Gaining Work Experience
- The Summer Placement
About Work Experience
What can I expect to get paid?
Who Do I Apply To?
How Do I Apply?
What is it?
Work experience can
consist quite simply of experiencing work which many if not
all students inevitably have done at some time before they
apply for a job in a law firm. Legal work experience will
generally be a 4-6 week placement in a law firm and can be
beneficial for both parties.
Firstly, and most importantly,
it helps to focus the law student in deciding whether or not
they really want to work in a law firm or in a particular
type of department after graduating. Secondly, it helps law
firms with their recruitment process. A summer work experience
placement in a law firm DOES NOT guarantee a traineeship at
the end of it. However, I would be lying if I said it does
not, in some cases, help considerably and in others, hinder
the efforts of the traineeship applicant. Remember, at the
same time as showing a law firm that they do want to keep
you on as a trainee, it can also show them that they don't.
So perhaps the most important aspect of the process is the
advantages for the student.
There are many advantages
of a placement, some of which are as follows. It can enhance
an otherwise gloomy CV, it can give you great experience of
interviews and of working in an office environment. It can
also prepare you somewhat for what to expect after the Diploma
and make the things which you are taught in the Diploma seem
a bit clearer. If nothing else, at least its better than working
in Asda for another summer!
What Can I Expect to Get Paid?
For some people, this
can be the most important concern and for all, this can be
the biggest disappointment. One of the exceptions to the minimum wage requirements
is students undertaking work placements during the vacation
periods of their course. So a 9-5, Monday to Friday job will
more often than not yield a weekly pay cheque which fails
to resemble £5.35 an hour. Remember, you need them, at this
stage more than they need you.
Typically, law firms
will pay wages ranging from £0 - £140 a week. Remember some
placements will not necessarily be in the City in which you
live and I have yet to hear of a law firm refunding travel
expenses for summer students commuting between Glasgow and
Edinburgh which can cost upto £75 a week (although cheaper
fares, discount cards and tickets can be bought to make it
closer to £50 a week). On top of this, lunch and after work
drinks must then be deducted and at the end of the week, your
finances may begin to dwindle. If this is the case, perhaps
a 4 week placement is advisable instead of a 12 week one or
several placements lasting for much of the summer.
The figure of £0 a
week is relevant mainly if you go through the University schemes
of arranging a summer placement. However, I have heard that
students on this scheme were paid by one of the firms because
it was against that firms policy not to pay summer students.
So a weekly wage can be closer to £100 - £140 so don't despair
I heard that Accountancy
Firms Pay More.
A placement in an Accountancy
Firm however can often pay a great deal more (about £200
- £250 a week) and while this can often give you excellent
business and commercial experience, do you really want to
be an accountant? If you are not sure then such a placement
is ideal and will help tremendously in opening new doors and
confirming whether or not you are doing the right thing.
You should apply, quite
simply, to as many firms as you want to. Smaller firms are
less likely to be hiring students for the summer and inevitably
many rejection letters will cite this as their reason. Larger
firms typically will take on quite a few summer students for
each department not necessarily at the same time but spread
out in 4-6 week blocks over the summer. A good place to start
to find firm names and addresses is the legal 500 which is
on the internet at the following address Legal 500
Recommends Law Firms in Scotland. Also, Chambers is a good starting point too. Both of these will tell you which
firms perform which type of work in your area and also the
size of the firm which is usually indicated by the number
of fee-earners. The Law Society of Scotland
too has a list of firms organised by geographical area. It
is a good idea to visit the firms website to find out more
about it and links to as many Scottish law firm's pages that
I can find are contained on the Scots Law Online Resource
Centre on the Scottish
Law Firms Page. There is no point applying to a criminal
law firm if you have failed criminal law or if you have no
intention of practising this later. As far as the type of
firm goes, common sense and your own personal preference must
This part is not terribly
complicated. Put your CV and a covering letter in an envelope,
address it and stamp it and post it. Then wait for a reply.
A list of things which should be in your CV are contained
here and a model covering letter here.
The rejection letter.
You will inevitably
get many rejection letters. Don't worry about this, it is
nothing personal and it is certainly nothing unusual. Perhaps
the types of firms you applied to were the wrong ones. Or
perhaps they filled their vacancies very quickly or never
even had any vacancies in the first place. If one firm rejects
you, it doesn't mean that the others will too. Your University
may also be able to help you get on a work experience placement
in a law firm which they have already arranged.
If you are lucky enough
to get an interview, don't assume the job is yours. An interview
will last typically from 15 minutes to 1 hour. A short interview
doesn't mean you did badly and a long interview doesn't mean
you did well necessarily. For work experience placements there
will normally be one to two interviewers who will be either
a member of human resources (personnel) or a fee-earner. Know
a bit about the firm and be able to say, if asked, which areas
you would like to get experience of and why. An example of
some department names are Corporate (Company or Commercial),
Tax, Litigation, Property, Construction and so on. Don't worry
if you haven't decided at this point as helping you decide
is part of the reason for the placement in the first place.
Obvious advice is smile, firm handshake, dress smartly, be
punctual (5-10 minutes early) and polite and above all, appear
interested in the firm. The interview will often be a simple
run through your CV and involve general questions about your
hobbies, exam results, interests, what you want to do after
university and which honours courses you are doing and why.
It is a good idea to have a list in your mind of areas of
your CV which you want to emphasise and draw attention to.
If you have some bad exam results, they may draw attention
to this and ask you where you think you went wrong so have
an answer prepared. Try not to make things up in the interview,
for as tempting as this may be, lies have a tendency of backfiring
at the worst possible times. A couple of frequently asked
questions are: "Why did you choose Glasgow/Edinburgh/Aberdeen/Dundee/Strathclyde?"
and "Why did you choose to study law?". Remember,
if you didn't hear or understand a question, ask them to repeat
it rather than answering a question which you think they asked.
Most importantly, remain calm, don't panic and good luck.
Can I work on my
Dissertation while I'm there?
summer in which work experience normally takes place is also,
for many people, the summer which you will have set aside
to start your dissertation research. In this respect, the
placement can offer access to a wider or different range of
resources and legal expertise than would be available in the
law schools. If you do decide to do extensive research in
your time at the firm, make sure you separate this from the
work you should be doing as part of your placement and the
time which you should be doing it in and remember to ask before
taking resources home or photocopying for personal use. Although
ignored in many offices, it is still technically theft to
take something for oneself without asking or paying for it.
Don't let this put you off doing it if they say you can though.
Work experience is
not the be all and end all of getting a traineeship and in
many cases can be completely irrelevant so don't panic if
you haven't managed to do it. This page is only here for those
of you who want to experience working in a law firm. A more
interesting way to spend your summer would be to circumnavigate
the world on top of a large African elephant because that
definitely will guarantee you an interview for a traineeship!
Kevin F Crombie
Last Revised: 30/09/00