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LCN Says

Five ways your university careers service can help you ace the law recruitment process

updated on 07 December 2021

1. Seek a careers adviser’s feedback on your vacation scheme, training contract or pupillage application

CVs, cover letters and application forms have one sole purpose: to get you through to the next stage in the recruitment process – for law, that’s usually an interview or assessment centre.

In other words, to show the employer that you have, on paper, the potential to be successful in the role. Once you’ve chewed a pencil over your application for days, why wouldn’t you ask an impartial adviser to check it for you – particularly when that service is free? In November 2021, Laura Yeates at Clifford Chance published an article on LinkedIn where she revealed that most of the 173 training contract applications she had read that morning would not be progressed to the next stage. Why? Mostly it was down to accuracy. Future lawyers can’t get away with sloppy applications.

Each firm or chambers will look for evidence that you meet their job description; some of the specific skills can be conveyed in the writing you send them: your attention to detail, and your ability to persuade, write concisely and communicate well.

Lawyers need a good eye for detail. When we get too close to a document, we stop seeing the typos so ask your careers service for their view. Don’t allow your application to be rejected because you have mistyped the firm’s name, gone over the word count or forgotten to include all your qualifications.

Careers appointments are also a great place to discuss other careers matters on your mind, including:

  • when to disclose a disability;
  • how to respond to a job offer you’re unsure about;
  • how to find work experience; and
  • how to improve your interview technique.

Speaking of interviews…

2. Practise your interview skills in a mock interview with your careers service

Job interviews can feel nerve-wracking and awkward for many candidates – that’s normal – but they are still the best way employers have found to test candidates’ skills and experience for the job. Although many firms use assessment centres, there will be at least one interview element during the day. It’s likely, however, that you might not have had an interview since your university admission interviews or a part-time job at school.

Practising your interview answers out loud beforehand can really help you to hone your technique and therefore your interviews will be a much smoother process. Your careers service is likely to have either bookable mock interviews with a careers adviser or an employer. You can also book a standard careers appointment and when the adviser or consultant asks you how they can help, request to practise some interview questions and answers. They can give you feedback on your technique, your body language (eg, eye contact and smiling: all good ways to build rapport) and, if online, your background, audio quality and camera. They can explain the ‘STAR technique’ and outline how it can help you to organise your answers to competency-based questions (eg, tell us about a time you worked well in a team).

3. Use the guidance on your university careers website at each stage of the recruitment process…

The guidance online will have been written by careers advisers who have huge amounts of experience. There will be information on the site about how to:

  • get started with careers ideas;
  • write an evidence-based CV;
  • improve your interview technique;
  • handle offers; and
  • research postgraduate study.

If you have already graduated university, it is likely you can still access all that useful advice – or even, at some universities, carry on using the careers service as an alumni. It’s always worth checking.

4. Attend talks, workshops and panel discussions at your careers service about careers in law

Unlike entering consulting, marketing and heritage work, there is a required qualification route for UK barristers and solicitors. For the uninitiated, it can be baffling:

Attending a one-hour presentation at your careers service can be more revealing than many hours of laptop research.

Check the term card or planner on your university’s careers service website or social media feeds to see which events are coming up to put you in the legal picture. Having seen the benefits of doing such events virtually in 2020, many university careers services are still offering these online, making them easy to attend between lectures and tutorials.

You can also use LawCareers.Net’s Events page to find upcoming, useful opportunities. 

5. Fill any gaps in your experience by taking part in your careers service skills programmes

There are plenty of ways you can build the skills law recruiters look for – please don’t feel that your evidence must come from legal work experience alone. You can use:

  • the Saturday job in sixth form (people skills, work ethic and reliability);
  • your involvement with student societies (teamwork and presentation skills);
  • tutoring (communication); and
  • regular music or sport commitments (more teamwork and the ability to juggle with a degree).

Look at the competencies the firms and chambers you want to target look for, take an honest assessment of any gaps in your experience and see whether your career service can help you to fill that gap. I recently heard from a future pupil barrister who had used the fact that she had competed in Taekwondo tournaments since she was a small child to make her pupillage applications stand out.

But don’t despair if you have skills gaps in your experience. That’s where, you’ve guessed it, your careers service can help.

Lacking teamwork examples? Join a consultancy project offered by your careers service.

Missing varied written skills? Apply for communications-focused work experience organised by your careers service.

Worried about the networking element of a law assessment centre? See whether your careers service offers a networking workshop or networking advice on its website.

Lacking leadership evidence on your CV? Investigate whether your careers service offers a leadership programme.

So other than a bit of your time, what have you got to lose? You may not even need to find the building if, like the careers service I work at, everything is still being offered online.

Julia Sadler is a careers adviser at Oxford University Careers Service, with a special interest in law careers.