Training contract application tips and advice are things I get asked about daily. Although I’m not a graduate recruiter, or anything of the sort, I have done my fair share of research into ‘perfecting’ training contract applications (although, as you read on, you’ll realise that this actually does not exist). Obviously, if you are making a training contract application, you want it to end up in the ‘yes’ pile. And luckily, for me, that is where my training contract application ended up landing; securing me a training contract at a top 20 UK law firm. So, read on if you’d like to hear my tips and advice on training contract applications.
Things to bare in mind during the application
As you begin your training contract application, whether that be through research, networking or frantically reading everything the application says, it is important to remember who is the reader. The initial reader is likely to be a graduate recruiter or someone who works in the HR department. This person is then going to be short-listing candidates for interviews with partners of the law firm, so they are definitely going to make sure they pick the right candidates.
The person viewing your application is going to hope you make yourself stand out and show great enthusiasm for not only the role, but for the law firm. Remember – this graduate recruiter or HR professional is going to be screening tens of applications per day, so you’re going to want to make sure yours ends up in that all important ‘yes’ pile.
Before you also begin the application, make sure you know why you want to apply for the firm in particular. Ask yourself: What do I rate about this firm? Can I see myself being part of the team here? Do I agree with their values? Am I interested in the practice area they have to offer? If you’ve got these questions answered – great. Continue with the application.
My tips for TC applications
Now we’ve got the ‘why’ out the way, please keep reading to see my tips for TC applications and how I believe you can stand out.
- Take your time.
You should be taking time to research the firm you’re applying for well in advance of starting the application. You need to know if this firm is for you, and researching the firm will show this. I treated mine like interview preparation: get to know the firm, their clients, their values, their sectors, whether they’ve been in the news recently, recent cases they’ve worked on, their partners, and more. Having this prior knowledge and information before I even began my application really helped me to learn whether the firm was for me. This will also make your application a lot easier, as during your research of the firm you’ll get to know what the firm is looking for in a candidate, and you’ll then be able to demonstrate you have the appropriate skills.
During the application, I found it was really important to not rush the questions. Applications, without research, took me around 8 hours, after I had really thought about some of the questions and tried to formulate effective answers. Law firms can have a strange way of asking questions which can really throw you off and make you end up giving a poor answer. I was once asked “If you could invite 3 people to a dinner party, who would it be and why?” – Obviously, they were not hoping to hear about my 3 best friends here. Instead, I saw it as a way of them trying to find out who may inspire me and what my interests are. I used Lady Hale as one of my dinner party dates, not only because she’s an extremely influential and incredible woman in law, but because… duh!? #fangirl. The examples I gave helped them shape an idea of my interests and my inspirations.
So, the more you take your time with questions and with researching the firm, the better your application will be. Remember, the person viewing your application will be an expert in analysing whether you’ve taken your time with the application, or whether this application has been 1 of the 5 you’ve made in a day. My housemate during university was applying for grad jobs and had applied for 52 in a week. Great effort, but don’t be like him!
- Research, research, research.
This follows my point above. Taking time on your applications is important, but in order to do this you have to research. I would compile my research into a word document so it was easy to access as I went through my application.
Don’t just type the firm into Google and choose the first link that comes up. Delve deeper than the information they offer on their website and use websites such as Chambers Student and The Legal 500.
Some things to consider for research could be learning who their clients are, the sectors they specialise in, recent cases, recent articles they have written, whether they are expanding or opened new offices recently, their values, or their missions. Dropping recent articles one of the firm’s partners have written recently that you found on Linkedin and were interested in shows the time you’ve put into your application, and also your interests.
So, your research on the firm will, of course, be very personal and subjective to you. You may be really interested in charity and pro-bono work, or you may wish to be a part of a firm who celebrates diversity and inclusion. And whether the law firm does this type of work may determine whether you will apply for them. So, your research of the firm and what research you include in your application will show the recruiters a lot about your particular interests. They want to get to know YOU! So definitely try to showcase these.
- Make sure you relate.
By this, I’m following on from the point I made above. As you complete your research, ask yourself: Do I relate to their values? Am I interested in the practice areas they offer? Do I support their missions? If, during your research, you don’t think the firm is for you, that’s fine. Research is so important because you will be getting to know the firm, and will help you know what you want in a law firm, or what you don’t want. This will help you in your next application, so fear not – time has not been wasted!
- Be commercially aware.
Being commercially aware is definitely something that is looked for in many candidates. If you’re unsure on what being ‘commercially aware’ is really all about, you can head over and read my blog post “Commercial awareness: what is it and how do I get it?” here.
In a nutshell, commercial awareness is understanding how businesses make money. And that’s what law firms are – businesses. Law firms are looking to see that their candidates are staying up-to-date with daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world, which will enable the candidate to demonstrate commercial awareness by analysing and thinking about how these developments affect the business world.
During an assessment day, myself and the other candidates were asked to discuss in groups how the SQE will affect law firms. As the SQE had only been recently announced, if I hadn’t have been researching recent legal developments and the news, I wouldn’t have been able to provide a sophisticated and well-reasoned answer.
Apply your work experience to being commercially aware. Have you worked in retail/catering/something similar, where you were set targets or given deadlines to work to? Were you faced with challenges? Did the company have competitors? Did this affect the companies profits? This demonstrates how valuable non-legal work experience can be.
Commercial awareness is not something you’ll be able to gain overnight. It’s a skill that, as a future lawyer, you will need to grasp and learn. Being commercially aware comes partly from reading the news regularly, engaging with news stories, considering how businesses operate and how they make money. Remember – law firms are businesses. They exist to make a profit and make their clients money.
Podcasts are a great way to stay commercially aware. To see my best podcasts for doing just this, see here. In brief, some of my favourites are Wake up to Money by BBC5Live, The FT News Briefing by The Financial Times, and The Commercial Awareness Podcast by T. Museba (these are all available to listen to on Spotify!).
- Demonstrate relevant work experience.
By this, I don’t mean purely legal work experience. I personally didn’t have much work experience at all. I had the experience of working in a high street law firm when I was 16 and that was pretty much it.
I’ve done a lot of work with charities which was a really important factor for me when applying to firms. I wanted to make sure my future firm supported charities and that there would be an option for me to get involved when I joined, so I made this known on my application form. Charity work shows a lot about a person: their willingness to help and support others, their time management skills balancing studying and possibly a job, their commitment to raising awareness, and more.
I have also been a supervisor for a hospitality company, an event organiser, bartender, barista, waitress, and had many roles in retail. All these jobs develop customer-facing skills, confidence, building rapport with customers and clients, the ability to delegate and lead, problem solve, and more! So, do not forget the power of non-legal work experience.
Legal work experience is, of course, great to have, as you can gain a real insight into a law firm and gain a liking into a particular area of law. It also shows your interest and commitment into pursuing a career in the profession.
When considering what work experience to include on your application where you may be limited in mentioning 2 or 3 roles, I personally would always go with the roles you’ve held most responsibilities at or learned the most from. If working in a law firm for one week when you were 16 gave you a great insight into the profession and understanding of a solicitor and partner, mention it! If, though, you had similar one-week legal work experiences where you didn’t learn an awful lot, I would prioritise other work experience you’ve had including non-legal roles where you probably picked up a whole lot more transferrable skills.
- Be more than your grades.
Grades are definitely important. But be more than them. My future firm have stated they would much rather recruit someone with a 2.1 with lots of relevant work experience than someone fresh out of Uni with a First-class and no work experience (which conveniently works for me!). As I have explained above, any work experience is great experience and will gain you great skills.
If you are part of a society, or perhaps hold a role requiring responsibility, make this known in your application. This can demonstrate social commitment to a sport or a team, enhance your time management skills, and more!
- Be yourself.
Although cliché, this is perhaps the best until last tip I can give you. Of course firms check your academic ability, grades and other achievements, but if you’re not the right type of person or them then its unlikely you will progress to the next stage.
This is why being yourself is so important. Let your interests, hobbies and personality shine through in your application (where possible). Don’t pretend to be interested in something if you are not, as you’ll be painting a false image of yourself. It would be extremely hard for you to have to put on a different personality everyday in the office if you had been dishonest about your true self during your application.
If you didn’t know, I’d definitely class myself as an extrovert. During my TC interview, I made one of the partners laugh with how I answered one of the questions (in a funny-but-professional way, I hope!). I’m extremely chatty and up for a laugh, but I am also professional when I need to be, so I definitely let this part of me shine through, as i knew that was the personality I would bring to the firm if I was to start. And luckily for me, it worked. So – always be yourself.
If you got this far, thank you for reading and letting me share my tips for mastering training contract applications with you. If you enjoyed it then let me know below!