Legal work experience is one of the most important things law firms look for in applications for training contracts & paralegal roles particularly in the form of vacation schemes. It demonstrates to a firm a keen interest in the law as well as providing some evidence of practical experience. The more linked the work experience is with the type of firm the applicant is applying to, and the areas of law it works with, the more weight that work experience is likely to have with that firm. For example within personal injury & insurance it is important to have a minimum of 6 months exposure to handling related files.
It should also be remembered that many law firms use their vacation schemes as a way to pre-select candidates for interview for their training contract or paralegal positions. A vacation scheme gives the firm much more time to assess you than an interview affords and it also gives you much more time in which to make a positive impression.
As well as enhancing value & power to a CV, vacation schemes also give candidates a chance to get to know specific firms better before deciding whether or not to apply for a training contract with them. They also provide a more general insight into how law firms work. This is often key for law students as the reality of practise is often quite different from the study of the same areas of law. On a work placement you will get a much better sense of the culture of a firm and the people who work there. This is invaluable information when it comes to deciding whether you want to apply to work there in the future.
Applications for vacation schemes are often even more competitive than for training contracts because candidates will seek to do more than one placement. With training contracts successful candidates will only accept one position and reject any other offers they receive thus giving others the chance of receiving them. Therefore, taking time to get your applications right is crucial. Far too many candidates, however, do not take the application process seriously enough and try to rush off multiple applications which will have a very limited chance of success. It is much better to spend some time researching the firms you want to apply to, what they are looking for in their vacation scheme candidates and putting together a well thought out and well presented application. Quality rather than quantity is definitely the key here.
Legal work experienced can go a long way on your CV and for your career. Having spent time at a firm you will have developed contacts and learnt the process of how firms operate generally. This will enhance your chances of obtaining a training contract in the future and also make your CV look more attractive to potential employers.