Law work experience: vacation schemes, mini-pupillages, pro bono and more
Last updated: 19 Oct 2023, 16:17
Gaining law-related work experience is a crucial first step on your journey to becoming a solicitor or a barrister – and there is more than one way to secure it. We outline all of your options from formal vacation schemes and mini-pupillages to voluntary work and mooting.
Why do law work experience?
It’s the best way for you to work out that law is the right career for you and then which types of law you’d like to specialise in. But more than that. recruiters are going to want to see that you’ve had a taste of the law before you apply for a training contract or pupillage. It’s a compelling way to show that you have a true interest in and an understanding of the legal profession and that you have started to develop law-specific skills.
Read on for options for students at all levels of study. Gain as much work experience as you can, no matter whether it’s specifically aimed at a solicitor, a barrister or both. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not decided yet whether you want to be a solicitor or a barrister; as far as law recruiters are concerned, any law work experience is good work experience.
- Insight programmes and open days
- Vacation schemes
- Ad hoc law work experience
- Voluntary and pro bono opportunities
- Networking events
- Virtual skills development programmes
- Presentations and skills workshops
- Law fairs
- University societies
- Getting the most from your experiences outside of law
- Getting the most from targetjobs
Or, if you are ready to apply, right now, you can go straight to our law work experience search.
Law firms in particular offer short insight programmes, typically lasting between one day and a week, giving an introduction into life in law and at their organisation. They typically include skills sessions, case study work and networking opportunities. They might also be known as open days, workshops and (typically by chambers) open evenings.
Large law firms often fast track impressive insight students to the final stages of the recruitment process for their vacation schemes (see below).
Available to: mostly first-year law or second-year non-law students; some are aimed at students who are underrepresented in the profession.
These paid structured schemes (also known as vacation placements or vac schemes), offered by large law firms, help you gain a better understanding of a solicitor’s work. You’ll shadow trainees, associates and partners and undertake real work, such as researching legal matters or drafting contracts, as well as attending skills development sessions. Vac schemes normally last for a week or two and are held in the winter, Easter and summer vacations. They are, arguably, the main form of structured form of work experience for aspiring solicitors.
Attending a vacation scheme can help you secure a graduate position with a firm (a training contract or other qualifying work experience) because most law firms like to hire directly from their vacation schemes if they can and some firms only hire from their vacation schemes.
Available to: typically second-year law students and final-year non-law students, but sometimes to other groups of students, such as those on conversion courses or the LPC.
If you’re considering becoming a barrister, these are a must. Lasting between three and five days, mini-pupillages are a chance to experience life in a set of chambers. The timings of mini-pupillages (and application deadlines) vary at different chambers.
Mini-pupillages are either assessed or unassessed. If they are assessed, they essentially count as part of your interview process for pupillage with that chambers; some chambers only accept pupils who have done an assessed mini-pupillage with them.
Available to: all years; law and non-law students.
Not all law firms have the capacity or resources to run formal schemes. For those smaller firms that don’t offer structured schemes, it’s still worth sending off a speculative letter enquiring about work experience or work shadowing opportunities.
Temporary work – for example, holiday cover for legal secretaries or receptionists – may also be helpful.
Available to: all years; law and nonlaw students.
Pro bono (meaning ‘for the public good’) and voluntary initiatives are a great way to get involved with hands-on legal experience. While some projects are only open to graduates, students can still get involved in law-related voluntary work such as advice, research and witness service work. Your careers service will be able to point you in the direction of voluntary opportunities in your area.
Available to: see organisations’ websites.
Not something out of a Western, marshalling actually means shadowing a judge for up to a week in order to gain an understanding of court proceedings. It also enables you to watch barristers in action and discuss cases with the judge afterwards. You can arrange this through one of the four Inns of Court – see their websites for contact details. Be aware that in some cases there may be restrictions related to your stage of study.
Available to: varies depending on level of study, but some are available to aspiring lawyers of any background.
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.
Available to: law students mostly but varies from university to university.
Many law firms and recruitment organisations run events for students, in which they can meet representatives from law firms, gain insights into working life and the recruitment process, and build skills. Attending is a great way to demonstrate interest in law.
targetjobs runs events for different student cohorts: Inside City Law, an insight and networking event with RPC; Aspire Law for Black heritage students; and INSPIRE Law for those who went to state school, were eligible for free school meals and were the first in their family to go to university. They all include panel talks, skills and employability-boosting sessions and chances to meet recruiters.
Available: varies according to the event.
Discover the targetjobs law events
Meet current trainees, pupils and experienced solicitors and barristers, alongside recruiters, at our unique range of careers events.
Some law firms are offering online skills development programmes over a longer period of time than a traditional insight programme allows for, and some are offering short e-learning courses (or VLEs) that introduce their firm while developing skills. These are sometimes known as virtual internships, but each law firm will have a different name for their individual programme.
Available to: all students.
Law firms in particular run presentations and workshops throughout the year at their offices, online and at universities to give aspiring lawyers the chance to learn more about working life and to develop law knowledge and skills. Adding these experiences to your CV is another way to demonstrate your commitment to law.
Available to: varies according to the employer.
Law fairs are specialist careers fairs run by careers services and other recruitment organisations that allow you to discuss your career plans with law firms and chambers and find out more about them. Many fairs also offer panel talks and CV clinics. While not work experience, fairs offer a good opportunity to research employers.
The targetjobs National Pupillage Fair held annually in November enables aspiring barristers to learn more about chambers and to attend exclusive talks by practising barristers on topics such as life at the criminal Bar and funding your career at the Bar.
Available to: law and non-law students; all years.
Most student society committee roles are taken on by second years and finalists, rather than first years. Enjoying a stint as the law society president, treasurer or secretary is a good way to develop all sorts of skills, such as working collaboratively or managing a budget.
Available to: varies according to the university.
While getting law experience is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the profession and to try your skills in a law context, don’t under-value the skills you’ve gained through your non-law work experience and extracurriculars. As the head of graduate recruitment at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer told us: ‘I encourage candidates to talk about the skills they developed in, say, their regular part-time job rather than on a two-week vacation placement or open day – where, realistically, you have less time or opportunity to develop your soft skills.’
Register on targetjobs to access a personalised feed of law-related content tailored entirely to you, along with the ability to follow law firms and chambers and hear of their latest work experience opportunities immediately. You can also browse opportunities through our customised search
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