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Using non-legal work experience in training contract applications

In November 2018, one of the UK’s leading legal education providers announced that they would be launching a GDL scholarship for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students. The award is made in partnership with STEM future lawyers – the UK’s first network for STEM graduates interested in legal careers. A career in law might not have been an obvious traditional choice for STEM graduates. Yet, as law firms continue to adapt to embrace legal technology service solutions, and with the ever growing importance for solicitors to understand and interact with how technology drives decisions for their clients, firms now regard STEM students’ alternative skills set as a hugely valuable asset.

For legal recruiters, it’s a case of anticipating change and staying ahead of the market – as technology plays an increasingly important role in our lives, they need to attract talent from diverse academic backgrounds to build teams with a range of different perspectives to approaching solutions. This theory applies to training contract applicants with a background in STEM or otherwise.

Recruiters at law firms do not look at an applicants’ work experience only to find out if they are keen on a career in law. They will evaluate an application form in its entirety. Of course they look for commitment, but they are also looking to see whether applicants have developed some skills that are relevant to what a trainee actually does on a day to day basis, rather than those just relevant to the academic side of law (which you will demonstrate elsewhere in your application anyway).

I’m talking about everything from jobs in retail or hospitality whilst at university, to experience in other professions and former careers. On the other side of the coin, the legal work experience might be mini-pupillages, vac scheme, pro bono work or paralegal roles, among others.

How should I structure my use of it?

  1. Link the experience to the skills you need to be as a solicitor.

Think of this as a translation of the skills required to be a successful trainee to your own experiences, no matter what the setting.

For example, working in fast-paced customer facing environments in the retail sector is brilliant practise for understanding the importance of representing brand values, as well as meeting and dealing with the requests and demands of people from all walks of life. If you have had to manage frustrated or angry customers, it means you will be able to approach contentious issues in the office with a calm head and a view to achieving client satisfaction within a short time frame. You might have also been involved with sales and meeting targets – this is a great example of the potential you might have to excel at business development, as well as managing matter costs.

  1. Link the experience to the firms’ practice areas and sector specialisms.

Taking time to thoroughly research the sectors on which your firm has expertise is invaluable. If you can understand a clients’ commercial risks and opportunities ‘from the inside’ of that sector, thanks to hands on experience of it, then you will be adding huge value to your legal advice. Clients will be safe in the knowledge that you are able to view a legal matter from their commercial standpoint, which is a strong foundation for building trust and giving pragmatic and practical advice.

If nothing else, having experience of doing something entirely different before going into law means you will be equipped to handle the upheaval of seat changes, and the need for adaptability that this brings.

Using non-legal work experience in your applications is impressive: it demonstrates that you are a well-rounded person, who is enthusiastic about their career, but is also confident enough to give evidence of their skills set in a creative way.

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