updated on 25 July 2023
Many law firms use assessment centres as part of the selection process for vacation scheme and training contract candidates. So, how do you prepare for an assessment centre, what can you expect on the day and what exactly are firms assessing you on? Here’s our expert advice.
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The thought of attending a law firm assessment centre can seem daunting, but if you go in prepared and with the right attitude, it’ll be a much better experience. Below we bring together some of the advice that we’ve gathered from graduate recruiters over the years, to let you know what to expect and give you a solid grounding ahead of the day.
To learn more about the recruitment process at a particular firm, check out our Meet the Recruiter profiles.
How to prepare for an assessment centre
The assessment centre will involve some exercises that you can’t fully prepare for, as recruiters want to see how you perform under pressure and think on your feet. However, there are things you can do to feel more prepared before setting foot in the law firm.
Understand the firm
Next, get to grips with what the firm is all about: its offices, culture, structure, practice areas and clients. Re-familiarise yourself with any research into the firm you undertook during the application process and then delve deeper – what recent deals has the firm been involved in and why are you interested in them? How does it differ from its competitors? What’s being said about the firm in the legal press? Some research online and on social media will provide you with good insight and a better understanding of the firm.
A general awareness of what’s going on in the business world is also crucial – although you shouldn’t wait until being invited to an assessment day to start boosting your commercial awareness. It’s a skill you need to work on from day one. Keep up to date with not only what’s happening in the legal and business worlds, but also how current national and global issues affect law firms and businesses.
For more on developing your commercial awareness, head to our Commercial awareness hub, read the weekly commercial news round-up and listen to our COMMERCIAL CONNECT podcasts, which take students through one of the trending commercial issues of the month.
Finally, try to practise the type of exercises you may encounter at the assessment centre. See what tests are available online (eg, practice Watson Glaser tests), attend skills workshops, practise with careers advisers and use the resources available to you at your university.
What to expect
Each firm’s assessment day will be structured differently, but they tend to contain similar elements, such as:
Many group exercises take the form of a negotiation exercise based on a commercial scenario. The exercise may not necessarily have much legal content, as the firm could be assessing law and non-law candidates at the same time.
The scenario is likely to be based on something the firm has worked on in the past (but don’t waste time trying to pinpoint the deal!). For example, at a Norton Rose Fulbright assessment centre, it may be an internationally-based scenario, as Norton Rose Fulbright is an international firm.
During the exercise, the assessors want to see that you can get the best out of your colleagues, work together as a team to reach a consensus and ultimately find the best solution for the client promptly and efficiently.
For more advice on preparing for a training contract assessment centre, read this LCN Says by newly-qualified solicitor Jessica Carr.
The most common written exercise at an assessment centre is drafting a letter to a client.
Whatever the exercise, read the brief carefully before starting and pay attention to the word count. Firms aren’t looking for a flowery essay. They want you to get the basics down and be concise – these are skills you’ll need as a lawyer.
They’re also looking for perfect spelling and grammar, as well as excellent attention to detail.
To improve your writing skills, read LCN’s guide to writing the perfect cover letter, CV or application.
The assessment centre could include a presentation. You may be given a brief in advance so you can prepare at home, or it may be something you see for the first time on the day and have only a limited time frame to prepare for.
The firm wants to check that you can apply the information you’ve been given, communicate this clearly to others, and deliver an eloquent and confident presentation.
You may encounter psychometric tests, such as verbal or numerical reasoning tests at the assessment centre.
These tests put the candidates in a position where they have a limited amount of time to draw logical conclusions about data presented to them in two formats – verbal and numerical. These are just some of the things that you’ll have to do daily as lawyer. The tests can be useful for a firm to make a judgement on a person who they maybe feel they haven’t seen enough of during the rest of the assessment day.
Some assessment days include an interview towards the end of the day, possibly with a partner.
Getting to this point may be on the condition of ‘passing’ the rest of the day. If your assessment day does include an interview, you should make sure that you’re fully prepared.
There’s more information on interviews in our Feature ‘A 26-step guide to training contract applications and interviews’.
How to present yourself
The phrase you’ll hear repeatedly from the firm is to just 'be yourself', but it may be more helpful to phrase this as, 'be yourself in a work/commercial situation'.
You should aim to be: assertive, but not overconfident or domineering; friendly and welcoming to fellow attendees, but not overly familiar with them or the assessors; respectful of others' opinions, but willing to put your own point across; and involved and not sitting back quietly. Remember that this is a selection process and the firm wants to see you rise to the challenge of the day.
When asked what puts them off a candidate, recruiters mention several points:
Many of these skills can be honed by networking with firms before the assessment centre, so read ‘LawCareesNet’s guide to networking’ for more advice.
What the firm wants to see
The aim of the assessment centre is for the firm to understand your capabilities beyond your application form and to establish how you perform under pressure over a variety of exercises covering different skills. The exercises are structured so that you can display a variety of skills, for example:
Ultimately the assessors want to get a glimpse of what you might look like working in their business, with their lawyers and clients.
The assessors appreciate that no one is perfect, and they don’t expect you to be. What they’re looking for is your potential – they want to feel confident that they can train you and develop you into a first-rate lawyer.
Learn more about what firms want by attending law firm open days and insight schemes and read Meet the Recruiter profiles to see what recruiters actually look for in applications and Meet the Lawyer profiles to see how lawyers went from student to qualified lawyer.