On almost every job or internship application form – legal or otherwise – there will be a section detailing any past experience you may have. This is frequently a tricky section for students to complete. How are we meant to gain experience when the role we are applying for is experience but requires prior experience to secure it?
I have detailed in another post tips on gaining legal work experience. But, especially due to covid-19, in-person legal work experience can be hard to come by. However, this does not mean that you will have to leave the ‘past experience’ box blank on future legal applications. This is because there is a tremendous value in having a wide range of non-law related experiences. You may think that such experiences are irrelevant in your legal applications, but you will have gained many transferable skills through these experiences which can be applied to a legal career. Obviously, it is not enough to simply state these other experiences and expect legal employers to instantly see the value of them relevant to the legal role you are applying for. The important part to remember when discussing such experiences is to draw out the specific skills you gained through doing them and explain why these skills are also applicable in a legal setting.
It is perhaps easier to explain this art of drawing out transferable skills from your non-legal experiences using examples. Here’s a couple of my experiences, and the skills I gained from them, to get you started.
Experience: joining the debating society at my university.
Skills: public speaking, ability to summarise and repurpose information, see arguments from various perspectives, and also an ability to work well under pressure.
Experience: volunteering at a homeless charity.
Skills: communicating with a wide range of people, multi-tasking and stamina.
Both of these experiences may sound removed from a legal career. But by extracting the skills I developed through them, I could highlight to law firms the attributes which will (hopefully) make me a good lawyer. I could then take those skills and explain how I would use or further develop them through the role I was applying for. In applying these experiences in this way, I was allowing the firms to better visualise me in the role despite my relative lack of legal experience.
One final aspect to note is this: remember that law firms are increasingly realistic about their expectations of past legal work experience. Nowadays, applications ask about ‘relevant’ past experience, instead of previous legal work experience. This means that they are expecting you to have minimal, if any, legal work experience to discuss. Using the technique I have discussed above, you can use any past experience – from being part of a sports team to joining societies at university – to your advantage in applications. Good luck!