Presenting legal work experience on a cv

In November, I took a day off to give a talk and review cvs at the University of Sussex in Brighton; and then did the same thing after work in February at Brunel. The cv reviews were tightly organised involving up to 18 people in a row (each for a frustratingly short ten minute slot, but that was the only way). So after the first 2 minutes with each student (in which we explored the standard interview questions, such as “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” and “What sort of role / firm?”), it only left 8 minutes to go through the cv – a good discipline for me to cut to the parts that I thought needed the most attention.

And it was mainly the way that Vac Schemes and other legal work experience were presented.

Of course the main objective of any work experience is to help students decide whether a particular career is the right one, and to do that it is really important to talk to lots of people and learn about the work. But I’d like to see something on the cv / application form about output.

Any reader of a cv knows that during a 2 week vac scheme at a law firm, it is unrealistic to expect a student to be running files and advising clients, but it’s good to see the impact of students’ contribution. For example, to do some legal research is not of any use for its own sake – better that a supervisor read it and gave some comments; even better that the lawyer used it to prepare an advice memo; better still if that memo was sent to a client; and the best would be for the client to have read and used that advice.

Another example is the first draft of a contract or some meeting notes – again it serves no purpose on its own; it is of some use if it is reviewed by a lawyer; but the ideal is that it was used as a basis for a document that is sent to a client and used.

So I think that it is important to show that a student’s contribution, however small and indirect, made the life of a lawyer a little easier and even helped a client of the firm.

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Too much legal work experience?

I had a busy day recently in Brighton with Sussex University students – a group discussion for about 25 students, and then lots of 12 minute individual cv sessions. The cvs were generally very strong, and it was interesting seeing the different styles.

In previous cv sessions, I have presented these main cv tips: http://www.legalweek.com/legal-week/blog-post/2227317/top-10-cv-tips-for-budding-lawyers?WT.rss_f=Students&WT.rss_a=Top+10+CV+tips+for+budding+lawyers, which I reckon are still relevant, but I thought of a couple more ideas during my day in Brighton and driving home.

The first might be obvious and that is: share your draft cv around for comments. Your cv is not so confidential that other students should not review it, your friends are not going to copy your good ideas and you are unlikely to be considered for the same jobs anyway. So it can really help with wording improvements, corrections of typos and order / structure suggestions.

The second is not so obvious and I’m aware that not everyone is going to agree with this. At Sussex, I met a few students who had a lot of legal work experience – up to 3 vacation placements with law firms, 3 mini-pupillages and a few open days, and were still applying for more. I can see the value of doing placements at a couple of different types of law firms / chambers to help with a decision, but suggest that there is a diminishing return in doing more than one at the same type, for example magic circle firms – especially if this is at the expense of other work experience or other achievements.

I don’t underestimate the value of a good placement becoming a short cut to a training contract offer, but take 2 equal candidates who have both decided that they want to be lawyers – candidate 1 who has done only legal work experience during the university holidays and candidate 2 who has done one vac scheme at a commercial law firm but used the other time to get work experience in other areas (e.g. consulting, banking and marketing). I’d bet that all other things being equal, candidate 2 would have a more credible story about why they want to be a lawyer and would have more to talk about in an interview. I also think that candidate 2 could construct a cv that shows the development of relevant transferrable skills, perhaps just as well as candidate 1. One final thought on this: don’t underestimate the value of any transferable skills developed during holiday jobs such as working in a bar or a shop or through other achievements.