Volunteering/pro bono work - first year law student

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Zingzangzod
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#1
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Hi all,

Nearing the end of my first year of a full-time LLB with the open uni. I have been advised that it’s best to get as much volunteering work as possible to gain some knowledge of working within the legal sector.. even if it’s just making coffee etc.. how true does the latter part of that statement hold? I have 10+ years of secretarial work experience within the corporate world(meaning I have done my fair share of photocopying and making teas :-)), what is it that I need to get some work experience to gain exactly ? Im unsure of what making coffee and photocopying at a law firm does! Is this just to show that you are happy to do pro bono work which is what solicitors are expected to undertake? I want to gain as much legal experience as I can prior to applying for vacation schemes and graduating. Any help would be great so I know what to ask law firms for and what to apply for.

Thank you
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vee.cee
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Firms really value experience. Although you've had experience in the secretarial side, they want candidates to have a good experience of the legal world. Although making coffees for a solicitor sounds pointless especially if you have done it before, it immerses you into their world if that makes sense, which is what they're looking for. They're so big on legal experience now x
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Zingzangzod
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(Original post by vee.cee)
Firms really value experience. Although you've had experience in the secretarial side, they want candidates to have a good experience of the legal world. Although making coffees for a solicitor sounds pointless especially if you have done it before, it immerses you into their world if that makes sense, which is what they're looking for. They're so big on legal experience now x
Thank you for your response. Is there anything specific that I’m meant to gain? In the corporate sector , although I wasn’t on the legal team, we were within a few metered of each other in an open plan-office, what’s the difference between that and making coffee in a law firm? I don’t mean to sound complicated but I’m struggling with what to look for exactly. I’m starting to think the volunteering work during uni is mainly for students who have zero work experience.
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SkippyDoo
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(Original post by Zingzangzod)
Thank you for your response. Is there anything specific that I’m meant to gain? In the corporate sector , although I wasn’t on the legal team, we were within a few metered of each other in an open plan-office, what’s the difference between that and making coffee in a law firm? I don’t mean to sound complicated but I’m struggling with what to look for exactly. I’m starting to think the volunteering work during uni is mainly for students who have zero work experience.
If you don't mind me saying, I think you need to approach this more positively rather than trying to find loopholes about why it might not apply to you, or why you think it doesn't add value. I personally am quite inclined to agree that requiring "legal work experience" is really oversold by firms these days, to the point it's become a mania where two weeks on some vacation scheme looking at PowerPoints -- or perhaps even at smaller firms, indeed making coffee -- is seen as "better" than several years in a non-legal job, but the fact is that firms like to see some commitment to law, and it's unlikely you'll be able to argue your way out of it. In particular, rightly or wrongly, firms really don't like people who have other work experience taking the view that the grounding they expect in a trainee doesn't apply to them -- it raises all kinds of ideas in their head about attitude, that you really don't want there.

"Making coffee" is probably not meant to be taken literally as all you will be doing. What is meant is, by taking on admin tasks at a law firm or something else with a legal flavour (a legal advice centre for example), bearing in mind without being trained you can't give legal advice, you are showing enthusiasm for the sector, so that yes, you might be getting the teas in quite literally, but then later you'll be asked to, say, run through a checklist, or take notes at a meeting, something more specific to law. Sure, you might be asked to photocopy too, but it might be copies of an agenda for a meeting that you then also attend, and it is specifically "legal" in its subject matter. As the above poster said, this is all connected to "immersion" in the sector. When you were sitting a few feet away from lawyers, you weren't working with them, or learning by shadowing what they were doing, you were just in the same building, so it is kind of different to that.
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Zingzangzod
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Thank you for your thorough response! It’s exactly what I was looking for. In my original post, I was not trying to find loopholes or make myself sound like I do not need to take on legal work experience as every student does, you misread and misunderstood. I was trying to understand what it is that students need from free work experience. My university alongside free advise from our student support team have all emphasised that our studies come first and the work starts at vacation scheme levels but if we want to do some pro bono work, it won’t be frowned upon. I am more than positively looking at things and understand my experience and will not downplay it, In a very competitive role, my experience will be looked at positively and my law degree will add to that.
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SkippyDoo
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(Original post by Zingzangzod)
Thank you for your thorough response! It’s exactly what I was looking for. In my original post, I was not trying to find loopholes or make myself sound like I do not need to take on legal work experience as every student does, you misread and misunderstood. I was trying to understand what it is that students need from free work experience. My university alongside free advise from our student support team have all emphasised that our studies come first and the work starts at vacation scheme levels but if we want to do some pro bono work, it won’t be frowned upon. I am more than positively looking at things and understand my experience and will not downplay it, In a very competitive role, my experience will be looked at positively and my law degree will add to that.
OK, fair enough, it was more based on your thought above that perhaps this type of experience was required for those who don't have more general work experience in life. Saying this to help you and possibly others and not to criticise or judge, it's very important not to fall into the trap of thinking non-legal work experience, or life experience, will cancel out the requirement to do what other wannabe lawyers are doing, it rarely will -- only if you've done something exceptional like running your own successful business that got bought out by a big tech company or something like that, will it stand out on a CV or convince those who are looking to hire you that it's "as good as" some legal work -- and even THEN they would often probably want to see something legal even it's just at the Citizens Advice Bureau.

As I say, I think this has got to over-the-top levels in recent years as I personally believe e.g. vacation schemes prove little (and more informal work experience is often still more readily available to those with connections, which is unfair), but it's the reality that those who want to join the sector are facing...! Take on board anything "legal", approach it positively and see the value in it. For example, I mentioned the CAB -- I know someone who had a Phd in Law and experience lecturing whose future employers (Silver Circle City law firm) were still impressed with a few months at the CAB and brought it up in the interview. Good luck!
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Zingzangzod
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Thank you for your response, it is super helpful and a great guide to where I should look! If I can bother you with another question re the CAB, I have applied and have been offered an advisor role with them, it’s not legal but I think this would be great in helping my local community and who knows, it may require some legal knowledge, although I will not be able to be give any, would this be on the line of good experience?
I will certainly speak to my local high street firms and hope I can get some work experience with them. It’s a bit of a gamble being a mature student so I hope this helps
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SkippyDoo
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(Original post by Zingzangzod)
Thank you for your response, it is super helpful and a great guide to where I should look! If I can bother you with another question re the CAB, I have applied and have been offered an advisor role with them, it’s not legal but I think this would be great in helping my local community and who knows, it may require some legal knowledge, although I will not be able to be give any, would this be on the line of good experience?
I will certainly speak to my local high street firms and hope I can get some work experience with them. It’s a bit of a gamble being a mature student so I hope this helps
I would give the CAB a try and see if you enjoy it, and if the experience is indeed legal-related in some way, you could emphasise this side on your CV, or when asked at interview. A lot of the CAB stuff is connected to legal rights if not legal as such. If not strictly legal-ish, I would emphasise the qualities it nevertheless shares with a more legal-focused role, for example, these might be: identifying a problem and solving it, dealing with a few matters at a time and keeping them moving, taking responsibility for a matter, dealing with clients, prioritising, etc -- these are all things required of trainees and solicitors.

In my experience, having done admin assistant work in the past versus being a solicitor, the difference is, for example: 1. admin assistant = complete list of tasks (obviously correctly and competently and using initiative if list wrong or needs updating etc) whereas: 2. solicitor = work out what list should be about, create it, work through it, keep client updated that it's being worked through as appropriate, complete it and make sure all done correctly as it may or may not be checked, post-complete it! If you show that your experience helped you think along those types of lines then I think the CAB could be helpful.
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C000034
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(Original post by SkippyDoo)
I would give the CAB a try and see if you enjoy it, and if the experience is indeed legal-related in some way, you could emphasise this side on your CV, or when asked at interview. A lot of the CAB stuff is connected to legal rights if not legal as such. If not strictly legal-ish, I would emphasise the qualities it nevertheless shares with a more legal-focused role, for example, these might be: identifying a problem and solving it, dealing with a few matters at a time and keeping them moving, taking responsibility for a matter, dealing with clients, prioritising, etc -- these are all things required of trainees and solicitors.

In my experience, having done admin assistant work in the past versus being a solicitor, the difference is, for example: 1. admin assistant = complete list of tasks (obviously correctly and competently and using initiative if list wrong or needs updating etc) whereas: 2. solicitor = work out what list should be about, create it, work through it, keep client updated that it's being worked through as appropriate, complete it and make sure all done correctly as it may or may not be checked, post-complete it! If you show that your experience helped you think along those types of lines then I think the CAB could be helpful.
For someone in a similar position having just finished first year, and already involved in doing CAB work (albeit only taking telephone calls), what else would you recommend in terms of gaining practical experience? Should I be inquiring with local firms about work experience opportunities in person?
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The University of Law Students
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(Original post by C000034)
For someone in a similar position having just finished first year, and already involved in doing CAB work (albeit only taking telephone calls), what else would you recommend in terms of gaining practical experience? Should I be inquiring with local firms about work experience opportunities in person?
Thought I'd chip in here as a mature student (who has just completed the Bar Practice Course and is about to go onto pupillage)...

I believed that my experience from my other roles was going to be enough to get me through to a legal role. I was wrong. The biggest barrier I faced was proving HOW I knew the legal sector was for me. Work experience is a really good way to demonstrate this- and no, that should not be just making tea in a legal office (but do appreciate that there are limitations to what you can do).

The way I got legal work experience was by the following means:
Completing mini-pupillages (if the solicitor route then work experience in the law firms)
Attending lots of workshops and webinars run by chambers, legal sector organisastions (like those by my university or Legal Cheek) or law firms
Mini-marshalling (spending time in court with a judge)
Volunteering at Citizens Advice
Becoming involved with an Inn (if an aspiring barrister) and/or Young Lawyers Networks and attending their sessions
Mooting
Shadowing solicitors in pro-bono advice clinics (if you attend the University of Law, these are advertised in the Employability Portal so make sure you sign up to it)
Getting involved with legal competitions, debates, essay writing etc.

Mature students can demonstrate lots of relevant skills for the legal sector through their other work but you really need to show that you are committed to the legal sector and understand what the roles involve (and how they differ to each other and what you have previously done before). You'll find it much easier to get through the tough interview rounds if you have had experience and can talk easily about this.

Hope that helps!
Nic
Student Ambassador at the University of Law
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Zingzangzod
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Nic,

Many thanks your advise, it is very thorough and helpful. This will now make things much easier with my search.

Thank you
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