The July 31 training contract application deadline for many
law firms is fast-approaching, rousing students from their post-exam slumber.
Fear not, legal hopefuls - Future Lawyers Network has the advice you need to
make your applications count.
Don't apply to every
law firm in Britain
Not only does it eat time to apply to too many law firms,
but the associated mass copy and pasting gives candidates' applications an
impersonal feel. Far better to select a group of firms which appeal to you – and specialise in areas of law that you would like to work in
– and then target them specifically. So if, for example, you
have an interest in international corporate law, media law and litigation, pick
a handful of firms of varying sizes which specialise in each area – and focus all your research on them. Don't worry if your list
contains an unlikely assortment of outfits – no one else
will see it – or if it changes as you conduct your
research. The important thing is to have a starting point.
Figure out what makes
the firms you're applying to different from their competitors
Law firms can appear, at face value, to be near-identical
institutions differentiated only by their branding. But look 'under the bonnet'
at their annual financial results and you often discover major differences. A
guiding principle for UK corporate firms is that the most high value work is
done by the 'magic circle' of Slaughter and May, Clifford Chance, Linklaters,
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy, with levels of legal
complexity generally dropping as you move down the 'top 50'. But there are many
exceptions to this rule, with some smaller firms boasting market-leading niche
expertise in a particular specialty. Candidates who know where all firms fit into
this legal market hierarchy – and the current state their
chosen firms find themselves in relative to rivals during changing times – have a major advantage.
Understand the bigger
The quickest way to get a handle on how the legal profession
is developing is to read one of the books that have been published on it
Weiner's 21st Century Solicitor
Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers are
both highly readable, up-to-date reflections on the developing legal market
that can be digested in a couple of days. And if you're really in a hurry, you
could always read one of the many reviews of these books in the legal press
that are available online.
Explain why you want
to spend your life practising law
When it comes to the detail of the application form itself,
the first thing candidates need to do – after accurately
filling out their personal information without making any spelling mistakes, of
course – is to articulate why they want to be lawyers. On one hand, this
involves explaining why you enjoy law. There should be, hopefully, plenty of
experiences from university to draw upon here. As you do, it's important to
angle these experiences to the practise of law, rather than simply the study of
the subject. This is where pro bono experience is invaluable.
Explain why you want
to spend your life doing other things professionally
The second limb of explaining why you want to be a lawyer
involves demonstrating your understanding of the limits of the law, and why you
will need other attributes to succeed at the firm you're applying to. For
corporate firms – which account for a large proportion of
training contracts – this means showing that you are
commercially aware. But what does that training contract buzzword ‘commercial
awareness’ actually mean? This discussion
on Legal Cheek, where a barrister, a lecturer, a trainee-to-be and a law
student seek to get to the bottom of the term – and come
up with a three-limbed definition – is a must-read for
training contract hopefuls.
Get the tone right
Many training contract application forms include one
light-hearted question among the heavier stuff. For example, DLA Piper asks its
applicants to ‘Describe an unusual situation you have found yourself in,
humorous or otherwise.’ What firms are partially doing here is gauging how well
candidates would fit in as members of a team working in an office environment – where, even in law firms, there are plenty of relaxed
moments. As a result, it's important to get the tone of your answer right. Try
too hard to be hilarious and you risk getting your application binned on the
grounds of being a potential village idiot. But respond in a way lacking any
humour and there is a danger of coming across as an automaton who might not
relate well to colleagues and clients.
The key to answering the traditional application form
question about your outside interests and activities is again to consider what
the law firm wants to discover by asking it. To an extent, the question is an
attempt to gear the hiring process to recruit more interesting people, but
perhaps more importantly it's a way of finding out how capable a candidate is
at juggling lots of different things at the same time. For example, someone who
keeps up a healthy range of extra-curricular activities while also obtaining a
good degree result is probably well-organised and able to handle stress well.
These are key attributes for a lawyer. So, rather than present yourself as
someone with a spectacular breadth of interests, it's better to show that you
are simply a person who is inclined to lead a balanced, interesting life.
Recognise that the
application form is just the beginning
A related, and final, point is to be genuine in your
application answers. You are, after all, aiming to set yourself up for the next
stage of the process: an interview. Presenting yourself as someone you are not
may, on occasion, help wannabe lawyers get through the first application sift,
but inauthenticity tends to unravel in the high pressure environment of
face-to-face questions from senior lawyers. Law firms, most of all, want
graduates who are confident enough to be themselves.