The application process can be quite an overwhelming experience, as Legal Cheek’s future trainees know all too well. Having managed to secure training contracts at three different commercial law firms, Philippa Canfield, Sophie Cheng and Maya Ffrench-Adam, are on hand to offer their words of advice to those currently wading their way through training contract applications.
PHILIPPA CANFIELD: FUTURE TRAINEE SOLICITOR AT PINSENT MASONS
My first tip for those hoping to secure a training contract is to never underestimate the value of non-legal work experience. Although legal work experience can be very insightful, it is also incredibly difficult to secure. Personally, I had little legal work experience on my CV when applying for vacation schemes/TCs and often worried that this would hinder my chances of success. You will not be at a disadvantage, however, as long as you can demonstrate the desired qualities and skills using the work/ voluntary/academic experiences that you do have.
I think the phrase ‘transferrable skills’ is often overlooked by students, who may feel that their part-time job in a restaurant is barely worth a mention on the application form. There is no such thing as invaluable work experience. In fact, it might just give you something unique to discuss at interview which will help you to differentiate yourself from others.
This leads me onto my second tip, which is to show enthusiasm for things other than that one commercial law module you studied at university! It may sound cliché, but law firms really do want to get to know the real you (they aren’t just made up of robotic lawyers who live and breathe the law) If you pretend to be passionate about something you aren’t genuinely interested in, it’s unlikely that you will sound convincing. It’s best to always be real about your reasons for studying law and the things that you enjoy doing outside of your studies. Ultimately, it’s your passions and personality traits that will help you to stand out, so ensure that the firms you apply to get to see these things.
SOPHIE CHENG: FUTURE TRAINEE SOLICITOR AT ASHURST
I often get asked by non-law students/graduates how they can show an interest in law without having studied it. The key thing to remember is that you’re applying for a job. You’re not applying for an academic degree that requires you to have studied certain modules beforehand. I remember one lawyer telling me, it’s easy for us to teach you the law and we send you to complete the PGDL/LPC, but it’s much harder for us to teach you ‘soft’ skills like communication, resilience, teamwork, cultural awareness, commercial awareness etc., and it’s these qualities that are focused on at interview.
Coming from a non-law degree, I never felt as though I was disadvantaged during the application process because I focused on the most interesting aspects of my CV. I created a narrative around how, because of all my past skills and experiences (always giving specific examples), this would make me the ideal candidate for the firm. Often, at interview your academic studies are only briefly touched upon and instead the focus of the interview is answering questions like ‘why law?’, ‘why this law firm?’, ‘how would you advise the client?’
When applying for vacation schemes/TCs don’t underestimate the value of non-legal work experience. How you can successfully transfer this experience is by making it as specific as possible to demonstrate the skills gained and the result of what you achieved. Always use facts and figures to substantiate everything you say.
Best of luck if you’re currently applying and don’t be afraid to network and reach out to people for advice. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many people in the legal industry are incredibly helpful and willing to point you in the right direction.
MAYA FFRENCH-ADAM: FUTURE TRAINEE SOLICITOR AT K&L GATES
The advice I wish I had received from the get-go is don’t be afraid to really showcase yourself. As soon as I learnt to talk about my experiences with confidence and frame them in this way, it was a real gamechanger; interviewing became a two-way process, and I was able to be much more precise in what I was looking for.
Secondly, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to find something you are passionate about. For me, this was competition law and policy. In turn, I sought out any research assistance opportunity I could find here. Interviewers constantly picked up on this, and it always set the scene for debate, with partners curious to hear where I stood on the latest policy issues. Equally, don’t be afraid to make proposals that are slightly left of field. For example, my reform proposals around automated and connected vehicles, despite being bold, certainly provided a good talking point at interviews. Law firms really value a willingness to go outside of your comfort zone – it demonstrates the kind of intellectual curiosity that they are looking for.
Finally, remember it is not a rush to the finish line. Despite the original scepticism I had towards a study abroad year, it couldn’t have been more beneficial for me long-term. It gave me that additional time to refocus and collect my thoughts about where I wanted my career to take me. Building in extra time is no bad thing and is something that is often overlooked in the rush to get a graduate.
This article was originally published in Verdict Magazine. You can read the rest of the Verdict: Employability Special now.