Do you need that one extra piece of experience on your CV to make yourself stand out? That one little thing that could make recruiters take note? Well it’s possible that the experience you gain on a Gap year could be exactly what you need. But you need to think pretty logically about the choice. It may be a bad decision to take a Gap year depending on your circumstances.
It’s so easy to get carried away when thinking about a Gap year. You may get to have a holiday, get legal experience, and maybe even get paid at the same time. It all sounds very nice. But there’s a good chance your gap year won’t turn out so well. It may cost you a load of money, provide little in the way of decent legal experience and if you could have landed a paralegal role during the time, it would be a wasted opportunity.
Sorry to be a Buzz Killington but a Gap year won’t always be a good idea. So I’m going to look at some of the situations where I think a Gap year is and isn’t a good idea. There are quite a few articles I’ve read out there stating that a Gap year is going to be the best choice you ever make, while painting an idealistic picture of your experiences overseas. You need to remember that these companies may want your money / free labour. So you should take everything they say with a pinch of salt.
When should you do a Gap year?
In my opinion 2 main criteria should be met if you want to take a Gap year to further your legal career prospects:
1. Currently limited career options. If you don’t have any realistic chance of imminently obtaining a training contract or paid legal work then it could be a great idea to do a Gap year. What would you be doing otherwise? Working a minimum wage job which doesn’t have much value on a CV? You could find yourself in a nasty rut where you’re not going anywhere.
A gap year which provides you with experience and a fun time could be just what you need to give you extra confidence, determination and skills you need to get a training contract (or other legal job). Depending on the placement you may even be paid for your work. Other placements may provide your accommodation
2. The experience is actually relevant. Fair enough if you just want to go on a fun holiday. But don’t take a Gap year for the sole purpose of improving you CV if you’re going to go to be doing something which isn’t worth mentioning at an interview. It doesn’t need to be legal based (look at some of the key legal skills you need) but it would be great if it is.
This would be a good example of invaluable Gap experience; the sort of experience that could make the difference between getting a training contract and not even getting through the application stage.
A year working in Hong Kong in a Chinese firm carrying out a range of duties. Once a week you take Chinese lessons. You went travelling in China during the last two months.
That sort of experience would probably require some sort of investment on your behalf. But it could be well worth it. If enough research is done you can find some pretty good Gap year / internship schemes where accommodation is included in the price and you get a basic wage from the place you’re working.
When shouldn’t you do a Gap year?
You probably shouldn’t do a gap year for the sole purpose of helping you get a training contract if, realistically speaking, your academics aren’t good enough. Unfortunately a Gap year won’t turn that 3rd class degree into a 2:1. A gap year should help improve an already good CV. Not be used to patch up a bad CV. You need to be realistic about your training contract chances.
Just because work experience is gained overseas doesn’t automatically make it better. A years worth of work experience working with the British legal system is invaluable. Especially because you will be getting paid and therefore reducing some of those nasty debts. If you can realistically get this sort of experience then maybe a Gap year is unnecessary. Working in a firm may also increase your training contract chances at the firm or even allow you to work your way up.
Make sure the experience is useful. Although it will be of some value, and will be very rewarding, volunteering on building projects may not be of that much value when it comes to applications. Yes it will give you some great skills and experiences but if you’re pinning your hopes of training contract success on your year abroad then you should really pick something which is law based.
Where can I find law gap years?
You need to fully research you gap year placement so you know it’s right for you. Get all of the information you can and know what will be paid for, what you will need to pay for, how long it will last, accommodation arrangements and most importantly learn about the exact nature of the experience you will be getting. Once you find out exactly where you’re going do some research on the location. If you’re being sent to a ghetto it’s best to know before (so you can pack your nunchucks). Here are a few sites which offer legal based internships / gap year experiences:
- Travellersworldwide.com – Place candidates around the world based on qualifications.
- Projects-abroad.co.uk – Projects abroad which you will be providing legal services to businesses, community organisations or individuals.
- Mountbatten.org – Paid internships in New York or London. Work available in firms.
- Gapyear365.com – Human rights internships.
The bottom line
It’s all about knowing the strength and weakness of your own application. Would some good experience overseas make the difference in your training contract chances? You need to be realistic about your application. If you’re just lacking that bit of experience, then yes; it could be a good idea. If you don’t stand much of a chance then don’t waste more money! You need to be brutally honest and realistic.
The phrase “Gap year” can mean so many things and the value of your year off can vary an insane amount depending on what you’re doing. In better economic times it used to be possible to find paid paralegal work in Australia, New Zealand or the US. This would look so good on your CV (and would be so much fun!) that it could be a good choice to take it even if you already had decent career prospects or could obtain a UK legal job. However due to the economic situation at the moment this sort of gap year experience would be very hard to find. (Note: If you have duel nationality or overseas contacts this route could still be a possibility.)
Remember we’re speaking from a purely logical point of view here. If you just want a fun holiday then go for any Gap year. But if you’re thinking of a Gap year specifically with your legal career in mind then take note of the above points. What you don’t want to do is spend yet more money on your legal career unnecessarily – that money may need to be spent on the LPC.