• Emily

My First Work Experience Experience

Colourful binders

I was in the passenger seat of my friend’s car when I got the phone call telling me my application for work experience at a volunteer legal organisation had been successful. Having never received such a phone call before, the reaction I gave to the person on the other line, and the reaction my friend saw, were vastly different.

The lovely, articulate lady on the end of the line received a polite, “Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to working with you.” My friend who was driving saw me throwing my free arm in the air, grinning like a fool and hitting her multiple times in excitement (Note: hitting a friend while they are driving is not recommended. Safe driving here, people).

Once I hung up the phone, however, the excitement was quickly overtaken by nervousness. What would I wear? What if I got lost? What if everyone there was mean and horrible? Needless to say in the lead up to my starting date I was, in the words of Ron Burgundy, in a glass case of emotion.

My first day finally arrived, and in preparation for it I changed four times. I was also 40 minutes early and sweating like crazy (a combination of the hot weather and the fact that I sweat when I’m nervous. No judgement here please). The other work experience students arrived and we all sat making small talk in the foyer. Despite being older, more sophisticated and just generally cooler than I was, they were all incredibly lovely. We were then shepherded into a room where we met our supervisor who was also incredibly lovely (sensing a pattern here?), and so the image I had of having to work under a dictator, with stereotypically cutthroat law students to compete with, slowly disintegrated and I started to relax.

Later that day, I sat down with my supervisor and we talked about what we would be working on. The organisation I was working with focused on tenancy law and the laws surrounding rental properties, and it was at this point that I realised I was in completely over my head. I was going to be focusing on an area of the law I had never learned about, and I was expected to churn out a ton of information about it by the end of the semester. I sat there in a haze while the other students asked intelligent questions and thought about whether the window in the bathroom was big enough for me to fit through to make a stealthy escape.

For those first few days I felt incredibly uneasy. I didn’t know what I was doing but didn’t want to ask for help in case my colleagues thought I was stupid. I felt out of my depth and out of place. Soon I realised that if I wanted to actually benefit from this experience, I would have to get over myself and move on. So I took work home, I read up on tenancy law, I started asking questions even if I thought they were stupid.

After having my mini-epiphany, work experience became so much more interesting. I was able to engage with the law, think about its implications and look at it from a perspective I had not considered before. Even better, I got to see the law as it applied to real life situations, which is something you can lose sight of when you’re sitting in a lecture theatre.

I also got to learn what it is like to work in a legal environment, which is probably one of the most important things about work experience. I loved every minute that I got to spend working on something I found myself becoming more and more passionate about, and found myself putting in even more work when I got home, simply because I wanted to learn more about it.

My first work experience experience was terrifying. It was an out-of-my-comfort zone experience. A learning experience. A growing experience. I got to be exposed to new ways of thinking, and new people who were happy to teach me all about the law. While it took a while for me to find my feet, I am so glad that I didn’t make a quick escape during those first few days.

For anyone who is looking to start work experience soon, my advice would be not to let your nerves or your fear of not being good enough get in the way of giving it a go. You won’t regret it!

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