Top tips to avoid basic mistakes on law firm application forms

Sinead Dineen - Top tips to avoid basic mistakes on law firm application forms

With many law firm vacation scheme application deadlines approaching, I thought it was a good time to remind you of some basic tips for completing application forms. I have just read applications for the CityLawLIVE and NationalLawLIVE student conferences – which use a similar application form to those used by many top law firms – and have seen the same errors repeated over and over again. If you want to secure a vacation scheme or training contract you need to ensure that you do not make these basic mistakes. Here are some simple dos and don’ts to improve your applications.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t write the whole application in lower case or upper case (including your name). Recruiters want to see that you can write/type properly and carefully.
  • Don’t type ‘I’ as a lower case ‘i’. This shows a lack of attention and is not appropriate in a professional environment.
  • Don’t refer to yourself in the third person (eg, Sinead has excellent communication skills).
  • Don’t use text speak. Recruiters want to see fully formed sentences in correct English.
  • Don’t leave your university degree grades blank. We ask these for a reason (to see your progress from A level or equivalent to degree level) and if they are not completed we (and recruiters) will suspect you are trying to hide something.
  • Don’t include mitigating circumstances unless they are genuine mitigating circumstances. You should be able to back this up with a school, university or medical report and preferably email this to the recruiter.
  • Don’t miss out any of the long-answer questions. Their inclusion in the application form is twofold: to get a better understanding of you, the applicant, and to check that you can write in clear, comprehensible and structured sentences.
  • Don’t write in a colloquial or humorous way. Consider your application to be an important business document and take a professional tone.

Please note that I (and potentially law firm recruiters) may reject an application if I see any of these don’ts.

Dos:

  • Do check the application form for spelling and grammatical errors multiple times before submitting. Remember lawyers are expected to have excellent attention to detail.
  • Do spell the name of the firm you are applying to correctly – this is so basic, yet it still amazes me how many applicants get this wrong.
  • Do explain your pre-university academic grades if you were not educated in the United Kingdom (eg, write the score as 18/20 or as a percentage). If you are unsure about what to include, contact the recruiter who will be able to advise you. Do not leave this section blank.
  • Do detail the skills you have developed from your work experience. Don’t just say you worked as a waiter – expand on this by telling us how you developed your team working skills and learnt how to handle difficult customers.
  • Do read the long-answer questions and make sure you understand what you are being asked. For example, we asked, “Why do you believe you possess the skills and attributes to become a successful commercial lawyer?” Therefore we expect to see details of skills and how they are relevant to being a lawyer. We did not ask what are your reasons for wanting to become a lawyer.
  • Do read through your responses and check that they make sense.
  • Do keep to the word count but don’t write a lot less than the limit. The word count is an indicator of how much you are expected to write in your answer so if you are not close to the word limit, you are unlikely to have answered the question properly.
  • Do check and recheck (and ask someone else to check) the whole application form when you have finished, but before submitting. The AllHires Graduate (formerly Apply4Law) application forms offer you the chance to preview the entire form. Make sure that each section that should be completed is.

Please note that these dos and don’ts are just the basics – a great deal more time and effort is required to make a truly top application. For further advice, please read our application masterclass feature and my Five top tips for applications article.

Best of luck with your future applications!

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