All things considered, my route to law was fairly standard. From an undergraduate history degree to the GDL to the LPC. In the words of The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly: "Florals? For spring? Ground-breaking." Despite this less than inspiring route to law, I still learned a number of valuable lessons along the way.
The first lesson that comes to mind is that all experience is good experience. While legal experience is, of course, useful not just for the applications but also for you, it is not the be-all and end-all. What is more important is what the experience shows about you and what skills you learned and developed. Holding down a non-legal job for three years or working in the summers can often be more valuable than a week of work experience.
That being said, it would be a lie to pretend being able to talk knowledgeably about the kinds of work the firm you're applying to carries out is not beneficial. I would definitely recommend getting experience where you can. This is also helpful as it allows you to know what kinds of firm you would like to work for, what kind of work you enjoy doing, and where you might be a good fit.
If you do feel that you have a lack of experience, try not to let that deter you. Use whatever experience you have to show what is important to you, to show what qualities and skills you possess, and what your values are. At the end of the day, this is more important in determining whether you will be a good fit than whether or not you have drafted a pre-nup or edited a contract before. As noted by Albus Dumbledore: "It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices."
Another lesson that really helped my application process was knowing myself and my aspirations. Without meaning to sound too deep, it wasn't until I really examined what I wanted from my career and started applying to firms that mirrored this ambition that I began to make progress. Having come from university, I wanted to apply to the 'best' without really considering what that meant in the context of a law firm.
What I came to realise was that the metrics for success weren't the same as at, say, school or university. They were generally financial and they weren't that important to me. I have no doubt that this came across in my applications. When applying, try not to have an overly broad brush approach. Find firms that match your desired practise areas, trainee intake, work life balance – whatever it may be – and apply to those firms. It quickly became apparent that sincerity was crucial to success.
The application process is as much about you finding out if the firm is a good fit for you as it is the firm finding out if you are a good fit for them. If you get to the assessment day or vacation scheme, use this as an opportunity to ask questions of everyone to find out whether it is the kind of firm that would suit you.
As hard as it is at times, try not to get disheartened. It is a really difficult process and rejection is to be expected. Try to use this as an opportunity to learn. Ask for feedback, talk to people in HR, talk to friends who have gone through the process and get all the advice you can. No one goes through the process by themselves, so don’t feel like you have to.
Lastly, good luck and hope to see you at Russell-Cooke!