Our first student article, drafted in response to the Work Placements piece, exclusive to ‘Lawbore’.
‘Revision, revision, revision!’ and ‘revision is the key to success,’ are two phrases law students, or indeed, most students may hear more often than anything else during their academic and education years; but, what about those work placements? As the title rightfully asks, are they pointless or purposeful?
Being someone who has recently completed a relatively short, but much appreciated and enjoyed, work placement courtesy of To A Degree, I most certainly say that work placements are – purposeful all the way (of course, this depends on the circumstances that the particular person is put in).
A work placement can be whatever you want it to be. With great respect to people who manage to go out there and actually obtain some sort of placement, there is no logic in sitting back and thinking that your job is done. You will not ensure your success in the legal sphere, or indeed in the particular placement itself, by merely having a firm’s name on your CV or if you take orders of making tea. Obviously, I am not promoting any sort of rebellion against the very people that have given you the opportunity. STAND OUT! Whether at the placement for one week or one month, you have to take the placement seriously and shine. In order to make yourself known, knock on the doors of the permanent staff (or email through the office’s internal network), let them know at what stage of your education you are at, your previous experience (if any), your ambitions as well as what you aim to get out of the placement and what tasks you are willing to do. If you take the placement seriously and show this, others around you will treat you with respect and give you some authority and ‘real,’ responsibilities, ensuring that you get as much out of the placement as possible.
Coming back to the matter at hand, yes, grades are important but what good will your first class degree do when you are too shy to speak to clients and feel out of your depth when you are expected to complete a task that requires common sense and a type of knowledge that is not provided in books? Most grades, especially at an undergraduate level, demonstrate someone’s ability to cite the law and complete some sort of extensive research. Work placements demonstrate something different, something more substantial. A good reference from a firm (or any other place you do work experience) can work a charm with future employers. You know you have a real person telling potential employers that you are a hard worker and dedicated, that you did a ‘great job,’ during your two weeks during the placement.
Although often lengthy and unpaid (not even travel expenses are covered most of the time), work placements are a necessity if you are aiming to have a legal career. Placements build on and enhance your legal knowledge, confidence and all such other skills. Most importantly, you learn about the ‘inside jargon,’ which lawyers use. Invariably, this makes you feel like a true ‘lawyer’ yourself! For example, whilst books can only express in words or images what it is like to go on a prison or police station visit, a placement gives you a deeper insight into how the system works, what it is like getting checked, how you are expected to speak/act/react in certain (sometimes unforeseen) situations.
From criminal law to family law and a few other areas in between, I have completed 12 work placements and have two forthcoming. Currently I have an on-going placement with a London law firm; there are approximately three US interns, if they can shine and come all the way here for a work placement, why can’t you shine?
In conclusion, striking a balance in most things in life leads to success, preparing for a legal career is not an exception. A balance of work placements and achieving high grades is crucial; however, no one should undermine the importance of gaining experience. I must say, I agree with Dev, the first work placement you obtain can be very important and pivotal (for the reasons he explains in his article), so do not throw it away! My interest in law started from a very young age and only came into complete focus after my Year 10 work experience. Albeit only for two weeks, it helped put things into perspective and drove me ever closer to achieving my goals. Strive to be the best, get those work placements!
Chandni Malhotra is a final year LLB student at Oxford Brookes University.