The first option is taking a work experience place at a legal firm. This may be particularly appealing to students on a law course or those who have recently graduated from university, as there is a strong chance they are struggling to find employment and these schemes can offer valuable experience that will be useful when it comes to moving into a legal carrier a few months down the line.
Elspeth Farrar, vice president of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, explained that taking a work experience placement is an excellent way of getting ahead in "some of the very competitive areas" - of which the legal sector is most certainly one.
"Clearly if they can get some relevant experience of working within the right kind of industry, sector [and] the right kind of company … then they are going to benefit," she remarked, adding that being able to add work experience to their CV and "develop their skills and abilities" will both help in the quest to secure a job.
However, Ms Farrar also warned of the potential pitfalls of working for nothing, saying that some companies tend to make the most of having a worker on board who is not getting paid. "I think there have always been some firms who have perhaps had a tendency to take advantage," she stated, noting that occasionally businesses opt to use work experience as an opportunity to put students and graduates "on a trial" with a view to offering them full-time work.
She urged those working for free at a legal firm not to agree a verbal or written contract and make sure there is "no obligation" on their behalf to complete specific tasks of work for a set number of hours. If such an agreement is reached, Ms Farrar noted, that firm will be contravening the minimum wage act, which was introduced in an effort to restrict the actions of companies. Those on work experience must be "in control of the way they work, the amount of commitment [and] the hours they work," she concluded.
For those that may already have some experience in the legal sector and would prefer to have the chance of earning as they learn, internships could be another option. According to Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employers Confederation, these offer benefits to both those seeking experience and the companies that take them on.
"This is the sort of thing that can help you stand out from the crowd when you are putting your CV forward with lots of other job applicants," he noted, adding: "It shows that you are keen on a particular career and it gives you some … practical experience."
Finally, there is the option of undertaking a secondment. These traditionally involve employees at a legal firm temporarily taking up a position at an in-house department at a corporate firm, or taking a similar role within government. They are often incorporated into training programmes for those who have already worked their way into the firm of their choice, however they are occasionally offered to students and graduates.
One recent example of this taking place involved Iuliia Muravska, a Ukrainian law student who won DLA Piper's Scholarship Competition for Law Students in 2008. Part of her prize saw her complete a two-week secondment at the firm's London office earlier the month, in which she split her time between the firm's finance and project team and the corporate group. After finishing her time at the company, she explained that she was "extremely happy" with the experience, noting that working alongside DLA Piper's lawyers helped her to develop her professional background.
So, despite the present economic troubles, it seems that there are still opportunities available for those just starting out in the sector, whether they have just secured an entry-level position or are still in the process of doing so. With hard work and dedication, progressing up the ranks in the legal sector may not be as hard as you may think.