Legal Secretary Work Experience
Work experience is a fantastic way to gain valuable knowledge and experience. It gives you the opportunity to develop your employability, advance your understanding of a Legal Secretary’s work and of course looks very good on your CV. More than this it also allows you to develop your connections within the legal industry, to network and give you an edge over other people entering the legal profession. If you are a student, currently studying a Legal Secretary qualification then work experience will show you the modules, topics and tasks you are learning in practice, and give you a deeper understanding of how they are done properly. In this article, The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs will explain the best ways to look for legal secretarial work experience, how to prepare for it and what to expect whilst you are there.
Finding a work experience placement
There can often be competition for work experience places, for this reason, if it always an advantage if you have an existing contact that you can call upon for help. Think about family and friends which could lead to a work experience placement. Even though you may know the contact very well, it is important to remember that you are approaching them to gain professional experience to support your course and future employment. It is therefore a good idea to make the approach in a professional manner because it may have to be forwarded to someone else within the company who may not know you.
If (like the majority of us) you do not have existing personal contacts to call upon then don't worry. This is where networking is hugely beneficial. Before you even secure your first role within the legal sector, you should be thinking about building your connections within the industry through networking. Do your research and find out about legal events in your area. Look for local law fairs, networking or recruitment events and legal industry shows.
Social media is a fantastic resource to meet and speak to people in your desired profession. The important thing to remember here though is to ensure that your profiles are all up to date, professional and accurate. LinkedIn is the main professional resource for networking and allows you to find people in the areas that you are interested in. If you search on social media you can also find groups to join that will promote networking and professional development opportunities.
It is common practice in the legal sector for applicants to send speculative applications to firms. This is when rather than applying for a particular opportunity that the firm has available, the individual instead notifies the firm that they are looking for work, or in this case work experience, and asks them to consider them for any opportunity that becomes available. If you are unsure or unfamiliar with this concept then please read our guide to writing speculative applications.
Preparing for your placement
Once you have secured your work experience it is wise to do some preparation before your first day. To ensure that the experience is as beneficial as possible it is best to set out your aims and desired outcomes from the start.
Your aims are what you want to achieve by the end of the work experience placement. Also, review what you would like to achieve in your own personal development. By the end of a work experience placement, you will ideally be more aware of employment opportunities, more confident about being in the legal workplace, and have the practical experience to put on your CV.
The outcomes are the changes that you want to happen by the end of the placement. They should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) based, and could, for example, be an improvement in your skills, knowledge, confidence or ability to perform specific tasks.
You should try to let your workplace know these aims and objectives before you commence your placement. Some firmsmay provide you with a schedule for the placement, and this will be of greater benefit if it takes into account the aims and outcomes you have identified.
During the placement
On the first day, you will receive an induction. You should be treated as a new member of staff, and the induction should include emergency and evacuation procedures and relevant aspects of the employment policies and procedures for the company. The induction will probably include a tour of the premises to show you key facilities and personnel who can help you during your placement. The induction is an opportunity for you to take it all in and settle into the role for the time you are there.
The large majority of placements go very well for everyone concerned. However, as with actual employment, there are times when things may not go to plan. Be ready to record your learning, evaluate how the placement is progressing and say if it is not fulfilling any agreed aims and outcomes. An evaluation form asking for feedback on the process as well as linking back to your original aims and outcomes can provide a formal way to evaluate the benefits for you.
Once the placement has finished, set aside some time to properly evaluate the original learning outcomes you set. This debriefs time will allow you to capture your thoughts and feelings, and encourage you to share your learning and identify links to support your future learning. Feedback from the employer on your placement could provide a personal reference which you can use for future work experience or job opportunities. It will also provide an opportunity to update your CV with an outline of what you achieved whilst on work experience.
As a common courtesy, a letter of thanks will go a long way in demonstrating to the employer your appreciation for the time they volunteered and the access they offered to their company. At the end of the day, it is important to make the most of the valuable opportunity work experience provides. So evaluate the whole learning process, asking yourself what you learned, what you enjoyed, what you found difficult and whether you would like to do it again. If things did not go according to plan, it is also beneficial to consider why this was and what you can do to prevent this from happening in the future. It could be that you simply did not enjoy the type of work or the environment. Either way, this is still important learning and will help you establish where you do want to work, as well as where you may not. You will also have gained some transferable skills and useful insights that you will draw upon whenever you get that first legal job.
Article contributed by The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA)
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA) is a professional body that are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey. For more information please visit their website.