Planning to get involved
Work experience is one of the best opportunities for you to learn more about Legal Secretary work, employment opportunities and to support your studies of ILSPA’s Legal Secretaries Diploma course. You may have completed a legal work experience placement in the past or have significant previous experience in a non-legal environment. If this is the case, use these experiences to help you consider how further work experience in a legal environment could help you. This article gives you some pointers to think about, as well as an outline of what might be involved.
Let us first consider some of the benefits of getting work experience. They include:
• The opportunity to develop your employability
• Advancing your understanding of Legal Secretary work
• The chance to develop connections with potential employers
• Giving you an edge over other people entering the legal job market
Overall, work experience provides you with the opportunity to bring your Legal Secretaries Diploma course studies alive by directly working in the legal sector.
Finding a work experience placement
There are several ways to source and secure a work experience placement. The Institute has developed a number of contacts in the legal sector and when available will notify students of employers offering placements.
Think about family and friends and possible networking opportunities which could lead to a work experience placement to support your studies. 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.
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.
Firms that have career sections on their website will list the details of where to send speculative applications. For smaller firms that do not have separate career sections, you can send your application to their main contact details. Speculative applications should consist of a copy of your up-to-date CV and a covering letter.
Preparation for a placement
Allow sufficient time to plan. It is important for you to have enough time to prepare/update a CV, complete an application form and attend interviews. Planning in advance will help to ensure that nothing is left to the last minute.
Completing an application form and being interviewed:
• Always read the application form before you start. Answer ALL the questions and be honest with the information you provide.
• Check your spelling and grammar.
• Expect questions about your skills and experience, your reasons for applying and your qualifications.
When considering your skills and experience, try to identify transferable skills that potential employers look for. These skills can generally be developed in a variety of ways, so keep an open mind and think about which ones you already have and which ones need to be developed further.
• Communication skills such as the ability to communicate verbally and in writing in a clear and structured manner. This also includes the ability to listen and question during a conversation.
• Your ability to work with a team.
• Negotiating and working with others towards a common goal. This includes negotiation and reflecting skills, demonstrating a respect of other people and the ability to contribute to discussions.
• Presentation skills cover the ability to present information in a clear and succinct manner, using appropriate tools to aid the presentation.
• Using your own initiative means the ability to work independently and take responsibility for a piece of work or a problem.
• Negotiation skills require the ability to influence others and negotiate a win-win outcome.
• Business and customer awareness includes understanding what the key drivers of business success are. This may be financial awareness, understanding clients’ needs, innovation, developing client loyalty and understanding what it means to be enterprising.
• Problem solving means being able to look at the “bigger picture” to analyse the facts and develop solutions by “thinking out of the box”. You should also be able to demonstrate a positive attitude and approach to problems.
• Self-management including a willingness to accept responsibility, demonstrate flexibility, time management, assertiveness and the ability to be a reflective learner.
If you are able to identify and highlight to an employer a number of these transferable skills, you will be able to make a good first impression and demonstrate how you fit into a given role. Where you have identified skills that you need to develop, then these can be targeted when discussing what the aims and outcomes of a placement are.
Aims and outcomes
If you are able to agree aims and outcomes with an employer before a placement commences, then the likelihood is that the experience will be more beneficial.
• Aims: These are what you want to achieve by the end of the work experience placement. When deciding this, you should consider what you need to achieve in relation to your Diploma qualification. 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 about employment opportunities, more confident about being in the legal workplace, and will have built up a portfolio of evidence to help with your continued learning on the Diploma.
• Outcomes: For work experience, these 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.
Work experience schedule
Your employer may provide you with a schedule for the placement, which takes into account the aims and outcomes you have identified. You can help them with this by considering what you want to achieve, and influence or develop the schedule for them.
• Induction: You should be treated like 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.
• Monitoring and evaluation: 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 a 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.
• Debrief: Once the placement has finished, set aside some time to properly evaluate the original learning outcomes you set. This debrief 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 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.