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How to look for work experience as a first-year/non-law student

How to look for work experience as a first-year/non-law student

Syndy Liew


Reading time: four minutes

Work experience (legal or non-legal) is always valuable for me to gain transferable skills or deeper insights into a particular interest. As a first-year student, I enjoy seeing how the work I'm doing could have an impact in the real world. 

There might be a misconception that first-year students have limited opportunities to gain work experience due to their lack of technical knowledge or experience. In contrast, a lack of experience will generally not be a barrier for first years to gain work experience. In this post, I will share what type of work experience is available for first years (and also non-law students). I hope this is helpful for you to gain some experience during the summer holidays! 

Volunteering experience

During my gap year, I volunteered for a few youth organisations that create a platform for social action such as providing free tutoring or advocating for climate awareness among youths. I currrently volunteer as a PR team member for a youth organisation advocating for women's representation within the political sphere. I discovered these organisations on social media when I was looking to educate myself on current affairs.

If you have a particular interest in areas such as women's empowerment or human rights issues, volunteering for these organisations is one of the best ways to build a comprehensive understanding of current issues. Sometimes you could also get the opportunity to speak to leaders in those fields. For instance, by volunteering for a climate youth organisation, I had the opportunity to work behind the scenes for delegates at the COP26.

Though my volunteering experiences are typically non-law related, the experience is still valuable when it comes to applying to first-year schemes or vacation schemes as I can demonstrate that I'm proactive in involving myself in opportunities to further my interests. Furthermore, I could also use my experience at COP26 to show my environmental, social and governance (ESG) interests and link this to law firms' ESG commitments.

Find out about ESG and the finance market with this Commercial Question by Weil, Gotshal & Mangesl (London) LLP.

Speculative application

If you'd like to get some work experience (legal or non-legal) over the summer, you could send out speculative applications to your local law firms or start-ups. This involves sending them your CV and cover letter to see if they have any suitable role for you, despite not having advertised as so. 

I spoke to one of the future trainee solicitors from Clifford Chance who explained how she emailed a few of the legal start-ups who are part of the Allen & Overy LLP Fuse cohort and successfully secured two summer internships this way. She didn't have any work experience at that point. This shows that a lack of experience would not disadvantage you significantly as long as you demonstrate the motivation and willingness to work for the firm or company. 

Apply for work experience through organisations

Some organisations offer work experience or mentoring schemes. For instance, Aspiring Solicitors often offers virtual/in-person legal work experience schemes or mentoring schemes to university students during the summer holidays. SEO London and City Solicitors Horizons also offer similar work experience programmes.

LawCareers.Net runs a range of events and webinars to help you learn about particular practice areas in addition to providing networking opportunities with law firms. For example, LawCareersNetLIVE allows students the chance to find out what it's really like to work as a commercial solicitor at a top law firm. Applications are open now.

I always make sure I sign up for relevant newsletters so I receive news of these events and programmes as soon as these opportunities open up. 

Virtual work experience

Various law firms such as Clifford Chance, Linklaters LLP and Jones Day offer virtual internships through the website Forage. These are self-paced and range from two to 12 hours to complete, so you're free to take a break whenever you like. I found these useful to gain a deeper insight into the type of work that particular law firms focused on. For instance, by working through an M&A deal, it might also be helpful for you to prepare for case studies during the assessment centre. 

One potential downside is that since these programmes are self-paced, you need the discipline to complete the internships. However, I don't think this would be a problem if you're truly interested in learning about a particular practice area. 

What to do if you haven't gained work experience over the summer

I do want to note that there shouldn't be any pressure to undertake work experience over the summer. You should definitely take the time to get some well-deserved rest and have a break away from law-related work. However, if you do want to learn more about the commercial world, the summer holidays are a good time to do further research about particular news that you might be interested in or law firms that you are interested in applying to. 

I hope that this post has been helpful in some way and that you enjoy your holidays!