Virtual work experience case studies
We have a two-week intern programme targeting people who are:
- at university and are studying law, or
- have completed a degree and are planning to do a conversion course
In addition, and in partnership with the Sutton Trust, we offer a three-day introduction to law for 16 to 18 year olds with 12 places.
In 2020, we offered two virtual work placements for the legal profession.
The remote session gave us the ability to reach a more geographically dispersed community including people from Dublin and Aberdeen. This would not have been possible with face-to-face sessions, due to the costs involved.
It also allowed us to draw on more expertise globally and update the programme in real time where students requested further information in specific subjects.
Disabled interns could take part from home using the facilities they are normally accustomed to.
In conjunction, we did face some challenges.
The main inhibitors were the inability to have appropriate and sufficient work-shadowing sessions which are far easier to do physically. Also, the benefits of socialising and networking are harder to replicate via video or telephone.
Normally we would expect to hold two to three events per programme where they can meet senior leaders, for example.
Moving forward, there are two parts to our strategy:
- the existing two-week programme will continue to be remote unless all the attendees are London based, and
- we will be introducing a four-week pilot in July 2021, which will be a mix of face to face and remote
In summer 2020, we offered one virtual work experience placement for both our Scottish and English offices.
Although remote, we still organised them by reference to location so that participants could get to know people and the work in the office at which they were hoping to secure a training contract.
The placements ran for one week each. Under normal circumstances they would run for two weeks, but in the early stages of the pandemic there were many uncertainties and so we preferred to reduce the length rather than offer no placements at all.
Our aim was to mirror a real-life scheme as much as possible and this approach received positive feedback from participants.
They used their own computers and accessed our systems via Microsoft 365. This enabled them to carry out real-life work in a secure environment. It also allowed them to feel part of the local and firmwide DWF team, rather than only being able to access simulated environments and cases.
We gave them a directory of all current trainees and many used the opportunity to reach out to people in other offices to discuss areas of interest; becoming more independent than if they had been based in one location and dependent on those around them.
DWF people presenting workshops welcomed the more relaxed and engaging approach, rather than a formal classroom.
We were also able to include a session with a client, who was quite happy to spend an hour explaining the life of an in-house lawyer and what they look for in trainee secondees.
This was much easier than if they, or the participants, had needed to travel to meet each other in person.
As participants used their own computers, they could use any assistive technologies and working practices with which they were familiar. This made the scheme more accessible and many did not need to request reasonable adjustments.
One of the challenges we faced was that participants met less people generally.
If they had been physically present, staff would have made an effort to go over to introduce themselves and speak to them – unfortunately this can be harder to do via video call.
We will, however, be reminding colleagues that they should be reaching out virtually too.
Additionally, although we are generally a relaxed firm, we do have some expectations about dress and behaviour.
It may not always be apparent that participants might need more guidance on what is appropriate, when the only interaction is solely virtual.
Remote working and virtual schemes
Many positives have come out of this experience, and we do not want to lose them.
DWF has always embraced remote and flexible working, and it is now even clearer that these are skills that need to be learned and assessed when it comes to those looking to join the profession.
In April 2021, together with Aspiring Solicitors, we are running an ethnic minority access scheme which will be fully virtual.
Our approach in summer will depend on what is allowed, but our current thinking is that we might like placements in the future to be a hybrid mix of virtual and in-person.
Leeds City Council
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leeds City Council Legal Services unfortunately had to postpone the majority of work placements in 2020.
This was because we were unable to safely invite students into the office, and staff had moved to working largely from home.
Remote work placements and the Diversity Access Scheme
However, we did successfully facilitate 12 remote work placements during the pandemic, a task which we are particularly proud of.
As a service we are very passionate about encouraging young people to pursue a career in law, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We have teamed up with the University of Leeds to roll out the Pathways to Law programme, which annually provides work placements to 10 second-year Law degree students from widening participation backgrounds.
Due to previous success, we were keen to provide this valuable opportunity to students despite the pandemic. Our goal was to facilitate worthwhile placements while managing not only our service’s capacity but also the students’ expectations.
We also facilitated a one-week remote placement for a Law graduate who had won a Diversity Access Scheme award from the Law Society.
A trainee solicitor from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) started her three-month secondment with us before the pandemic and so she finished her placement remotely.
Students were provided with an encrypted laptop with their own user account set up with specific access, an email address and a telephone number to enable them to use our telephone and conferencing system.
Students were given some key printed documents and an electronic induction pack which they went through with the work placement coordinator on their first day.
Our focus was to enhance key skills that the students could use in future placements and their careers including written and verbal communication, time management, research, data security and presenting.
Students were paired up where possible to allow for peer support which worked very well in place of the benefits of real-life networking and socialising.
The work placement coordinator made daily contact with each student either by phone, email or instant message and all students were supplied with a contact list of key staff in their team. The work placement coordinator met with all students on their last day to debrief.
Considering the challenging circumstances, all placements were successful and the feedback received very positive.
All students enjoyed their week despite not being able to meet us in person. They felt well supported which we were anxious to ensure, as we understand how isolating it can be to work from home.
Staff who had supported with facilitating the work placements were also asked to provide feedback on how they think the placements could be adapted for the benefit of both staff and students.
Feedback was largely positive, although there were some challenges noted.
Staff were able to refine their own skills particularly around:
Although the initial planning and preparation was time consuming, by the second group of students, teams had templates in place which we will use moving forwards.
As both the students and ourselves were reliant on our own wifi when working from home, there were some issues with technology, such as:
- calls disconnecting
- systems freezing
- wifi failing
In the office students will ask questions throughout the day so staff had to pre-empt potential questions and give more thought to each phone call or meeting.
It was harder to tell if students were struggling or in need of more support and to build a rapport with students over the phone/video call.
Timetables changed if meetings were cancelled or if students were not permitted to view online court hearings. It is usually easier to find something else for students to do when in the office, as other staff offer meetings or work instead. All were understanding and negotiated changes well.
Overall, facilitating remote work placements was challenging but beneficial for both the students and ourselves.
The future of local authority work is changing, and so after the pandemic there is potential that we will offer hybrid placements where students split their time between the office and home.
The key aim when offering any work placement is to equip the student with the knowledge and skills required for their future careers by ensuring that they receive a worthwhile and enjoyable hands-on placement. We are confident that we will continue to achieve this goal, no matter what form future placements take.
Government Legal Department
In 2020, we offered 70 virtual work experience placements which each lasted two days.
Running the schemes virtually meant that we were able to accommodate more students because we didn’t have the capacity constraints that we would have had in an office environment, where meeting rooms have limited capacity.
In addition, more students were able to attend because it was easier to do so virtually. Whilst we provide travel expenses, a virtual scheme meant there was no need to travel, meaning students don’t have to worry about booking trains or accommodation.
Due to the scheme’s digital nature, we managed to condense it too. This meant it required less time commitment from students which, in turn, made it easier to attend.
Students were also able to easily contribute to sessions through the Teams chat function and made good use of other virtual and digital tools to communicate.
The main drawback was that we were not able to replicate all aspects of the physical scheme. For example, we could not offer physical tours of Parliament or the Supreme Court, on which we usually receive overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Whilst the technology largely worked, sometimes speakers had a poor internet connection as each student was relying on their own wifi signal.
Also, some students were reluctant to use their cameras so it was a bit harder for speakers to properly engage with them.
For summer 2021 we will be running a virtual scheme. Beyond that, we will need to consider what works best – which may be a hybrid scheme.