Training Contracts are relatively few and far between, making the process very competitive and basically the aspiring lawyer’s equivalent of ‘The Hunger Games’. However there is no reason to rule yourself out of the running, and what will help you stand out is a good application right from the beginning.
Whilst the application is only the first step – there are with numerous assessments from beginning to end, including the all-important interview where you are assessed in person – the application allows you to convey all the skills and experience you have acquired, and state your interest in the firm and enthusiasm for the career.
Read on for some application advice, and may the odds be ever in your favour.
- Research: I cannot stress this enough. Nothing is worse than an application that is vague and evidently a Frankenstein copy and paste job. Research the profession, the firm, the practice areas of the firm – research allows you to determine whether you and the firm will suit each other. A well-researched application will be tailored to the firm, add strength to your answer to the question, ‘why us?’ and allow you to decide whether this is the type of firm/environment/practice area you would be interested in and suited to. This can be undertaken by reading both the graduate recruitment and professional working websites of the firm in question, marketing materials such as Law Careers.net, Chambers Student, etc.
Networking, both via Open Days and social media will help with engaging with recruiters and learning from current trainees.Follow the news to keep up to date with the legal market and to stay abreast of your firm news.Why not check out Bright Network’s article on how to research for training contract applications too?
Top Tip: if you have attended the firm’s Open Day, or a campus presentation, mention it on your form. If you spoke to a trainee/recruiter/partner etc. and swapped names, mention that also but subtly, e.g. ‘I enjoyed discussing with X about their daily work, and I realised that [insert firm name here] really does delegate responsibility to its trainees from day one, which I find appealing as I enjoy new challenges and the excitement of different daily tasks.’
- Read the question and check your answer: this may seem unbelievably obvious, but seriously. Ensure you read and understand the question and know what it is asking you before you attempt answering it. Planning an answer prior to typing your response will help your direct your train of thought and ensure a clear, flowing answer. Be clear, concise and detailed in your answer.
‘How can I be all three?’ I hear you ask. It’s rather simple. Use the ‘STAR’ technique:
Situation: this is the context behind your answer, e.g. ‘I was designated leader of my group after the original leader failed to turn up.’
Task: what exactly was required of you, e.g. ‘I had the responsibility to lead the group as acting leader in our group presentation report.’
Activity: what you then did, e.g. ‘I explained our circumstances to our boss, before restructuring our presentation to facilitate the change in line-up. This meant we could still present effectively and fulfil our objective.’
Result: how well the situation played out – whether positive or negative. E.g. ‘Whilst the last minute notice was daunting, I realised I could work under pressure and carry out a leadership role whilst thinking on my feet. This is demonstrated by how I was able to rearrange our presentation so that we could still complete this task collectively.’
(The Guardian has a good article that covers the STAR technique in greater detail.)
By following the above, you can answer the question efficiently, and show off your skills and potential concisely.
- Proofread: Once you have completed an answer, read it over and over again. Check that you have used the correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. Could you reword it so it sounds better, or do you need to cut words out? Cajole/plead/request the eyes of family and friends as fresh eyes can greater assist you when reading your application. They can catch things that you, after having written it and therefore become used to reading it, may have missed. Silly mistakes can happen, so it is better to fix them before you submit your application. Lawyers have sharp eyes for detail, so for the graduate recruitment team to read an application cluttered with errors does not a good first impression make.
- Think of your audience: basically following on from above, remember that graduate recruitment will be reading hundreds upon hundreds of applications, so put yourself in their shoes – what would you want to see in an application? Make their job easier and therefore your application stand out by answering the question, making sure you have the right personal details (including a current contact number and email) and above all: avoid copying and pasting!
5. Sell, sell, sell: play to your strengths when answering competency questions and listing your work experience. Remember, academics and grades are not the be all and end all. Firms want to see and recruit well-rounded, enthusiastic, experienced candidates, who can offer a variety of skills gained from their having participating in a range of experiences during their university career.
A part-time job, an internship, student organisations, legal work experience, voluntary work – all enable you to develop personally and professionally whilst gaining new skills and experiences. Make sure you draw on all relevant university and personal experience. ‘Why? Will I not bore the reader?’ you cry. No, not at all.
Not only will you discover that you may actually have more applicable and transferable skills than you thought, with lots of examples for competency questions (which also will assist you for interviews!) but including and elaborating upon such experiences will ensure that your answers are personal and unique to you, in turn helping you stand out as a candidate – for all the right reasons.
6. Commercial awareness: last but not least, we have the elusive and mysterious code words all aspiring lawyers attempt to crack and understand.
In a nutshell, commercial awareness is knowledge and understanding: your knowledge of legal and political news, understanding how a policy or breaking story can affect markets or specific areas of law, and thus thinking – how would this affect my client? How does this help/hinder a case? I’ve written several posts on the subject, but a good starting point would be my ‘walkthrough’ masterpost.
Mastering commercial awareness is important, all the more so in a sector where you will be combining law and business on a daily basis. You therefore need to be in touch with the news and current affairs – whether it is political, financial or legal – on a national and international basis.
Watching the news, reading newspapers, subscribing to legal blogs: it is easy to gather information and coach yourself to understand it and apply it. You do not have to read the FT from cover to cover – really, you don’t have to and whisper it, but very few people do – but following the BBC, reading online articles from The Telegraph/The Guardian and checking up on The Economist and The Times will really help. Sign up to daily newsletters, which condense headlines into one email which is delivered straight to your inbox.
Why not set up a specific twitter account, just for media outlets and to follow firms and legal/political blogs etc? I would even recommend creating your own e-newspaper, tailored to your own interests and needs via paper.il.
Finally – Bright Network also has complied a handy dandy guide of applications deadlines: make sure you do not miss out by keeping on top of deadlines.
Hopefully this helps somewhat, but remember: just plan your answers, take your time with researching firms and news and completing the forms. Never leave it until the last minute, and always double-check!