal responsibility in a way few other opportunities can offer, and thus looks very impressive on a CV (as well as the skills you’ll naturally develop).
Legal work experience is competitive across the board. As well as the more specific advice to be found on the pages already linked into this article, here are some of our general top tips:
In short, legal work experience can be an excellent way of demonstrating your tangible interest in a legal career (or sometimes even a direct route into it). There are a range of opportunities available that, while often competitive, are certainly worth trying your best to secure.
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