Back to overview

The Oracle

How can I get work experience in my first year of university?

updated on 17 May 2022

Dear Oracle

I’m a first-year student, how important is legal work experience and do you have any advice for securing some?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: five minutes

“How can I get legal work experience in my first year?” is a question we are 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 are 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.

Legal experience

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 is likely to include the below features:

  • Shadowing a member of staff, perhaps a trainee, is quite a common feature of these schemes.
  • You will receive lots of useful information about the firm and will likely have a tour of the firm’s office.
  • There are often presentations on various practice areas to introduce you to the type of work the firm might get involved with.
  • There will likely be networking opportunities too. These might be quite daunting for first-year students but are a great chance to start growing your network at this early stage of your career.

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:

  • Clifford Chance SPARK is open to “exceptional first-year law students”. The scheme lasts five days and is a paid opportunity with the magic circle firm.
  • Hogan Lovells has several programmes designed specifically for first-year students. The firm runs two summer insight schemes, which involve legal case studies, interactive workshops, presentations and networking opportunities.
  • White & Case LLP also runs first-year insight schemes, with students able to learn about the firm, shadow a trainee, attend networking events, and more.

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.

Shadowing

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 are not for everyone, plus it is 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 avoid using ‘Dear sirs’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ – this form of address has been dropped by many firms, including Withers LLP which has recently 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.

Non-legal experience

It’s not all about legal experience though, particularly at this stage. There are plenty of other types of experience that you can draw off when it comes to making your applications, including:

  • working in retail;
  • working in a restaurant;
  • charity work;
  • working in a supermarket;
  • joining a society at university (debating, football, law); and
  • working in an area that involves the types of client you’d like to work with as a lawyer (eg, banking).

All of these types of non-legal work experience can help you to develop those all-important key 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.

You’ve got this

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 extra curriculars – these are all elements that will 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.

Good luck!