While good academic grades are essential, work experience is equally important in the law sector. Discover which avenues you should explore…

Vacation schemes

Lasting up to one month, a vacation scheme provides students - usually second-year and final-year undergraduates - with an invaluable insight into a law firm.

You'll meet partners, associates, solicitors and trainees, find out about the firm's culture, the structure of work and training, and discover what cases and transactions actually involve. You'll also shadow lawyers, sitting in on client meetings, and gain a better understanding of the skills and qualities the firm is seeking.

For more information, see law vacation schemes.

Mini-pupillages

These two-week work placements are essentially vacation schemes for barristers. They're targeted primarily at second-year and final-year undergraduates, but first-year students aren't completely discounted. All aspiring barristers should aim to complete at least one mini-pupillage before graduating.

While they can help you to decide whether to become a barrister or solicitor, be warned: a mini-pupillage, and the competition to land one, is intense. You'll have a much greater chance if you're certain that the bar is your preferred route; and can convey this - plus knowledge of the chamber you're applying to and the areas of law you find most interesting - in your application, CV and cover letter.

Insight days

Also known as workshops or open days, these in-demand events allow students to discover what a law firm does. Employers often use these experiences to screen candidates for vacation schemes and training contracts, so impressing is important. Similarly, it can help you to choose a law firm.

The day - or sometimes two days - can involve shadowing, group exercises, a guided tour, and talks from firm partners, associates and the recruitment team. They commonly take place during the spring and summer, with firms usually hosting several throughout the year.

Most insight days are aimed at specific year groups - usually second-year or final-year undergraduates. However, larger law firms such as Linklaters, DLA Piper, and Slaughter and May run open days exclusively for first-year students.

Work shadowing

Even if you're planning to become a barrister, doing some work shadowing at a law firm can be an invaluable experience. It allows you to gain an understanding of a lawyer's workload while building relationships with legal professionals.

Work shadowing isn't usually advertised, so speculative applications are advisable. Smaller law firms that don't run insight days are more likely to provide ad-hoc opportunities.

Debates and mooting

The majority of universities in the UK offer debating and mooting competitions. A moot is a mock trial, usually based around a fictional case, where students assume the role of counsel and present legal arguments. It involves completing legal research and analysis, preparing written submissions, and delivering an oral presentation, testing a student's ability to construct and strongly express an argument.

Moots can be arranged either by the institution's law faculty or the student law society. National mooting competitions are also held.

Law societies

Student law societies offer members the opportunity to participate in numerous ventures to boost their legal credentials, such as moots, court visits and networking sessions with employers. Join yours as soon as possible, and sign up to The Law Society in your second year of undergraduate study.

You can further distinguish yourself to employers by standing for election to a committee position. If successful, you'll be the point of contact for many law firms - and can encourage them to host events at your university.

Pro bono work

The most notable volunteering venture in law is pro bono work - the delivery of free legal advice to those who don't qualify for legal aid and would otherwise be unable to afford help.

Pro bono work allows students to develop the practical legal skills required for a successful law career, while contributing to those in need.

Studying law can be quite theoretical; however, engaging in pro bono projects gives you the opportunity to move out of the classroom and put legal theory into a practical context. You get the chance to:

  • add value to your CV as well as training contracts and pupillage applications
  • build links to professionals, firms and advice agencies
  • develop legal skills such as interviewing clients and drafting letters of legal advice
  • explore practice in new areas of law
  • gain practical experience by recognising and researching legal queries for real clients
  • make a valuable contribution to your local area.

You can find pro bono opportunities at:

  • Public legal education and Streetlaw - Law schools often make links with local community groups, schools, prisons etc. to find out what areas of law they would find useful to know more about. Students then research the topic, identify the relevant law and prepare interactive workshops, which they deliver to the group or class.
  • External placements - Students and universities can partner with advice agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or their local law centre to arrange pro bono partnerships.
  • Law school legal advice clinics - Run by the university, these are a fantastic opportunity for students to get real-life experience working on client cases under the supervision of qualified lawyers.
  • Miscarriage of justice and the Innocence Project - A growing number of universities around the UK are taking on criminal cases to help victims of alleged miscarriages of justice.
  • The Free Representation Unit (FRU) - Gives students the opportunity to acquire advocacy experience. FRU volunteers help with case preparation and advocacy in tribunal cases under the supervision of caseworkers.
  • Internships with legal charities - LawWorks, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Access to Justice Foundation and Legal Support Trusts are often looking for interns to support the administration of their organisations.

Law fairs

These events provide a fantastic opportunity for face-to-face conversations with numerous law firms, barristers' chambers and course providers. They take place at universities nationwide, with many events also including a programme of talks, presentations and CV workshops.

The majority of fairs are open to all, but some universities may restrict entry to their own students.

For more information, search law and legal studies events.

Court visits

Witnessing the court in action is one of the most important experiences that aspiring solicitors and barristers can enjoy. Sitting in on genuine cases allows you to see professionals in action, provides an invaluable insight into the justice system, and helps you to decide which law career is right for you.

You can find scheduled cases on the Crown or county court's website, or by contacting its staff.

Marshalling

This involves shadowing a judge for up to one week.

You may find marshalling opportunities by contacting your Inn of Court - which offers formal schemes - or your local Crown or county court. Apply by sending the judge a CV and cover letter, explaining why you want to marshal them.

Aside from sitting on cases, you may also be able to lunch with the judge and their colleagues.

Extra-curricular activities

Helpful extra-curricular activities for aspiring legal professionals include:

  • Part-time jobs - Juggling university with a part-time job demonstrates fantastic time management.
  • Student journalism - Many legal blogs, journals and websites are happy to hear law students' opinions and experiences. Alternatively, contributing to your student newspaper can develop your communication skills and ability to form an argument, not to mention your knowledge of current affairs and commercial awareness.
  • Student politics - Many law graduates work in government; getting involved in student politics allows you to develop important transferable skills such as leadership and organisation.

Find out more