Three top tips to “nail” your law firm applications.

It’s that time of year again. The window for making training contract applications for a 2017 start date is open now until around the end of July. Exams are over and you need to get on with it. But what is the magic formula for making successful applications? I’ve been down to London again to visit some more law firms in pursuit of the answer. Here are my three top tips.

1.  Know what you are applying for.


Sounds simple doesn’t it? What sort of work do you want to do and are you applying for a firm which does that sort of work? I’ve visited four very different firms over the last couple of days, Charles Russell Speechlys, Harbottle & Lewis, Watson Farley & Williams and White & Case. So what do they have in common? They are all top firms in specific fields of work, all are prestigious, all handle complex and sometimes ground breaking transactions, all offer training contracts and are looking for top quality applicants.

Perhaps that’s largely where the similarity ends! A generic law application sent to each of these firms is doomed to failure; they are all special in different ways. Charles Russell Speechlys is pretty unique in having top quality expertise in both commercial and private client work. Harbottle & Lewis has a specialism in media work although it is a full service law firm and also has a thriving and growing private client practice, Watson Farley & Williams are particularly renowned for their project and shipping finance work and White & Case have a rounded top quality commercial practice but no longer regard themselves as a US firm as their practice outside the US is about to become larger than their practice within.

Each of the firms looks for you to show in your application that you understand the sort of work they do and have a genuine desire to be part of that. Caroline West of Harbottle & Lewis explained:

“I ask students what they are looking for in a training contract and expect their answer to align with what we offer. I also ask which other firms they have applied to and am very wary when they detail other firms doing work completely different to that in our practice.”

2.  Put in an accurate application.

target_with_arrows250I know that I sound a bit like a broken record when I reiterate the need for accuracy in your spelling and grammar. Perhaps Lucie Rees of Watson Farley & Williams puts it better:

“You must demonstrate accuracy and attention to detail throughout our selection process. Proof read your written work and pay close attention to the precise instructions we give you at our assessment centres. We expect you to do what we ask, we are assessing for particular competencies and design our tests accordingly. Don’t just decide to do your own thing!”

Lawyers have to be able to get things right, inaccuracy and lack of attention to detail can cost many millions in negligence cases. I haven’t yet found a firm prepared to take a laid back attitude to inaccuracy. If you don’t enjoy making sure you have got things right then maybe a career in the law just isn’t for you?

3.  Demonstrate some relevant experience.

None of the firms is expecting you to have a stack of legal experience. You need to be able to show that you have learnt some “commerciality”, that you are a “mover and shaker” and that you understand what working in the firm will be “about”. It’s good to have done a “proper job” like shop work or bar work. It shows your work ethic and ensures you will have learnt skills like teamwork and negotiation but this isn’t enough! I talk about firms looking for someone who has left their university different in some way from how it was when they joined. Christina Churchman of White & Case put it succinctly:

“I’m looking for someone to show that they’ve got involved in lots of things at University and done something interesting. They can talk about that experience to show that they really “get” what life as a solicitor with us would be like in terms of the demands, pace and expectations.”

So don’t just tell firms what you’ve done, reflect on it in your applications to show how what you have learnt is relevant to their businesses.

And finally?

Be true to yourself, make sure you apply to the firm which does the work which really interests you, not the one all your friends are applying to or the one you thing might be most prestigious. All the firms told me that they are looking for people who relax during interviews and show who they are and all talked about the need to get the fit right.

If you want to find out more follow the Warwick Law Careers blog.

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