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  • Writer's pictureNadia Cook

Non-legal work experience - The jobs I have had and the transferable skills they taught me for the legal world

I wasn't the kind of student fortunate enough to rely on the "bank of mum and dad" during my time at University – quite the opposite, actually. Yet, I wouldn't have had it any other way. My journey has been paved with a variety of jobs, none of which were in the legal realm. It might come as a surprise, but my first taste of working in an office environment didn't happen until day one of my traineeship!

While I certainly encourage aspiring legal professionals to explore roles like paralegal, legal assistant, or analyst, I understand that not everyone has immediate access to such opportunities. If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, struggling to secure legal-related work experience due to a lack of connections in the legal field, don't lose hope. Non-legal experiences can still equip you with the transferable skills essential for a thriving legal career.

You might wonder how bartending or lifeguarding could possibly translate into the skill set needed for lawyering. Allow me to illustrate, drawing from my own journey with real-life examples...

So let's start with the first job I had as a 17 year old... A Lifeguard.

I've had a variety of lifeguarding experiences, starting from my humble beginnings at a local Haven Caravan park. I then progressed to working at my community leisure center during university breaks and summers. Additionally, I served as a lifeguard and watersports instructor on the waterfront at an all-girls American summer camp. Each role provided unique challenges and opportunities for growth.

waterfront, lifeguard, USA, work experience
Me as a waterfront lifeguard at summer camp in the USA

So what type of skills does a lifeguard have that are similar to a lawyer you might ask? Here are some examples of how I made the link between these transferable skills in applications and interviews...

  • Attention to Detail: Lifeguards must pay close attention to their surroundings and the people they are responsible for. This skill translates well to legal work, where attention to detail is crucial for analzying complex legal documents, contracts, and case law.

  • Critical Thinking: Lifeguards often need to make quick decisions in emergency situations. This requires critical thinking skills to assess the situation, consider options, and choose the best course of action. Lawyers similarly need strong critical thinking skills to analyze legal issues, develop strategies, and make arguments.

  • Communication Skills: Lifeguards must effectively communicate safety instructions to individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Lawyers also need excellent communication skills to advocate for their clients, negotiate with opposing parties, and present arguments persuasively in court.

  • Problem-Solving Abilities: Lifeguards encounter various challenges and problems during their shifts, such as rescuing distressed swimmers or managing crowded pool areas. These problem-solving abilities are valuable in legal roles, where lawyers must find solutions to complex legal issues and navigate obstacles in cases.

  • Leadership Skills: Lifeguards often supervise other lifeguards and may be responsible for managing team dynamics during emergencies. This experience in leadership and teamwork can be beneficial in legal roles, especially in positions that involve leading teams of attorneys or collaborating with colleagues on cases.

  • Calmness Under Pressure: Lifeguards must remain calm and composed in high-pressure situations to effectively handle emergencies. Similarly, lawyers often face stressful situations in courtrooms, negotiations, or when dealing with challenging clients. The ability to stay calm under pressure is essential in both professions.

  • Risk Assessment and Management: Lifeguards are trained to assess risks and take proactive measures to prevent accidents and injuries. This skill translates well to legal roles, where lawyers must identify potential risks for their clients and develop strategies to mitigate them.

  • Ethical Decision-Making: Lifeguards are entrusted with the safety and well-being of others, requiring them to make ethical decisions in challenging situations. Lawyers also face ethical dilemmas in their practice and must adhere to professional codes of conduct while advocating for their clients.

Job number two was Venue Support staff in the University student union.

This involved wearing of hats such as; front of house managing queues, signing people into the building and issuing bands on club nights, to collecting glasses and crowd management in the downstairs nightclub, and cash handling issuing tickets and sorting lost property and working in the cloakroom. We also served behind the bars and helped out the first aider's and security when things got really busy! We would often walk around with walkie talkies to communicate with each other. As you have probably gathered the student union I worked at was pretty big, it had 5 floors and several bars, restaurants and clubs.

A girl with trolley stacked with crates of alcohol
Me stocking up on the alcohol supplies for an upcoming event

We sometimes had large events for example Graduation, St Patrick's Day, Superbowl, Varsity and Freshers which would see me doing 16hr + shifts! The union also hosted 'skint Tuesday's' every week which for me meant starting my shift at 9pm and finishing at 5am only to then have a law lecture at 9am that same morning!!

Here are some examples of the transferable skills I highlighted for this role in my TC applications and interviews...

  • Customer Service: Managing queues, signing people into the building, issuing bands, serving behind bars, and assisting with lost property all require strong customer service skills. Lawyers often interact with clients, judges, and other legal professionals, requiring excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to provide exceptional customer service.

  • Crowd Management: Handling crowds in a downstairs nightclub and managing large events like Graduation and Freshers' Week demonstrates the ability to maintain order and ensure the safety of individuals in potentially chaotic environments. This skill is relevant in legal roles that involve managing courtroom proceedings, handling contentious situations, or representing clients in high-stress environments.

  • Communication Skills: Using walkie-talkies to communicate with colleagues, as well as interacting with diverse individuals in various roles within the student union, required effective communication skills. Lawyers need strong communication skills to convey complex legal concepts clearly to clients, colleagues, judges, and juries.

  • Teamwork and Collaboration: Working alongside first aiders, security personnel, and other venue support staff demonstrates the ability to collaborate effectively within a team. This teamwork is essential in legal roles, where lawyers often work with counsel, experts, paralegals, and support staff to build cases and achieve successful outcomes for clients.

  • Time Management and Adaptability: Working long shifts, sometimes lasting 16 hours or more, demonstrates resilience, adaptability, and the ability to manage time effectively. Lawyers often work long hours, especially when preparing for proofs and trials or meeting tight deadlines for time sensitive cases or contracts.

  • Cash Handling and Financial Responsibility: Handling cash, issuing tickets, and working in the cloakroom require attention to detail and financial responsibility. These skills are valuable in legal roles that involve managing client funds, handling financial transactions, or analyzing financial documents as part of legal cases.

  • Problem-Solving Abilities: Dealing with unexpected challenges and busy periods during events like Superbowl or Varsity showcases problem-solving abilities. Lawyers frequently encounter complex legal issues that require creative problem-solving skills to find solutions and achieve favourable outcomes for their clients.

  • Stress Management: Working in a fast-paced environment with long hours and busy shifts, such as during Skint Tuesdays, demonstrates the ability to manage stress effectively. This skill is crucial in legal roles that involve high-pressure situations, such as trials, negotiations, or dealing with demanding clients.

Next up... A Bar tender / Waiter

I think many of us will be familiar with the role of a bar tender, and how demanding it can be both mentally and physically! This is definitely not one to miss out from your applications as there are many transferable skills that are very useful for the legal world that can be learned in a waiting/bar tending environment (believe it or not!) Let me explain...

Girl in bar cellar changing beer barrels
Me down in the bar cellar changing beer barrels

Transitioning from a bartender/waiter role to that of a solicitor may seem like a significant leap, but there are transferable skills that can be valuable in both professions. Here are some examples of how I made the link between these transferable skills in my traineeship applications and interviews...

Communication Skills: Bartenders/waiters often need to communicate effectively with customers, colleagues, and management. This skill is crucial for solicitors when interacting with clients, colleagues, members of the court, and other legal professionals.

Customer Service: Bartenders/waiters excel in providing excellent customer service, which is also essential for solicitors when dealing with clients, addressing their needs, and ensuring their satisfaction.

Problem-Solving: In both roles, individuals frequently encounter challenging situations that require quick thinking and problem-solving abilities. Bartenders/waiters often have to resolve conflicts or handle unexpected issues, which is a valuable skill for solicitors when tackling complex legal problems.

Attention to Detail: Accuracy is critical in both professions. Bartenders/waiters must pay attention to orders, preferences, and special requests for food and beverages, while solicitors need to meticulously analyze legal documents, contracts, and case details.

Time Management: Both roles require effective time management to handle multiple tasks efficiently. Bartenders/waiters must prioritize orders and manage their time during busy shifts, similar to how solicitors manage caseloads, deadlines, and court appearances.

Stress Management: Bartenders/waiters often work in fast-paced and high-pressure environments, honing their ability to stay calm under stress. This skill is invaluable for solicitors when handling demanding cases, tight deadlines, and challenging clients.

Teamwork: Collaboration is essential in the hospitality industry, as bartenders/waiters often work closely with colleagues to ensure smooth operations. Similarly, solicitors frequently collaborate with paralegals, associates, and other legal professionals to achieve favourable outcomes for clients.

Adaptability: Both roles demand adaptability to changing circumstances. Bartenders/waiters must adjust to varying customer preferences and busy periods, while solicitors need to adapt to evolving legal landscapes, case dynamics, and client needs.

Sales and Persuasion: Bartenders/waiters often engage in up-selling or recommending products to customers, honing their sales and persuasion skills. Solicitors similarly need to persuade judges, juries, or opposing counsel, making this skill valuable in legal advocacy.

By highlighting these transferable skills and demonstrating their relevance to a solicitor role, you can effectively leverage your previous non-legal experience and make a compelling case for your suitability in the legal profession as a trainee solicitor in applications and at interview stage.

Good luck with your upcoming applications and interviews. You can do this!

By Nadia Cook

Business Development Solicitor

You can connect with me via Linkedin here.


This purpose of this article is for information only, and does not constitute as legal advice.

The copyright of this work is owned by The Scottish Lawyer. Please do not republish this work without permission. If you wish to re-post this work either in whole or in part, please contact


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