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How to include extenuating circumstances in training contract and vacation scheme applications

updated on 16 January 2024

Dear Oracle

The illness of a close family member has really impacted my studies and exam results – how can I explain this in my training contract/vacation scheme applications? 

The Oracle replies

Reading time: two minutes

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 make applying for a training contract, vacation scheme, mini-pupillage or pupillage more challenging. That said, there are steps you can take to ensure firms are aware of any extenuating circumstances that may have impacted your work, while also demonstrating that you have the skills, interests and work ethic to succeed at a specific firm.

It’s important to inform employers and your university when you have genuine mitigating circumstances that have affected your academic results. This can be difficult – an applicant who’s suffered a serious illness may, understandably, be uncomfortable telling recruiters they’ve never met about something so personal. Meanwhile, in the cases of some law firms that use automated application screening systems, any lower grades that could be a result of extenuating circumstances may mean that a candidate’s application is screened out before it’s ever read by a human being. That said, blind recruitment and contextual recruitment tools are becoming more common. For instance, numerous firms use upReach’s contextual recruitment system REALrating, a tool that helps employers to identify hidden talent and monitor socioeconomic data against grades. This can help employers to identify applicants who’ve achieved against the odds and excelled given their particular circumstances.

Find out more about upReach’s work in this LCN Says.

So, how should you make your university or potential employer aware of extenuating circumstances that have affected your application? Hopefully, there’ll 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’s not necessary to go into extensive 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’s important to demonstrate that under ‘ordinary’ circumstances, you work hard at your studies and extracurricular commitments. Extenuating circumstances can explain a bad exam grade or a bad year, but the firm will still want to see evidence that you’re a good candidate and a good fit for the firm.

For more on how to manage extenuating circumstances, check out this LCN Says.