updated on 04 May 2021
Legal work experience is hard to come by in normal circumstances, so trying to secure it during a global pandemic has not been easy for many aspiring lawyers across the UK.
If you’ve been accepted onto a firm’s vacation scheme or a chambers’ mini-pupillage programme, congratulations! If you’re still firing off applications with no luck, take a step back and read this guide which will offer you some clarity on what you should be including in your applications if you’re short on practical legal experience.
Do I need legal work experience to be accepted onto a firm’s vacation scheme?
Not all firms will require their future vacation schemers to have legal work experience for you to be accepted onto their scheme. While legal experience demonstrates your commitment to a legal career and provides a solid base to your application and interview, there are also a host of other important factors to include that will impress the firm and offer them a well-rounded picture of yourself. It’s time to start thinking outside the legal box you might have locked yourself in.
Non-legal work experience
I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘transferrable skills’ thrown around quite a bit, but being able to collate a list of such skills that you’ve developed from non-legal experiences is crucial to your success and will impress law firms who want to see where else you might have worked.
While not all firms are looking for evidence of legal work experience, they will be looking for evidence of core skills that make a good lawyer. These are skills that you are likely to have picked up over the years in part-time work (eg, retail, bar work or in a supermarket), during your studies and through involvement in extracurricular activities, and will include:
The best thing is that none of these skills are exclusive to legal work experience! Once you have identified the transferrable skills that are relevant to you, you can provide evidence from other experiences and jobs you have had. Remember, recruiters don’t want to just see a list of the skills, like above, they want you to be able to offer relevant examples of these skills in practice. Drill into what exactly you did and how you can use it to prove your aptitude in these key areas. LCN’s Feature “How to demonstrate the key skills for law in applications” offers examples on how to do this effectively using both legal and non-legal scenarios.
Getting involved in debating or mooting is also a great way to hone the skills required to become a successful lawyer. You should join your university’s student law society to find out what opportunities are available near you. Debating and mooting are not only great ways to develop your communication, teamwork, organisation and analytical skills, for example, but they will also offer you a chance to improve your advocacy skills and gain a better understanding of what it’s like to appear in court.
Other non-law-related extracurricular activities that will impress firms and provide talking points in applications and interviews include joining a sports team, book club or writing for your university’s local paper. Being able to show why you’re interested in a legal career as well as offering an image of yourself independent from your career aspirations – for example, what you’re interested in, the activities you do in your spare time and ultimately who you are aside from an aspiring lawyer – is crucial. Activities that are external to the profession are key to helping you do this in an authentic way.
You’re unlikely to be able to paint a picture of the real you just by listing all the legal experience you’ve had over the years, so take the non-legal experiences you do have and use them to your advantage. Don’t forget that law firms don’t want to recruit robots! They want real people, so use your personal interests and extracurricular activities to demonstrate who you are and let your personality shine through.
Again, whether this is legal (eg, Citizens Advice Bureau) or non-legal (eg, raising funds or volunteering for a charity), the skills developed from pro bono or charity work will be extremely valuable to law firms. When you are incorporating your volunteering into an application, think about why you chose to volunteer for the particular charity, what it means to you and the skills you can evidence – for example, if you organised a fundraising event or ran a marathon, what were the skills required to plan and successfully execute it?
Being able to pick out these skills is a skill in itself, so it is important that you spend some time reviewing your past experiences to identify the relevant and most valuable skills. You might also find that you have plenty of previous experiences that you had never even considered mentioning in legal applications, so keep track of everything you do that might be of value – it all helps you to become a well-rounded candidate and individual.
Legal work experience is not your most important selling point
Not all firms require you to have legal work experience. They want to see whether you have the right skill set and attitude for a career in law and at their firm. On top of this, many recruiters value evidence that you are independent and can work to sustain yourself above a couple of days of admin work in a law firm. It is important to note, however, that some (not all) firms recruit trainees solely from their vacation scheme, so bear this in mind when applying for training contracts later in your journey.
Ultimately, the skills required to become a lawyer can be developed through non-legal work experience and other extracurricular activities. Learning how to sell yourself and being able to speak articulately about the experience you do have is a much more effective approach than just hoping a list of legal work experience will speak for itself. There’s no need for you to have worked at multiple firms, if any, because at this stage firms are looking for evidence that you have the fundamental skills to become a lawyer – if you can showcase this in your applications and during your interview, it should stand you in good stead.