Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance has recently launched a trio of virtual internships: Cyber Security, Human Rights in a Business Transaction and Climate Change. You can enrol via the Inside Sherpa platform. The firm hopes that by undertaking these internships, prospective employees will get a feel for whether they are suited to commercial law.
US-headquartered commercial law firm White & Case LLP was the first US law firm to allow students to take part in a substantial legal work experience programme online. The programme, ran by the open-access platform InsideSherpa, provides an insight into life as a trainee solicitor at White & Case. Introducing the programme, Partner and Training Principal Inigo Esteve highlights that students who enrol on the virtual internship will experience work in various departments such as project finance, banking & finance and disputes.
International law firm Pinsent Masons champions its virtual work experience programme as a way to “try before you buy” a career in law. The programme allows students to help a hypothetical client of the firm throughout several different issues covering various practice areas. It is designed by Pinsent Masons’ lawyers to reflect the kind of work a trainee would carry out.
Magic Circle multi-national law firm Linklaters became the first UK law firm to offer a virtual internship in June 2019. As with White & Case, its virtual experience programme is run by InsideSherpa. The platform allows students from any background or degree type to undertake a series of modules aimed at replicating the work a trainee at Linklaters would carry out. Linklaters say that features of the virtual experience include receiving instructions from partners, leaving a virtual voicemail for a client and accessing resources to help with the tasks.
With several virtual work experience programmes, there is no need for an application. All you have to do is enrol on the programme at a time where you have the requisite free time to carry the tasks out meaningfully. A lot of work experience in law firms begin with a rigorous recruitment process with application, interviews and assessment days. This can be incredibly stressful for students and whilst virtual work experience is not designed to replace vacation schemes, for now, it will give you a real-life insight into life at a law firm and help you decide whether you want to begin the recruitment process for that particular firm or whether your interests lie elsewhere.
Whilst vacation schemes and work experience placements typically do not cost students any money to take part in, there may be other costs. For example, if the law firm you wish to gain experience from is headquartered in London, you may have to bear initial travel costs and even accommodation costs if you live very far away. It must be noted that these would only be “initial costs” as most law firms do reimburse expenses such as these for their vacation scheme students. Regardless, carrying out this form of work experience where there are no costs removes this extra burden at this early stage, particularly for students who are not sure what career path to take.
Another major benefit of virtual work experience, and something each firm is very clear about is the flexibility that carrying out your work experience online brings. White & Case LLP deems its virtual internship as “self-paced” with “no deadlines” allowing you to carry out your tasks to the best of your ability at a pace that suits you. Pinsent Masons even recommends that the tasks be spread out over a couple of days, although each task does have a recommended time attached to it. The benefit of flexibility is certainly less stress, and whilst in-person vacation schemes also want to help you work at a comfortable pace the fact you are in a law firm surrounded by busy lawyers often adds extra pressure. Work experience from your home removes this from the equation.
In addition, often in-person placements run during certain weeks in the winter, spring or summer cycles, whereas virtual experience allows you to chose to enrol at a time that best suits you and your commitments.
A really important benefit of a virtual work experience at a specific firm is that it’s a great way to show an initial interest or passion for the firm and the work that firm does. White & Case LLP, for example, highlights that it does recognise the virtual work experience programme on applications.
On the other hand, if the virtual experience helps you realise that law is not for you, that one particular practice area is not for you or that a certain firm is not for you then all is not lost. These schemes are designed by legal professionals to replicate real-life work that a trainee solicitor may carry out. Therefore, you will go away after completion having gained a multitude of transferable legal and interpersonal skills which will look good on any application or CV.
Linklaters champions this aspect of virtual experience; however, this doesn’t necessarily apply to all virtual work experience programmes. Currently, in the legal industry, there is a lot of discussion and work going into making the legal profession more accessible to all areas of the population. With no application process, no cost and no pre-requisites, online experience programmes allow anyone from any background, any university, any degree discipline and any walk of life to experience life at a law firm without barriers.
Words: Alicia Gibson
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