Develop Your Career in Law through Volunteering
There are only a handful of careers that can be taught solely in the classroom. Careers based on mathematics and sciences, for example - careers based on facts and facts alone. Law is not one of these careers. While you can learn the history, the legislation, even the complete ins and outs of the law system through class based study; the real world experience will always be missing.
A recent study has shown that over half of all employers in the UK think it's important to have relevant work experience before embarking on a chosen career path, with 10 per cent of those favouring experienced, and sometimes less qualified, applicants over more qualified job seekers with no on the job training. The Chief Executive of the College of Law even believes that, "student lawyers need practical experience just as much as student doctors or teachers".
Student volunteering involves getting in some work experience alongside traditional study. There are a number of opportunities for this, including sandwich courses and university arranged projects.
Sandwich courses are quite a popular choice for students wishing to undertake a university degree leading to a career in law that would benefit from work experience. The idea of the sandwich course is that a standard three year degree, for example, would be taken over four years, with a year in industry sandwiched in between. This year puts into practice what students have learned so far and prepares them for professional life after education.
In the UK, the three year LLB Law course is offered as a sandwich course by a number of universities, so students would be undertaking four years in total. Nottingham Trent, Brunel, Portsmouth and Kingston universities all offer this option, including many more.
Additionally, many universities create projects for their law students that can be undertaken outside of classroom hours. This may involve small administrative duties on a local court case, or a larger scale research project, such as the 'Street Law' programme established in 2000 by The College of Law. The project enabled students to become more familiar with what they'd learned in the classroom by giving their own rights based lessons to those such as prisoners and the homeless.
An internship may be a rather American concept, but for those wanting to develop a career in law, an unpaid stint with a local company could prove invaluable. Tasks may be mediocre, they may be simple and they may have absolutely nothing to do with the law, but even making cups of tea for the right people in the right place can be beneficial.
Lucky job seekers may also find that their internships are accompanied by a small pay packet, after the Interns Anonymous blog lashed out at the Justice charity in 2011 for recruiting for unpaid work. While a number of unpaid internships do remain legal, some companies are now offering minimum wage for these vacancies.
There are a number of websites dedicated to matching hardworking young professionals with internship vacancies in the UK, such as Inspiring Interns and Internships in London. It may also be beneficial to speak to local companies and find out if they offer any sort of work experience scheme.
Volunteering abroad can be great for developing a law career for a huge variety of reasons. Research has shown that employers are partial to those who have travelled, with over half claiming travel shows independence, flexibility and social skills.
In terms of law especially, undertaking work experience abroad can provide an opportunity to practice specific skills which may not have been as useful in a classroom setting. For example, there is much need for human rights lawyers in countries such as Ghana and South Africa, as well as refugee and migrant rights and law education in places such as Kenya and Tanzania.
STA Travel and Go Abroad are some good websites for seeing what sort of work is available, although there are endless gap year websites which advertise international volunteering opportunities. Just be sure that any experiences are arranged through a legitimate company.