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I didn’t get onto a vacation scheme – what are my work experience options?

updated on 22 June 2021

Dear Oracle

I applied for places on a few summer vacation schemes but was unfortunately unsuccessful. What kinds of alternative work experiences can I pursue to boost my CV and future applications?

The Oracle replies

Remember that all work experience is evidence of valuable transferable skills – it doesn’t just have to be legal work experience. Make sure that you include all your experiences in your CV and applications, as roles such as waiting tables and retail can also demonstrate great qualities that recruiters look for, such as the ability to deal with clients face-to-face and work in a team.

However, some legal work experience is important, both for impressing recruiters and helping to really work out the right kind of role and working environment for you. Why not try contacting some of the high street firms in your area to ask if you can shadow one of their lawyers for a couple of days? You may not be attending meetings with clients alone, but you will experience the work, culture and environment of life as a solicitor. You should also investigate pro bono opportunities – many law departments and student law societies have relationships with pro bono initiatives, so this could be a good place to start. You could also consider volunteering at an organisation such as Citizens Advice Bureau – all of these will improve your credentials and give you a better chance of success when applying for future vacation schemes or training contracts.

We also asked a former graduate recruiter and careers adviser for her thoughts. Our recruiter says: “In my opinion there are three types of work experience which can boost your CV and future applications. The first is gaining work experience relating to a law firm’s specialist sectors. For example, if you are interested in applying to a commercial law firm and its sector specialisms include retail or telecommunications, completing work experience in retail or telecommunication organisations’ in-house legal departments can give you exposure to the challenges and strategic plans of the firm’s key clients. This is invaluable experience and will make you stand out.

“The second type is gaining work experience in firms with similar practice areas, for example high street, regional firms or firms in other international jurisdictions.

“The third type is gaining work experience in organisations which can improve your skill set. For example, volunteering at a citizen advice bureau or legal advice centre will improve your research, drafting, client handling and communication skills. Alternatively, working in industry in non-legal roles such as customer service will improve your commercial acumen, team working and time management skills.

“Finally, open days are a very good way to demonstrate your interest in a firm and find out what they are looking for in their future trainees. A word of advice – complete your application for an open day as if you were submitting your application for a training contract. Open days are an opportune way for law firms to identify top talent. Impress at these events and this could boost your chances of making it past the first round of screening!"