Oct 18, 2019

Written By Maudie Powell-Tuck & Yusuf Solley

Assessment centres: the lowdown

Oct 18, 2019

Written By Maudie Powell-Tuck & Yusuf Solley

Assessment centres are slowly becoming the norm for training-contract applicants. Here’s all that you need to know prior to attending one.

Law assessment centres are not 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) with a law firm or legal organisation.

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. 

Competency-based interview

This is usually a one-to-one interview with a partner lasting up to an hour. During such an interview, the 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. For example, they may ask you to recall a time when you showed leadership skills, or when you influenced someone.

 These competency-based questions are difficult to prepare for in the sense that you cannot guess what you will be asked. It might help if you go over your past work or personal experiences so that you are able to readily present examples of your ability illustrated in various circumstances.

 You should also be prepared to answer topical questions on current affairs. They might be legal or non-legal, so make sure you read the broadsheets and watch the news every day. The panel might ask your opinion on an issue. This could be about anything. The interviewees are not interested in your actual opinion, but rather what your opinion is founded on and how you’ve come to your conclusions.


The law firm might ask you to give a presentation to a small group of people or prepare an advocacy task. You might be given a topic to prepare beforehand or asked to put together a presentation on the day.

 Here, it is important that you demonstrate your ability to follow an argument using logic and rational thinking. The panel know you’re not a seasoned professional and will not be expecting a performance anything above the level that you are at.

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, and could be tested under timed conditions. 

 In all likelihood, you will probably be marked on your ability to communicate, your interpersonal skills, teamwork, leadership and thinking outside the box. You will not be tested on something outside your own knowledge. It may be likely that you get given a fictitious statute, with a set of facts and be asked to analyse and apply the law. This sounds tricky and sometimes is, but remember everyone is in the same position, so keep calm, read your instructions carefully and simply do what has been asked of you.

 The hardest part of the group task is the likely requirement to undertake self-appraisal at the end. Your own marks on your aptitudes will be compared to their own marks, to see if you have self-awareness. If you performed well, then mark yourself well. Don’t be unduly modest.

Other potential activities 

A face-to-face interview: this usually takes the form of a pretty traditional interview with two or more interviewees, such as a qualified lawyer, member of a graduate recruitment team, partner or member of the HR team.

A report writing task: this aims to test your written communication skills.

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.

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. 

Social events: 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, recruiters will still be paying attention to your communication and interpersonal skills during the social event, so make sure to talk to employees of the firm and other trainees and show your interest in the firm. 

 Further tips to help you on the day

Make sure to be friendly with all the other applicants. 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.

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.

You should treat the assessment centre like a job and go dressed in smart business wear. Be sociable, friendly and shake hands with everyone you meet.

Due to the nature of an assessment centre, you will be performing a number of different tasks. So if you feel you have performed poorly in one exercise, remember you can always impress the recruiters at a later stage.

Next article: Assessment centre tips 

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Selection & Assessment