Over the course of my (admittedly very extended) work experience at Aston Bond, I saw a number of other people come and go on shorter stints of work experience. Some of these had an excellent experience and like me received an interesting variety of work and were even given varying degrees of responsibility. Others however seemed to miss the opportunities around them and drifted through their two weeks in a state of boredom.
Seeing this got me thinking about what I, and others, had done to help ensure an engaging and useful period of work experience. From my observations and experiences, I have compiled 5 tips for people just starting their journey towards a legal career who want to maximise what they get from legal work experience.
- Do the basics right
It is crucial to show attention to detail – don’t try to rush something because it seems easy or boring. This is applicable throughout, but it is especially important at the start when the people giving you work will be trying to gauge your ability to determine what level of task you can handle next. Making silly mistakes early on will make it harder to earn their trust and be given more challenging work. However, I think it also helps to think about this one in a broader sense. By this I mean acting professionally and being friendly – you are unlikely to earn any trust if you don’t have the self-discipline not to get your phone out every 20 minutes.
- Be patient
You cannot rush the initial trust-earning phase, so do not be disheartened if it takes time to be given more challenging work. If you go in expecting to be given a really glamorous piece of work right off the bat, you will likely be disappointed. Take the time to demonstrate your competence if you want to be rewarded with more interesting work.
- Be enthusiastic
See all work as a learning opportunity, because at the start it always is, if not about the law itself then at least about what working in a law firm is like. If you end up being given the same or similar tasks to do multiple times over, then it is an opportunity to practice and improve your ability to complete the process. There are also generally legal reasons for why things are done a certain way, so ask questions to develop your understanding.
- Be proactive
This one is often the one that makes the biggest difference. It is very easy to just stay behind your desk and wait for someone to give you something, but I have found that actively going out and seeking work made my time much more productive. It gave me a much wider variety of work than I would otherwise have received, and got me involved in matters that were more interesting to me. This can be helpful not just for developing practical legal experience, but also for figuring out which areas of law you would be interested in working in in the future. It is also a good way to demonstrate your enthusiasm to the firm. That said, it is important to remember that solicitors are busy people, so exercise common sense about when to approach them for work. Equally though, don’t be deterred by a ‘no’ – it is often worth trying again in a few days time.
- Expand your network
You will be working alongside qualified legal practitioners with a wealth of knowledge, so take the time to get to know them and help them out. This will allow you to learn more from them about what they do on a daily basis, and may even give you someone to turn to in the future if you require advice about your career.
The above list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it has provided you with a few things to keep in mind while completing work experience that will help you to make the most of the opportunity.
By Henry Smith