Fast Track: Help Desk: What can I do to raise my level of legal work experience?

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Dear Help Desk

I AM a law graduate who has recently completed the Legal Practice Course and am applying for a training contract for 1999 or 2000. I have gained some practical legal experience during the Summer vacations and would like to know what else I should be doing between finishing the LPC and finding a suitable job, to enhance my prospects of gaining a training contract.

I understand that positions may be available with law firms during this gap, and I would like to know whether, in reality, this is the case. Also, does getting experience in one type of firm such as a legal aid practice as opposed to a commercial firm mean that my options would be more limited when it comes to applying for a training contract?

Jonathan White, Cambridge.

Hina Malak, graduate recruitment manager, Stephenson Harwood (a major City law firm) says:

There are still some training contracts available for 1999 but as many law firms, especially in the City, recruit two years in advance, most will be recruiting for September 2000 at the present time. However, some firms will have under-recruited and so it is worth approaching Graduate Recruitment departments directly.

Refer to the Student Edition of the Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession for relevant names and addresses. Paralegal work between completing the LPC and finding a training contract can be useful experience to have on your CV and, sometimes, paralegal work can lead to the offer of a training contract.

Before accepting any offer, you should always enquire as to whether the particular firm has a policy of recruiting paralegals as trainees. If you are interested in applying to City firms, it would be preferable to gain experience of commercial law. However, any kind of experience in the legal field is better than none and will show commitment to a career in the law. Good luck with your search!

Anil Shah, regional controller, HW Daniels Bates Legal recruitment consultants says:

Training contracts are increasingly difficult to obtain, so anything that will enhance the contents of your CV should increase your chances. Gaining experience with a law firm, as it appears you have done, is without doubt one of the best ways to build relevant experience, particularly if you are able to work in one of the fields which currently suffer from skills shortages, such as residential conveyancing, tax (both private client and corporate) or personal injury (plaintiff and defendant RTA).

Opportunities do exist with firms for individuals who possess a solid, if basic, level of experience in these areas. Also you will find that having the name of a major law firm on your CV can significantly increase your prospects of obtaining a training contract, especially if you hope to join a top tier firm. In order to get to this point flexibility is important.

Just as you may have to relocate to get a job with a good firm, you may have to consider doing the same in order to gain relevant experience.

This will also increase your chances of finding an opening with a firm during the gap period. It is important, however, to bear in mind that if you are looking to specialise in, for example, commercial law, you will find that experience in an unconnected area of law will not be of great value. In this case it is better to wait for a relevant opportunity.

With appropriate experience you will find law firms more willing to hear from you and more likely to offer you a training contract. This advice is equally relevant to people who have been unable to gain a training contract the first time round, but are working as non-qualified fee earners in a legal environment.

James Clayton, trainee solicitor, Olswang says:

Although most law firms recruit their trainees two years in advance, their requirements often change in the interim period, so do not be put off chasing the personnel departments of the firms you are interested in to see if they are recruiting additional trainees for an intake which was previously full.

Otherwise, summer placements or any other form of work experience (even unpaid) are invaluable, since they present an ideal opportunity to get your foot in the door, and instead of having one interview to put your case, you get a window of 3-4 weeks.

Obviously, it is preferable to experience the areas of law which interest you, but there is more to work experience; office life is not something which the LPC prepares you for and any experience of the law in a practical environment is worthwhile. Ultimately there is a large amount of luck involved in finding a training contract (being in the right place at the right time, etc), as well as perseverance.

No one enjoys spending hours slaving over one application after another, but needs must when the devil drives. I was fortunate enough to start a placement at Olswang at a time when the firm was (and indeed still is) enjoying a period of considerable growth, and what started out as a three week summer placement became two months worth of work culminating in a training contract to take back to law school.