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Here are the four areas of knowledge you need to get a training contract

updated on 02 August 2022

To secure a training contract, you need to familiarise yourself with four areas of knowledge. This will help you understand the profession and the job you hope to do, effectively research a law firm and identify your skills and strengths to demonstrate in applications.

Reading time: five minutes

1. Know the legal profession

Solicitors need to understand how law firms and other employers work as businesses, why companies and individuals need legal services and what the different areas of law involve. As an aspiring lawyer you need to have an awareness of how the legal sector is constructed and how it fits together.

The first step is understanding where the law can be found and what it’s for. Clearly, the answer to the first part is – everywhere! The law provides the structure and framework within which society as a whole operates. It influences everything from how businesses work to our rights and obligations as a society.

The next stage is knowing where lawyers work: in law firms, barristers’ chambers, companies, government organisations (local and national), regulators, representative bodies, charities, trade unions, the police and just about anywhere there’s an agreement that needs to be made or a dispute resolved.

If you’re a candidate starting out in your legal career journey, or want to refresh yourself on the basics, find out more with The Beginner’s Guide to a Career in Law, including some key differences between different types of lawyer such as solicitor and barrister.

For more detailed insights into areas of the legal profession, check out our Practice Area Profiles which cover everything from banking and finance law to technology, media and telecommunications.

You’ll also need to acknowledge who lawyers serve. A lawyer’s clients could be companies, individuals or groups, or they could be working in-house, in which case the client would be in their own company.

To understand how lawyers and their clients work, you’ll need commercial awareness. You can develop this vital skill by regularly reading the News and Commercial Question sections on LawCareers.Net and listening to the LCN Podcast.

For more on developing and demonstrating commercial awareness, head to our Commercial awareness hub.

2. Know the job

Lawyers work across a vast range of legal specialisms, with much variety in what roles involve day to day. Learn about what working life is like for different types of lawyer in our Meet the Lawyer profiles. To help decide which environment is best for you, research the different types of law firm, as well as other career paths available with legal qualifications.

Hopefully your research will uncover a job or particular type of firm that you think will suit you. This is where the next stage comes in.

3. Know the employer

To be offered a training contract by a law firm or company, you need to understand its business and be able to explain why you want to work there and not somewhere else. You, therefore, need to decide what kind of organisation you are looking for in terms of location, size and types of work.

Try to find answers to the following questions before you apply to an organisation:

  • What are the firm’s practice areas?
  • Which practice areas bring in the most income?
  • What sort of clients does the firm serve?
  • What seats are offered on the training contract?
  • What departments do most trainees qualify into?
  • What are the firm’s values?
  • What has been the firm’s trajectory for the last few years?
  • What are its prospects for the next five years?
  • Have there been any recent deals or mergers?

Find information on more than 1,000 employers using LawCareers.Net’s advanced search.

We show you how to use our training contract search tool in our recent Instagram Reel.

As well as online research, trying to have some direct interaction with employers before you apply is advised. It’s worth attending open days and insight schemes (virtually or in person), as you’ll be able to get a better sense of the firm’s people and working environment. Remember – these opportunities aren’t just for you to make a good impression on the firm; it’s also the chance for you to ascertain if you can imagine working there.

Vacation schemes are a compulsory stage of the application process for a training contract at some firms, but they’re also valuable opportunities to ‘try before you buy’ and experience an employer’s environment first hand. You can find out how other candidates found the vacation schemes at a range of different law firms in LCN’s Vacation Scheme Insiders.

4. Know yourself

The final step is perhaps the most important as you can’t secure a training contract without having first done some self-analysis. You should be able to articulate what interests you, what sort of work environment suits you and how your experiences so far translate to the world of law. This will help you prove that you and the law firm are a good fit.

You should ask yourself the following:

  • Why do you want to be a lawyer?
  • What parts of being a lawyer are attractive/unattractive to you?
  • Which key skills of a lawyer do you have and which do you need to work on?
  • What practice areas interest you and why?
  • What kinds of client are you interested in working for and why?
  • Do you have any mitigating circumstances and do you know how to express these clearly and effectively?
  • Have you got relevant work experience? If yes, how do you use it to demonstrate and describe any key skills that you have acquired?
  • What non-law work experience do you have that you can use as evidence for your abilities?
  • What gaps are there in your CV and what are you doing to fill them?
  • What are your key selling points?
  • How are your particular skills and attributes relevant to the firm you’re currently researching?
  • What other evidence can you provide that demonstrates you have potential as a lawyer?

Other sources of information – who can help?

Careers advisers

They’re there to complement your hard work. Use your careers service for advice and to hone applications that you’ve already worked hard on – don’t arrive with a blank form and ask them to effectively fill it in for you.

Tutors/lecturers

If they’ve been in practice, ask what it’s like and which areas interested them.

Firm recruiters

They should be open to interesting and insightful questions about their firms and how they recruit. But make sure that you’ve checked that the answer is not on the firm’s website – if it is, it suggests that you’re a lazy researcher!

Trainees at your target firms

They’re most likely to give you the ‘warts and all’ story of what life at a firm is really like.

Other students

Ask other people to look at what you’ve written. Practise interviews (or just talk through the answers to key questions) together.