Why City law firms don’t need to keep in touch with work experience students

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By Katie King on

If they want to build ties, students should show some initiative and send an email


To cries of indignation from the legal press, it was announced last week that the majority of PRIME diversity scheme students don’t have any more contact with the programme’s participating law firms after they finish their obligatory work experience placement.

And the researchers behind this finding have told law firms to “do more” to encourage long-standing relationships between ex-participants and the firm.

Being told to “do more” implies that what you’re doing at the moment just isn’t good enough. But it’s sad to see PRIME being painted as a sort of halfway house failure. The success of a social mobility programme does not hinge on keeping in contact, because the benefits of doing work experience at a leading law firm are so much more than landing a training contract there in five years time.

The headline figure that’s been churned out over the last few days is that 67% of PRIME participants have had no further contact with the law firms that they did their work experience at. Yet a staggering 92% of people said they found the experience useful. That’s because these programmes don’t cease to be useful once they’ve ended and contact has been ceased.

Social mobility initiatives in the legal profession are commonplace, and PRIME is not dissimilar from the likes of Pathways to Law. With a similar targeted age group and eligibility criteria, they are much of a muchness — though Pathways offers more sessions than work experience-driven PRIME. As someone who did Pathways aged 16-18 at the London School of Economics, then saw it from a different angle when I worked for the programme at university, I want to tell you that not keeping in touch with a law firm isn’t the end of the world.

Firstly, there’s a reason why so few students keep in contact with their respective firms, and it’s probably student-driven.

PRIME and Pathways target school age students, and at that stage of your life it’s pretty safe to say that you don’t really know what you’re going to do with your future. Doing work experience at a firm gives you a taster, and whether it sparks your interest or totally puts you off, it’s a good experience to have. I was half way out of Holborn underground station when I realised a career in commercial law wasn’t for me, but when it came to training contract deadline season at university, I felt safe in the knowledge that it was not my vocation — and I’m glad I realised that aged 16 and not aged 35.

I’ve never chased a career in the City, but my Pathways work experience has still proven invaluable. I’ve had it to fall back on in so many application forms and in so many interviews. I was blind to how much the name of a leading law firm can resonate with interviewers until I was long out of the programme — it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

So let’s stop painting law firms as failures for not keeping in contact with all their work experience students. If you want to stay in touch, show some initiative and send an email. I have never got in contact with the firm I did my placement at, and I have no desire to. I don’t want anything more from them — they’ve given me plenty.