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The Oracle

How to include extenuating circumstances in training contract applications

updated on 11 May 2021

Dear Oracle

The illness of a close family member during my third year at university really impacted my studies and exam results – how can I explain this in my training contract applications? 

The Oracle replies

When the worst happens on the demanding and competitive journey to a career in law, it can affect studying and results, as well as access to work experience opportunities – which could be a serious disadvantage when applying for a training contract or pupillage.

It is important to inform employers and your university when you have genuine mitigating circumstances which have affected your academic results. This can be difficult - an applicant who has suffered a serious illness may, understandably, be uncomfortable about telling recruiters whom they’ve never met about something so personal. Meanwhile, in the cases of some law firms that use automated application screening systems, any bad grades that could be a result of extenuating circumstances may mean that a candidate’s application is screened out before it is ever read by a human being.

So how should you make your university or potential employer aware of extenuating circumstances that have affected your application? Hopefully, there will be a section on the application form where you can include this information – this could be a specific question on mitigating circumstances or a more general invitation to include any other relevant information that you want the recruiter to see. If you can’t see anywhere to include the information, email or call the recruitment team to ask how you should disclose extenuating circumstances in your application. You don’t need to provide any details at this stage.

In the application, keep the explanation succinct – genuine extenuating circumstances such as bereavement, the illness of a close family member or an illness that you suffered, will be obvious to the recruiter from a couple of sentences. It is not necessary to go into lots of detail or share highly personal information.

You may need to provide supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter or a supporting letter from your university, college or school.

In the rest of your application, it is important to demonstrate that in more ‘normal’ circumstances, you work hard at your studies and extra-curricular commitments. Extenuating circumstances can explain a bad exam or a bad year, but the firm still needs to see evidence that you are a good candidate.