Legal Work Experience
If you want to pursue a career in law, gaining appropriate work experience is highly important. It 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.
In this article, we give an overview of the different types of legal work experience and how they can help your law career prospects.
Vacation schemes are placements within law firms which are typically offered to undergraduates or postgraduates. They are designed to give in a broad insight into the inner workings of a firm, as well as exposure to live cases and transactions which will enhance your legal skills and knowledge.
You will be likely working with lawyers at all levels – from trainees 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 in summer, spring or winter. They are highly competitive however, so it’s important to apply early to ensure that you have the best chances.
Make sure to do plenty of research into the firm, what kind of work they do, their values and recent cases they have handled. This will help you choose a scheme suited to you and will help you in the long term when you go for the interview.
A mini-pupillage is usually a one or two week placement targeted at undergraduates who wish to become barristers. You will get the opportunity to shadow a barrister on a daily basis and see what they do in chambers and in court.
If you want to become a barrister, it is recommended that you should complete at least one mini-pupillage before you graduate. As with vacation schemes, they are highly competitive so you should apply as early in advance as possible.
Law firms host open days to give students an insight into working at a law firm. Most are aimed at specific year groups (second or third year) and the event can involve anything from talks to group activities and shadowing. Larger firms host several open events throughout the year, but the majority take place in spring and summer.
Making the most of open days is essential as it will not only benefit you, but if you impress firms and stand out, they may consider you for a future vacation scheme or internship.
Some larger firms occasionally run open days whereby individuals can spend the day in a firm, giving you a more concentrated experience. However, these opportunities are offered less frequently than the collective open days.
Law fairs are great for prospective legal professionals, as they provide the opportunity for students to network with law firms, recruiters, chambers and course providers as well as their fellow peers. Many of these events also offer career guidance talks and presentations and even CV workshops.
Law fairs take place at numerous universities nationwide and are usually open to all students. Occasionally however, universities may limit entry to their own student body.
Attending a court hearing is an excellent way to witness lawyers in action and see how the justice system functions. You will get a valuable insight 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 are 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, which 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 worth doing for another legal profession. 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 call. Alternatively, you can contact your local County or Crown court to see if there are any marshalling vacancies there.
Relevant Legal Jobs
Getting work experience in a Legal Secretary or a junior Paralegal role is great if you want a career in law. Both assist lawyers and partners with their workload, however Legal Secretaries generally deal more with the administrative side of things, whilst Paralegals have more direct exposure to legal matters.
Depending on the employer, duties of a Legal Secretary and a Paralegal may fuse or overlap, but if you’re unsure which position you’d be more suited to, check out our Paralegal and Legal Secretary career guides to gain a better understanding of the roles.
[If you’re new to the world of legal work, check out our article on how to become a Paralegal with no experience.]
Temping is an ideal way to get a feel for a particular firm or company, however these roles are typically less well paid. If you are interested in temping, the best way to go about it is through a legal staffing agency, who will assign you to relevant short term placements.
Volunteering in the legal sector allows you to develop your practical legal skills whilst performing a service which benefits the community. Pro bono work is a common form of law work experience, offered by charities and non-profit organisations, legal aid offices and associations. They always require volunteers, so contacting your local organisations is a good place to start.
Although the work is unpaid, it is valuable experience and you will be kept busy, as well as feeling like you are really making a difference in your area.
Some law firms and other institutions offer internship programmes. As with voluntary work, they are typically unpaid, but you are gaining valuable experience on the job. The best way to find an internship is by contacting your law school or career service or researching online.
Extra Curricular Activities
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 – whereby students gather and play out a mock trial, taking on the role of counsel before a judge. Mooting is excellent for developing research and presentation skills – you do the same preparation as you would for a normal case.
Debating is also a great 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 prospects by gaining these transferable skills.
Writing / Journalism
Written communication skills are highly important in the legal field. If you are involved with any student newspapers or have a blog, this is all great experience (extra points if they’re related to the legal sector).
Part Time Jobs
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 and court filers. These jobs aren’t necessarily the highest paid, but they will certainly enhance your prospects.
We hope you’ve found this legal work experience guide helpful. Remember that the sooner that you start searching for opportunities the better, and don’t be put off by unpaid experience as this is just as valuable!