Step 5: Gaining experience and making contact

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.

Step 5 Resource book

Whether you are at school, college, university or already at The College of Law, you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to develop your legal skills and legal knowledge through practical hands-on experience. Our resource book aims, among other things, to highlight what you should be looking for, and when.

Step 5 Weblinks

Below is a list of website useful for finding experience within the legal sector

The Bar Directory: www.legalhub.co.uk 
Online access to the Bar Council’s Bar Directory

Chambers and Partners: www.chambersandpartners.com 
The Chambers and Partners website allows online access to a range of publications including the Chambers UK client guide and Chambers Student Guide

Find a Solicitor: http://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/
The online version of the Law Society’s Directory of Solicitors

LawCareers.Net: www.lawcareers.net 
An extremely comprehensive resource for prospective lawyers, containing a wealth of advice, guidance and news (you can sign up for a regular newsletter). It also contains details of courses and information on law firms, chambers, vacancies and much more.

Law Society Gazette: www.lawgazette.co.uk 
Weekly magazine published by the Law Society with legal news, views and vacancies.

Michael Page: www.michaelpage.co.uk
Website for Michael Page legal recruitment

The Pupillage Gateway: www.pupillagegateway.com 
The official site for advertising all pupillages and the site for online pupillage applications.

Target Law: http://targetjobs.co.uk/law 
A graduate careers website with online information from Target law: careers advice and information across the graduate recruitment field but with a focus on key areas such as law

Totally Legal: www.totallylegal.com
Legal recruitment website

Voluntary opportunities:

Amnesty International: www.amnesty.org
Amnesty International: global human rights group – website useful for information and possible voluntary or paid opportunities

Bail for Immigration Detainees: www.biduk.org
Bail for Immigration Detainees website – may have opportunities for volunteering

Citizens Advice Bureau: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Citizens Advice Bureau: for information on the CAB network and possible voluntary or paid opportunities

The Free Representation Unit: www.thefru.org.uk
Find out about opportunities to volunteer with FRU

Independent Custody Visiting Association: www.icva.org.uk 
Information about becoming a Independent custody visitor (who check on the welfare of people in police custody)

Independent Monitoring Boards: www.justice.gov.uk/about/imb/ 
Find out about opportunities to become a member of your local Inspection and Monitoring Board, responsible for monitoring prisons, immigration removal centres, etc.

JUSTICE: www.justice.org.uk
Information about JUSTICE, law reform and human rights – the organisation also has a number of annual internship opportunities

LawWorks: www.lawworks.org.uk  
LawWorks: find out about the work of LawWorks (the Solicitor Pro Bono Group) and it’s involvement in pro bono activities

Liberty - protecting civil liberties: www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk
The National civil liberties charity: find out about civil liberties and human rights work and well as the ‘Lawyers for Liberty’ group

Prisoners' Advice Service: www.prisonersadvice.org.uk
Opportunities to volunteer with the Prisoners’ Advice Service

The Law Centres Federation: www.lawcentres.org.uk
Information about Law Centres and opportunities to volunteer

UNV Online Volunteering: www.onlinevolunteering.org/en/index.html
Opportunities to volunteer, working online, with a variety of international and national organisations

Victim Support: http://www.victimsupport.org.uk/
Information about Victim Support and opportunities to volunteer

Step 5 Workshop

Our workshop gives you a comprehensive overview of the opportunities you have to gain experience which will be vital to successful applications. 

You can also read the transcript here.

Step 5 Activities

Building contacts through a personal network is an excellent way to get an insight into the profession, download our activity to see what contacts you have.

Download our networking and 'experience' activity here 

Step 5 FAQs

Gaining experience and finding vacancies

How much experience do you expect someone to have, before they start the LPC?

Where can I find information on law fairs/events?

When should I start applying for vacation schemes?

How many vacation placements do you need to have?

Is work experience as impressive to employers as a vacation scheme?

I’m on the LPC and I have very little legal work experience. Is there anything I can do to improve my CV?

I’m considering taking a year out between university and the GDL – would that be viewed as a good or bad move by firms?

Do you help students to get paralegal experience?

How many mini-pupillages should I aim to get?

Is gaining work experience outside of law firms useful?
All my legal work experience has been gained in a different jurisdiction: does that matter?

What is ‘marshalling’ and how should I apply?

Where can I find training contract vacancies?

Where can I search for pupillage vacancies?


Q. How much experience do you expect someone to have, before they start the LPC?

A. Obviously it’s good to have some legal work experience. If you haven’t got any, you need to show that you’ve done your research: for example, you’ve attended talks by firms, attended open days, spoken to employers at law fairs and so on. Once you’re at the University, you can apply for our mentoring scheme, for Pro Bono opportunities and make the most of our speaker programme. The Employability Service will be on hand to advise and help you in your search for work experience, and prepare you for interview. If you are not yet at the University, contact your own Careers Service for help and information.

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Q. Where can I find information on law fairs/events?


A. Join The University of Law’s Future Lawyers Network. Other sources of information include the LCN Diary on www.lawcareers.net and the Prospects website www.prospects.ac.uk also has information on law fairs.

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Q. When should I start applying for vacation schemes?


As a general rule, the earliest recruiters are the larger firms which open applications for vacation schemes in the winter approximately two and a half years before you would start your training contract ie winter 2013/14 for the autumn 2016 intake. 

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Q. How many vacation placements do you need to have?

A. Given the stiff competition for places on vacation schemes, you will 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, in order to explain why you are applying to a particular firm. If you can’t secure a vacation placement, look at the resources on our website to help you identify other means of securing work experience.

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Q. Is work experience as impressive to employers as a vacation scheme?


A. It depends on the kind of firm you want to work for. If you want to secure a training contract at the type of big City firms which tend to offer the formal vacation schemes, then having a vacation placement under your belt will a) prove that you have the ‘right stuff’ for a training contract, and reassure other similar potential recruiters that another big firm has seen enough in you to offer you a vacation placement, but b) it also puts you in a good position for a training contract, as many firms recruit their trainees from their vacation placements. If however, you are not interested in the larger firms, then obtaining work experience at the kind of firm you hope to secure a training contract is very valuable. The bottom line is: if you are able to obtain both kinds of experience – vacation placements and work experience – then you have the benefit of being able to compare and contrast when explaining your choices at interviews for training contracts.

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Q. I’m on the LPC and I have very little legal work experience. Is there anything I can do to improve my CV?


A. Some firms offer LPC students the chance of a place on a vacation scheme – check www.lawcareers.net for deadlines. If you have missed the closing dates for these firms, or they are not the sort of firm you are interested in, apply to some of the smaller firms, which may offer work experience. You can apply for this type of opportunity at any time by either sending in a copy of your CV with a covering letter, or by telephoning them.

Also look at non legal work experience in a related area. For example, if you are interested in working for a commercial firm, other types of commercial experience such as banking, working in an accountancy firm or insurance company etc would be useful.

You can search for work experience on JobSearch (as an accepted, current, or alumni student of the University): and in The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook (www.lawcareers.net).

If you are a student at The University of Law, apply for our mentoring scheme, and sign up for Pro Bono which will give you hands-on experience during the course.

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Q. I’m considering taking a year out between university and the GDL – would that be viewed as a good or bad move by firms?

A. Whether or not to take a gap year is entirely up to you, but if you see a ‘gap’ on your CV that needs filling, it can be a very a good move, but it will depend on what you do with your year out. If you can show that you spent the time profitably, for example, increasing your independence, taking on new challenges, working as a team, gaining commercial awareness, honing language skills, earning money in order to finance the course and so on, then obviously all this will boost your eventual applications. Hanging around socialising with your friends, and watching daytime TV is not going to enhance your prospects sadly.

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Q. Do you help students to get paralegal experience?

A. Absolutely. Many firms nowadays (though not all) look for the LPC from applicants for paralegal work, so we do a lot of work with students on our LPC to help them secure paralegal work (for example, you will find that applications for paralegal work may be slightly different to those for training contracts – more practical in nature). We also have a range of legal employers offering paralegal work in to talk to students; as well as talks by leading paralegal recruitment agencies. Employers seeking paralegals also post vacancies on our ‘JobSearch’ site.

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Q. How many mini-pupillages should I aim to get?

A. There is no ‘right’ number of mini-pupillages to secure. Ideally, you might aim for a couple of mini-pupillages in chambers specialising in differing areas of law, to test your career choice, and then a couple in different chambers working in your chosen area, to compare different chambers. But this will depend on your own circumstances and need. The priority is to enable you to show potential recruiters you understand what practising as a barrister means, and you can begin to do this after the first mini-pupillage. 

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Q. Is gaining work experience outside of law firms useful?

A. Absolutely. This type of experience can give you:

Commercial awareness – important for all future recruiters

Sector knowledge and expertise – important if you are applying to firms or chambers working in a similar field

Transferable skills – the skills of teamworking, problem solving, customer service, and so on, that recruiters look for in applicants. 

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Q. All my legal work experience has been gained in a different jurisdiction: does that matter?


A. No. All lawyers use the same transferable skills, and your experience will be viewed as equally valuable. However, if you can also gain work experience in England and Wales however, that would enable you to explain at interview why – having gained some experience of other jurisdictions – it is the English common law system that you wish to practise in.

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Q. What is ‘marshalling’ and how should I apply?

A. Marshalling is basically ‘work shadowing’ a judge; it involves accompanying a judge in court, usually for a few days to a week, and provides an excellent opportunity to see how the court works and the role of the judge. Not only will you observe from behind the bench, you will get the opportunity to discuss the case with the judge, give your opinions and seeing how judgments are arrived at.

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Q. Where can I find training contract vacancies?

A. The main source of vacancies at the larger firms is The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook which is also available online at www.lawcareers.net.

In addition, as soon as you accept a place, you will be able to access The University of Law’s JobSearch database which contains over 3,000 vacancies every year relevant to those seeking to enter the legal profession.

Training contract vacancies at smaller firms require a little more research on your part. We suggest that you start by deciding on the type of firm/practice area you are interested in (see the materials in Steps 1 and 2, the case studies and practice areas). Once you have an idea of the type of work you want to do, and the geographical location you are interested in, look at  the Law Society’s  ‘Find a Solicitor’ database  which allows you to search for firms by practice area and location. So, for example, you could search for firms doing family law in the Guildford area. Once you have your list of ‘target’ firms, you can then find out (either by looking at the firm’s website, or failing that, by calling the firm) whether they are taking on trainees and what the process is.  

You should also check the jobs section of your local papers.

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Q. Where can I search for pupillage vacancies?

A. The Pupillage Gateway website (www.pupillagegateway.com) is the designated website on which all pupillages must be advertised. 

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Step 5 In brief

Download our quick guide to getting legal experience and developing your network of contacts.

Practice areas

Information on different areas of the law: what it covers, what it's like in practice, current issues, and further information.

Case studies

University staff pass on their experience of what it's like to work as a lawyer in practice.