Training contract applications – non-law students

  • Last updated Jul 25, 2016 1:20:06 PM
  • By Billy Sexton, Editor, AllAboutLaw.co.uk

As a non-law final year student you may have dozens of friends who have celebrated finishing their studies forever, but you know you’re in it for the long haul. You’re passionate about following a career in law and know that the GDL and LPC are the next hurdles in your career. However, before you even do these, you need to sort yourself out with a training contract if you want to become a solicitor. You should apply two years before you’re ready to start (but you knew that, right?) and that means non-law students should be applying in their final year. Like the football transfer window, training contracts have a universal deadline, 31 July. So, without further ado, here are our top tips to non-law students applying to become a trainee.

Training contract application forms

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices based on areas of law, location and type of firm you should treat your five to ten application forms separately and concentrate on making each one as good as they can be. Although copying and pasting answers will cut down the amount of time you spend on an application form, it is the biggest waste of time ever. Recruiters can spot generic answers a mile off and you reap what you sow with training contract applications, so if you put the effort in, you shall be rewarded.

You should try to weave in your experiences in university societies, any work experience you may have and answer questions concisely. Even if you don’t have any legal work experience, skills you picked up at university and through other internships are transferable and valued by law firms. You should also be prepared to declare what areas of law you are interested in and why you want to work for that particular firm. Most importantly, each answer should be well thought out and unique to the specific application.

Training contract assessment days and interviews

After a few rejection letters (there are 30,000 applicants for 5000 training contracts, after all), the next step in the application process is attending an assessment day and interviews. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations.

Preparation for assessment days and interviews should involve bloomin’ loads of research on the firm and some watertight answers for competency based questions. Practice using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and treat interview prep like exam revision. Practice, practice, practice again then practice some more! Again, don’t be afraid to make everything relate to your legal experience. We spoke to a recruiter and found out that they don’t collapse in shock when you mention experiences elsewhere, even in part-time jobs. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in the legal industry has worked anywhere else but a law firm, so don’t be afraid. Your experiences still show your competencies and ability to cope with tough situations.

The training contract application process is a long one, and you may even be called back for a second interview. This is the final step in the training contract application process, and will test your determination, ambition and commercial awareness. Lots of preparation is needed, but if you’ve made it this far you’re in with a good chance.

Types of assessments and interviews:

- 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.

Accepting a Training Contract

If you’re accepted on to a training contract then give yourself one, very large pat on the back. Under the SRA Code of Conduct, you need to let the firm know that you’re willing to accept their offer within four weeks (you’re likely to be so excited that you’ll let them know before that). However, if you’re a very smart person that has had interviews at a few firms, you can wait to see who else gets back to you. If you receive loads of offers, you need to let each firm know your decision at the same time – so when you accept one offer, you have to reject the others. 

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