Of all the (many, many) things that would-be lawyers worry about, this one seems to crop up more than most - "I've always had summer jobs at Waitrose / babysitting / tutoring, but I don't have
much legal work experience. Am I at a disadvantage? Should I get more legal work experience before I apply for a training contract?"
A few things on this.
One, any job can be described in a way that's relevant to law. Working in a shop? Customer service. Tutoring? Being able to explain difficult concepts simply. Bar service? Working well under pressure. (Etc.) Take the skill set you used in Job X, compare it to the skill set you need as a trainee or junior lawyer, and find the overlaps. (I spent my summers building Lego models for minimum wage, FYI - attention to detail, anyone?)
Make your work experience relevant.
Separately, legal work experience does matter. A firm that offers you a training contract is going to be investing in you to the tune of £5,000 - £50,000, depending on how much of your training they are willing to pay for. They want to know that you have researched law thoroughly as a career, and are committed to it for the long-term The easiest way for you as a candidate to demonstrate that commitment is to try out as many different kinds of legal work as you can.
For example: find a local barrister and shadow it. Stuff envelopes at your local high street firm. Attend court sessions in a range of practice areas. Apply for vacation schemes at different firms. Find a local pro bono outfit / advocacy centre and volunteer. Look for paralegal jobs over the summer (a surprisingly easy way to break into the "Magic Circle" / top rated firms, since they always need warm bodies).
At interview you want to be able to answer the inevitable "Why this firm?" with clear evidence that you've tried or considered a range of firms, and know that Firm X is for you.
So, vac schemes - apply away, legal experience or none. You're there to gain legal experience, after all. For training contract applications, you will need to show that you're not just applying because your mum made you do it - you have to show a sustained interest in law, whether gained through paid or unpaid work experience.