Law solicitors
Law work experience can help you get a training contract

Getting legal work experience: advice for first years

Fact: recruitment for aspiring solicitors begins earlier than other professions so it pays to be organised about work experience from the start of your degree. On the upside, it’s possible to begin the final year of your course knowing that your graduate job in law is safely in the bag.
In the last five years many commercial law firms have started offering initiatives for first-year law and non-law students.

If you’re in your first year at university, you may feel that you have all the time in the world to think about your career in law. After all, you’ve only just started your degree course. But, with application deadlines looming in your penultimate year, the sooner you start getting some work experience under your belt, the more committed you’ll seem when applying for vacation schemes (internships for aspiring solicitors) and training contracts (the vocational training needed to become a qualified solicitor). 

Insight days: structured work experience for first years 

Solicitors’ firms have provided vacation schemes or placements for second-year students for many years – they are a well trodden path to getting a training contract. In the last five years, however, many commercial law firms (such as Slaughter and May and White & Case) have started offering initiatives for first-year law students and, increasingly, for first-year non-law students – known as ‘insight days’. ‘Increasingly, law firms are designing programmes specifically for first years, so make sure you do your research and apply for open days, insight days, workshops and any placement schemes or first-year specific work experience programmes that are available,’ explains Rebecca Ryalls, graduate recruitment officer at Baker & McKenzie LLP. 

These insight days provide a taste of life as a solicitor and help first years to go on to make strong applications for firms’ vacation schemes and training contracts. Insight days usually involve:

  • an office tour
  • meeting members of the firm, from trainee solicitors to the most senior partners
  • workshops offering application and interview advice from the graduate recruitment team
  • talks on life at the firm and typical work undertaken
  • group exercises, giving a taster of the skills needed to work in the firm
  • work shadowing lawyers.

Magic circle firm Linklaters started the trend towards insight days with its Pathfinder programme but you’ll notice that many City law firms have followed suit. Some, such as Hogan Lovells, now offer week-long spring vacation schemes for first-year law students but most insight experiences last between one and three days typically. Firms tend to select attendees based on their application form only but see the TARGETjobs employer hubs for details of individual firms’ initiatives and application processes.

Open days and workshops for first-year lawyers

Some law firms will offer open days (one-day experiences) rather than, or as well as, insight days (two-day or three-day experiences). Most commercial law firms run open days and workshops throughout the year at their offices to give aspiring lawyers the chance to experience life at a law firm – and some are tailored to first years in particular. Expect to take part in workshops and hear presentations, designed to help you understand life as a City lawyer. ‘Remember, these schemes are as much about you getting to know the firm, its culture and expectations, as it is about the firm getting to know you,’ explains Poppy Singleton, HR assistant at Slaughter and May.

Adding these experiences to your CV is another way to demonstrate your commitment to law. Find out more by reading the individual employer profiles in the TARGETjobs employer hubs – it’s worth checking to see whether firms’ open days are open to law or non-law students. 

Ad hoc work experience in smaller firms – for law and non-law first years 

Not all law firms have the capacity or resources to run structured, expensive insights days or open days. Sending off a speculative letter enquiring about work experience or work shadowing opportunities to smaller firms can prove worthwhile – whether you’re on a law or non-law degree course. You may already have your mind set on working for a global law firm, but experience within a small high street practice shows recruiters that you have researched the wider profession and made informed decisions about where you want to base your career. 

Temporary work – for example, holiday cover for legal secretaries or receptionists – may also be helpful. Ask at your university careers service for advice about applying through recruitment agencies and making speculative applications.

Mini-pupillages: ruling the Bar in or out 

A mini-pupillage should be on your hit list of experiences if you’re not sure whether to  become a solicitor or a barrister. Lasting between three and five days, mini-pupillages are a chance to experience life in a set of chambers and to speak to individuals at different levels of their career. Unlike the rigid deadlines associated with vacation placements, mini-pupillages are offered all year round by chambers – and to all years. Mini-pupillages are a good way of showing your commitment to a career in law and that you’ve researched the various options. Remember that work experience is a useful tool for ruling career options out as well as ruling them in. 

Use your university law society to develop your skills

You can build all sorts of skills relevant to law by joining a committee, such as working collaboratively or managing a budget. Most student society committee roles are taken up by second years and finalists, rather than first years – but taking an active interest in law society events now could result in a stint as the law society president, treasurer or secretary next year. ‘Many recruiters are looking for recent evidence of balancing university commitments with extra-curricular activities, such as being elected onto a society’s committee, or captaining a sports team,’ says Jacqui Bernuzzi at Baker & McKenzie LLP.

Improving your advocacy skills with mooting

A moot is a bit like a debate based on points of law: teams prepare skeleton arguments and present them to a ‘judge’ within a set time. As well as informal moots in university law departments, there are national mooting competitions and Inns of Court teams compete abroad. Mooting gives you an insight into the career of a barrister and a chance to develop your advocacy skills as well as enhance your self-confidence, communication and presentation skills – all skills that are relevant to the solicitors’ side of the profession too. You’ll find out whether you are able to think on your feet and form a persuasive argument. Whether mooting is available to non-law students varies from university to university. 

Proving your commitment to law through events

Law-related campus and employer events provide another way to gain an insight into the profession and network with recruiters and lawyers.  

TARGETjobs Law How to Get Hired events

Each spring the TARGETjobs Law team runs skills workshops across UK universities for law and non-law students – and these are open to first years. They are free to attend and provide the ideal opportunity for you to find out what you need to do to secure a training contract or vacation placement. The events enable you to meet representatives from leading law firms; take part in practical skills sessions; and find out more through an informal networking session. 

TARGETjobs Events: Inside City law

Each January, this event gives students the chance to gain an insight into the life of a City lawyer. You can spend the day with two top law firms, and network with lawyers, trainees and graduate recruiters. Find out more here.

It’s worth embracing these opportunities offered to first years but do make sure you leave enough time in your life for study. It’s difficult to get into the legal profession without a 2.1 or first, and you’ll need to show recruiters consistently high academic results in A levels and all university exams. Not only does this show you have the intellectual ability to be a lawyer but it demonstrates that you have the time-management skills to juggle all parts of your life.