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A 26-step guide to training contract applications and interviews

updated on 17 May 2022

Here is LawCareers.Net’s 26-step guide to the training contract application process, plus 10 mock interview questions to help you prepare.

Reading time: six minutes

The solicitors’ profession is highly competitive, with excellent candidates applying for a limited number of training contracts. However, with well-researched and prepared applications, you will be ahead of the game!

Preparing your training contract applications

  1. Do your research and target the firms that you genuinely want to work for. Decide what type of work you want to do (eg, crimefamilycommercial). Consider the size of firm, as well as location – you need to be able to explain why you have applied and why you are right for the firm. Read the firm's website and brochure to get a feel for its practice areas and culture and then do further research into the firm online and in the legal press.

2. Concentrate on one application at a time. This ensures that each application is tailored to the firm. Always prepare an individual covering letter if this is allowed. Remember, this is your chance to impress and market yourself. Show the firms that you know about them in detail.

To find out how to research firms thoroughly, read this Feature: ‘How to do effective online research for applications’.

3. Get your CV and covering letter checked. Career services and recruitment agencies are usually more than willing to oblige, while you can also run it past friends and family members (who have a good eye for spelling and grammar).

To discover how to make the most out of your careers service, read this LCN Says: ‘Five ways to make the most of your university’s careers service’.

4. Apply in good time. You can check firms' deadlines for training contract applications on LCN, but firms will not wait until after the deadline to begin reviewing applications and offering interviews. It is therefore best to start early, spend plenty of time on the application and submit well before the deadline.

5. Consider in-house legal departments, local government departments, the magistrates' court service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service, which are also training contract providers.

Learn about these employers in LCN’s Alternative Careers section.

Read this LCN Feature to learn more about in-house training contracts and careers.

6. Get involved with your local Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) Group – contact details are available on the JLD’s website. Work experience is always viewed favourably. It's important to try to secure a place on a vacation scheme, as this is a key part of the assessment process for most firms; many hire a large proportion of their trainees from the candidates who complete their vacation schemes.

Head to our Vacation Scheme Insiders section for first-hand accounts of what it's like to be part of a scheme.

However, all employment experience can be viewed favourably if you present it in the right way, so if you worked in a restaurant, for example, be sure to emphasise how certain skills that you used in the role had a lasting positive effect that could be transferred into working at a law firm.

Find out which firms offer vacation schemes by using our Training contract search and see approaching deadlines on our vacation scheme deadlines page.

7. Working as a paralegal may provide the way in and will likely count towards your two years' qualifying work experience as part of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) route.

For more information on working as a paralegal, read LCN’s guide.

It’s also possible to skip a formal ‘period of recognised training’ altogether and apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to be granted qualification as a solicitor based on your paralegal experience (this is known as equivalent means). You can only qualify via this route if you meet the SRA’s transitional requirements that have been put in place following the introduction of the SQE.

However, this is no easy shortcut and not all paralegal roles will afford the breadth of experience you need to qualify.

Current paralegal opportunities can be found on the LawCareers.Net Jobs page.

8. Be as flexible as possible in terms of where you can work.

9. Use university careers services for interview practise and links to local firms. Talk to people who have already had interviews. Anticipate the questions and prepare yourself for answers.

This LCN Says outlines five ways your careers service can support you.

10. Use the free LawCareers.Net 2022 Handbook to aid your research. The Handbook is designed to be your companion and adviser throughout your journey to becoming a solicitor or barrister. Ask your university law department or careers service for a copy.

11. A 2.2 isn't a complete barrier to entry to the profession, although candidates with a 2.1 or higher stand a much better chance of getting a training contract. If you have a 2.2, play on other strengths of your CV.

To find out how to include extenuating circumstances in applications, read this LCN Says: ‘Extenuating circumstances in applications’.

If you have extenuating circumstances for not attaining a higher grade, most firms will take this into account. Firms are not merely looking for academic excellence but also for communication skills and enthusiasm for the law.

12. Don't forget to read our advice on researching firms when preparing to apply.

13. You should also read through LCN's guidance on the formal writing techniques you'll need to use when writing your applications.

Preparing for a training contract interview

14. Remember your aims at the interview stage are to sell yourself and to evaluate the job, to see if you want it.

15. Get to know the job description and person specification.

16. Anticipate questions along the lines of, "If you were faced with this situation, how would you tackle it?" Use the STAR technique to answer competency-based questions. STAR stands for situation (describe the situation), task (explain what you had to do), action (how did you achieve the end goal) and result (conclude the result of your action). The STAR method is good for highlighting your ability to use your initiative and your problem-solving skills.

17. Be prepared to quote examples of your achievements to back up claims you make about your attributes – make sure that you know everything you wrote on your CV well, because you are bound to be asked about it.

18. If it's a panel interview, find out the names of the panel members so that you can refer to them by name when answering their questions.

19. Prepare questions on matters you need to know about the job title, overall purpose, tasks, responsibilities, your immediate line manager, and methods used for judging your progress.

20. Read LawCareers.Net’s advice on how to prepare for a virtual interview.

At the interview

21. Relax and act naturally – maintain good eye contact with the interviewer(s). Answer calmly.

For more advice read ‘LawCareers.Net’s 10 tips for training contract interviews’.

22. Don't just answer questions, ask them too – make it a discussion if you can.

23. Address your answers to all your interviewers by establishing eye contact with each of them at the start of the interview and including each of them when you're speaking. Be positive, sell your attributes and quote your achievements.

24. Don't be negative and cause doubts – don't criticise your current workplace, your boss or yourself.

25. Acknowledge any weaknesses mentioned and explain specifically how you intend to improve on them.

26. At the end, ask if the interviewer has any reservations about you handling the job. Sum up how you see the position. Confirm your real interest and enthusiasm. Express thanks. Send the employer an email straightaway.

Mock questions

1. What are your strengths/weaknesses?

2. What skills did you learn from your last job?

3. What attracted you to this job?

4. What do you know about us?

5. What is your main form of relaxation?

6. Tell me about yourself.

7. If asked to carry out instructions you disagreed with, what would you do?

8. What is more important to you – salary or job satisfaction?

9. If you joined us, how long could we rely on you to stay?

10. Tell me about your hobbies/ the achievements of which you are most proud.

Finally, be sure to watch LawCareers.Net’s video on how to prepare for a training contract interview, as well as this webinar with recruitment experts. Good luck!