Step 1: Identify your target employers
It’s basically impossible to apply to every law firm in the country. You could try, but you probably wouldn’t have time to eat or sleep. Either that, or your applications just wouldn't be up to scratch, because you wouldn't be devoting time and effort to each one. With this in mind, you need to figure out a few strong contenders that you'd like to work for.
Each training-contract application needs to be treated like an individual project, putting some serious care and attention into each one. With that in mind, we recommend that you identify between five and ten target employers and concentrate your efforts on making your applications as good as they possibly can be.
If you try and apply for too many firms, you'll risk spreading yourself too thin; and if you apply for just one firm, you may risk putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s all about applying to enough firms, but not too many!
First things first: you need to decide what kind of law firms you want to apply to. Do you want to do commercial law or criminal law? Do you want to work for a City firm or a regional firm? This can be a bit confusing, so it’s worth doing your research.
Step 2: Do your research
Before you even consider filling out your application form, you need to research every firm that you intend to apply to. During this research process, you should explore various different avenues. Firstly, check out each firm’s profile on AllAboutLaw and then explore their graduate-recruitment website.
By the time it comes to sending off application forms, you should have already attended law fairs and open days to find out more about each firm—one of the best ways to get the gist of how a firm works is by talking to members of its graduate-recruitment team, as well as existing employees if the opportunity presents itself at an open day. Preferably, you will also have done a vacation scheme with one or two of your target firms.
Understandably, location is also a crucial factor. If you want to work in the City, you need to find out what firms are based in London. If you want to work in another city such as Bristol, Manchester or Leeds, you need to find out what regional firms are located in that area. You can find out more about the law hotspots across the UK in our regional hubs section. Furthermore, if you'd like to work abroad at some point, it’d be useful to find out which firms have international offices.
Different law firms have different cultures and atmospheres, and you need to know which ones will match your personality. For instance, do you want to work for a traditional firm or a modern firm? Or do you want to work somewhere with excellent opportunities for getting involved with pro-bono work?
Finally, it’s important to think about your long-term career prospects and not just the short-term perks of the job. Hence, it’s all about identifying employers with world-beating training programmes and the best opportunities for career progression.
It’s important to bear in mind, also, that the route to becoming a partner will be significantly faster in high-street and regional firms, where there's less competition for the top jobs.
Step 3: Make your applications
When you’ve done your research, it’s all about putting pen to paper. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll be putting your fingers on a computer keyboard, as you'll most probably be making an online application.
When it comes to the application form itself, there are a few things to consider. Each form will be different, and that reflects what the firms are looking for. You cannot get away with copying and pasting the same answers into every application form you complete! Some firms adopt a “personal statement” style application form—they require one longer answer explaining why you're suited to that firm. Others will have several questions that you’ll need to answer. Make sure you think about the culture, ethos and professional capacity of that law firm, and try to get across in your application how your values match the firm’s.
Take your time over each application. As we said earlier, treat each one as an individual project and make sure your answers fulfill what each specific firm is looking for.
Step 4: Expect a few rejection letters
This may seem pessimistic, but it’s time for a bit of a reality check. Competition is fierce and therefore you may receive some rejection letters. Only one in six applicants will get a training contract: all the more reason to make your application a flawless one!
Don’t be disheartened though! Even the very best candidates are unlikely to get an interview for every firm they apply to. It doesn’t mean that you’re not able to be a successful solicitor—more so, it might be that you just weren’t right for that firm, at that time, in that training cohort. You'll have other options in the other firms you've applied to.
Step 5: Get a positive reply
Hopefully, if you’ve got a strong academic background, you’ve done some work experience and you’ve written a winning application form, then some firms will identify your potential and will offer you an interview of some sort.
Some firms will offer you a telephone interview, others will invite you to an assessment day and some will bring you in for a face-to-face interview; some firms might even do all three. Before you go to your interview, it's important to be prepared. This is your second impression on the law firm (after your application form) and you need to consolidate that positive first impression—after all, it’s what got you an interview!
Read over your application form to the firm you’re interviewing at, do some more research and be prepared to prove your commercial awareness and communication skills. Oh, and get a good night’s sleep!
Step 6: Get a second interview
If you manage to survive your first-round interview and impress the panel with your ambition, determination and commercial awareness, you'll hopefully be offered a second interview. This is the final stage of the assessment process, so there’s a good chance it’s going to be quite intense. Expect to be grilled!
Be confident in your own ability though. They wouldn’t have brought you this far if they didn’t think you had what it takes. Be calm, collected, patient and decisive when answering the questions that are being thrown in your direction. Good luck!
Step 7: Receive a job offer or rejection letter
Hopefully, if you’ve done everything right and impressed the interview panel, you'll get a job offer. If so, then congratulations! Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and have a celebratory drink or two. Then start getting ready for your exciting new career as a lawyer.
If you do receive a rejection letter, then don’t fret. Lots of people do unfortunately fall at the final hurdle. Understandably, you'll be disappointed, but it’s important to treat this as a learning experience. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. Try to analyse where you might have gone wrong, make some notes and when you get another interview, you'll be even better prepared.
Next article: Training contract interview process.