Law assessment centres aren’t anything to get in a flap about.
They aren’t as terrifying and clinical as they sound; they usually involve a series of tests, exercises and interviews designed to measure your competency for a trainee position (or indeed a vacation scheme place or similar) with a law firm or legal organisation.
Usually lasting one to two days, assessment centres are pretty popular amongst the larger law firms and the large organisations that employ barristers (e.g. HM Revenue & Customs, 2 Temple Gardens, CPS etc.)
As assessment centres are so costly, they are typically the final or penultimate stage of a training contract, vacation scheme or pupillage application, so you shouldn’t fret too much about getting invited to one; it means you’ve already done pretty well!
Why do legal organisations use assessment centres?
So why do they put you through the ordeal of an assessment centre in the first place?
Well, assessment centres are universally believed to be the most accurate means of recruiting trainees. They test your competencies more objectively than a single job interview. They are a chance for you to show them, rather than tell them, what you can do.
But don’t worry; the beauty of an assessment centre is that if you think you’ve flunked one exercise or interview, you can wow them in the others. So instead of being daunted by an assessment centre, you should think of it as a blessing in disguise.
How can I prepare for an assessment centre?
The best way to prepare is to thoroughly research the law firm and also do a mini assessment of your own to work out what your strengths and weaknesses are. The main thing is to keep in mind the selection criteria specified on their website.
The odds are that every exercise and interview will be geared towards testing you against this. There will probably be a social event incorporated into the day, so prepare a list of questions you want to know about the law firm to ask the current employees, such as trainees, partners, barristers, HR personnel and member of the graduate recruitment team.
What kind of exercises will I be required to do?
The assessment centre exercises you do will often reflect the type of work you’ll face as a trainee solicitor or pupil barrister. For example, the group assessment centre exercises might reflect real working environments or recreate real client situations.
Types of assessment centre activities:
A face-to-face interview: Nope, a face-to-face doesn’t involve a staring contest with a recruitment partner. It usually takes the form of a pretty traditional interview with two or more interviews, including a profession (e.g. a qualified lawyer, member of a graduate recruitment team or a partner) and member of the HR team.
A report writing task: this aims to test your written communication skills.
A competency-based interview: This is usually a one-to-one interview with a partner lasting up to an hour. During such an interview, a candidate will be asked questions to assess whether they possess particular competencies, such as communication skills, organisational skills, problem solving, goal-setting, team working ability and commercial awareness.
In-tray or e-tray exercise: this type of task is designed to test your ability to prioritise and make decisions in a pressurised and time-constricted work environment.
A timed legal-based written exercise to test your legal knowledge and understanding.
A role play exercise: this could involve a mock hearing, a mock telephone call with a client or solicitor or similar. It will usually test your communication skills, your ability to retain and use information, and your negotiation skills.
Group exercises: It’s highly likely that you’ll encounter some form of group exercise at the law assessment centre. This might involve a role-play situation, a debate, a problem solving exercise or a mock-meeting. Whilst the recruiters will be looking out for leadership skills, team work and ability to interact with and involve others will feature high on their wish list.
Presentations: The law firm might ask you to give a presentation to a small group of people. You might be given a topic to prepare beforehand or asked to put together a presentation on the day.
Psychometric tests: Although many law firms require applicants to take psychometric tests before attending assessment centres, some still include the tests as part of the assessment day. Tests could include: non-verbal reasoning tests, critical thinking exercises and verbal reasoning tests. You can practice these in advance using online resources such as Assessment Day.
The assessment centre might also involve social events with the employees and/or information sessions. This is a chance for you to find out more up-to-date and in-depth information about the law firm. In all likelihood, you’ll still be assessed during social events to make the effort to talk to people and show your interest in the firm.
When faced with an onslaught of tests and interviews, it’s vital to pay close attention to any instructions and try to keep your concentration and motivation up all day (even if it requires herculean effort).
You should treat the assessment centre like a job and go dressed in smart business wear; put that little sparkly ‘Primarni’ number away. Be sociable, friendly and shake hands with everyone you meet.
Forget ‘dog eat dog’…
That friendliness should extend to other candidates as well. Don’t go all ‘The Apprentice’ and backstab in the boardroom.
You are not in a competition; it’s about proving yourself rather than dragging down other people. After all, the employer might just be looking for candidates at a certain standard and hire everybody who reaches it. Concentrating on bringing down other candidates will only serve to make you look bad (and it won’t make your mother proud).