With record numbers of students to sift through each year, employers are now looking for the CV that stands out from the rest. There has been a downward trend in the number of pupillages and training contracts on offer serving only to increase the competition for opportunities. Although a good degree classification is crucial in securing a legal career, without relevant legal experience a pupillage or training contract might be unachievable.
Why do legal work experience?
Work experience is vital for a variety of reasons. It demonstrates commitment to the career path, whilst providing a chance to research the career that interests you and develop a greater awareness of what the job entails. Work experience also enables you to build up skills such as teamwork, interpersonal skills, and decision making.
Throughout my three years at university, I have tried to get involved with as many extra-curricular activities as possible, primarily mini pupillages. A mini pupillage, for those aspiring to the Bar, is the perfect way to experience legal work first hand and meet other barristers.
What is a mini-pupillage?
A mini-pupillage gives you the opportunity to shadow a barrister for a week, learn about the day-to-day work, and chat to professionals about your career choices. From one of my mini-pupillages, I learnt that many pupillage interview committees expect their candidates to have relevant experience as this shows the candidate’s passion for the career. For those who are interested in becoming solicitors, there are vacation schemes and other work experience opportunities at law firms to explore.
I have also volunteered for two years at the Citizens Advice Bureau. Advising at the Bureau gives you first-hand experience in key legal issues such as debt, housing law and welfare law. You are taught how to research the issues you are dealing with and how to advise your clients on further action.
Once experienced and trained, you may be given the opportunity to represent clients in court and work alongside the bureau’s solicitors. It’s a good opportunity to show how dedicated and hardworking you are, as well as learning key skills such as communication skills along the way.
What other kinds of legal work experience are there?
Whilst I was at university, I also volunteered with County Durham Criminal Justice Youth Independent Advisory Group. The group met monthly to discuss ways to improve police, courts, the CPS and prisons to name a few. I helped draft and produce an “arrest to release” leaflet which is available for young people in custody and aims to give them a greater understanding of how the criminal justice system works.
There are a variety of other work experiences placements that you can become involved in whilst studying. Some students do court work (known as marshalling) spending time with a judge and seeing the process from a judicial perspective. Others get involved in youth mentoring programmes or other pro bono work.
Activities such as mooting competitions are useful, giving you the chance to experience acting as a barrister in a mock courtroom. Many universities also have a law society where students can gain advice on gaining work experience.
It is vital to gain work experience alongside academic achievement. Employers look for the CVs that stand out through wider experiences, and show a range of personal skills. Without legal experience, it is unlikely that your legal career will take off after university.