My pursuit for a training contract was a roller coaster ride which began in my second year of undergraduate study at the University of Exeter where I read law. I decided to apply for vacation schemes at the law firms where I had attended First Year Open Days and spoken to representatives at my university’s law fair.
In retrospect, I had not fully identified my motivation to embark on a career as a commercial solicitor practising in a City law firm. Inevitably, I was not alone in my ambition to train and qualify at a full-service law firm with market leading practices and the opportunity for secondments to enhance my professional and personal development.
I hope you will find this blog helpful in turning your dream of becoming a trainee solicitor into achievable steps so that you can fulfil your goal of having your name being entered into the roll of solicitors and live out your reality as a qualified solicitor.
In the Starting Blocks
At times, the pursuit for a training contract can feel akin to gold dust. This is due to the disproportionate number of applicants for a limited number of places which results in a high attrition of training contract application forms.
Factors that come into play to cull the number of application forms include:
Performance on verbal reasoning tests not meeting the prescribed threshold;
In order to take heed of the pearls of wisdom of former UFC champion Connor McGregor to “stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready”, you will need to position yourself so that you can perform to the best of your ability. This will involve diligence, discipline and sacrifice.
Time will need to be set aside to equip yourself with the requisite understanding, knowledge and insight of the legal sector and the commercial developments that present challenges and opportunities for businesses.
Commercial awareness is most effectively shown by the ability to discuss legal, economic and geo-political issues in relation to a firm’s clients. I would avoid referring to the shiny objects of Brexit, GDPR and the US-China trade dispute without having given thought as to their relevancy to the particular law firm where you are applying.
You need to have in your armoury specific examples and talking points to act as a springboard for a well-informed, engaging and intelligent discussion.
I recall that in my first round interview at the firm where I am currently training, I discussed Brexit in relation to the Unified Patent Court (UPC) because London was designated as the location for the central division of the UPC. But, more importantly, the interface between Brexit and the UPC would be of a topic of interest for partners practising law at a firm that is highly ranked for patent litigation expertise.
During my three cycles of applying for training contracts, there were many instances where I made it to a final round of the vacation scheme or training contract process, only to fall short at the final hurdle.
It has become evident during the nine months of my training contract so far that resilience is an essential attribute of a successful trainee solicitor, in addition to the prerequisites of:
Sound legal knowledge;
Attention to detail;
Good time management;
Strong interpersonal skills;
The two-year training contract is a learning curve that will involve hitting the ground running in order to maintain an upward trajectory. Resilience will be the differentiating characteristic between trainees who become overwhelmed by the fast paced, time pressured and demanding environment of a City law firm, and those who may stumble, but do not let ‘baptisms of fire’ define their training contract or shatter their confidence.
Instead, reminding themselves that “it’s not important how many times you fall but how many times you rise” – Nelson Mandela.
It is no small feat to attain a training contract and there is no substitute to thorough preparation if you want to excel. The fierce competition between candidates that share similar academic achievements, extracurricular activities and knowledge of the firm means that you have to own your moment.
Top tip: Dig deep and believe that you will be an invaluable asset to the firm when your resolve is tested by an unexpected question, your opinion is challenged or further elaboration on a tricky commercial issue is requested.
The most important thing is not to panic but to remain cool, calm and collected, which is easier said than done; but you should remember that you have come too far to allow your emotions to get the better of you. You shouldn’t have to exchange that golden opportunity for the bitter disappointment of an email notifying that you had not been selected for the training contract.
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I used to listen to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on the train journey from Exeter St David’s to London Paddington for interviews and assessment days because the chorus, namely, the lyrics “you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime” resonated with me.
However, to seize an opportunity, you need to be able to substantiate the rationale for seeking the opportunity in the first place.
My road to a training contract was protracted, arduous and winding because I had not taken a step back to identify with precision my motivation to become a City lawyer and the firm where I truly wanted to train, qualify and forge a successful career. DJ Khaled professes that the “key is to have every key”, but I would contend that a clear strategy is the key to success.
The application process becomes a lot easier once you have undergone a journey of self-awareness and dissected your motivation to practice commercial law at a particular firm. I only received vacation scheme offers which culminated in the acceptance of a training contract offer when I favoured a focused rather than a scattergun approach to the application process.
I decided to put my ‘eggs’ in the Intellectual Property ‘basket’ because I thoroughly enjoyed my IP elective at university from which solidified my interest in brand protection. This inspired me to critically analyse the decisions of Thomas Pink v Victoria’s Secret UK Ltd and RobynRihanna Fenty and Others v Arcadia Group Brands and Topshop/Topman Limited for a summative assessment on trade mark law and I consequently applied to the instructed firms of solicitors.
I would strongly recommend, as a starting point, applying to firms where you have a genuine curiosity for the practice areas in which they excel.
Law firms market their full-service capabilities, but with my interest in the strategies employed by clients to protect and elevate their brand, I found success in applying to firms that are highly ranked for their TMT specialisms. This worked more than global banking and finance heavyweights with an IP practice that had been involved in matters that I have found interesting.
It is paradoxical to express a passion for a practice area which does not feature in seat rotation, trainees cannot qualify into and expansion is spearheaded by the recruitment of lateral hires. I would then go on to consider the ethos, vision and size of the firm and its training contract intake.
Once you have laid down a solid foundation, you can identify, explain and persuade interviewers that your unique selling points are a perfect match for the firm and hopefully secure a training contract.
Wishing you success and in light of the World Cup – bonne chance/boa sorte/buena suerte!
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