Most of the UK’s law students will have started their summer holidays by now. For many, this is a welcome chance to get a bit of a breather from the intensive work that a law degree demands. Some students, on the other hand, may be looking for an opportunity to take some of the time they have over the summer and use it to get ahead in their studies. There are a few productive and useful ways that hard-working law students may want to spend their summer.
One of the simplest ways to spend your summer productively is by reading. This might sound a little bit obvious, but it is easy to underestimate just how useful this can be. If you have your reading list for next year, then you may simply want to get ahead on that. You will probably still need a refresher once you have started your modules, but this will take a lot less time than reading it, and time will be in much shorter supply come term-time. Alternatively you may want to do some more general reading about areas of the law that interest you or you believe may be useful, or even read some law-related fiction.
Gain Some Experience
There are various ways of gaining work experience in the law. Naturally, your holidays will likely be your best opportunity to do so while you are still studying, if not the only time you will be able to take the necessary time out from your studies. Having some practical experience behind you before you even graduate can be invaluable when it comes to launching your legal career. For many opportunities, you may now be too late to apply this time around but could consider it for a future holiday. For some kinds of opportunity, particularly voluntary work, you may still be able to set something up that you can do before this summer is over.
There are likely to be a number of legal events held over the summer, and these are a great way to boost your studies, your future career prospects, or your knowledge of the law in general. Law fairs, which are held by legal organisations and universities, can be a great opportunity to network with legal professionals and firms as well as to find out more about things like career opportunities, postgraduate courses, and training schemes. Public lectures are another kind of event, allowing you to expand your knowledge of the law into subjects that may not be covered by your core course, or perhaps get a head start on subjects you have yet to cover.
A student-led initiative at the University of Bedfordshire offering legal advice to members of the public for free has reopened at the institution’s Luton campus. The initiative, simply called The Law Clinic, sees the university’s law students offer fee-free legal support to those who need it covering multiple areas of the law.
The initiative is not only staffed but run by students, though they operate under the supervision of the university’s legal experts to ensure the fact they are still learning does not compromise the quality of advice they give to the public. The initiative also ran last year, when 24 clients received free advice on a range of issues. Primarily, this included issues in the fields of employment law, consumer rights and issues with housing.
According to the University of Bedfordshire School of Law and Finance’s acting department head and Associate Executive Dean (international), Dr John Beaumont-Kerridge, “The Law Clinic is an excellent example of contemporary Higher Education working to provide a valuable service to the community and at the same time offering a unique experience to students.”
He continued: “Always under the guidance of experienced and qualified staff, members of the public have access to free legal support on housing, consumer and employment issues.”
the benefits to the local community are obvious and, according to Dr Beaumont-Kerridge, “immeasurable.” However, the students are also reaping very solid benefits from the initiative. Running the clinic is giving them valuable real-world experience of providing legal guidance and support to genuine clients. This is helping them to better prepare themselves for the world of work in the legal sector. By doing so, it also represents a valuable entry for their CVs, helping them escape the “experience trap” which can be as problematic for legal students when they graduate as for those trying to get into any other field of work.
Gaining experience is invaluable for graduates looking to secure a training contract or some other first step into their legal career. Places can be competitive, and having some experience of providing legal services in a practical way can be a big advantage. However, opportunities to get experience can also be competitive and their numbers are limited. A scheme such as the University of Bedfordshire’s Law Clinic provide students with an accessible way to get genuine experience of supporting real clients with real legal issues while still studying their degree and within the bounds of their university campus.
The legal sector is a competitive area, and one that is not immune to the “experience trap.” While a training contract should give you the kind of real world experience you need for your subsequent legal career, prior work experience can be invaluable in beating out the competition to secure that contract in the first place. Some degree of work experience can even be a big help at the very earliest stages of your career, when applying for a law degree or conversion course.
So what kind of work experience is out there in the legal sector, and how do you go about getting it?
Formal work experience opportunities, paid or unpaid, may be advertised by firms of various kinds. These tend to be advertised in much the same way as any other job, through online job boards or in the press, and have similar recruitment processes involving a CV or application form followed by an interview. Not all opportunities are advertised at all, so you might want to send a CV speculatively to some firms that are especially relevant or conveniently-located just to see if they will consider giving you an opportunity or have anything coming up in the near future.
Some of these may be vacation schemes, designed for degree or conversion course students. These are of various lengths and are even more diverse in terms of the kind of work they might involve, depending on the type and size of the firm offering the opportunity. However, they are timed to coincide with university holiday seasons as they are specifically designed for current legal students to gather industry experience between semesters.
You might also undertake pro bono work, using the skills and knowledge you have already gained in your studies to help out with real cases. This is naturally more demanding and is unpaid, but is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to the profession while dealing with real cases and having direct contact with clients.
If you are interested in a career as a barrister rather than a solicitor, you may be able to undertake a mini pupillage. This involves a short period – usually just a week or two – spent shadowing a barrister in chambers.
Informal opportunities may be of interest to those who are already studying law, but are arguably more useful for those who want to gather some experience of the legal profession before starting their degree (or their conversion course, as the case may be). The experience will look great on your UCAS application, and will also be a great way to find out first-hand about what a legal career entails and make sure it is right for you.
This kind of work experience involves shadowing legal professionals or providing basic assistance with their work on a voluntary basis. It is essentially similar to the work experience you were probably required to do for a week or two during secondary school. On some levels, the experience you gain is basic but it still represents a useful real-world insight into the legal sector. Opportunities are almost certainly unadvertised, requiring a speculative and proactive approach on your part, and will almost certainly be unpaid.