Using Non-Legal Work Experience To Your Advantage

In my previous post about commercial awareness, I talked about how bar, shop or factory work could help you gain a lot of business knowledge and I gave the example of thinking about a beach café and how the weather affects custom.

In this post, I will elaborate on how non-legal work experience can help you to demonstrate commercial awareness and other “soft” skills needed for a career in the law.

The Importance of Soft Skills & Business Knowledge

Your legal knowledge provides the foundation of your legal career but it is the soft skills such as teamwork and client handling skills along with basic business knowledge which will determine whether you make a success of it or not.

Answering Commercial & Business Awareness Questions

A law firm may ask you on an application form and/or at interview to demonstrate commercial awareness, or other skills which in turn show you have commercial awareness. This might be teamwork, client handling skills or project management skills.

Do not panic! You can use your retail, catering or factory experience to demonstrate those skills and your commercial awareness. You just need to think laterally about how you have obtained those skills in unrelated fields to law.

Think Laterally

If you have worked in a shop, you might have worked with a fellow shop assistant to create a display or worked together to serve a customer.

  • Do you deal with business visitors to the shop, such as suppliers, merchandisers or visitors from head office?
  • Have you attended training events?
  • Do you share information with customers and new recruits by training new members of staff, assisting customers with a complex enquiry, or, for example, placating a café visitor who did not like his or her meal?

All these things show an ability to work with others effectively, to handle clients and communicate well.

Using Your Holiday Jobs

Let’s look at some other typical student vacation roles that could be used to demonstrate your commercial awareness.

If you have worked as a receptionist or lifeguard at your local leisure centre you will have honed your client handling skills and you will most likely have worked under stress and pressure, whether it is working through serving a long queue of people or diving into a pool to save somebody’s life.

You might also be involved with delivering sports activities to paying customers as well as dealing politely with the “I pay your salary” types. In this kind of environment, you need to be able to deal with all age groups, ethnicities and social groups.

Spot The Valuable Lessons

All these experiences teach you about the realities of working with colleagues from varying backgrounds, dealing with demanding clients, as well as the pressures of working within tight budgets and diminishing resources.

Even City law firms are not immune to budgetary restrictions and they certainly have their share of demanding clients.

It’s Time For Common Sense

In my first post, I talked of commercial awareness meaning having a good dose of common sense and I would argue that working in a customer-focused role teaches you a lot of common sense and much about the real world.

A commercial law firm can seem like an ivory towered-environment but again and again, clients rate the lawyers who can be practical and realistic. That is, those who apply common sense and general business knowledge to solve complex legal problems, as well as those who are easy to get along with.

Using Volunteering & Extra-Curricular Activities To Your Advantage

I hope that this post has given you the confidence to sell your skills to a law firm. In my next post, I will write about some of the volunteering and other extra-curricular activities that can be used to demonstrate commercial awareness and other soft skills that a lawyer needs.

Helen Hart

Helen was a trainee solicitor at Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy LLP and has ten years’ experience as a commercial lawyer both in-house and at Stevens & Bolton LLP. She has also spent four years working on the PLC Commercial Service at Practical Law Company and now writes for various magazines and websites in the legal sector. Follow Helen on Twitter >>>>

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