It can sometimes feel counter-intuitive, but you have to be able to sell yourself to succeed in a profession as competitive as law. I recently volunteered at a Law Society CV clinic and met a woman there who was worried about not having enough legal work experience to secure a training contract, a concern that most of us have had at one point or another.
It was only on her way out of the room that she mentioned, in passing, that she had once spoken in court. I asked her more about this and she revealed that, despite not having any formal legal training, she had spent several years intermittently representing a family member in court as a McKenzie friend.
Why was this incredible experience not on her CV? She said that she had not thought it was relevant: this was a favour she was doing for a sibling, not the kind of formal work experience that graduate recruitment teams are looking for.
This is an extreme example, but anyone who has gone through the training contract application process will empathise with the challenge of figuring out how to best present work experience to law firms. While few of us will have an inspiring court experience in our back pocket like the woman above, we all have something we can draw from.
“We are always interested to read about an applicant’s work experience, whether that be legal or non-legal,” says Hayley Halvatzis, HR Advisor at Charles Russell Speechlys. “The legal work experience doesn’t have to be from a City law firm. Exposure to the law through, for example, extra-curricular activities like pro-bono work or shadowing a solicitor at a high street firm can be equally as beneficial.”
Did you have a part-time job at university? Talk about the interpersonal and client care skills you picked up. Have you worked in a different industry? Think about the transferable analytical or communication skills you learnt. When I was applying, I spoke about the communication skills I developed through my involvement in my university’s student newspaper.
No one expects trainees to have conquered the legal industry by the time they start work, so it is really important to be comfortable talking about the value of the experience you do have.
As well as being a prerequisite to getting into the legal profession, being able to confidently speak about your strengths and sell yourself is vital once you become a trainee. I constantly find myself presented with the chance to do something extra, whether that’s asking for an exciting piece of work, volunteering at a legal advice centre or pitching for a possible secondment. You have to be comfortable putting yourself forward for these opportunities.
With that in mind, it is never too late to add a new string to your bow: send out a few emails to smaller firms who might not have formal placements and see what happens, get involved in all the voluntary activities you can get your hands on and go to all the industry and networking events you can find. Seize every opportunity that comes your way: you will always learn something.
The chance to practice these skills and find out about these sorts of opportunities is one of the reasons I love being on the Executive Committee for the London Young Lawyers Group. We organise regular networking and career development events specifically designed to give our members the chance to meet other aspiring trainees and junior lawyers from a range of backgrounds working across the legal industry. I am always so impressed by the variety of routes people have taken to get to where they are. Coming up we have our annual charity pub quiz and networking taking place on Thursday 17th November, followed by our Christmas party on Friday 2nd December – tickets and further information can be found on www.lylg.org.uk. Both events are always really great fun as well as a chance to build your professional network. You never know, it might make all the difference!
Leo Michelmore is secretary of the London Young Lawyers Group and a trainee at Charles Russell Speechlys.