What’s the point in work experience?

When any law firm asks the big question, “why law”, you need to be able to give them a credible answer. Probably the best way to show you understand what working in this industry is all about is by being able to draw on relevant work experience you have undertaken; not only does it demonstrate the transferable skills you have built up but it proves you have a real understanding about the day to day life of a lawyer in the sort of firm you want to work for.

Demonstrates your commitment to your career choice

The average city firm will receive on average two to three thousand applications each year, the majority from students who have gained a 2:1 or above. Your academic achievements to date are viewed as a given so work experience is a way in which you can make your application stand out. As gaining a placement can be a big feat in itself, employers will view your past experiences as evidence of your motivation and tenacity. Where places on vacation schemes can cost a firm several thousand pounds, they don’t want to waste a spot on someone who doesn’t really know if law is for them or not. A lack of credible work experience is often used by recruiters as another tool to screen applicants out – remember they are looking for reasons to get rid of you from the pile rather than keep you in.

Discover your area of expertise and firm insider knowledge

The law industry offers many areas for you to specialise in, and you may be in a position where you’re not quite sure which path is right for you. Try and secure placements at a variety of firms who specialise in different areas and make the most of each opportunity so you can really unearth what feels right. You may even find what you thought was one of your most confident options ends up being the least attractive once you get down to the nitty gritty. If you enjoy a placement enough, you may even decide that that firm is your number one target. Being able to talk about your personal experience there as well as gaining insider information from trainees and other lawyers, will give you plenty of fodder for your application and interview.

On the job

Whilst undertaking your placement make sure to impress; treat every day like an interview as you never know what future opportunities may materialise. Get yourself out there and meet people by introducing yourself and explaining what you are doing there. If you have some spare capacity, ask your supervisor (or the person in charge of looking after you) if you can go and ‘tout’ for work in different departments. It may sound simple but keep a notebook and pen with you wherever you go as you never know when someone is going to ask you to do something and you don’t want to have to go back to them to clarify something simple at a later time. Keep a diary so you can write down what you are doing and the skills you are developing that you can refer to at a later date. If the weather is unusually hot and the other employees dress down it’s ok for you to do so but always keep a suit jacket on the back of your chair as you never know when you might be asked to sit in on a client meeting and you probably won’t be asked if you don’t look the part. Don’t assume you can leave the office until you have been told to do so and always check with your immediate team if you can help with anything before you leave at the end of the day. Law firms want team players and will be impressed if you get stuck in with the rest of them.

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