University of Portsmouth's History Blog

‘My placement has improved my knowledge and confidence’: The benefits of taking a placement year at university

Carla Watts has just finished her History with Politics degree at the University of Portsmouth, graduating with first class honours. She is now going on to further study and work – as a result of her placement year, between the second and third year of her degree. Congratulations Carla! This is the first of two blogs that we will post extolling the virtues of undertaking a placement year while at Portsmouth university.

It was only in my second year of university that I became interested in law and the idea of becoming a solicitor. However, as my degree is in History and Politics I was unsure I would be able to find an employer who would take me on as a placement student. Nevertheless, after sending my CV to many different law firms I got an interview and was accepted. Therefore, having a degree in a different area could help you stand out as a candidate as you will bring different skills to the role.

I also want to note that the law firm I worked at was not advertising placement opportunities. Therefore, I would advise anyone looking to do a placement to apply to as many organisations as possible, whether the company has a placement scheme or not. It is important not to limit yourself and to keep your options open as this will increase the likelihood of your securing a placement.

I completed my placement at Darton Law and was employed as a Paralegal. My day-to-day tasks included making phone calls to clients, the police, prisons and courts; writing letters and assisting solicitors. The office I worked in mainly deals with criminal law so I worked on a variety of criminal cases, from shoplifting to murder, which gave me a wide range of knowledge and understanding of proceedings in the Magistrates and the Crown Court.

When I started my placement I was quite apprehensive as I had no prior experience with law and did feel quite overwhelmed. However, after a few weeks I had learnt so much and felt a lot more confident. The longer I was there, the more comfortable I was and my number of responsibilities quickly increased. I remember feeling very nervous about phone conversations but now I confidently call 101, the police, prisons etc… multiple times a day.

Furthermore, I have also had many opportunities from my placement which have significantly improved my knowledge and have helped me feel more confident. For example, I was able to go to Court and sit in on a hearing which taught me a lot about the court process. I went to a prison to have a meeting with one of our clients which was a very different experience. Speaking with a client face-to-face meant I was able to get more involved with, and have a greater understanding of, the case. All of this has made me confident when communicating with other clients as I now have more legal knowledge.

My placement also taught me about what it takes to be a lawyer and work in an office environment. As I would often stay late at work, I typically worked more than forty hours a week. This demonstrated how crucial it is to organise your time to prevent work from becoming overwhelming and to ensure you have a work-life balance too. This is not something which I have experienced at university and I feel that my ability to now do this will be essential when adapting to working life after I graduate.

Overall, my placement has been extremely beneficial and has taught me skills that I will use in the future. Furthermore, my manager also offered me to continue working part-time when I returned to university for my third year, and I know of other placement students who were offered the same. Therefore, placements could take the pressure off searching for a job as a graduate.

I would definitely recommend a placement, particularly because it provides the opportunity to ‘try out’ a career you think you might be interested in. It’s unlikely that you would get this opportunity as a graduate student when you are looking for a more permanent role. Therefore, even if you decide you don’t enjoy that line of work, your placement is not wasted as you will be a step closer to finding a career you are interested in.

The Placement team and my university tutor Mike were very supportive and helped me throughout my placement when I had any queries and were always checking up on me. Having a tutor also meant I felt connected to the university which helped me transition back to university life in my final year.

Having completed my placement, I knew that being a lawyer was a career I wanted to pursue, so I started making plans for the next steps before my third year had even started – and I’m really pleased that these have paid off!

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