How important is work experience in my first year?
University is a time to enjoy yourself, discover your interests, and pursue new hobbies. Many first years are rightly focused on extracurricular activities, hobbies, clubs and becoming a well-rounded individual. But firms are increasingly accepting applications from first years for their vacation schemes, so the stakes are higher than ever. Seeking work experience from the offset is a great way to give your application the edge.
What about unpaid work experience?
Unpaid work experience is illegal in the UK—although some placements and internships may be considered unpaid work when someone offers their services free of charge in order to build or maintain their skills, or are work shadowing (observing but not performing work). Calling a worker “unpaid” or “a volunteer” doesn’t prevent them from qualifying for the minimum wage if they’re entitled to it. Those of school leaving age are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, while those age 25 and over receive the National Living Wage. As of April 2019, the National Living Wage was £8.21 for those 25 and over, and £7.70 for workers age 21 to 24.
What work experience can a first year do?
Although many mini pupillages and vacation schemes are only available to students in their second year or above, first years are being afforded more and more work experience opportunities. These include:
1. Pro bono work
University-run law clinics, street law projects and other pro bono providers offer volunteers the opportunity to develop legal skills as well as confidence. Under the supervision of a tutor, law students help people who need legal advice but cannot afford it. Street law project volunteers teach young offenders about a legal topic that is relevant to them. The Free Representation Unit is the largest single provider of pro bono legal services in the UK, and provides free representation in employment, social security and criminal injuries compensation tribunals.
2. In-house legal teams
Large companies often have in-house legal teams. If you’re in the process of sending speculative work experience letters to local lawyers, why not forward a few to the legal departments of large companies? It’s great to amass a variety of work experience so you can begin to identify what type of legal organisation you are interested in working for and what area of law you might like to specialise in.
3. Law firms
Numerous large firms in and around London have begun to offer open days to first years, and firms such as Hogan Lovells, White & Case and Allen & Overy offer specific programmes for first-years. Smaller firms such as Kingsley Napley, Wedlake Bell and Wilkin Chapman have also begun to open up their vacation scheme or work experience programme to first-years.
4. Campus ambassadors
Some law firms, including Addleshaw Goddard, Baker McKenzie and DLA Piper also recruit those interested in commercial law as campus ambassadors. These individuals are given the opportunity to meet recruiters, find out more about the firm, gain valuable professional experience, develop strong relationships with employers and complete various projects for the firm they represent.
Whatever type of work experience you decide to pursue, networking is crucial for an aspiring lawyer. Not only can contacts help advance your career, they might also be willing to recommend other types of work experience that could be a fit for your skills.
Next article: Law firm perspective: insight days