Legal & Non legal Work Experience

As competition at the bar becomes fiercer year after year work placements are becoming increasingly more important in order to secure work after graduation. By carrying out some form of legal related work experience during your time at university, you can gain valuable skills which will set you apart from the competition. Pupillage and training contract providers are more likely to be impressed by applicants who have made the effort to spend time in the workplace to develop their knowledge and experience.
This article aims to provide you with basic information about opportunities and organisations that regularly recruit volunteers. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about work placements which I hope will provide general advice and guidance.

Q. Where can I carry out relevant legal work experience?
A. There are lots of organisations which offer work placements, such as law firms, barristers’ chambers (known as mini pupillages) and many voluntary organisations. However types and structure’s of these placements vary hugely and you will have to research these organisations before making an application.

Q. How do I apply for work experience at a law firm?
A. Each firm is different and size of the firm will dictate the type of approach needed. E.g. large commercial firms offer ‘vacation schemes’ during Easter or the summer holidays while smaller firms are likely to deal with applications on an individual basis.

Vacation schemes?
Competition for these schemes is fierce and each firm will set its own criteria and deadline for applications. For summer placements, you will have to submit your application between December and March. Applications are usually done online.

However you must thoroughly research each firm as there may be certain pre requisites to apply for the vacation schemes. E.g. ‘Applicant must be in second year of study’.

Smaller firms often only require a CV and covering letter. However you must tailor each CV and covering letter to each firm your applying to. So you must find out as much as you can about the firm you are applying to, and it never hurts to find out the name of the person responsible for work experience.

Q. How do I apply for a mini pupillage?
A. Mini pupillages are work placements within barristers’ chambers and usually last for one week. They are an opportunity to find out more about the life of a barrister and the type of work they get involved in. They can also give you an insight into any areas of law you might want to practice in.
Again you will need to do research on each chamber and its specialist areas as well as the procedure for applying for a mini pupillage.

From my experience a covering letter stating why you would like to visit that chamber all that’s often required. Again target your applications to each chamber’s individually and seek advice.

Q.Should I try to do work experience in a law firm and do a mini pupillage?
A. I firmly suggest doing both, especially if you are undecided whether you want to train to be a solicitor or a barrister, as having experience in both areas can help you make your final decision. Even if you’ve got your heart set on being a barrister carrying out work experience in a solicitor’s office will show that your decision to join the bar is well thought out and based on experience.

Q. What if I can’t get work experience in a law firm or a mini pupillage?
A. In reality, if you are determined this is the route you want to take, and not easily deterred by rejection there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to gain work experience in at least one of options. To enhance your chances seek as much advice as you can and invest time in preparing your application forms, covering letters and CVs.

You could also widen your search to include work experience at relevant voluntary organisations. For example, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and the Free Representation Unit (FRU) are often looking for volunteers and the skills you will develop will still be relevant for a future career in the law.

My best advice would be to search around and research all possible opportunities even how remote you might think them to be. Legal employers are always looking for someone who stands out and that often comes from doing something different.

Q. Will I have to complete a training course to become a volunteer?
A. Most organisations will require you to successfully complete a training course. The requirements and length of time required to complete the course varies significantly between organisations and you should bear this in mind before submitting your application.

Q. How many hours per week will I be expected to volunteer?
A. Every organisation will expect you to be able to commit a certain number of hours per week. They will invest a significant amount of time and resources into your training and will expect a return on their investment. However, the number of hours each organisation requires will vary and you should check this beforehand.

There are also lots of useful websites giving useful tips and information about work experience. Some of them are listed below:

www.prospects.ac.uk
www.work-experience.org.uk
www.doctorjob.com/law

If you know of any more work experience websites please feel free to add them to this article in way of a comment.