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Gaining Work Experience - The Summer Placement

Contents

              About Work Experience
              What can I expect to get paid?
              Who Do I Apply To?
              How Do I Apply?
              The Interview
              Miscellaneous

 


About Work Experience

What is it?

Work experience can consist quite simply of experiencing work which many if not all students inevitably have done at some time before they apply for a job in a law firm. Legal work experience will generally be a 4-6 week placement in a law firm and can be beneficial for both parties.

Firstly, and most importantly, it helps to focus the law student in deciding whether or not they really want to work in a law firm or in a particular type of department after graduating. Secondly, it helps law firms with their recruitment process. A summer work experience placement in a law firm DOES NOT guarantee a traineeship at the end of it. However, I would be lying if I said it does not, in some cases, help considerably and in others, hinder the efforts of the traineeship applicant. Remember, at the same time as showing a law firm that they do want to keep you on as a trainee, it can also show them that they don't. So perhaps the most important aspect of the process is the advantages for the student.

Advantages:

There are many advantages of a placement, some of which are as follows. It can enhance an otherwise gloomy CV, it can give you great experience of interviews and of working in an office environment. It can also prepare you somewhat for what to expect after the Diploma and make the things which you are taught in the Diploma seem a bit clearer. If nothing else, at least its better than working in Asda for another summer!

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What Can I Expect to Get Paid?

For some people, this can be the most important concern and for all, this can be the biggest disappointment. One of the exceptions to the minimum wage requirements is students undertaking work placements during the vacation periods of their course. So a 9-5, Monday to Friday job will more often than not yield a weekly pay cheque which fails to resemble 5.35 an hour. Remember, you need them, at this stage more than they need you.

Typically, law firms will pay wages ranging from 0 - 140 a week. Remember some placements will not necessarily be in the City in which you live and I have yet to hear of a law firm refunding travel expenses for summer students commuting between Glasgow and Edinburgh which can cost upto 75 a week (although cheaper fares, discount cards and tickets can be bought to make it closer to 50 a week). On top of this, lunch and after work drinks must then be deducted and at the end of the week, your finances may begin to dwindle. If this is the case, perhaps a 4 week placement is advisable instead of a 12 week one or several placements lasting for much of the summer.

The figure of 0 a week is relevant mainly if you go through the University schemes of arranging a summer placement. However, I have heard that students on this scheme were paid by one of the firms because it was against that firms policy not to pay summer students. So a weekly wage can be closer to 100 - 140 so don't despair too much.

I heard that Accountancy Firms Pay More.

A placement in an Accountancy Firm however can often pay a great deal more (about 200 - 250 a week) and while this can often give you excellent business and commercial experience, do you really want to be an accountant? If you are not sure then such a placement is ideal and will help tremendously in opening new doors and confirming whether or not you are doing the right thing.

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Who Do I Apply to?

You should apply, quite simply, to as many firms as you want to. Smaller firms are less likely to be hiring students for the summer and inevitably many rejection letters will cite this as their reason. Larger firms typically will take on quite a few summer students for each department not necessarily at the same time but spread out in 4-6 week blocks over the summer. A good place to start to find firm names and addresses is the legal 500 which is on the internet at the following address Legal 500 Recommends Law Firms in Scotland. Also, Chambers is a good starting point too. Both of these will tell you which firms perform which type of work in your area and also the size of the firm which is usually indicated by the number of fee-earners. The Law Society of Scotland too has a list of firms organised by geographical area. It is a good idea to visit the firms website to find out more about it and links to as many Scottish law firm's pages that I can find are contained on the Scots Law Online Resource Centre on the Scottish Law Firms Page. There is no point applying to a criminal law firm if you have failed criminal law or if you have no intention of practising this later. As far as the type of firm goes, common sense and your own personal preference must prevail.

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How Do I Apply?

This part is not terribly complicated. Put your CV and a covering letter in an envelope, address it and stamp it and post it. Then wait for a reply. A list of things which should be in your CV are contained here and a model covering letter here.

The rejection letter.

You will inevitably get many rejection letters. Don't worry about this, it is nothing personal and it is certainly nothing unusual. Perhaps the types of firms you applied to were the wrong ones. Or perhaps they filled their vacancies very quickly or never even had any vacancies in the first place. If one firm rejects you, it doesn't mean that the others will too. Your University may also be able to help you get on a work experience placement in a law firm which they have already arranged.

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The Interview

If you are lucky enough to get an interview, don't assume the job is yours. An interview will last typically from 15 minutes to 1 hour. A short interview doesn't mean you did badly and a long interview doesn't mean you did well necessarily. For work experience placements there will normally be one to two interviewers who will be either a member of human resources (personnel) or a fee-earner. Know a bit about the firm and be able to say, if asked, which areas you would like to get experience of and why. An example of some department names are Corporate (Company or Commercial), Tax, Litigation, Property, Construction and so on. Don't worry if you haven't decided at this point as helping you decide is part of the reason for the placement in the first place. Obvious advice is smile, firm handshake, dress smartly, be punctual (5-10 minutes early) and polite and above all, appear interested in the firm. The interview will often be a simple run through your CV and involve general questions about your hobbies, exam results, interests, what you want to do after university and which honours courses you are doing and why. It is a good idea to have a list in your mind of areas of your CV which you want to emphasise and draw attention to. If you have some bad exam results, they may draw attention to this and ask you where you think you went wrong so have an answer prepared. Try not to make things up in the interview, for as tempting as this may be, lies have a tendency of backfiring at the worst possible times. A couple of frequently asked questions are: "Why did you choose Glasgow/Edinburgh/Aberdeen/Dundee/Strathclyde?" and "Why did you choose to study law?". Remember, if you didn't hear or understand a question, ask them to repeat it rather than answering a question which you think they asked. Most importantly, remain calm, don't panic and good luck.

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Miscellaneous

Can I work on my Dissertation while I'm there?

Interestingly, the summer in which work experience normally takes place is also, for many people, the summer which you will have set aside to start your dissertation research. In this respect, the placement can offer access to a wider or different range of resources and legal expertise than would be available in the law schools. If you do decide to do extensive research in your time at the firm, make sure you separate this from the work you should be doing as part of your placement and the time which you should be doing it in and remember to ask before taking resources home or photocopying for personal use. Although ignored in many offices, it is still technically theft to take something for oneself without asking or paying for it. Don't let this put you off doing it if they say you can though.

Final Point

Work experience is not the be all and end all of getting a traineeship and in many cases can be completely irrelevant so don't panic if you haven't managed to do it. This page is only here for those of you who want to experience working in a law firm. A more interesting way to spend your summer would be to circumnavigate the world on top of a large African elephant because that definitely will guarantee you an interview for a traineeship!

Kevin F Crombie

September 2000

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Last Revised: 30/09/00

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