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It’s a Match: Tailoring your search for training contracts to specific firms

Catherine Morgan is the Careers Centre Manager at The University of Law in Manchester. Here she shares her advice for finding the right law firm for you.

What advice do you have for students to help them identify the right type/scale of law firm for them, particularly in light of the current health crisis and limited in-person work experience opportunities?

Students need to do their research. This can be via firm’s websites, via the legal press and online platforms such as the Legal Cheek Firms Most List, but best of all by interacting directly with the firms.

In-person experience with law firms may have become limited but many have embraced virtual experiences and have offered virtual open days, law fairs and even virtual vacation schemes.

Students need to embrace ALL of these virtual opportunities.

How do you advise students tailor their application to make it believable that this is their ‘dream firm’, when they’ve had little exposure or experience in law?

Do your homework. Work out what makes the firm tick. What are the firm’s values? What skills does the firm prioritise? Then work out when and where you have demonstrated these values and skills and reflect them back to the firm in your applications. Your experience does not have to have been in a legal setting – often non-legal experience is more memorable.

You are trying to demonstrate a synergy between your experience and values and those of the firm – showing that you are the perfect fit for them.

Most importantly, you need to emphasise your passion for working in the areas of law and with the types of clients that the firm represents. Don’t be frightened of hyperbole – although make sure you can back it up. Emphasise how working at the firm is the ideal start to your career.

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List contains detailed information on criteria such as most female and BME associates/partners, most chances of an international secondment etc. How can students use this information in their applications?

It is vital in successful applications to demonstrate that you have a full understanding of the law firm you are applying to. By sprinkling these facts, figures and details throughout your application you can really show that you know the firm. However, beware of making these details the focus of your application. They are the evidence to back up your motivation – they should not be the sole reason for why you are applying. Ensure your answers are personal to you. The focus should remain on you and your motives – illustrated by the details about the firm.

Catherine, you formerly practised as a solicitor at DWF. How did you go about finding the right firm, and practice area, for you? Were there any obstacles you faced in the early stages of your career?

I was lucky enough to undertake my training contract at a full-service law firm. This meant I had experience in both commercial and personal services law. It helped me realise I thrived in a more commercial environment. Upon qualification, I knew I wanted to experience working in a larger national law firm, so applied to both commercial property and commercial litigation roles (both areas I had enjoyed) at leading firms. I was at the final stage of interviews with firms in both areas, but it was the real estate team at Weightmans that resonated with me, and I jumped at the chance to work with them.

I think that shows that whilst you can plan and shape your career there is also an element of chance with how your career might develop. The people you work with are just as important as the work you will do.

What are your tops tips to acing vacation scheme and training contract interviews and assessment centres?

I cannot stress enough the importance of good practice and preparation.

Be prepared for opening questions such as, ‘What interests you about this role?’, ‘What interests you about our firm?’, ‘What do you bring to our firm?’ Prepare answers carefully with three or four bullet points that you can weave together. This keeps you from rambling.

Be sure about the skills and competencies the firm has indicated they are looking for in a successful applicant and have a few examples to hand. Use the STAR technique to structure your answers.

Have two good questions up your sleeve to ask at the end – something around progression or training and development. Ask them about their clients etc. Whatever you ask, make sure you appear to be genuinely interested in the answer.

It can often be disheartening for students to be rejected from a firm after putting in the hard yards. What advice do you have for them?

Pick yourself up and try again. I know it can feel like a hard slog, but you have to understand that you may not yet be the finished article that the firm is looking for. I had one student who applied for the same national law firm three years in a row.

The first year she reached the assessment centre.

The second year she didn’t even pass the application sift.

The third year she was offered the training contract.

You need to keep going. Each year you apply you are a totally different candidate: you will have grained more knowledge and experience. Have confidence that you will secure the right position with the right firm. Persistence and self-belief are half the battle.

 

CATHERINE’S TOP TIPS FOR FINDING THE RIGHT FIRM

  • Students need to do their research. This can be via firms’ websites, the legal press and online platforms, but best of all by interacting directly with the firms. Demonstrate a synergy between your experience and values and those of the firm in applications.
  • The key to successful interviews is good practice and preparation. Be prepared for opening questions and think of three or four bullet points that you can weave together in your answers. Have two good questions up your sleeve to ask at the end.
  • If you’re not successful, try again. Each year you apply you are a totally different candidate. Have confidence that you will secure the right position with the right firm

 

Hear more from Careers Centre Manager Catherine Morgan in the issue #6 of Verdict magazine: Employability Special.

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