This post was written by an external contributor. Roxanne Metz-Johnson talks about how you can make the most of a law placement even if you’re not doing exactly what you thought you would be.
So you landed yourself a placement or internship at a law firm. Congratulations! This is it, the first foot in the door; you go in determined to make a good impression so they offer you a training contract or extend your placement.
Obviously you won’t be advising big clients on deals alongside the partners, but you expect to at least see what your potential legal career would look and feel like.
So when you get landed with the menial administrative tasks that barely touch upon legal work, you can begin to lose sight of that vision – due to literally being prevented from seeing it.
Don’t let it deter you. I almost made the mistake of concluding that commercial law was not for me as I was not enjoying the work I did on placement. This was because the work I completed had almost nothing to do with what I saw myself doing in the future.
In an attempt to gain more from my experience than just call-centre work, I approached colleagues in different positions that I wanted to explore; from HR staff, to shadowing a solicitor and requesting to spend a day with one of the partners. Ask to spend time in a department of your interest or look into recent deals the firm has made and pick the brains of the individuals involved. The aim is to know, or in my case feel, what it would be like to do this on a daily basis. This is the only way you will know what you will enjoy doing in the future.
Make sure you chase up these requests as your internship is there for you to gain invaluable experience. Don’t be afraid to get your money’s worth, figuratively speaking.
Build up that reputation
In regards to the admin work, whilst it can be mundane and unrelated to your career path, if you can excel in the tasks you are given it at least gets your name out there and can help you build connections. Getting to know the people in your place of work is fun if you just see it as socialising.
Get involved in charity events, volunteer at the pro bono clinic or offer to assist with decorating for the Christmas party. Inevitably there will be days where you simply don’t have the energy to get involved with all the extra-curricular activity. This is the magic of socialising with your colleagues as they too, are humans, and will understand that you are not feeling up to the annual football tournament if you simply communicate this to them.
It’s all about communication
Communication is a major key alert (DJ Khaled voice) to not only surviving but thriving in your law placement. If you are unsure of what you are being asked to do, speak to your line manager to clarify. If you are unhappy or uncomfortable with something at work, let them know or maybe even contact PR.
‘Closed mouths do not get fed’ is a phrase that took me a while to implement admittedly, but you have to remember that you are essentially here to better yourself, and you’ll gain nothing from suffering in silence. Don’t hesitate to make suggestions for areas of improvement in your team processes. This is likely to be welcomed by your team leader and you will feel a sense of achievement for making a useful contribution.
Use the people around you
If you feel the firm you’re interning for is the company you would like to qualify as a solicitor in, then speak to the practicing solicitors and current trainees there. They will have all the essential information you would need to know about applying for a training contract and what working there as a trainee and consequently a solicitor is like.
Even if you have decided this firm is not for you, it is worth knowing what to expect from the application process and the training contract experience altogether. Ensure you also ask for application tips from the recruitment team as they are the people who literally hold the key to your success.
Branch out to other departments
While on my placement I was able to encounter lawyers from different offices of the firm who offered services and departments that my office did not. This piqued my curiosity and I requested the opportunity to do some work in the other offices that offered services I believed catered to my interests more. Although I did not get to do this due to a time restraint, I was able to get the contact details of the lawyers in those offices. The moral of this anecdote is to do your department research early (a firm-wide search rather than an office search will be more beneficial) and network, network, network!
My law placement showed me what areas of work I absolutely do not want to go into and also taught me some things about myself. Treat your law placement as a term of self-actualisation rather than just a year (or however long) out working. This is your time to discover where you want your legal career to take you. Remember; speak to colleagues in different roles and in roles you’d like to be in, excel in the tasks given to you, communicate and network. Good luck!