But did you know that other kinds of experience can perform similar functions and give your application an edge over those of other people?
We chatted to Caroline Lindner, Trainee Recruitment Manager at Norton Rose Fulbright, to find out more.
Alternative legal work experience
It's a mistake to think that large commercial law firms are only interested in legal experience you've had with them or at similar firms.
When Caroline is looking at vacation scheme applications in particular she's always interested to see that students have had experience at high-street firms, barristers' chambers, or a county court because "it shows us that you've been thinking seriously about a legal career".
For a training contract application, Caroline prefers to also see some experience of the kind of legal work that a global legal practice like Norton Rose Fulbright does, but that could also be gained, she says, "at a regional firm, a US firm, or an in-house legal department at a big corporation or a bank".
The key thing, says Caroline, is to "bear in mind that we're a legal practice based in the City, and to make sure you have an understanding of how the City works and what you'll be doing as a trainee here on a day-to-day basis."
Non-legal work experience
Working in retail or an office is "very useful", says Caroline. "It shows you have a good work ethic - you've committed to working hard at something to earn some practical experience as well as extra money."
And, she adds, "you'll have developed some of the key skills that you need to be a solicitor. If you're serving customers in a shop or pub, you're acquiring client skills. If you've been working in an office, you'll be able to show that you can work well with others and deal with different kinds of people."
In addition, these kinds of jobs are ideal for boosting your commercial awareness: "Anyone who works in a business who has their eyes and ears open will be able to make connections between their role and what's going on more widely in the sector they're working in."
"You don't have to be the president or treasurer," says Caroline. But law firms will be very interested to hear that you've "committed to a team effort to achieve something and taken personal responsibility for a part of it. Have you liaised with local business to get sponsorship, or dealt with a difficult team member?"
As law firms will want to see you've played a real role in campus activities, adds Caroline, it's better to focus on a couple of societies and make a real contribution rather than being just a member of lots of different ones.
Legal-related voluntary work, such as taking part in legal advice clinics and other types of pro bono work is great for showing that you're "interested in what lawyers actually do," says Caroline.
Pro bono work is also great for developing your skills, she adds. "Advising diverse, challenging clients in a very busy legal advice centre tests whether you're suited for a career with a firm like ours, as you'll have to deal with demanding clients and situations here."
Finally, says Caroline, volunteering experience shows her that your values are aligned with those of Norton Rose Fulbright: "As an organisation, we see giving back to the community as very important."
Something a bit different
What kinds of unusual work experience have really stood out for Caroline on applications? "Sales work, particularly cold-calling, is always very impressive - engaging with, and persuading, someone who might not be initially interested in talking to you is tough."
She also commends students involved in successful family enterprises: "They'll have managed their time well, and will have become a business expert!"
Caroline's bonus work experience tips
"Get fully involved in university life - if you were to come and work with us, we'd expect you to get involved in many aspects of life at the firm. And you never know how getting involved in a new project could end up helping you in your legal career."
"If you can't get a vacation scheme place, try contacting alumni from your university for advice. Or try to find legal work experience that hasn't been formally advertised."
Count all your experience
"Many people forget to put open days or other relevant events they've attended on their applications. But these are fantastic opportunities and should be counted as work experience."
How Norton Rose Fulbright can help
As well as offering an excellent vacation scheme programme, Norton Rose Fulbright can also help you gain other law firm-relevant experience to increase your chances of training contract success.
Norton Rose Fulbright runs these throughout the year, and they're designed to give you a valuable insight into life at a global law firm.
Each year representatives from the firm visit universities to give presentations, take part in law fairs and host or attend other events. All these events will give you an opportunity to find out more about global law firms.
University manager programme
The firm is on the look-out for impressive and professional first year law students with excellent social and communication skills to join its university manager team.
University managers organise and promote exciting events, provide the firm with insight into university activities, and liaise closely with the firm's trainee recruitment team. See the firm's website for more details.