How to use non-legal work experience in your training contract application

Demonstrating relevant work experience is key to a successful vacation scheme or training contract application. Here's how I used my non-legal work experience to show I had the skills to be a lawyer.

20 February 2017
  • By trainee solicitor Siobhan Lewis

Demonstrating relevant work experience is key to a successful vacation scheme or training contract application. Especially since, given the competitive environment and high standards required by law firms, top grades are no longer as impressive as they used to be.

"What makes me special?", "Why should you pick me?", "What makes me stand out?"

These are questions that applicants pore over when contemplating their written answers to training contract or vacation scheme applications. How to answer these questions is something that I have been repeatedly asked at law information days and university fairs.

Using non-legal work experience in your application

I was quite surprised to hear that many were excluding non-legal work experience from applications. Without denying that legal work experience is relevant to applications, a huge array of essential legal skills can be cultivated and developed in non-legal employment.

Before starting my training contract, I worked at an optician's practice for five years. I worked through my gap year, during university holidays and alongside the LPC. Within my application, the vast majority of the examples that I used to demonstrate relevant skills and expertise came from my experience at the optician’s practice.

Linking your experience to the skills you need to be a lawyer

Quite simply, applicants need to consider the skills required of a lawyer and translate them to their own experience to evidence capability. For example:

  • Working under high pressure in a customer-facing environment to reach their requirements translates to demonstrating the ability to meet deadlines, in a constrained amount of time, providing good quality work and therefore achieving client satisfaction.
  • Managing frustrated and angry customers can evidence the ability to calmly resolve issues by having difficult conversations, face-to-face, and manage expectations.
  • Juggling work and studying means that you are well practised in effectively prioritising and managing your time.
  • Having a real purpose for the job, e.g. saving for a trip, an event or to fund the GDL/LPC, can demonstrate determination, ambition and real-life responsibility.

These are skills and traits which can be fostered and refined through non-legal work experience. Firms are becoming much more modern about what they want from their trainees. They need all-rounders: hard-workers, quick-thinkers, people with emotional intelligence and personalities that clients, and others at the firm, will enjoy working with.

Rolling up your sleeves and getting to work in challenging, customer-facing environments is good practice for meeting, dealing and getting on with, people from all walks of life. That experience is crucial in the legal sector.

Don't feel embarrassed!

Applicants might want to take some time to consider what they have genuinely gained from non-legal experience and be careful not to simply disregard it. In short, the fact that you cannot add 'LLP' to Specsavers or Sports Direct when noting the origin of your work experience should not matter. Especially when it has provided you with such a fantastic wide-ranging skill set!

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How to use non-legal work experience in your training contract application

Getting to work in challenging, customer-facing environments is good practice for meeting, dealing and getting on with, people from all walks of life. That experience is crucial in the legal sector.
Siobhan Lewis, Trainee Solicitor

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