There's no doubt about it, starting a career in law is tough. The sector is competitive and your academic knowledge will only carry you so far. To stand out to employers you'll need a significant amount of law work experience. Discover what's on offer…
Virtual law work experience
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic law firms needed to think outside the box when it came to work experience due to social distancing restrictions. As a result virtual work experience, also known as online experience, rose in popularity.
Vacation schemes, long-term internships, insight days and law fairs were all held online and because this method of experience has a number of advantages (such as increased accessibility and lower cost) many firms look set to continue their virtual programmes and schemes now restrictions are easing.
For example, a range of firms including Clifford Chance, Kennedys, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Pinsent Masons and White & Case all run virtual work experience programmes, which aim to give participants a taste of legal life. Free of charge and open to undergraduates and graduates of any discipline, programmes are self-paced to fit around you. You'll gain an insight into the fast-paced, cutting-edge projects lawyers and trainees work on, and gain valuable skills by undertaking true-to-life legal tasks.
Osborne Clarke also offer virtual workshops to students in years 10 to 13 focusing on employability skills and legal practice.
Providing an invaluable insight into the workings of a law firm and designed to help students improve their skills and legal knowledge, vacation schemes usually last a month.
During your placement you'll meet partners, associates, solicitors and trainees and will get the chance to work on live cases. Other opportunities include shadowing lawyers, observing them giving legal advice and sitting in on client meetings.
Competition for vacation scheme places is intense so apply as early as possible.
For more information, see law vacation schemes.
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 chambers you're applying to and the areas of law you find most interesting - in your application, CV and cover letter.
Learn more about pupillage.
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 may run open days exclusively for first-year students.
Even if you're planning to become a solicitor or 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 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 by either the institution's law faculty or the student law society. National mooting competitions are also held.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Part-time jobs - Juggling university with a part-time job demonstrates good 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.