Here’s the brutal truth: there are far more hopeful lawyers than there are training contracts. As the pandemic continues and economic recovery remains only on the horizon, firms are likely to remain cautious with their plans for growth over the next few years, meaning that they are unlikely to scale up the number of training contracts they offer. For aspiring lawyers such as yourselves, this is not exactly the most joyous news. So how can you cope with this rejection?
First, acceptance. You have to accept that you will be rejected from firms that you have spent hours researching and crafting applications for. In order to accept it, I found it easier to expect rejection. Coming from someone who is usually an optimist, this is an odd piece of advice, but it is possible to be both optimistic and anticipate rejection when it comes to applications. I remained optimistic that I would, eventually, get a training contract offer. But I anticipated rejection this time around, as it was my first application season and I knew the odds were firmly stacked against me, as they are against everyone. Viewing my first set of applications as simply a chance to learn allowed me to open each firm’s response with a more neutral mindset. Of course, this is not completely possible – when you have spent that long on an application you always will want to be successful. But accepting rejection is far easier when you have come to terms with it beforehand than if you have pinned your hopes and dreams on this one opportunity.
Second, protect your wellbeing through cultivating the media you consume. LinkedIn is a great place for aspiring lawyers to build connections, enhance their commercial awareness and cultivate a professional image. But it is also a place (much like the rest of social media) filled with success stories. This is great, if you are one of them. But it is not so great if you have just read your fifth rejection email of the day. So, take some time out and search for some more positive stories instead. Also remember that many of these people (if not all) will have also experienced rejection stories of their own, and it is what makes their success stories all the more sweet. Focus on the fact that this will be you one day.
Learn from it
Finally, learn from what you can and let go of what you cannot learn from. There is a massive focus on how to approach and benefit from feedback – I’ve already touched on this above – but there is a point at which you cannot learn from the experience anymore. This is either because the firm has not provided any feedback (this is typically the case if you are screened out after the initial application stage) or because the rejection is due to something you cannot change.
This second element is so important and it comes from advice I received from a mentor in my second year of university. It had taken him several years to secure a training contract, but he never gave up – this was really inspiring to me. His advice was that if you get to the interview or assessment centre stage before being rejected, then you should not take this eventual rejection personally. Getting through the application and psychometric testing stages means that you are good enough to be offered a training contract – so if you fail at this point, it is possibly (although not always!) a sign that you need to work harder or change how you are working. But if you are rejected at the later stages, this is not (typically) based on something you can change. Of course, if you were rude to the assessors and/or other candidates, or made some other cardinal error, this is something you can learn from. But if the error is less clear, the reason for the rejection is most likely because the firm did not feel you were the right fit for them. This could be permanently (in which case, you should be thanking them for rejecting you as this will push you to find a firm in which you will be happier) or just as part of this cohort. Firms look to build complete teams of trainees in each application season. So if you have similar skills to another candidate, they may not want you both in the same cohort, in which case the decision probably came down to little more than a flip of a coin and next year you may be luckier. Either way, this is not something you can change or learn from, so holding onto this rejection will only hurt you in the long run.
Getting rejected is never easy and as aspiring lawyers it is something we have to learn to be resilient against. Remember that these feelings are not simply limited to the legal field though; everyone is rejected at some point and can therefore empathise with those feelings. Always focus on the fact that you are not alone and that you can try again next application season. This process is building up the resilience you need to be a lawyer, after all!