The four essential areas you need to address in order to secure a training contract

There are two truths about trying to become a lawyer that we defy anyone to contradict. First, you cannot start your research too early and second, ignoring the advice on how best to approach the task is asking for trouble.

Here's a reality check for you; if some of your peer group can get their foot in the door, many of the others have a chance as well. In other words there are many reasons for being unsuccessful, but not giving yourself a chance in the first place is the big one – and the one you can most do something about!

So, the secret to success in launching a legal career is to prepare well and start early. There are a series of stages one needs to pass through to develop sufficient knowledge to make good and rational decisions about your future and where it may lie. This takes time, dedication and discipline, but the rewards mount up quickly and as many of those you are competing with won’t do the legwork, it means standing out from the crowd is easier than it looks.

We’ve tried to break down the system for success into four distinct stages, each of which have to be properly understood and reflected upon if your chances are to be maximised. If you can know each of these, you’ll ‘know it all’ (and probably be a bit of a know-all but you’ll just have to live with that).

The four areas you need to cover are:

  • know the profession – understand how the legal sector is constructed and how it fits together;
  • know the job – what are the different legal jobs, skills and challenges associated with them, the career paths they offer and the paths to becoming a lawyer?;
  • know the employer – to be a successful applicant for a job in a law firm or other legal practice, you need to understand what it does, who it serves, how it survives and what the people there do; and
  • know yourself – this is the most important part of all. You must be keenly aware of your strengths, weaknesses and potential, and be able to articulate these to others.

This article doesn’t propose to give you all the answers (though it does provide quite a few pointers), but instead offers an array of questions that need to be posed and answered.

Know the profession – key questions

  • Where can the law be found and what is it for? Answer: everywhere, across every part of existence and society. It provides the structure and framework within which society as a whole operates and has a wide array of specific areas of influence, such as business, crime, rights and obligations of society, and family.
  • Where do lawyers operate? In law firms, barristers’ chambers, companies, government organisations (local and national), regulators, representative organisations, charities, the police and just about anywhere there is an agreement that needs to be made or a dispute resolved.
  • Who do lawyers serve? Clients (eg, companies, individuals or groups); their own organisation; the people (eg, human rights); and the nation (eg, trade).
  • Where are lawyers found? This is a follow-up to the previous question. In the United Kingdom the majority of lawyers work in private practice law firms, followed by: in house in commerce and industry; barristers’ chambers; local government, national government and the courts; and spread across various other organisations.

Other questions to think about

  • Is the number of lawyers growing?
  • What regulatory and business change has affected the profession in recent years?
  • What are the main talking points within the profession?
  • Why are lawyers held in such low regard and does the public understand what they do?
  • What is the pay like?

Find out more on LCN – this is covered by the core editorial in the Solicitors, Barristers and Courses sections, News, Features, LCN Says and pretty much all the other parts of the site too.

Know the job – key questions

What are the main types of lawyer? In England & Wales this can be broadly divided up into solicitors, barristers, chartered legal executives and paralegals. These are professional distinctions and cover the type of activities an individual is allowed to do. Within each branch of the profession, there is much variety in what people actually do day to day.

  • What sort of subsets are there within each classification and what sort of places might they work?
  • How do you become a solicitor/barrister/legal executive/paralegal – for example, in terms of education, training and timescales?
  • What skills are required to become a lawyer?
  • How many jobs are there and how tough is it to get in?
  • When do you have to start the quest to become a lawyer?
  • Who can help?

Find our more on LCN – look in the Solicitors, Barristers and More law sections.

Know the employer – key questions

Before you can even begin to consider the attributes and facets of an individual employer, you need to have a good working knowledge of the sections that have gone before. An employer must be considered in the context of its place in the profession, what it does and what sort of work its lawyers do. You can’t research every employer in detail, so you need a clear feel for what you are looking for and a willingness to disregard employers that do not fit the bill. You can then look at the following:

  • What are the firm’s main practice areas?
  • Which practice areas bring in the most income?
  • What sort of clients does the firm serve?
  • Are there any notable clients?
  • What seats are offered?
  • What departments do most trainees qualify into?
  • What are the firm’s values?
  • What has been the firm’s trajectory for the last few years?
  • What are its prospects for the next five years?
  • What is the retention rate?
  • What are the PEP (profits per equity partner) figures?

Find our more on LCN – the Solicitors and Barristers sections provide information on over 1,000 employers.

Know yourself – key questions

Again, you need to know a fair bit about law and lawyers to be able to work out how you might fit in, what you have to offer and whether being a lawyer is a good fit for you. If the answer to this last question is ‘yes’, you need to look at which sort of lawyer should you be.

  • Why do you want to be a lawyer?
  • What parts of being a lawyer are attractive/unattractive to you?
  • Which key skills of a lawyer do you possess and which do you have to work on?
  • What practice areas interest you and why?
  • What kinds of client are you interested in and why?
  • Which doors do your grades open and which are now closed (be realistic)?
  • Do you have any mitigating circumstances and do you know how to express these clearly and effectively?
  • Have you got any relevant work experience? If yes, how do you use it to demonstrate and describe any key skills that you have acquired?
  • What gaps are there in your CV and what are you doing to fill them?
  • What are your key selling points?
  • How are your particular skills and attributes relevant to the firm you are currently researching?
  • What other evidence can you provide that demonstrates you have potential as a lawyer?

Find out more on LCN – in particular use the MyLCN part of the site to record and assess how ready to shine you really are.

Other sources of information – who can help me?

You are not alone! There are lots of sources of information and advice. But again, how much you get out of them is a function of how much you put in. Going to these sources with well-thought-out questions or plans and asking how they can be answered or improved gives you the marginal advantage needed for a success. People will go the extra mile for you if you’ve gone the extra mile too. Don’t ask them too much about the basic stuff – you can find that yourself. If you can’t be bothered, why should they?

  • Careers advisers – they are there to complement your hard work. Ask obvious/naïve questions at a first consultation by all means, but from then on show them that you are improving and enhancing your ability to succeed. For instance, use them to hone applications that you have already worked hard on – don’t arrive with a blank form and ask them to effectively fill it in for you!
  • Friends – ask other people to look at what you have written. Practise interviews (or just talk through the answers to key questions) together.
  • Tutors/lecturers – if they have been in practice, ask what it is like and which areas interested them.
  • Firm recruiters – they should be open to interesting and insightful questions about their firms and how they recruit. But make sure that you have checked that the answer is not on the firm’s website – if it is, it suggests that you are a lazy researcher!
  • Trainees at target firms – they are most likely to give you the ‘warts and all’ story of what life at a firm is really like.

And if you have a question that you can’t find the answer to or are embarrassed to ask, ask us at LCN (oracle@lawcareers.net). That’s what we are here for!

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