How can I get experience without previous experience?

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  • I think this is a good question. As a 3rd year law student I would say that contacting local law centres is a good place to start that will enable you to get good transferable skills.

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  • It's a tough one. My advice would be to send some speculative e-mails to law firms that do not already operate a formal work experience programme to enquire about the possibility of doing some informal unpaid work experience for a week or two. A lot will probably say no (or ignore you) but all you need is for one or two to say yes. You could also try to apply to city firms that have a formal work experience programme (vacation scheme) but the competition is very fierce for a place on these.

    Also consider doing some work experience in a business that is not a law firm as this will help to develop your "commercial awareness" and may give you an edge to the plethora of people applying who only have work experience in law firms. Just make sure you are able to explain how this has influenced your decision to pursue a career in law.

    Good luck!

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  • I know exactly the trouble you're going through, having been through similar experiences myself. There are a few things that I did which really helped me and should help you too:

    Local JLD Branches:
    Join your local JLD (Junior Lawyer Division) to get invites to various events around the year. Check not only the JLD email update you'll get as a member but large local firm websites which often have information about the next event the firm is involved with, quite often with contact details of the organiser. Contact the organiser at that firm and you will immediately have someone to latch on to at the event itself. These events range from breakfast clubs to evenings out and talks from key local professionals such as Judges about the legal services market. And the main thing you will get from this will be -

    Basically getting out there and getting your face known in the legal community. The University you graduated from should offer a graduate service in its careers department and the majority offer skill workshops on skills such as networking. Create a LinkedIn profile if you haven't already and fill it with your skills, expertise and most importantly your determination to join the legal profession. Get a good suit, perfect that smile and get out there.

    Non-Traditional Experience:
    As I did the LLB at undergrad, we had the necessity for work experience rammed down our throats from day one but never any explanation on how to get any. By the end of my first year, I had no legal work experience at all and was panicking. However, I kept calm and carried on (to quote the famous phrase) to the next big legal networking event and proceeded to network my backside off all evening. By the end of the evening, I had secured a work experience placement with a legally-related career path and gained some insider knowledge on the pressures on the market. By the time of the next one, I had something to break the ice with the director of an influential firm in the area I really want to break in to (Family Law), resulting in a winter vacation placement and giving me a real piece of legal work experience to boast about.

    Non-Vacation Scheme Placements:
    Whilst vacation schemes are trumped up as the Ultimate Goal and do often lead to the hallowed TC, they are not the only way ahead. Get as wide a range of areas of law as possible, even if you seem set on one area, to confirm or refute your choice. Plus all that time in a lawyer's office will be much appreciated by your future self! Also consider the various ABS’s' which could offer you a few days in their office or apply to a barrister's chambers for a mini-pupillage, or even to your local county court for some Judge marshalling. Get as many aspects of the legal system on your CV as possible and it won't be such a culture-shock when you have to deal with these situations post qualification - and recruiters know that.

    Pace yourself:
    You want to get in to the City - for that you will need that Russell Group University under your belt. However; you will not get anywhere applying to Linklaters, Simmons, SNR's et al without anything legal under your belt. Get a good chunk of legal experience to show off first. Set your sights a bit lower to start off with - regional firms can be very influential (especially when they have had dealings with City firms and impressed) and even a small, local commercial firm often has contacts with larger regional firms whom the partners may have left to set up their own practices. So keep your ambition but temper it with realism.

    Commercial Awareness:
    Whilst not the buzzword it was even two years ago, it is still of critical importance not just to commercial -lawyers-to-be but in the post-Legal Services Act environment to all would-be solicitors. Many regional firms offer seminars (via JLD's and career services) around the topic; get involved in business and volunteering opportunities to develop the skill in yourself and keep challenging yourself to gain more experience of what the perspective of your future clients will be. Whilst this may be the kind of thing more seemingly appropriate to a TC applicant, do not forget most (if not all) commercial firms offering vacation schemes have huge crossovers between their vacation scheme and TC application systems.

    Good luck!

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  • Wow, thanks for this Anne

  • Talk to your university's careers centre. Most allow graduates to have access to careers advice at least for a couple of years following graduation. They may have established links with local law firms or just help you craft a more appealing CV/application.

    It may also be necessary to aim lower than City firms at first. Try smaller firms or even high street firms. Down the line, this will give you an answer to the inevitable interview question about why you want to work for the type of firm you're interviewing at -- if you've tried other types of firm you can compare them and explain why you prefer the one you're interviewing at.

    Once you've got some legal experience, you can target the more competitive programmes at city firms.

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  • I struggled with this one and was rejected by everyone I applied to.

    In the end I approached a mid-sized firm. I worked out why I was interested in them specifically, then wrote a covering letter and tailored my CV to match the firm. I put on my suit and turned up at the office and asked to speak to the HR manager. She gave me a couple of minutes and I handed over my letter and CV and I briefly pitched my interest in the firm.

    It worked, and I was offered some work experience.

    The next year I was successful getting work experience at an international firm, on the back of which I got a training contract.

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