How to get a trainee law contract: Part 1 – Before You Apply

It came up recently in discussion at a trainee meeting that it might be useful for someone to write a blog about getting a vacation scheme and ultimately a training contract. It seems particularly relevant to address this topic now at the time of year when many of you who are reading these types of blogs are filling out applications yourselves. In the last six months I have twice been given the opportunity to talk to law students about this subject. So, from these talks, I have compiled a few tips on filling out applications and preparing for interviews, in the hope that it might prove useful and/or at least reassuring to someone.

For simplicity, I have split this blog into three installations; Part 1 – ‘Before You Apply’, Part 2 – The ‘Dreaded Application’ and Part 3 – ‘The Interview’.

Before you apply

Think about what type of firm you want to work for; a small firm, a high-street firm, a regional firm or a large city firm.

Not only will each firm require a different approach when you are filling out your application, but it will also be a different job when you get there; from the general ethos of the firm to the hours you work and your pay. Also, remember that you may well be asked at interview why you have chosen that particular firm and how you know it is the type of firm that you want to work for.

Although it is important to get a training contract, it should not be at any cost. You need to be sure that you are going to be happy in the firm that you are going to work in. If you don’t enjoy your job and you don’t feel like you fit in with the firm you have chosen, it will affect your ability to progress and get the most out of your training.

Do work experience!

I am sure that this point may appear to be a no-brainer, but Law is such a competitive profession, I cannot stress enough how crucial work experience can be. It shows that you are willing to graft, and are interested and committed, not only in relation to the legal profession but also reflecting your general work ethic.

Not only does work experience look brilliant on your CV – it will also help you to get a better understanding of what you want to do in practice and where you will be happy. My work experience at Michelmores was the reason I wanted to apply for a vacation scheme and now I work here! Don’t be afraid to be persistent when you are trying to get work experience, but do try to find the right balance between persistent and pushy.

Do any legal work experience that you can and try not to focus too much on only getting it in areas you are currently interested in. If you can’t get legal work experience, then try to get something elsewhere. It is surprising how you can draw on experiences which you may think are totally irrelevant to the legal profession, in both applications and interviews.

For example, I worked on a farm as a labourer between the age of 14 and 18. In my application for a training contract I used this experience to demonstrate my ability to work within a difficult team under tough circumstances, to show commitment in achieving a goal and how I overcame initial difficulties and prejudices in persuading my boss that I should be given more responsibility and work. It is really useful to use slightly novel experiences in applications as it will make yours stand out from the hundreds that firms receive. When I started at Michelmores last September, our head of HR told me that she remembered my application and stories about potato farming and having to pull dead animals out of machinery! As I deferred my training contract a year – that means it stuck with her for 3 and a half years after reading it. Similarly, one of my supervisor’s first comments on meeting me in September was “oh yes you’re the potato girl”. Take what you will from that!

Research your firms well before you make applications:

  • Look at their websites and brochures.
  • What are their future goals?
  • How do they market themselves?
  • Look at what current trainees say about them.
  • Get a feel for whether they are a firm that have an ethos that you identify with/want to work for.

You also need to think about what area of law you might want to work in – although having said that, I don’t think that any firm will be impressed if you declare a passion for working in only one area of law. You don’t want to risk limiting yourself in that respect – especially as your feelings may well change not only throughout your degree and LPC, but also when you actually get experience of an area in practice.

I have learnt that in practice a general knowledge of all areas of law is a real benefit. So, even if you don’t have the experience to make a solid decision yet, be prepared to show a preference for an areas or areas; property, family, criminal or corporate etc. and find firms to apply to that cover that area of work. This also links to what I said previously about researching your firm and being happy working there in the long term.

As a general piece of advice, it is useful to be aware of the need to build your own personal brand as a professional. Social media such as Twitter and particularly LinkedIn are excellent ways of doing this and they are becoming increasingly relevant in business marketing. Make your online profile(s) look impressive. Also, have a look at firms’ online presence via Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc. – this approach will give you a useful insight when you are researching them initially.