If you want to pursue legal jobs, you cannot underestimate the importance of legal work experience. Gaining appropriate work experience will not only give your CV a boost, but it will also give you a real idea of what the world of law is like, where your interests lie, and what you’d like to specialise in.
Whether you want to be a solicitor, barrister, or paralegal, and whether you’re at university or still at school, securing relevant work experience is essential from the moment you develop an interest in a legal career.
Despite its critical importance, many people are unsure how to get legal work experience. Here, we give an overview of the different types of legal work experience, as well as some insights into how they can help your law career prospects.
Vacation schemes are placements within law firms that are typically offered to undergraduates or postgraduates. They are designed to give a broad insight into the inner workings of a firm, as well as exposure to live cases and transactions. This will enhance your legal skills and knowledge considerably.
In all likelihood, you will be working with lawyers from every experience level – trainees right up to partners – which will give you an idea of what to expect in both the short and long term.
Most of these schemes last around a month and are typically open to students throughout the calendar year. If you’re seeking some summer legal work experience, vacation schemes are a good option. These opportunities are highly competitive, though, so submitting your application early gives you the best chance of attaining a place.
Finding the optimal legal and general work experience is partly about choosing an arrangement that suits your long-term plans. By researching the firm – looking at the work they do, their values, and recent cases they have handled – you can feel confident that what you are applying for will have lasting benefits.
A mini-pupillage is a one or two-week placement targeted at undergraduates who wish to become barristers. You will have the chance to shadow a barrister on a daily basis, seeing what they do in chambers and in court.
If you wish to become a barrister, a mini-pupillage is exactly the type of legal work experience that you should be seeking. It is highly recommended that you complete at least one mini-pupillage before you graduate.
As is the case with vacation schemes – and getting legal work experience more generally – mini-pupillages are competitive. Applying early will stand you in good stead.
Law firms routinely host open days to give students an insight into working at a law firm. Most are aimed at specific year groups – usually second or third-year students – and the event can involve anything from insightful talks to group activities, and even shadowing. Larger firms host several open day events throughout the year, but most take place in spring and summer.
Making the most of open days is essential, as it will not only benefit your understanding of how firms function, but if you impress the firm and stand out from the crowd, they might consider you for a future vacation scheme or internship.
Some larger firms occasionally run open days during which individuals can spend the day in a firm, giving you a more concentrated experience. These opportunities are less common than the collective open days, however.
Providing the opportunity for students to network with law firms, recruiters, chambers, and course providers, law fairs are an excellent opportunity for prospective legal professionals. Many of these events also offer career guidance talks, presentations, and even CV workshops.
There is usually something for everyone at these events. If you’re seeking information on legal secretary work experience, Legal Aid work experience, or any other specific form of work experience, such events are a good place to start. This is the type of environment where anyone can learn more about how to get legal work experience and develop their long-term prospects.
Law fairs take place at various universities nationwide and are usually open to all students. In some cases, universities could limit entry to their own student body.
If you want to see how the justice system functions and to witness lawyers in action, attending a court hearing is an excellent idea. You will gain valuable insights into the role of a barrister and how they advocate for their clients in court. Even if you do not want to pursue a career as a barrister, attending court is essential in demonstrating an interest in law.
The majority of hearings are open to the public and free to attend. You can find out which hearings are taking place on the website of your local County, Crown, or Magistrates’ Court.
In a court marshal role, you have the chance to shadow a judge to see how they go about their daily practices. This involves sitting in on cases, often on the judge’s bench. Judge marshalling compliments a mini-pupillage perfectly if you want to be a barrister, but it is still worthwhile for other legal professions. As with attending hearings, it gives you a good insight into the day-to-day operations of the justice system.
Formal marshalling schemes are regularly offered by Inns of Courts, so they are worth using as your first point of contact. Alternatively, you can contact your local County or Crown court to see if there are any marshalling vacancies available.
Virtual Work Experience
It is now possible to get legal virtual work experience. This type of legal work experience has rocketed in popularity throughout the pandemic, and it appears to be here to stay.
Such programmes give you the chance to complete real-life tasks and gain experience without geographical restrictions that would otherwise put you at a disadvantage. Due to the remote nature of these arrangements, it is much less competitive attaining virtual work experience – some programmes have no restrictions or entry requirements whatsoever.
Relevant Legal Jobs
Finding Junior Paralegal or Legal Secretary Jobs are both options worth considering. In both these roles, you would assist lawyers and partners with their workload. As such, these opportunities provide valuable work experience.
A Legal Secretary generally deals with the administrative side of things, while a Paralegal has more direct exposure to legal matters. Depending on the employer, the duties of a Legal Secretary and a Paralegal may fuse or overlap. If you’re unsure about which position best suits you, check out our Paralegal Job Description and Legal Secretary Job Description career guides for further information.
People are concerned about needing experience for these roles, but that is not a necessity. You can easily learn how to become a Paralegal with no experience and gain valuable experience.
You might also consider temping, which is an ideal way to get a feel for a particular firm or company. In general, though, these roles are less well paid. If you’re looking for legal work experience through temping, start with a legal staffing agency.
Volunteering in the legal sector allows you to develop your practical legal skills whilst performing a service that benefits the community. While getting paid work experience is nice, voluntary law work experience is highly valuable and more readily available.
Pro bono legal work experience is also a sensible choice since pro bono work is a common occurrence in the legal world. You can get this kind of work experience through charities, non-profit organisations, as well as Legal Aid offices and associations.
In some cases, law firms and other institutions offer internship programmes. As with voluntary work, they are usually unpaid. You will, however, get valuable experience on the job. The best way to find in house legal work experience through an internship is by contacting your law school or career service, or by researching opportunities online.
When thinking about how to gain legal work experience and knowledge, it is worth looking closer to home. You can bolster your skillset without working at professional organisations by using free and online resources.
Becoming a member of your university’s law society is an excellent way to boost your legal credentials. Societies typically offer students the opportunity to participate in networking events and fairs, mooting (mock trials), court visits, and other law-related activities.
As well as your university society, joining The Law Society will allow you to become part of a national support network of legal professionals. Throughout your undergraduate degree, you should always keep up to date with legal news and current affairs.
Many universities have mooting societies, where students gather and play out a mock trial, taking on the role of counsel before a judge. Mooting is great for developing research and presentation skills, as you do the same preparation as you would for a genuine case.
Debating is also an effective way to develop your presentation and advocacy skills if your university doesn’t offer mooting.
Volunteering at your Students’ Union and getting involved in student politics is an easy way to improve your time management and leadership skills.
Many law graduates choose to work in government, so you are enhancing your employability by gaining these transferable skills early on.
Written communication ability is a key skill in the legal field. If you are involved with any student newspapers or have a blog, it is relevant experience.
This kind of work is extra useful if the writing is related to the legal sector.
Having a part-time job alongside your studies demonstrates excellent time management skills. There are plenty of opportunities for part-time legal staff, such as legal assistants, contractors, file clerks, messengers, court fillers, and so on.
Though such roles are not particularly well paid, they will enhance your career prospects and employability.
Finding the Right Legal Work Experience Opportunities
With this guide, getting legal work experience placements should go more smoothly. Remember, the sooner you start searching for opportunities, the better. Both paid and unpaid legal work experience will drastically improve your long-term prospects.
For more career advice, check out the CV & Career Advice and Career Guides sections of the TotallyLegal blog.