updated on 12 September 2023
I’m a first-year student, how important is legal work experience and do you have any advice for securing some?
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“How can I get legal work experience in my first year?” is a question we’re very familiar with. Most formal work experience programmes, including vacation schemes and mini-pupillages, are aimed at second-year students and above. But of course, we’re also always advising first-year students that it’s never too early to get some experience and start your legal career research. So, what can you do to get your foot in the door?
Whether you’re after some experience to show you’re committed to a career in law or you just want to find out more about what it’s like to work in the profession, this article will outline some of the opportunities available to you.
First-year insight programmes
Over the past few years, the demand for first-year schemes has pushed firms to develop programmes aimed solely at first-year students.
These schemes have been designed to give first years insight into life in a particular law firm and practice area. The length of each scheme varies from firm to firm; some might be as long as a week, while others might last only a couple of days.
The structure and content of each scheme will vary, but it’s likely to include the below features:
For advice on networking, read LawCareers.Net’s guide!
Which firms offer first-year schemes?
With first-year schemes becoming increasingly popular, it’s worth doing some digging online to find out which firms are offering these programmes to first years. For inspiration, here are a few that we know about:
You can use LawCareers.Net’s Opportunities at law firms table to find events designed for first-year students. Many firms add details of their schemes to this table.
You can also find out how and when these schemes are running via firms’ websites.
Volunteering, pro bono or Clinical Legal Education
First-year students can seek out volunteering opportunities during their studies. Whether direct through your university’s law clinic or pro bono society, or external via a street law project or your local Citizens Advice, volunteering in a legal capacity is a great way to showcase your interest in the profession, as well as offering the chance to develop your skills, expand your network and help those who might otherwise be unable to access legal support.
Speak to your university’s law society, one of your professors or the careers service to find out what you can get involved with.
Take a look at LawCareers.Net’s list of pro bono initiatives for some further inspiration.
Work shadowing is another worthwhile avenue to consider. More often than not, the formal insight schemes are run by bigger, City firms. These City firms aren’t for everyone, plus it’s fairly competitive, even at this early stage, to secure a spot on these schemes.
So what about smaller, high-street firms? They might not always have formal schemes in place, but often these firms are open to inviting enthusiastic aspiring lawyers into the workplace to shadow one of their lawyers for a couple of days. Do your research into the firm, find the email address for the firm’s recruitment or HR team and drop them a courteous email to explain your current position.
If possible, try to find the name of the person you’re emailing and don’t use ‘Dear sirs’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ – this form of address has been dropped by many firms, including Withers LLP which has urged employees to use gender-neutral language instead. Where you can, it’s best practice to use the name of the person or firm.
You could also reach out to the in-house legal teams of companies to see whether they have the capacity to have you shadow a member of staff.
It’s not all about legal experience though, particularly at this stage. There are plenty of other types of experience you can draw off when it comes to making your applications, including:
All non-legal work experience can help you to develop those all-important key transferable skills (eg, teamwork, attention to detail and commercial awareness) that employers are looking for in their future lawyers – plus they’ll help you to become a more well-rounded person.
For more on how lawyers can succeed with little or no legal work experience, read this LCN Says.
Remember, the legal profession is highly competitive and it’s not always as easy to secure work experience as it might initially seem. Legal experience is also not the be-all and end-all as a first-year student. Take some time to enjoy yourself, focus on your studies and get involved in extracurricular activities – these are all elements that’ll contribute to your success as you begin making applications later down the line. We know firms want to see excellent grades, but they also want to see that you have interests that lie outside of law.