The importance of relevant work experience

Nathan Taylor-Allkins, trainee solicitor at Woodfines, offers 10 tips on how to apply successfully for work experience at a law firm. 

Students wanting to get into the legal profession are told time and again how competitive and difficult securing a training contract can be and how vastly oversubscribed each available position is.

Whilst this may put off some, there are still many students who brave the waters and vie to get to the end of their studies with a training contract in hand.

My aim with this blog is to give some assistance to those students and to pass on the cumulative experience of the current trainees at Woodfines in making work experience applications.

In my opinion, whilst having good/better than average grades is always going to stand you in good stead when making a training contract application, what separates the best from the rest and makes your CV stand out is relevant work experience. To that end, the other trainees and I have pooled our thoughts and come up with a list of 10 Top Tips that we feel should hopefully assist those trying to add work experience to their CVs.

Tip 1. Personalise your application – blanket and generic applications are unlikely to succeed. Make each one individual and targeted to the firm you are applying to.

Tip 2. Keep covering letters and CVs brief. As a rule of thumb, the covering letter should be no more than a single page and CVs no more than two.

Tip 3. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to explain why that particular firm should read your CV. Then use your CV to demonstrate why you should be offered a placement. Researching the firm’s website for recent news is an excellent way of obtaining an insight that you can utilise in your letter.

Tip 4. Use bullet points to list key achievements, academic history and any work experience. This is a great way to keep your CV concise and focus the reader’s mind and attention.

Tip 5. Try to identify a variety of skills in your CV (e.g. communication, team working, independence, ability to prioritise etc). Even if you don’t have any prior legal work experience, demonstrate transferable skills such as client/customer contact.

Tip 6. CVs should be in a professional format and appropriate for your target audience. I would be inclined to err on the side of caution if you are not sure on the inclusion of a particular item.

Tip 7. Check, check and check again! Spelling and grammar mistakes are a guaranteed way to get your application straight into the ‘NO’ pile.

Tip 8. Utilise your school or university’s career/advice centre to tweak your cover letters, CVs and applications. They are an invaluable resource and having an experienced set of eyes to check over your application can be extremely helpful.

Tip 9. If you have a novelty email address, don’t put it on your CV! Create a new account with a sensible username and use that instead.

Tip 10. Finally, try to find the point of contact at the firm who deals with the applications so you can direct your application specifically to that person. If the information isn’t on the firm’s website then call to find out. Leaving it to the firm to pass your application on to the right person is a risk that you can easily avoid.

The above is in no way meant to be treated as an exhaustive list and there are many factors which combine to make a good application. Unfortunately, there is no precise formula but if you can satisfy the majority of the guidance above then you should be on the right track.

The key with both work experience and training contract applications is not giving up. Nearly every law student, trainee or newly-qualified solicitor I know has been knocked back by at least one firm they have applied to.

Be realistic, give yourself plenty of time to complete the application before the deadline and persevere.

The window for receiving work experience applications at Woodfines for 2015 runs from 31 October 2014 to 31 March 2015. Click here for more information on work experience opportunities at Woodfines Solicitors.