Best practice guidance: work experience placements

1. Introduction and regulatory requirements

This guidance represents the Law Society's view of good practice for employers who provide work experience to those seeking experience of a legal career. In following this guidance, providers of legal services, as employers, will be undertaking to promote fair access to the legal profession.

The guidance reflects the requirements placed on solicitors and organisations under Chapter 2 and Principle 9 of the SRA Code. These relate to Equality and Diversity and state that a solicitor must run their business or carry out their role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity. It also reflects the requirements of Chapter 4 on client confidentiality, which is matter of both law and conduct.

2. Background

The legal profession has become increasingly competitive with the number of law graduates having increased by 45 per cent in the past decade. In 2014, 16,120 students graduated with a degree in law. By comparison, there were just 5,000 training contracts.

Many individuals looking to qualify as a solicitor will seek to undertake some form of work experience within the profession before applying for training contracts. The profession has increasingly placed a premium on previous experience when deciding whom to recruit and many larger organisations use work experience placements as part of their trainee solicitor recruitment process. Legal work experience has become a defining and essential step towards a legal career is it provides students with the opportunity to:

  • gain exposure to legal work and therefore the ability to make an informed career choice  
  • demonstrate their commitment to joining the profession to prospective employers.

Where competition for work experience is intense, there is the potential for individuals to be faced with a choice between taking placements under conditions that are not in their best interests or not taking placements at all. This environment raises significant equality, diversity and social mobility issues, both for students and for the future of the profession.

3. The purpose of work experience

(a) For the student

High quality work experience should provide:

  • insight and information about careers in the legal profession;  
  • the chance to learn about and develop the key skills that are needed in the legal profession; and  
  • sufficient exposure to legal work to enable the individual to make an informed career choice.

(b) For the firm or organisation offering work experience

Offering work experience can offer several benefits for your business, including:

  • Assisting in the recruitment of potential future employees
  • Complying with corporate social responsibility and/or equal opportunities objectives of your organisation  
  • Cost-effectively building the skill set of your employees  
  • Cost-effectively building the skill set of individuals with management responsibilities in your organisation
  • Raising your organisation’s profile, building better community relationships and obtaining and providing greater networking and marketing opportunities.

4. Good practice

In order to be fair and accessible, work experience opportunities should:

  • be clearly defined  
  • be openly advertised and fairly recruited  
  • be remunerated to national minimum wage or above, where possible
  • cover reasonable expenses incurred by participants.

(a) Defining work experience

An employer should make clear when advertising and offering a work experience placement what the expectations are, including, but not limited to:

  • How long the placement will last
  • The normal hours of work you expect the individual may attend  
  • Whether the placement will be paid or unpaid  
  • Expenses that will be reimbursed
  • What type of work the individual may be expected to observe or undertake.

Whilst there is no legal requirement for a written work experience agreement, it can be helpful in order to clarify:

  • The role of the individual on work experience during the work experience
  • The start and finish dates of the work experience placement  
  • Hours of attendance
  • The location of the work experience placement  
  • Any specific learning objectives  
  • Any induction or training procedures  
  • The methods for reimbursement of expenses
  • Health and safety matters; and, as appropriate, any welfare or safeguarding issues  
  • Confidentiality and data protection

The information commissioner has warned employers about the importance of making sure that temporary staff who regularly handle personal information receive adequate data protection training. This is likely to be of particular relevance to temporary employees in an office where solicitors work because of solicitors’ duties of confidentiality and the sensitive nature of the personal data they handle. Further information can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

Whether or not there is an agreement, the work experience provider owes a duty of care to the law student under Health and Safety law. If the individual is below the age of 18 it may be necessary to consider certain measures for their protection under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (see for examples Regulation 3(4) as to the requirement for risk assessments).

Terms offered to individuals on work experience should not be unfair or discriminatory in any way.

(b) Advertising work experience

Work experience should be openly recruited to ensure fair access to potential participants. Depending on the size and reach of your organisation, you may wish to advertise work experience placements:

  • on your website  
  • through engagement with local schools and colleges  
  • at universities;  
  • through the local or legal press
  • through a recruitment agency or specialist charity such as AccessProfessions (please see further information below).

(c) Remunerating work experience placements

Work experience should be paid to at least the national minimum wage. However, the Law Society accepts that there will be occasions where work experience placements are unpaid. Examples of when work experience might be unpaid include:

  • where the work experience student is still in school or sixth form college  
  • where a firm does not have the means to pay individuals coming in for work experience and would cease to be able to host such placements if payment was required. This will most likely apply to sole traders, small firms or firms operating in the social advice sector.

Where work experience placements are unpaid, they should last no longer than four weeks.

If your organisation needs an individual to perform tasks for a particular period, you should consider the needs of your business. Engaging an individual as a paid employee may serve your purposes better. You may be able to recruit and retain someone who can assist you efficiently because they are familiar with your business needs and systems and ensure that you comply with relevant legislation and conduct issues.

(d) Paying expenses

Regardless of whether work experience is paid or unpaid, reasonable expenses should always be reimbursed. This is in line with good practice and may support any social mobility policy your organisation may have.

The type of expenses you wish to reimburse may range from basic costs incurred, such as travel or lunch, to covering the cost of items for work or appropriate clothing for the placement, to account for the possibility that school age work experience participants may not have suitable office clothing to wear during the placement.

When paying expenses you should clearly identify the basis of all payments and reimburse sums against receipts wherever possible. You should keep receipts and records of any money paid to an individual on work experience.

5. The type of work that should be undertaken

A structured work plan with clear goals and objectives will enable both the individual and your organisation to understand what tasks are to be assigned and how work is to be managed during the placement. This should enable individuals to make the best use of their skills and to gain valuable, structured, experience. Where there is the capacity, it is preferable to nominate one individual to mentor the individual on work experience and provide them with feedback on their performance. In the case of those under 18, you should consider whether this may give rise to any safeguarding requirements.

The tasks that it would be appropriate for the individual to undertake will depend on the level of legal education and training already received. Tasks relevant to an individual who has not yet started he LPC may be less appropriate for, an individual who is part-way through, or has completed an LPC and vice versa. Careful consideration should therefore be given to the tasks allocated to each individual. The purpose and potential benefit of work experience will change depending on the stage an individual has reached on their legal pathway, whether to qualify as a solicitor or other legal career, and their knowledge, skills and experience. The following examples may be useful when considering appropriate tasks to allocate to an individual but is not intended to be definitive or restrictive.

Examples of tasks for an individual who is studying A levels:

  • Shadowing fee earners and attending appropriate meetings for the sole purpose of exposing them to a 'day as a solicitor'

Examples of tasks for an individual who is studying a qualifying law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law:

  • Work as above
  • Working on example files, based on matters that have already been completed  
  • Meaningful administrative tasks such as assisting with putting together bundles or files.  
  • Basic research on areas of law.

Examples of tasks for an individual studying the LPC:

  • Work as above
  • Qualitative legal work and research which is not billed to clients. This may include:
  • researching an area of law and drafting a memo to the trainee solicitor or solicitor working on the case
  • here appropriate, reading the background to a case at the same time as a trainee solicitor or solicitor, and discussing the merits of such a claim

Examples of tasks for an individual who has completed their LPC:

  • Work as above  
  • Attending training.

It is not appropriate for an individual undertaking work experience at your organisation to perform billable client work or to be expected to work outside of the hours agreed as part of the work experience agreement.

6. Feedback and references

At the end of the work experience placement you should have a final meeting with the individual and provide them with a written factual reference detailing the work they have undertaken and the skills and experience they have acquired. This meeting will also provide you with an opportunity to ask the individual for feedback on the quality of their experience. Gathering information and feedback from the individual may prove useful when you are considering offering work experience in the future, as well as when considering future recruitment.

7. Other considerations

Organisations offering work experience placements should firstly carefully consider any employment law implications that may arise and be aware that data protection, and anti-discrimination and health and safety laws will also apply. In some cases, child protection legislation may also be relevant.

Remember that:

  • An individual may be protected by discrimination legislation even if they are not engaged by your organisation as a worker or an employee.  
  • It is appropriate to ask work experience participants to sign confidentiality agreements
  • Where students aged under 18 are on office premises, you should consider whether there should be at least one person in the room who has had a CRB check, depending on the circumstances and nature and regularity of the work involved.  
  • No client information or records should be disclosed without the consent of the client(s) to whom they belong. Students on work- experience should not be present at meetings with a client or where his or her matters are being discussed without the consent of the client.  
  • It is important to be transparent with clients regarding the fact that you may periodically have work-experience students on the premises, and to indicate what age group these students fall in to. Clients must know whether and to what extent students may have access to their confidential information and records, and the controls that are in place. Clients must be given an opportunity to refuse to allow such access and assurances as to the mechanisms by which it can be prevented if necessary.  
  • Firms should consider which files are appropriate to disclose to those under 18 years old, both in terms of the inability of under 18s to consent to a confidentiality agreement and whether all material is appropriate e.g. cases relating to child abuse or sensitive material relating to relatives, neighbours, school friends or anyone likely to be known to them.

Further information

• The government has produced a Common Best Practice Code on High Quality Internships.

• The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society is a community for LPC students, paralegals, trainee solicitors and solicitors up to five years qualified.