Business colleagues walking and talking

The Value of Diverse Experience in Training Contract Applications

In the current competitive landscape for legal careers, it can be difficult for aspiring solicitors to navigate the processes necessary to secure a coveted training contract.

Traditionally, candidates have focussed (sometimes exclusively) on their legal experience to bolster their applications, believing these to be most relevant. Whilst the relevance of legal experience to a training contract application cannot be understated, there is a paradigm shift currently underway, with more firms embracing the importance of including diverse experiences in an application, where possible.

Having an open approach to work experience is beneficial to aspiring solicitors and their prospective firms, as this allows the candidate to gain a broad variety of experience and unique perspectives, while their firm benefits from the valuable transferable skills gained in these multiple disciplines outside the legal sphere.

The reasons below are a few examples of how a diverse range of work experience can help aspiring solicitors with their training contract applications.

1. The opportunity to understand matters from a Client’s point of view

Gaining experience outside of law offers applicants a unique vantage point to think from the perspective of a client. Experience gained in diverse fields including business, technology, healthcare, retail, surveying and customer service, to name a few, present an opportunity for applicants to develop a deep understanding of client needs, challenges and objectives. It may be that applicants may have had a need to instruct a solicitor in their previous jobs prior to applying for a Training Contract.

Such circumstances present a good opportunity to cultivate and ultimately demonstrate the ability to approach legal issues with empathy, pragmatism and a client-centric mindset whilst showing they have the potential to provide tailored solutions and deliver exceptional client service. By gaining experience ‘on the other side’, applicants are able to gain a knowledge of what exactly a client may be looking for when instructing a firm, a skill that will prove invaluable at all stages of training contract applications.

2. Exposure to different styles of working

A diverse range of experience allows applicants to learn different styles of working, including working with software that may be useful at points when you do start your training contract. For example, an aspiring solicitor working as an administrative assistant or business analyst will have an extensive knowledge of Microsoft Excel. Whilst this is not something that most trainees will use daily, it may come in useful at some point, for example if working on a debt claim and calculating the daily rises in interest on an amount owed.

Networking is also an important part of being a trainee and at Michelmores trainees are encouraged to attend events and interact with clients and colleagues. Aspiring solicitors with experience of working with a wide variety of individuals are likely to be in good stead with regards to this aspect of being a trainee. For example, my first job at the age of 16 was in a call centre for a bowling company. In this role I regularly interacted with people of all ages and walks of life, booking events from casual bowling to school trips to corporate bookings and even wedding receptions. I also learnt the phonetic alphabet which is extremely useful on the phone till this day! As a result of my interacting with a wide variety of people on a daily basis, I was able to cultivate the skill of adapting my style of communication depending on who I am talking to. This served me well both in the application process and continues to do so today.

3. Developing skills whilst doing what you enjoy

Finally, a diverse range of experience present aspiring solicitors with the opportunity to develop skills and competencies in interesting ways that can sometimes allow them to stand out in the application process. There are many ways to build the skills needed to succeed on a training contract and being able to develop an awareness of these will put applicants in good stead. For example, taking on a leadership or communications role in a University society is a great way to build the communication and organisation skills that are paramount to success as a trainee. Recognising the skills gained from non-law experiences and hobbies presents a twofold benefit for aspiring solicitors, as it allows them to continue doing something they love, whilst developing skills that will be useful in their career. An example of this is my colleague, Sonia, whose blog entry details the many ways that her hobby of surfing helped her during the application process.

Final thoughts

Prior to receiving my Training Contract offer, I worked in the Civil Service for a year and talked about some of my experiences in my role during my Training Contract interview. I continue to use some of the skills and ways of working that I picked up during this year in my current role as a trainee. I often hear University students and applicants speak about their lack of legal experience with dread. Whilst legal experience is important, it is equally important to not downplay your experience and to mention all relevant experience on your applications. As long as there are transferable skills that you can draw from a job, experience or hobby, these are relevant and can be referred to in your applications.