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Asking for help as an applicant

Asking for help as an applicant

Matthew Dow


No matter who you are, there are times during your legal career that you may need to ask for help.

The advice that you require may be from a senior colleague with key expertise. Alternatively, urgent assistance may be needed from an IT technician to help you to find that crucial document that you were working on – a document that has seemingly disappeared into the ether.

Elsewhere, for many of us, guidance on how to best write applications is warmly welcomed. This is especially the case as we want to know the secrets from those that have been successful where we have repeatedly struggled.

The right way to ask

Put simply, all of us need help in some form, particularly when it comes to law firms’ application processes. Yet the reality is that often, the people that we need help from are:

  1. busy;
  2. they only offer generic advice; or
  3. they may not want to help us!

Therefore, sometimes, an awkward encounter may just be an unavoidable outcome. However, I would contend that in general, the tone, context and content of our request for help is a more determining factor in the success of our plea.

Hence, below are some dos and don’ts, that I would recommend with regards to asking others for help. Unfortunately, the underneath suggestions result from lessons received from my many previous failed attempts asking for help myself!

LinkedIn connections

LinkedIn is the social network for professionals. Specifically, in sales roles, the platform is often the first place to go for lead generation purposes. For other users, LinkedIn can be a valuable avenue to contact business partners regarding possible project collaboration and work opportunities. Likewise, LinkedIn can be a fantastic platform to build your network to deliver your business’ message.

Nonetheless, I would advise against assuming that somebody is a certain type of user. For example, do not assume that they are an influencer desiring of manifold likes and subscribers!

Sure, that lawyer on LinkedIn may post often, but I predict that an unsolicited request to connect may not have the outcome you desire. Similarly, an unrequested game of 20 questions with their inbox might unfortunately get your name remembered for the wrong reasons.

Please note that my warning does not mean that you should not connect with people on LinkedIn. In fact, quite the opposite – I think that the platform is a great way to reach out to persons that can help with your application forms. LinkedIn also provides a good follow-up tool to thank somebody for their time and to develop a mentor relationship.

However, what I would strongly recommend is that you provide some background to any connection request that you make. For example, a message that details where you both met, what position you are currently in and why you are contacting them personally in particular is more likely to generate that tick, rather than the rejection cross. Remember that graduate recruiters, trainees, etc. often attend countless events a year. Consequently, they receive hundreds of connection requests. They might not instantly remember you, even if you spoke together for several minutes.

Many people simply have a policy of only connecting with those on LinkedIn that they have worked with personally. Hence, if you have been informed of this social media red line by the person concerned, do not be offended if you do not meet that criterion. And definitely do not try to force their assistance through repeat attempts!

Pushing the car

Elsewhere, if you are asking for help – I would strongly recommend ‘pushing the car’ first. What do I mean by this ambiguous motoring metaphor? A bit of advice that I once read is that if you have broken down and you wait at the side of the road – probably nobody will stop to assist you.

By contrast, if you get out and start pushing the car - you will often find that kind strangers will pull over, get out of their vehicle and subsequently help you to push. In short, people are willing to aid those that they feel already have started to make the effort and are in need of help.

Therefore, if you want to ask somebody for advice - have a go at answering the question and formulating your own views first. That way, if you have made an attempt already, the advisor is more likely to be able to guide you in the correct direction.

Besides, if you have made a serious effort before asking for their help, then they are more likely to feel that you are not freeriding on their efforts or indeed even using them. If you show an engaged interest in a topic, you are far more likely to gain the advisor’s attention and to attain their desire to help you.


Timing, especially in law, is everything. If an associate is swamped beyond belief, do not expect a manufacturer’s guide of instructions. Similarly, if an advocate is running out of the door to get a train – aim for an expedited, elevator pitch, rather than a War & Peace style narrative.

In addition, I would say that lawyers are time poor in general. Please therefore value the time of those that you are demanding it from.

Best practice is to give the individual as much notice as possible for any response. Additionally, be prompt with your acknowledgement and then courteous with your own reply.

This receptiveness will make the individual more likely to reply speedily in turn. Alternatively, the individual may arrange another occasion to have an extended meeting with you. This catch-up can often mean support that is significantly beyond the scope that they normally would offer.


Asking for help requires emotional intelligence and effective communication – two soft skills that lawyers routinely need to demonstrate. Fortunately, like all skill sets, with practice and thoughtful consideration, these abilities can be learned, and they can greatly enhance your career. Finally, if you use any communication improvements to obtain the guidance that you ultimately desire, that can only be for the better.