How your work experience and interests make your law application stand out

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Three trainee solicitors at Osborne Clarke share the extracurricular activities that helped them to impress their law firm and get a training contract.

Amber, Freddie and Dan, trainees at Osborne Clarke, talk about what made their CV stand out

If you aren’t talking about your extracurricular activities in your law applications and interviews, you could be missing an important window to give law firms an insight into who you are and add an extra dimension to your application.

Osborne Clarke isn’t looking for a ‘cookie cutter’ candidate, so you don’t need to have studied a particular subject at a certain university and you definitely don’t need a set amount of legal work experience on your CV to apply. Instead, the firm really wants to get to know you as a person. So, while it will be happy to hear about any vacation schemes and mini-pupillages you’ve done, it also wants to learn about what you choose to do in your spare time and the variety of experiences you’ve gained. After all, these are often the things that let your talents and individuality shine through.

If you’re not sure which of your extracurriculars are the most appropriate or relevant to include in your applications and interviews, be inspired by Amber Bains, Freddie Carter and Dan Charie – all trainee solicitors at Osborne Clarke. They have shared some of the experiences they called upon, as well as a few activities they regret not mentioning. Crucially, they explain how these examples helped them to demonstrate the transferable skills that law firms want.

1. Mentoring

Freddie, who studied law with European law at the University of Nottingham, thinks he should have made more out of his mentoring experience when he applied to Osborne Clarke. ‘I barely mentioned the fact that I volunteered as a mentor for first-year and overseas law students when I was at university and, while working as a paralegal, I mentored a group of year 10 students at a local school,’ he explains. ‘These experiences would have been great examples of building effective relationships, which is a significant part of building a successful career in law.’

While Freddie didn’t talk much about his time as a mentor, it did help him in other ways – particularly during Osborne Clarke’s assessment centre. ‘Through mentoring, I gained invaluable experience of working collaboratively with a team and of delivering presentations to large groups of people. I was able to draw on this during the group exercises.’

2. Volunteering – inside and outside of the law

If you’ve dedicated time to volunteering (whether in a legal context or not), Osborne Clarke wants to hear about it.

For Dan, who studied law at the University of Bristol, volunteering at the Avon and Bristol Law Centre, provided him with plenty to tell recruiters in his applications and interviews. ‘My time at the law centre was incredibly useful for my personal growth. It allowed me to interact with clients on a daily basis, take calls and greet clients at the centre and develop various soft skills including communication, time management and teamwork.’

Meanwhile, Amber, who studied mathematics at the University of Warwick before completing the law conversion course at BPP Law School, wishes she’d included her volunteering at a homeless shelter in her application to Osborne Clarke. ‘I didn’t include it because I thought it wasn’t worth it – it wasn’t paid experience and was a world apart from commercial law,’ she explains. ‘Looking back, it taught me a lot of soft skills, such as teamwork and empathy, which are transferable to law. It was also a good example of having a strong work ethic, especially as I balanced it with my other commitments at the time.’

3. Learning to code

Given the strength of Osborne Clarke’s technology practice and its focus on innovation, Dan was keen to highlight his interest and skills in this area. ‘At the time of my interview, I was several modules into a course on Python, which I signed up for after graduating from university,’ he says. ‘I believe that the combination of my law degree and my interest in technology, which I could demonstrate through my commitment to learning a programming language, helped me to articulate why I wanted to join the firm.’

4. University societies and clubs

Are you already part of a university society of club? Freddie is a strong advocate for getting involved and taking on responsibilities. He says: ‘The society or club you join doesn’t need to be related to law, just something you’re passionate about. Consider putting yourself up for committee positions or volunteering to help at events as this can assist with building teamwork and interpersonal skills that will be to your advantage throughout the recruitment process.’

5. Part-time jobs

If you have a part-time job, try making a list of the skills you’ve gained in the workplace. You might be surprised by just how long the list is – and that’s exactly why any part-time jobs shouldn’t be neglected in your applications and interviews.

‘I had a number of different jobs at university, such as working in a bar and tutoring,’ Amber recalls. ‘I made sure I included these in my application, with an explanation of what skills I had developed from each job. Mentioning the transferable skills you gained from the experience is the key part!’

Dan also had a part-time job as a retail assistant at Asda, working around 18 hours a week alongside his degree to pay his way through university. ‘Being in such a customer-facing role gave me an ideal environment to improve my communication skills and I found that my time management greatly improved, which is absolutely key for a trainee solicitor,’ he explains. ‘Additionally, the fact that I undertook this work alongside my degree and other commitments highlighted my resilience and self-motivation, which, again, are important qualities for a trainee solicitor to have.’

6. Paralegal and other legal work

Formal work experience schemes offered by law firms aren’t the only way to gain some exposure to the inner workings of a law firm.

For example, Freddie worked as a paralegal at commercial law firms in Bristol and Copenhagen before applying to Osborne Clarke. ‘My paralegal experience gave me plenty of examples of key skills that are necessary for a trainee solicitor that I could draw upon in my application and during the assessment centre. It also helped me to demonstrate a genuine commitment to a career in commercial law.’

Meanwhile, Amber sought out informal work experience at a high-street solicitors firm: ‘At the time of applying for the Osborne Clarke vacation scheme, my legal experience only consisted of this informal experience and attending open days and talks at various City firms. Although I thought this might not seem like much compared to other applicants, the sum of my experience was far greater than its parts.’

7. Law firm open days and networking events

Open days and networking events don’t demand a big-time commitment from you, but they serve an important purpose. ‘It’s a good idea to meet the firm before you apply and there are lots of different ways to do this – law fairs, presentation evenings, talks, open days or you could even reach out to somebody who works there,’ suggests Amber. ‘I first engaged with Osborne Clarke at a presentation evening and it cemented my decision to apply.’

‘Even though some of the open days and events I attended were at very different firms to Osborne Clarke, they helped me to develop my commercial awareness and narrow down the type of firm I wanted to work at,’ she adds. ‘Having all of these experiences helped me when I got to the assessment centre as I could confidently say why this firm was the right choice for me.’

So, why apply to Osborne Clarke?

Now you know a little bit more about how you can use your different experiences to stand out in your application to Osborne Clarke, all that’s left to do is apply. If you need a little bit more convincing, here are Amber, Dan and Freddie’s reasons for applying.

‘For me, Osborne Clarke has a perfect combination of a special culture, a trainee intake that is not too small but not too big and high-quality, interesting work. I don’t get any Sunday night blues and the firm is genuinely supportive and respects the need for a work/life balance,’ says Amber. ‘Plus, I am interested in the energy sector and Osborne Clarke is a market leader for energy work.’

‘I was attracted to the range of exciting clients that the firm has across a number of sectors as well as its reputation for having a friendly and approachable culture, which I’ve experienced any time I’ve met somebody at the firm,’ says Freddie. ‘Everyone that I have met has been willing to give up their time to help me or tell me more about what they do. It makes it a great environment to work in.’

‘Osborne Clarke is a future-thinking firm with ambitious plans. I was mainly interested in firms with strong regional presences and there’s no denying that the Bristol and Reading offices have a very good quality of work,’ says Dan. ‘Another great thing about the firm is its people. I met one of Osborne Clarke’s partners at a networking event and they went out of their way to put me in contact with the Reading office so I could chat to some trainees. This willingness to engage with potential trainees outside of the traditional insight day or vacation scheme showed me that they actually cared about my application.’

Discover more about Osborne Clarke and its training contract opportunities on its organisation hub.

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