My pursuit of 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.
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 geopolitical issues about 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 specific examples in your armoury and use 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 carried out my training contract, 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 legal 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 became evident during my training contract 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 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.
Top Tips for Getting a Training Contract
1. Try Some Paralegal Work
Paralegals undertake a variety of administrative and legal work. They are responsible for providing support to solicitors, barristers and/or legal executives in:
Drafting basic legal documents
Client care and client progression
Typically, paralegals are employed in law firms to work in a specialised department, such as the property, corporate finance or dispute resolution departments.
The benefits of undertaking paralegal work are numerous:
It will help to build your confidence and legal skills.
It could lead to a training contract at the firm you work at if you successfully impress key members
It could help to build your network which could lead to future training opportunities
For further insight into the role of a paralegal, visit our paralegal guide.
You may want to consider applying for legal internships or summer vacation schemes to help improve your chances of getting a law training contract.
Legal Interns usually spend time in an in-house legal department within a large company or organisation. Day to day, they are involved in a variety of tasks, including:
Drafting letters, emails, contracts and other legal documents
3. Get involved in Some Pro Bono Work
Pro bono is unpaid work undertaken by law students and practising lawyers. It aims to provide advice to members of the community who do not have the financial means to pay for legal advice.
Although pro bono work is unpaid, the satisfaction and experience you can gain from doing it is priceless.
This type of work also helps to build and develop your legal and communication skills because you will have to work with a large variety of people on many different legal matters. This makes you an impressive candidate when applying for a training contract.
You can get involved in pro bono work with several organisations including:
Citizen’s Advice Bureau
Local Law Centres
Miscarriage of Justice Project
4. Get Some Commercial Work Experience
You may want to consider applying for jobs at organisations that run businesses involved with the type of law you are interested in.
For example, if you are interested in banking and finance law, apply for a job in a bank where you can develop your commercial awareness a different angle.
By carrying out thorough research, you can tailor your applications and stand out from the crowd.
Law firms can spot a generic application from a mile away and will prioritise candidates who have put obvious effort into them.
Research the following:
The firms’ client bases
Any recent high profile deals or cases
Any influential partners
Any other facts of interest
6. Keep Your Search Criteria Broad
If you’re having trouble securing yourself a legal training contract, you should consider widening your search to law firms in other parts of the country.
However, it’s important to apply to firms where you have a genuine curiosity for the practice areas in which they excel.
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.
Words: Hilda-Georgina Kwafo-Akoto
Wondering which type of law firm you should apply to? Take the quiz!