Everyone knows about work experience, but so many students make the mistake of thinking it is not important early on. Your career starts when you first attend university, and that means getting out there, networking, and building up your CV and experience.
How important is work experience in my first year?
No doubt your parents, lecturers and your friends in the year above are all encouraging you to start applying for work experience and mini pupillages. With the prospect of a summer of freedom on the horizon, you might think that it can all wait until next year. The reality is that in the current legal climate you need to do as much as you can to make yourself stand out from everyone else.
When researching schemes and placements, you will notice a few things. Some require an application months in advance, others you can email and they get you booked in within a few weeks. Some will have a rigorous application form, others will just require a CV and covering email. Ensure any communication made is tailored for that placement, and not a copy and paste job.
What work experience can a first year do?
The problem for first years is that many mini pupillages and vacation schemes are only available to students in their second year or above. You’ll need to think slightly outside of the box and try and get plenty of prior experience, so that when you do apply for mini pupillages/vacation schemes in your second year you can demonstrate your dedication to a career in the law.
Pro bono work
Does your university run a law clinic or street law project? They offer a great chance to develop legal skills as well as confidence, plus it’s voluntary. You will (under the supervision of a tutor) be helping people who need legal advice but cannot afford it. Street law enables you to go into schools or visit young offenders and teach them about a legal topic relevant to them, helping you to develop skills pertinent to your future career.
The Citizens Advice Bureau and Free Representation Unit are always looking for volunteers to help out and provide advice for those who need it. This is similar to working in a student law clinic, but you will receive formal training and will be able network with the trainers.
Shadow a police officer
Police stations offer students the chance to shadow an officer for a shift. This is a good opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes, especially if you are interested in pursuing a career in criminal law. It’s great to take the luxury while you can to explore all aspects of the justice system.
In-house legal teams
Do not forget that large companies have in-house legal teams too. When you are sending speculative work experience letters to local solicitors, why not send a few to the legal departments of big companies? It’s great to amass a variety of work experience so you can start to figure out what type of legal organisation you want to work for and in what area of law.
Networking during your work experience is crucial. Not only will contacts help your career, but they might be able to recommend other avenues for work experience if you ask them nicely.