Key skills for solicitors and barristers
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To secure a training contract or pupillage, you will need to demonstrate several key skills and attributes, which will also be essential throughout your career. Law is an intellectually demanding profession, so the first thing to note is that your academic results – from your GCSEs to your final degree classification – are important. Although some law firms may be willing to overlook less-than-perfect grades in light of other achievements, most will expect good A levels and at least a 2.1 degree, which is arguably even more crucial at the Bar.
However, academic excellence alone won't be enough to make your application successful; you will also need to demonstrate other skills throughout the selection process and beyond, when your career has taken off.
Communication and networking skills
Successful solicitors and barristers have to build and maintain relationships with clients, which are often based on rapport between individuals even when the client is a large organisation. This requires excellent general interpersonal skills, which you will also need when meeting potential employers and colleagues when at interview or on a vacation scheme.
The ability to network, a form of socialising that all but the most confident can find awkward, is also important when seeking a training contract or pupillage, as well as when winning work and building client relationships. So before you first enter a room full of strangers, all standing in closed circles and engaged in animated conversation, and feel the urge to find a corner, gulp down a drink and leave, be sure to pick up a few tips on how to get the best out of these potentially tricky – yet opportune – situations.
Read our guide to networking for trainees and students, then listen to the advice of LCN’s veteran networker, Matthew Broadbent.
Interview technique relies primarily on having the great interpersonal and communication skills discussed above, but the interview stage is such a crucial part of any training contract or pupillage application that it’s worth considering separately. Interviews are unlike socialising in any other context, unless you are as neurotic as us and once managed, improbably, to land a date with someone you really wanted to impress: every response you make and question you ask will be judged, as will your clothes, hair and general odour.
Thankfully, preparation will go a long way to improving your chances of success, not least by making you feel a bit more relaxed and confident. There's a wealth of material to help you on LCN, starting with our feature on general interview preparation and technique. For budding barristers, there is also advice on acing that pupillage interview, while aspiring solicitors should read our guide to partner interviews (part one and part two).
Being a lawyer involves a lot of paperwork and written correspondence, as does the application process, so being charming in person will do you little good if you cannot write with good spelling and grammar, as well as clarity and precision. You also need to be aware of your audience and your need to write in a formal tone (no application bantz or LOLz, pls). Remember, the slightest spelling mistake is likely to see an application rejected and your crumpled hopes tossed into the metaphorical bin, while recruiters would rather read a concise, clear personal statement rather than 2,000 words of waffle.
Before applying for a training contract or pupillage, read LCN's guidance on formal writing for applications and corresponding with other professionals.
You will need to be able to write a flawless application form in order to be offered an interview. This means that your application must clearly and enticingly demonstrate (and prove) your qualities and range of work experience, while it must also be free of typos and addressed to the right firm. Producing a great application form is a bit like pulling of a flawless dance routine before a panel of waspy, discerning judges - it's essentially a game and there are rules and techniques that you can follow to boost your chances.
Extensive legal knowledge, academic excellence and top communication skills are still unlikely to be enough to impress in most areas of law. Modern lawyers need to also think like business people and tailor their legal advice so that it protects and furthers the interests of their clients. This involves understanding the sectors in which your firm and/or clients operate, which you can start developing as a student by keeping up with the commercial press.
A lot of 'softer' skills, such as good interpersonal skills and contextually appropriate styles of communication, have been covered above. However, it’s worth reinforcing that your general attitude – and how it is conveyed in your actions, words and state of appearance – is going to be a crucial factor in whether or not you get a training contract or pupillage, while it is also clearly just as important later on.
To recap on soft skills and how they should be applied to the specific requirements of a career in the legal profession, read our feature on the subject.