By Mems Ayina
The majority of law students will, or at least should, engage in legal work experience. No one will get it for you, unless you win it, so you have to actively seek it.
Work experience can go either way; it has the potential to put you off having a career in law or may encourage you to work harder than ever to become a lawyer, but you certainly have to do it to appreciate it.
My experiences are varied; sometimes, after a hard days work, I leave certain firms wanting to hit my head against a wall because of the boredom and the lack of organisation with regard to my supervision. Others, such as HowardKennedyFSI (this diary entry) leave me feeling very positive indeed.
My previous experiences suggest that work experience duties range from photocopying, making tea and fetching solicitors’ sandwiches. Whilst I pin all those on the ‘negativity-board’, photocopying is a reality in practice. Surely you’ve seen those huge archive boxes wheeled to court? Yes, solicitors have to photocopy that material!
Some firms have more engaging programmes, but all work experience is good because it gives you first-hand experience of how a firm operates, even if it is at the sidelines. Nevertheless, work experience is vital to show your passion and drive in the battle to become a lawyer and is highly recommended that you undertake it.
So last week I carried out work experience in a law firm in London. I was extremely apprehensive about going as my last experience was not the greatest. This programme however was structured and has a played a large part in my understanding of the type of firm that suites me. This is critical to realise, because your TCs will be shaped by such experiences.
The first day of anything can be pretty nerve-racking. As I do not live in London I had to take the train and underground to get to the firm, which was an alien experience! All I can say is that I will not be ‘Miss Travelling’ to London every day. Everyone must have thought I was a tourist as I got my bag stuck in the underground doors on many occasions (don’t laugh!), and was walking around in a confused state trying to understand the meaning of the different coloured lines on the underground map.
I finally arrived (on time of course – don’t be late) and was pleasantly surprised. The layout of the firm was unexpected. My experience warned me law firms in London could be extremely big, this building however was warming and not intimidating. The group I was in consisted of 8 people from various backgrounds.
One thing I really do enjoy about work experience is that you meet people who are going through the same process that you are. All of us are waiting on results, all of us want to study law at university, and all of us understand the competition to be successful in law is fiercer than ever. Now ABS and Legal Apprenticeships are with us, how long will the traditional model of entry to profession survive? I’m not convinced at this stage what the future of law will be, and even now there are a lack of TCs. By the time I’ve finished my degree and the LPC, students whom have opted for a legal apprenticeship will be earning and in a job. I however, will be doing my best to get an interview!
We were introduced to some of the partners and the CEO who gave great advice about a career in law. We then had an in-depth discussion with the trainees. This was enlightening as all the trainees were all extremely different, they did not fit a typical mould. The firm itself does not discriminate in relation to the university you attend, as long as you have people skills and fit the job description.
The second day involved various activities. What I found most interesting was the Supreme Courts tour. We were able to sit in the courts while trials where taking place and I found this absolutely fascinating. We were also given a tour and a talk about the reasons why the Supreme Court was established and discussed some really interesting cases. In the afternoon we were separated, each of us visiting different parts of the firm. From what we were told, the work experience programme wanted us to understand the different departments and the mechanics of running a law firm. I was sent to the post room and really enjoyed myself. Being able to speak to individuals that have been in the firm for a long time demonstrated various benefits of working for a mid-sized firm.
By this point we had moved our location, as the firm has just gone through a merger there are still two different sites. This site looked more like the law firms you see in law programmes on television, it was extremely shiny and had cool furniture. Again we were split up and visited various departments. One of the departments that I really enjoyed was employment law (who would have guessed?). I was actually given tasks that made me think and allowed me to research topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to studying it more in depth at university.
Another activity that we all took part in was the London Legal Walk. Through the hustle and bustle of London streets, we were transported into a world of peace, with beautiful gardens and stunning architecture. There was no shouting and no buses honking their horns (I really did appreciate the peace). We were shown the Inns of Courts and taught about the traditions of each Inn. Though none of us wanted to be barristers, I was particularly interested in how the role of the barrister and solicitor is merging. I am extremely interested in being a solicitor-advocate, as I feel you have the best of both worlds. But from the tour it seemed that some barristers are concerned their profession may be threatened by solicitor-advocates. Also, more firms are increasingly using their own in-house lawyers.
Usually at this point in work experience I am glad that the experience is over. However this was not the case for this firm. In our groups we presented various presentations to some of the trainees and partners. I found this particularly helpful as advice was given on how to improve my performance and gained tips on what could be better next time. I really did learn quite a lot and saw various faces of law that I did not expect. For example, the marketing and business development aspect is extremely important for the firms overall reputation.
Would I recommend it?
As I said in my opening paragraph, you have to do it to appreciate it, and it is required if you are to be taken seriously by firms when applying for a TC. Overall I would say that it was definitely a worthwhile experience and do not regret it. When making an application for open days, vacation schemes and training contracts I will bear in mind this experience as I can use it to help answer all those questions!
I have more legal work experience lined up with bigger firms later this year, and I have now started my political internship, which I am enjoying very much.
If you are a school-aged student and need advice about applying for work experience, please just ask away in the comments section below and I will be more than happy to help.
© Mems Ayina, 2013