I made my first training contract application in my second year of university, as an experience it will haunt me forever. For better or for worse I made the application to a very large commercial firm with offices in London… and failed miserably.
Those were the days before I had realised what I really wanted to do, this was something I struggled with for a good number of years. I went back and forth between the bar and becoming a solicitor, between commercial and family law. I only really came to my senses years later during my LPC when I made an application to my current employer.
This brings me onto my first piece of advice; before you put pen to paper, know what you want to do. This may sound painfully obvious however I still see many law students making blanket applications to as many firms as possible. This does not work. You will not enjoy your time as a trainee if you do not enjoy the area of law you are practising in. Take a very good friend of mine as an example of this. They have a first class degree, an outstanding on the LPC and unsurprisingly have a training contract; however, this person does not practice in an area they enjoy. In working so hard to obtain the coveted training contract, their passion for the law has gone and that is a very sad thing.
Moving on… After my disastrous first attempt I bumbled through the rest of my degree, finally graduating with an upper second class honours degree. Still unsure of myself I made applications for everything under the sun except training contracts. This is how I came to apply for and be given a scholarship to study a master’s degree. This neatly falls into my second piece of advice; have something different on your CV. It doesn’t have to be a fully funded master’s degree; it could be anything from work experience/vacation schemes to volunteering as an Independent Custody Visitor with the Police forces that subscribe to the scheme. It doesn’t even have to be related to law, it just has to be something that sets you apart from the other thousand generic applications that firms receive. For example, another friend of mine who has secured a training contract used to be the European Thai Boxing Champion. They used this experience to show the firm they were disciplined and committed to working hard.
So you’ve decided what you want to do, you’ve got something different about you that you can talk about and you’re ready to start making applications. This is where I found myself during my LPC year, not an enviable position. Whatever anyone tells you, the LPC year is not easy. There is a great deal of work to cram into a short space of time, having said that if you take robust notes and consolidate after each session you can make life much easier for yourself. Additionally, you also need to find time to do these applications, to that end I have a few points which may assist you in producing a better quality application.
The first point is to ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to do each application. Most firms will give you a time estimate to complete the application, however as you will discover very quickly, applications can take days not merely hours.
This second point sounds very basic but I cannot stress it enough; check your spelling and grammar. Check it. Then check it again. Firms will not be impressed if your application is full of errors and I can promise you it will go straight in the bin. This is of course linked to the first point, if you do not have enough time your chance of making mistakes increases.
The third point is also basic but so many fall foul of it. Answer the question being asked. Do not answer the question you think is being asked, read it carefully and make sure you are giving the reader exactly what they are asking for.
The fourth point relates back to what I was saying earlier in this article about having something different about you. Use this to your advantage. What I mean by that is apply your skills and experience to the question being asked in order to show the firm why you are a candidate worthy of selection.
Fifth, know the firm you’re applying to. In saying this, I don’t mean utilise nepotism (although this can work…) instead, research the firm before you apply (Chambers Student Guide can be a useful tool). Know what they do, what their focus is and who makes up their client base. This can be done by research as indicated above, however another way to approach this is to attend careers fairs and actually talk to the people who work there. No one will know more about the firm than its employees and in my experience they are more than happy to talk to you about the firm and their career. Some may even be able to offer helpful tips and advice about applying to their firm.
Finally, when applying to any firm or organisation you must be commercially aware. This can be a confusing concept and even those who teach courses on it sometimes struggle to explain it properly. To my understanding, being commercially aware means understanding the firm or organisation in context. To do this, you should be aware of the sectors in which the firm and its clients operate and be sensitive to issues in the wider world which could affect them. This is a very easy box to tick just by taking a few hours a week to catch up on the news. It doesn’t matter whether it is business news, legal news or world news but you should tailor your reading so that it is appropriate to the type of firm you are applying to.
And with that my thoughts on applying for training contracts are at an end. I hope that this article can be of some use to you and wish you the best of luck with your applications. One last piece of advice, read as many articles about applications as you can. Everyone will have different views and advice and you can never have too much information.
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