Statistically, thousands more people apply for Training Contracts each year than there are places for, so it is no mean feat acquiring one. Getting rejections from law firms can be really disheartening, but knowing what they are looking for can help you put in a better application for next time.
One of the first things that comes up with people reflecting on why their first application or interview didn’t lead to a vac scheme or TC is that they didn’t know enough about law, or didn’t seem interested enough in it. A lot of people apply to any vac scheme they can purely for experience, rather than focusing only on the firms that do the kind of law they are actually interested in. Of course, you might score lucky (I’ve heard of some people who do!), but your chances are much better if you know a lot about the kind of law the firm does and can relate it to things going on in current affairs and businesses. When applying for a TC or attending a TC interview you will be expected to be able to talk about a current issue in law, and if you are applying for commercial law you will likely need to relate it to how businesses and the economy fit in to this.
You can find a really good article explaining how commercial law firms function as businesses here. Along with knowing the kind of law you’re interested in, reading papers like The Financial Times and the Economist can help you to get an idea of where law fits in with the wider picture. If you’re looking at national firms it is important to know how their work fits in with pressing issues affecting Britain, and if you’re looking at international firms you will need to widen your scope to encompass global issues. Often non-law students (of which I am one!) feel that they are under a lot more pressure to know this stuff than law students. However, often law students haven’t learned about things specific to the type of law they want to go in, and I found that most people learned about law and commercial awareness through their university law society events or through events run by the private law institutions like University of Law and BPP. These are good ways to learn more about law in an interesting way and to show your motivation for working in law.
In order to stand out in a pool of huge candidates and nab yourself a TC, you also need to know how to sell yourself. Focus on your greatest strengths and the things that make you unique. I applied as a final year student along with a lot of people who had been preparing their law application since first year. It can feel intimidating sometimes, knowing you’re up against people who are equally as good as you and just as, if not more, competitive than you. I bolstered my application by entering law essay competitions and winning first place for one and throwing myself into volunteering and charity work which I also won an award for. Applications and interviews are your chance for showing off what it is that you excel at. This doesn’t have to be through prizes or awards – it could be through extra curricular activities demonstrating your commitment to something that matters to you, or your attendance at extra lectures or conferences held on topics that interest you.
Finding your unique selling point is key to demonstrating your personal brand that makes firms want to hire you, and think that you will bring something extra and different from other candidates. It’s not about being better or brighter than the other candidates, but about bringing something to the table that they don’t necessarily have. Above all you want to come across as interesting and motivated and so finding opportunities outside of traditional university work is a great way to show you are ambitious and focused on your own personal development.
If you’re struggling to work out your USP some great things to think about are:
- What is something you are really good at and can you pinpoint a moment or event where you particularly excelled at it?
- What is something that you are interested in or passionate about that other people might not know much about?
- Has there been a time you have gone out of your way or taken on a significant challenge for something?
This could be anything, from public speaking to managing a team, to having a regional specialism you can demonstrate with language skills or cultural visits, to an interest in a really niche area of academics. Lawyers love evidence (no surprise there!) so making sure that you are armed with examples of your unique selling point is the best way to make sure that you get across the thing that makes you you.
The secret to getting a training contract is believing you are good enough, showing that you are good enough and making sure that you know enough. Lawyers always have to have their homework done on time, so make sure you do yours for this!