Training contract application process explained

  • Last updated 27-Jul-2016 15:47:00
  • By Jack Collins, Project Manager,

Getting a training contract is simple, right? Erm…not really! If you want to secure a training contract and become the next hotshot lawyer, you won’t simply be required to put together a generic CV and send it off all over the place.

The training contract application process has a series of core stages and in order to get a training contract ahead of your competitors, you need to do everything right! Consequently, we thought it’d be a good idea to give you a step-by-step guide to the application process.

Step One: 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. Consequently, it’s a good idea to identify a small number of firms that you would potentially 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 will 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 Magic Circle firm or a Silver Circle firm? 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 Two: 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 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. Preferably, you will also have done a vacation scheme with one or two of your target firms.

Before applying, it’s important to find out what salary each firm is offering to trainees. For instance, Magic Circle, Silver Circle and American firms are likely to offer the highest salaries. Check out our Law Firm Salary Index for more details!

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 like Bristol, Manchester or Leeds, you need to find out what regional firms are located in that area. Furthermore, if you would like to work abroad at some point, it’d be useful to find out what 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. For instance, it’s important to bear in mind that the route to becoming a partner will be significantly faster in high-street and regional firms, where there is less competition for the top jobs.

Step Three: Make your applications…

When you’ve done all 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. 

Take your time over each application, as we said earlier, treat each one as an individual project and make sure your answers fulfil what each specific firm is looking for.

Step Four: Expect a few rejection letters…

This may seem a bit pessimistic, but it’s time for a bit of a reality check. Every year around 30,000 people apply for law training contracts in the UK and only around 5,000 jobs are actually up for grabs. Competition is fierce and therefore you may receive some rejection letters. Don’t be disheartened though! Even the very best candidates are unlikely to get an interview for every firm they apply to.

Step Five: 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. 

Step Six: 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 will hopefully be offered a second interview. This is the final stage of the assessment process, so there’s a good chance that 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 Seven: Receive a job offer or rejection letter…

Hopefully, if you’ve done everything right and impressed the interview panel, you will 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 will 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 will be even better prepared.

If you're currently on the hunt for a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme, head over to our Law Jobs section.

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