Alison Howells, law student at Edinburgh University, explains why you should seek legal experience in first and second year of university and how to do so.
Your first years at university can be really difficult, often students become consumed by their grades and social life then two years later, find themselves applying for summer internships with very little legal experience and knowledge of firms themselves.
What few students realise is that first and second year are a really good time to get legal experience as it helps with future career decisions and can strengthen applications. Here are several ways to get your network and legal experience started.
Firm open days
Law firms often hold open days where you can go to the firm and they tell you all about themselves. These open days help to inform future decisions you have to make in relation to what type of firm you want to work in as well as providing information about the firm that will help with any applications you make later in your career.
Although firms may not advertise many opportunities for first and second years, actively searching for opportunities with firms demonstrates initiative and your desire to do well. Speculatively writing to firms and asking for any opportunities they may have is a great way to get experience, even if this is just for a day. If it’s a particularly small firm or the firm is known not to provide a lot of opportunities, inform them of your willingness just to shadow for the day or do a bit of filing. This way if the firm is busy or small, they know they won’t have to go out their way to provide work for you.
Legal blogs and mailing lists
These may not necessarily give you experience as such, but they give you good knowledge as to how the law is applied in everyday situations without having to visit a legal environment.
Legal Cheek, Scottish Legal News and The Scottish Young Lawyers Association all share opportunities in their newsletters and email updates, these sources are ideal when you're squeezed for time as they don’t require a speculative application.
Going to courts
People forget the significance of the easiest ways of gaining experience. Going to your nearest court to watch open cases can give you a really good understanding of how the law works in action and gives you experience in a legal environment with minimum effort needed. You can also choose which cases to watch, which gives you a lot of freedom to explore your interests.
Networking is in itself an art, which, with plenty of practice, all law students can master. The key to a good network is starting basic and early. Introduce yourself to people you know you might cross paths with in the future or who can give you a helping hand in the right direction. Ask a tutor of your favourite subject whether they know someone you could talk to, go to your career service and ask if there’s any opportunities to network coming up or speak to the committee of your university’s mooting or law societies.
Actively seeking out opportunities, without guidance or experience can be extremely difficult. If your law school has legal related societies you should join the society, or at the least attend a few of their events. These societies are often designed to help you develop the skills firms are looking for, and as a result of that, a lot of the students in these societies are in the same boat, with the same desire to get better and learn.
Ultimately, there are lots of ways to gain legal experience in first and second year and even just a few days of work experience is a really good way of demonstrating an interest in your chosen career area or firm.