updated on 25 June 2019
Welcome to LawCareers.Net’s four-step training contract application guide.
Thinking of applying to Charles Russell Speechlys? You are competing with 1,200 others for just 24 openings. Irwin Mitchell? You are vying for one of approximately 45 positions against some 2,200 would-be trainees. It's a similar story everywhere. Using a blunt-edged calculation, you have a one in 44 chance at Irwin Mitchell and a one in 50 chance at Charles Russell Speechlys.
The only way to succeed is to submit flawless, well-targeted applications. These are immensely time consuming and tricky to create, and only those who master the art will succeed. This master class is designed to give you the edge.
Step 1: understand yourself
Only by understanding yourself will you know what to emphasise in your applications. This in turn will help you to select your shortlist of firms. The MySelf tool on LCN is designed to help you unpack and assess your achievements so that you can then use the right examples to demonstrate your suitability for the positions you are applying for. Application forms typically ask competency-based questions: you demonstrate your competency with examples. Remember: work experience in any type of firm/organisation will be useful when applying for a training contract, even if it was within a different type of legal or business environment. The important thing is to have developed an understanding of what lawyers do, and then to use this understanding to answer questions such as 'Why law?' or 'Why do you want to be a commercial solicitor?' knowledge. What is it that excites you about the law? What appeals about becoming a (business) adviser?
Step 2: create your shortlist of firms
Only by recognising which firms you realistically have a shot at can you prioritise the most suitable ones and allocate your precious time appropriately. Filling in application forms is a time-consuming activity that will weigh heavily on your mind, even when you are doing other things. Spend your time wisely: pick 10 firms and then choose your five top targets from this list. With your top targets, you will need to spend more than a day on each form - maybe three days if you do extensive research. Think that’s OTT? The candidates who succeed can convince recruiters that they are the ideal match for that particular firm and have something valuable and interesting to offer it.
None of this can be achieved unless you know what a firm does, who it does this for, where it is doing it and what its general tone and ethos are. If you want a sponsored law school experience, you are looking at roughly 200 or so firms.
There are plenty of resources available, but the firms' own websites and recruitment materials are key. Look at the work areas they emphasise; their press releases, press mentions and client publications/newsletters; the physical footprint of the firm and its size/demographics; the style of language it uses and the messages it has chosen to send about its culture.
Away from the firm’s own materials and events, there are independent resources such as The LawCareers.Net Handbook and LawCareers.Net. Don't forget Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter - as well as finding firms on these networks, you will also be able to follow or like your university careers service, legal bloggers, LCN and LawCareersNetLIVE. Sometimes you need momentary distraction during an application form session and following legal social media can feel like a break, even though you’re still learning.
To shortlist, ask yourself:
Step 3: create flawless and meaningful applications
By achieving a high standard in your written applications, you are already improving your odds dramatically. A flawless application proves that you are capable of producing flawless work as a lawyer. You must perfect the ability to write well and proofread accurately. Ask a friend, family member or careers adviser to check your application and offer criticism.
Step 4: create a persuasive covering letter
Ideally, if a firm asks for a covering letter, it will indicate how long it should be: 600 words, or a page to a page and a half, is probably about right. Don’t waste too much time stating why you are writing. If you wish to open your letter that way, why not go straight into why you want to train with this particular firm? For example:
"I wish to be considered for a training contract at X, having first become aware of the firm at a careers day at the University of X, when I spoke with two of its trainees. Our discussion about their experiences at the firm led me to find out more about the firm’s insurance and reinsurance practice, which is an area I have now become interested in exploring further.
"I am aware that the firm has a number of clients in the insurance sector and is still working on residual claims arising from Hurricane Katrina. I was visiting with family in the southern states of America at the time of this disaster and gained a degree of insight into the consequences of such a large-scale and disruptive event. I am aware that litigation in cases such as this can be particularly complex, given the large number of parties and high stakes involved, and I believe that my attached application demonstrates that I have an aptitude for complex analysis and long-term projects. In particular, I would draw your attention to…"
As well as delivering some factual information, the above paragraphs introduce a person who:
The covering letter is hugely important - as much so as the application form itself. Use it to sell yourself. Just as Mad Men’s Don Draper still agonises over every pitch to a client, despite his many years on Madison Avenue, you too should agonise over each covering letter to a firm. It needs to sell you explicitly, but subtly. It also needs to hit the right buttons at each firm, and this necessarily requires a letter that is tailored firm by firm. Naturally, if you have shortlisted your firms using a particular theme or strategy, then there will be noticeable areas of crossover. For more on writing cover letters, CVs and answers on application forms, read our guide to formal writing.
Ten top tips for online apps
At a time when everyone should be computer literate, there really is no excuse for submitting a bad application. You should approach an online form exactly as you would a paper form - take your time, carefully prepare your responses and pay attention to detail. Here are our top 10 tips for online apps: