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legal careers guide

5. Gaining legal experience

Legal work, a broad base of experience and the ability to network, are all important for those pursuing a career in the legal profession. This Step helps you identify opportunities and make the most of them.

Updated Resource Book coming soon

Finding Opportunities

Getting work experience is of paramount importance as it shows a potential recruiter:

  • Evidence of your commitment to law
  • Proof that you possess some of the skills and competencies required
  • That you have an insight into the profession or a particular type of organisation.

There are a wide range of work experience opportunities available to you, including:

Vacation schemes

These schemes, mostly run by larger law firms, give you an insight into a firm and usually run for a couple of weeks whilst the firm considers you as a possible recruit.

See LawCareers.Net for details of schemes and when to apply.


These are essential periods of work experience for anyone interested in the Bar. Look at the Pupillage Gateway as well as chambers’ own websites.

Informal work experience/ shadowing

Some firms and organisations offer short informal periods of work experience or shadowing. You need to do your research to find them, and ensure you tailor your letter and write to a named contact when applying.

Pro Bono

This is an invaluable way of applying the law in real world situations. At the University of Law we have around 3,000 pro bono opportunities available each year.

Paralegal work/ outdoor clerking

You can secure paralegal or similar work either by applying through an agency (usually only if you already have a reasonable level of work experience) or direct to a firm.


Organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service and various advisory services employ legal caseworkers.


Organisations such as your local Legal Advice Clinics and Law Centres may take on voluntary helpers.

Court visits

Anyone can sit in the public gallery and observe proceedings in action.

Firm open days

These can be useful if you’re having difficulty securing legal work experience.

Non-legal opportunities

Some employers like to see a mix of legal and non-legal experience on applications. Think about the kind of legal employer you want to apply to and try to secure relevant non-legal experience. For example, finance is highly relevant for legal organisations who work with corporate clients.

Practice related activities

If you are still at school or university, get involved in activities that have a relevance to law so that you can demonstrate transferable skills. For example, mooting competitions are ideal for those aiming for the Bar.

Employer talks, fairs and speaker programmes

Every year, we host around 200 employers who attend our talks, workshops and careers fairs. Ensure you attend and keep notes (including the name of the speaker as it can be useful to mention a contact by name in future applications).


Each year we pair hundreds of students with mentors in practice. In addition to building confidence, mentoring can help you to build your first networks too.


You may not know anyone in the legal professions; however, everyone has a network of contacts to draw on such as friends and family, university and college contacts, work colleagues, social and sports contacts, and professional contacts – and these people may know someone who works in law.

When first trying to make contact, begin by explaining your connection to them (e.g. through a university contact), ask for their advice and try to establish a good rapport, rather than asking for work experience straight away.

If your contact is unable or unwilling to provide you with further advice or experience, try asking whether there is anyone else your contact suggests you speak to, enabling you to obtain further leads that way.


Building contacts through a personal network is an excellent way to get an insight into the profession. Complete this activity to see which contacts you have.

Part One

Reflect on the work experience you have currently achieved. Have you got enough?

Categorise your current experience as follows:

  • Any experience which offers identifiable transferable skills for law
  • Legal experience that is not in the area of law you want to work in or relevant sector experience
  • Relevant legal work experience (you are aiming for a least some of your experience to be of this quality)

Think about whether you can show an identifiable interest in the type of law or practice you want to go into.

If you’re not sure which area you want to go into, you need to gain some basic legal experience to see which areas of law you may be suited to and read about the different practice areas.

Part Two

Think about how you are going to secure the work experience you need. If you do not have the required criteria for the organisations you wish to target, you may need to create your own contacts.

Consider all of the people you know in the following five areas of your life; family, social, education, work and the legal profession. Reflect on what they do and who they know, then begin to identify links which take you closer to where you want to gain experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Given the competition for places on vacation schemes, you’ll be doing really well if you secure one or two placements. If you are able to secure more than one placement, it’s useful to be able to compare and contrast when it comes to interview, as you can explain why you are applying to a particular firm based on your experiences.

Ideally you might want to aim for a couple of mini-pupillages in chambers specialising in different areas of law and in a couple of different chambers specialising in your preferred practice area. The priority is to show potential recruiters that you understand what practising as a barrister means and you can begin to do this after the first mini-pupillage.

This type of experience can give you commercial awareness and the transferable skills (team work and problem solving, etc.) that all recruiters look for. You will increase your sector knowledge and experience which is particularly important if you’re applying to firms or chambers working in a similar field.

Next step: 6

Go to step 6 in the Student Employability Programme.

Next step


Find out how to make the best start to your career through our Employability and Careers Service.

Discover more