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Training contract and vacation scheme applications: three ways non-law students can stand out

updated on 16 January 2024

Reading time: four minutes 

Non-law students often worry that somehow their non-law degree is holding them back from a successful career in law. This is absolutely not the case.

Your non-law degree provides unique knowledge and interactions that a traditional legal pathway may not offer. Being a lawyer isn’t solely about understanding the law, it’s also about commercial awareness and truly understanding your clients’ needs – it’s these skills that’ll make you a valuable asset to any firm.  

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “Your degree is just a piece of paper, your education is seen in your behaviour, attitude and character.” 

So next time self-doubt creeps in, remind yourself of these three reasons you stand out as a non-law student. 

1. You already have a specialist area of commercial awareness 

Commercial awareness is one of the core skills law firms look for in prospective candidates. Being commercially aware means understanding the environment in which law firms and their clients operate. By completing a degree in a non-law subject, you already have a specialist area. Let’s say you study neuroscience – through your degree, you might’ve gained a unique insight and understanding into the technological and ethical advances within this scientific field and can therefore offer an original point of view not only within the corporate world, but also on client issues.  

Perhaps you study politics, which might mean that you can critically analyse topical events, such as the cost-of-living crisis and can assess how government actions impact the legal market. These skills and knowledge make you a valuable asset to any firm. If you’re a business student, it’s likely that you’ve already learnt about the fundamentals of investment and growth; and firms will recognise this skill.  

The point is you have a breadth of knowledge that you can draw upon. Law firms are commercial enterprises, and your non-law degree could act as the key to driving their business forward.

If you’re not feeling confident in using your commercial awareness just yet, check out our Commercial awareness hub and read the latest article in our Wrestle with PESTLE series

2. You’re passionate about the law 

Law firms appreciate that for non-law students, or anyone for that matter, beginning a career in law isn’t easy, and therefore requires consideration, dedication and planning. Unlike law students a career in law isn’t the logical next step; it’s a challenge and a commitment and this switch is admirable within itself. If you can demonstrate to law firms the reasons and motivations behind your decision to pursue a legal career, you have every chance of excelling in the profession.  

There’s also a bravery in taking the less likely path after your degree. You haven’t settled into a role you’re not passionate about. Instead, you’ve deliberately strayed from what may have been an obvious next step to pursue something you’re truly motivated by. If you can show that law is the industry you want to commit to, firms will acknowledge and welcome your unique selling points as a non-law student. So, join your university law society, start listening to a legal podcast, and register for a free LawCareers.Net account to keep on top of all your applications, hear about firm open days and presentations, and lots more!  

Find out which firms are hosting open days in 2024

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3. You have unique transferable skills (more than you may think) 

One concern many non-law students have is how a lack of legal work-experience may impact their vacation scheme and training contract applications.  

Firms aren’t just looking for candidates who understand the law and can demonstrate commercial awareness, there are a whole range of skills required to be a successful solicitor. In fact, the transferable skills you can bring from your non-law background are exactly what legal recruiters are looking for.  

It’s important that aspiring lawyers know that being a lawyer isn’t purely about understanding the law. Work experience of any kind will be instrumental in shaping your legal career – for instance, experience in retail or the hospitality industry will train you in the art of customer service, which will assist you in future client interactions. For example, if you’ve previously worked in a restaurant and regularly had to manage multiple tables at once while dealing with any complaints, you’ll have had to build up your resilience and communication skills, which are invaluable skills for anyone entering the legal profession.  

Bilingual applicants are also attractive candidates to firms because being able to speak fluently to international clients enables firms to ensure smooth communications.  

Ultimately, the most important part of preparing for application season is knowing how to sell yourself and showcase your skills from the various experiences you’ve had. You can still secure a spot on a firm’s vacation scheme without having had any previous legal experience, but you’ll need to give the firm good reasons to believe you’re in it for the long game.  

In short, you likely have the fundamental skills needed to become a lawyer, so you must focus on showcasing them by confidently talking about the experiences you’ve had, what you’ve learnt from them and sharing any evidence of the skills you outline.  

Read ‘How aspiring lawyers can succeed with no legal work experience’ for more advice on selling yourself in applications.  

Good luck! 

For more guidance on succeeding in law for non-law students check out our Non-law hub

Niamh Gray (they/them) is a content and engagement coordinator at LawCareersNet