What makes a law student stand out in a competitive market for legal jobs?

Someone recently asked me ‘what makes a law student stand out in a competitive market for legal jobs beyond the ‘work hard, do well’ line including areas that students may not immediately think of’. 

Having attempted to answer this question it seemed appropriate to share my thoughts with you. Essentially what makes a student stand out is someone who has achieved great results (sometimes in very difficult circumstances) academically and across other spheres and can use these to show their motivation and fit for the legal opportunities they apply for.

Excellent academics is the essential starting point– law firms and barristers chambers tell us that the work is intellectually demanding and most require a 2:1 degree as a minimum.  Postgraduate qualifications won’t compensate for poor results at undergraduate level; however, masters level study can provide evidence of commitment to personal development, provide further opportunities for exploring the law and evidence some of the skills required.

Law firms tell us they value a wide range of extra-curricular experience including things like volunteering and involvement in clubs and societies where students are proactive, take responsibility for making things happen and can show the impact of their involvement in terms of how they helped improve or develop something.  In addition to volunteering here at Warwick and in the local community Covid19 created additional volunteering opportunities some of which were organised by students themselves.

Part-time and vacation work in pubs, bars, restaurants, and retail to give a few examples, provide great opportunities for students to develop their commercial awareness, customer facing and other skills over an extended period plus show how they work under pressure, contribute to team and business objectives.  Firms and chambers tell us it’s all about showing how the skills developed in one context transfer to the law – students need to make these connections explicit.

Students should check out what their university offers including the School of Law.  At Warwick the Centre for Human Rights in Practice and Warwick Law in the Community offer opportunities for students to gain practical experience in the law including legal advice and practice, alternative ways of thinking about the law, research and journalism, advocacy, education, and other projects in conjunction with the Strategic Public Law and Immigration and Asylum Clinics.  Student law and bar societies provide opportunities for their members via mooting, advocacy, and client negotiation competitions.  It’s also amazing how few students interested in a legal career attend court, it’s free and provides insight into the legal system working in practise.

Employer based internships, vacation schemes and mini pupillages are highly sought after and not everyone will secure one.  Students need to think beyond the obvious and be proactive which includes making speculative approaches to more regional and locally based firms.  Experience in a sector that relates to areas of law you’re interested in is valuable so consider other work experience and part-time opportunities.  At Warwick the University organises an internship programme with local SMEs, Charities, and internal departments.  Our TeamWork Programme enables students to collaborate on a project with students from international universities and the bursary scheme enables students to undertake short periods of unpaid work observation.   We get details of external legal work experience including in-house law and information is made available via the myAdvantage platform.   There are many more opportunities to gain valuable experience including the ones students create for themselves by setting up their own businesses and engaging in social and enterprise activities. 

Law firms and chambers repeatedly tell us they value a wide range of experience.  They recognise how competitive it is to secure vacation schemes and mini pupillages; there just aren’t enough to go round.  They expect students interested in a legal career to be proactive by researching job roles and firms/chambers, by attending events and networking with employers.  Information gained will not only help you decide which roles and employers to target it helps create tailored job applications.  The reason most often cited by law firms as to why students fail to progress at the application and interview stage is lack of research into the firm or chambers.  Students who produce applications that are tailored to the firm/chambers, use their research and relevant experience to articulate their motivation and fit will stand out from generic applications that are rejected at the first sift.   

The key thing you need to do is to reflect on how you are developing and what you are gaining from the activities you engage in (including legal projects that sit within the curriculum).  Then you can use these insights to evidence your motivation and fit for the law and your transferable skills.  This will enable you to stand out in the application process for legal opportunities.

Valerie Matthews-Lane
Senior Careers Consultant for Warwick Law School


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