Guest Blog - Future trainees: five ways to make your application stand out from the rest

This Article was written by Becky Kells at AllAboutLaw. 

Observing a few simple principles can make all the difference in how your application is perceived.

At Michelmores, training contracts are very competitive, with fewer than five percent of applicants securing one. Since virtually all applicants meet the basic qualifications, it follows that your application is going to have to stand out from the majority for you to have a decent chance at being shortlisted and moving on to the interview phase. Here are some tips that can help you improve your odds of success.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes

The person who initially reads your application (and makes the first cut) is likely to be examining over 100 applications a week for only a few available positions, which means that they are looking for a reason to reject your application, not accept it. Don’t give them an excuse.

It is critically important that you answer precisely the question asked, instead of using the question as a platform to tell the reader what you want them to know about yourself. Above all, don’t cut and paste material from applications to other firms just to save time. An experienced application reader will be able to spot a cut-and-paste job immediately, and it could be fatal to your application.

Demonstrate your capacity for concise, lucid writing and sound logical reasoning

It’s not just the content of you answers that matter—it's how you present them. Words are the stock in trade of a competent solicitor, and now is your chance to prove that you have mastered them. Treat your application as if it were part of a legal brief that you are preparing as your first assignment for the firm. In other words, make sure it is flawless.

Michelmores’ application questions have a 1500-character limit. Remember, that means characters, not words—and 1500 characters adds up to only about 250 words. Do not exceed this limit. As a solicitor, you are going to need to express complex ideas in clear, concise language. Consider your answers to the application questions to be your way of demonstrating your ability to do exactly this. Get straight to the point in rigorous, logical fashion—in fact, it might be a good idea to outline your response before you write it.

Do your homework

Michelmores is looking for people who want to become a part of the team, not just someone who wants to become a solicitor. The more you know about the firm, the more you will be able to demonstrate this knowledge in your responses, and tie it in to your own experiences and demonstrated inclinations. Resist the temptation to list what you know about the firm; find a way to work it into the point you are trying to get across.

Show, don’t tell

Anyone can speak floridly about their “passion for commercial law”, their “problem-solving abilities” or their “commitment to teamwork”, for example. It takes a little bit more to convince the firm that you actually embody these qualities. It is better to illustrate that you possess these qualities, without necessarily even stating them directly. Try using the STAR approach:

  • describe the Situation;
  • explain the Tasks you were charged with;
  • list the Actions you took; and
  • describe the Results 

Emphasise the skills you have developed, not just the titles of your positions

There will be plenty of space in your application to list your activities by name. Ultimately, however, it is more important to show how participation in these activities made you into the person you are today.  Joining the International Law Association, without more, is not likely to be as impressive as obtaining a promotion at work, even if your job has nothing to do with law. Certain attributes, such as interpersonal skills, are transferable to a wide variety of activities.

Avoid fatal mistakes

No matter how good your application is, a fatal mistake could ruin it. Do the following to avoid making errors:

  • Have someone else proofread your application for typos. Law is a detail-oriented profession, and there is no better way to have your application thrown into the reject pile that to commit a typographical error.
  • Don’t engage in flattery—lawyers are known for their ability to catch the faintest whiff of this misguided form of persuasion.
  • Don’t overuse cliches or write in “legalese.” Both of these habits are annoying, and they detract from your credibility.
  • Don’t engage in dishonesty of any sort. Whoever is reading your application will have developed a fine-turned radar for even subtle acts of deception.
  • Don’t regurgitate what you have read on the firm’s website. It is OK, however, to tie in the firm’s values and expectations with your own experience, as long as this is done seamlessly and doesn’t appear to be grafted onto your application.

Observing the foregoing application tips, of course, is not enough to guarantee that you will be offered a training contract—the competition is simply too intense for that. It will, however, help you put your best foot forward and maximize your odds of making it to the next step in the process.