It’s afternoon in an inner city law firm and all the lawyers are busy being official and important. I’m standing next to an enormous machine, which can photocopy, scan, print and probably facilitate time travel, but apparently it can’t self-repair. It’s making an unhealthy churning sound because I fed a document through it which still had a staple attached.
My terror escalates from average to apocalyptic. Can they fire me even though I’m working for free?
My showdown with the printer can be traced to the beginning of second year. I realised that law was hard. I also realised that I had no idea what being a lawyer actually involved beyond SVU and Boston Legal. So it seemed logical to complete a work experience placement to see if I actually liked working in the law. In fact, it was downright ridiculous that I hadn’t done it sooner.
I saw a placement advertised in the faculty bulletin, applied, was interviewed and accepted to work for one day a week for six weeks. It’s now the end of those six weeks and I can say confidently, despite my showdown with the printer, it was well worth it.
1. Doing legal tasks This was by far the most valuable experience of my placement. My work involved writing letters to clients, making phone calls, organising the overstuffed files, proof reading, making files notes, running documents to court and government departments, researching legislation, accompanying the barrister to court and, of course, photocopying. I had expected to be stapling and making coffee, so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself completing useful tasks and becoming immersed in a legal environment.
2. Realising that lawyers are nice people Damages did not prepare me well for the people at the firm where I worked. I must have looked terrified on my first day, expecting everyone to be like Patty Hewes. The employers at my firm were all very kind, hardworking and accommodating.
3. Adding bling to the resume It’s been said before: if you would like to work as a lawyer, the best way to express your interest in the profession is to spend time in the profession.
4. The novelty of wearing nice clothes Some people look nice all the time. I usually work at a swimming pool so I am not one of those people. Going from a soaking wet rashie to a ladysuit was awesome.
1. Giving up free time Even just one day a week was difficult to fit into a schedule already crammed with uni and work commitments. However, weighed against the benefits of the work experience, it was worth it.
2. Shredding At one stage, a solicitor asked my to shred what seemed like the entire Harry Potter series. But within five minutes of starting the task, another solicitor happened to walk past. “Haven’t you got something more meaningful than that?” he asked and handed me a lease to proof read.
3. Clients sometimes thought I was a lawyer and actually knew what I was doing While this was flattering (this could probably also go in the highlights section), it was actually a downside because it created a temptation to give my opinion where it did not belong. Giving your unwarranted opinion could be dangerous if a client based a decision on it, like the secretary in Legione v Hately. All she said was “I think that’ll be all right” and now she’s a character in a law textbook.
How do I find work experience at a law firm?
Law faculties and law students’ societies advertise internships and work experience placements in all the time – check the latest e-newsletter or the LSS Facebook page. If you have family, friends, acquaintances or pets involved in practice, why not embrace a bit nepotism and ask if they could take you on?
The application process usually involves sending in a cover letter and your CV, and going in for an interview, even if a position is unpaid.
Work experience is insightful and practical. If you have any doubts about your place in law school, go for it!
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