I have come across countless students wondering whether they need legal work experience to further their legal careers. There is a sense that having little legal work experience will hinder you in your goals towards qualifying as a lawyer. But ask yourself this: whats’ more important: the fact that you have work experience or only legal work experience? There is infinite value in non-legal work experience.
Having non-legal work experience is so valuable beyond what you may think. You don’t have to have legal work experience to become a great lawyer. Similarly, you don’t need a law degree to become a lawyer. There are many avenues available to you and if tailored correctly, they can become a useful tool for you in your career!
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So, what is non-legal work experience?
Well it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is work experience that is not related to law. It can be working in retail, volunteering for local charities, doing work experience programmes or it can be babysitting. So long as it is not directly connected to the law, it is seen as non-legal work experience.
There are so many advantages to having various work experiences that aren’t necessarily related to law. The skills that you gain from non-legal work experiences are transferable – meaning that you can apply the skills you gained in your managerial role and apply them to a legal setting. As an aspiring lawyer, it sometimes seems like we HAVE to do everything law-related; but nothing could be further from the truth. Having experiences beyond law is what makes you a great lawyer. It is what WILL make you a great lawyer.
I have set out my top 3 reasons why non-legal work experience is just as important as legal work experience. I begin by saying this: any and all experiences will help you as you move forward with your career.
1. Stand out from the crowd
Imagine you are in a room full of students, each with their own various legal work experiences. It’s highly likely that some of those in this room have worked with the top 10 law firms, some of them have working with barristers, some have have worked in a law firm as a legal secretary or paralegal. Imagine entering a room with very little to no legal work experience. You know that you don’t have as much legal work experience however you have an array of work experiences from various places. From volunteering with your local climate change organisation because you are passionate about the environment, to working in your local cafe as a way to earn your own money.
Based on the scenarios that I have described, do you know what is one distinct feature? You may not have as much legal work experience but you automatically stand out. By virtue of you not having legal work experience, the interviewer or recruiter is automatically going to pay attention to you, which is what you want. This is why it is important that you tailor your answers well so that you are prepared and ready for any and all questions thrown at you. Having said this, this is not to say that having legal work experience is a bad thing but rather it means that you have a chance to showcase who you are outside of law.
2. Tailor your application to YOU
When it comes to making applications to law firms for traineeships or training contracts or other various legal roles, this is the perfect time for you to shine. Here is where you will showcase all of your skills that you gained from your previous experiences.
Employers want hard-working, diligent but outstanding people in their firm/company. It’s not always about having the perfect CV or the perfect answer to their question. Rather, it is about what you can bring to their workplace. When an application is asking you to tell them why you want to work at their firm, whats’ your answer?
Let me ask you again: why do you want to work at their firm?
The reason why this is such an overly-asked question is that it’s easy to want to work in a top 10 firm because “I love law and I want to make a difference in someone’s life” or ‘I work in X firm and I know that law is the right career path for me’. Unfortunately, a lot of other applicants work in a law firm too and I’m nearly certain that that is why they want to pursue law too.
Rather you can use this opportunity to say:
“Well, I have always had an interest in human rights. Ever since I was 18 years of age, I got involved with my local human rights centre which prides itself in promoting the rights and protections of minorities groupings. I was a Youth Leader for 2 consecutive years and in this role I became a more competent, confident and capable person from directing a small group of young people. Upon discovering that X firm specialises in the promotion of human rights on a national and global scale is what drove me to want to pursue law and subsequently in choosing this firm”.
See the difference? In the second answer, it is blatant that this individual is telling the reader that they have non-legal work experience in a local human rights centre, they have been doing this since they were 18 years old, and because of their passion for human rights, they choose a firm that specialises in human rights. Making those links between your non-legal work experience and your reasoning for choosing the firm will most certainly stand out to you. Tailor your application!
It’s not about having the most amount of legal work experience. It’s about what you learned as a result of these experiences. You could have worked in the same shop for 5 years and that doesn’t make you any less qualified than another student who has 5 years of work experience in a legal role. It’s about how you tailor your experiences to the firm.
3. Don’t forget, you are human too
Let’s be honest for a moment please.. The reality is that the majority of us have non-legal work experience in some shape or form. Be it from working with local groups or working in local shops or babysitting, we’ve all done it at some stage!
Because we are human. The more we grow, the more our needs and desires grow too. When I was 6 years of age, the last thing that I thought about was work experience. I was happily playing with my Barbie dolls and stuffed teddy bears. Since then I’ve grown out of these habits (or is I hope…) and I see life in a different light.
One day I hope to have my own car, my own home, a job a love and more. In order to get to these points in life, we have to start from the basics and work our way up. That’s simply how life works.
This isn’t to say that legal work experiences are bad – if you can get it, then absolutely go for it! For those who are unable to at this present time, don’t fret. You have so much value to share and impart on prospective employers. Always remember this: you don’t HAVE to have legal work experience on your CV. Having some experience will always be better than no experience. Even if you don’t have ‘work’ experiences, there’s always something to talk about. Don’t by shy to put yourself out there, get out there and shine! If you implement my tips you’ll see that employers want people, not robots.
So, if you have 10 different non-law work experiences and only 0.5 legal work experiences, the duty is on you to showcase yourself. And do it proudly!
Did you like this post? Let me know in the comments if you have any comments to share with me!
Until the next blog post,
Disclaimer: Featured image designed from Canva.