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The Oracle

How to include extenuating circumstances in training contract applications

updated on 14 July 2020

Dear Oracle

The serious 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 for someone on the intensely demanding and competitive path to a career in law, it can badly affect their studies and results, as well as prevent them from pursuing work experience opportunities – all of which are of course serious disadvantages when applying for a training contract or pupillage.

It is so 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 go about making your course provider or potential employer aware of any genuine extenuating circumstances that have affected your application? When something has happened beyond your control, you should contact the recruitment team at the firm you want to apply to and enquire about how best to display any extenuating circumstances in an application, if this information is not on the firm’s website.

Keep the explanation succinct – genuine extenuating circumstances such as bereavement or the serious illness of a close family member, or a serious 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 which makes you feel uncomfortable.

You may need to provide supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter or a supporting letter from your university, college or school. It will also be important to demonstrate that in ‘normal’ circumstances you achieve good grades and are the kind of bright, keen person to pursue legal work experience – extenuating circumstances can explain a bad exam or a bad year, but the usual rules apply in that firms are only interested in engaged, hardworking people who they think will make good lawyers.