5 ways to make the most of your legal work experience
Having undertaken work experience with a number of firms prior to my training contract, including Royds Withy King, here are my five tips on how to make the most of your legal work experience:
1- It’s not a matter of serving time
Work experience is under no circumstances a tick-box exercise; it is an excellent opportunity to develop and inform your knowledge of the legal industry, and in particular, the firm you are working at. Although they may appear similar from the outside, no two law firms are the same. Use your time wisely. Do not treat work experience as an exercise in ‘serving time’. You are assessing the firm just as much as they are building an impression of you. How do people interact with each other and clients? How are the partners treating their more junior colleagues? What is the atmosphere in the office? Work placements offer you a valuable insight into whether a firm actually lives up to their purported ‘culture’.
2- Be enthusiastic
Although this sounds like a cliché, you would be surprised at the number of placement students who come across as uninterested. Enthusiasm begins before you even arrive for your first day. Research the firm prior to your placement. You do not have to arrive knowing the firm’s entire history, but it is always useful to have an awareness of the sort of work they carry out and any high profile matters they were involved in. When you arrive, be sure to be charming, friendly and enthusiastic, but do not reserve your enthusiasm for only the senior members of staff – treat everyone equally. Even if their job description does not include ‘partner’, you have only been there a short while, you do not know how far a person’s influence reaches!
3- Make an effort to engage with those around you
This tip comes with a warning! Whilst your colleagues will most likely be willing to answer any questions you may have, try to gauge an appropriate time to ask. That being said, work experience is valuable chance to vet a law firm from the inside. Ask questions, find out what attracted the current employees to work at the firm and what made them stay? What do they enjoy about working there? What do they dislike about the firm? Why did they choose to go into a particular practice area? You might find the answers you hear will vary between departments so it is worth engaging with as many people as you can (bearing in mind the warning above). The answers to these will all help inform you about whether a particular practice area, or the firm itself, is right for you.
4- You do not have to know the law
A common mistaken belief work placement students have, is that they need to know the law in the area they are working in. Legal knowledge is largely superfluous in the type of work carried out during work placements, such as drafting simple documents, bundling, research, note-taking at a client meeting and the notorious photocopying. However, it may be worth being aware of any legal reforms or updates that are affecting the area of law you are working in. These are often a topical conversation in the department.
5- Reflect and keep a log of what you learn
Throughout your work placement you should keep notes of what tasks you have carried out, what you have experienced and how these have helped you to develop the requisite competencies of a successful lawyer. Following your placement, you may want to undertake further work experience in a different setting, perhaps a larger firm, a smaller firm, a different practice area, or even a different geographical region. Taking notes forces you to reflect on what you have covered and will help you decide what other parts of the legal industry you want to experience next. Most importantly of all, these notes will be extremely useful when you begin completing your training contract applications!
You can apply for a vacation scheme or work experience at Royds Withy King here.