September 12, 2023
Everyone knows it, getting a training contract is difficult. I went through three application cycles; a vac scheme cycle, a direct-Training Contract (TC) cycle and another vac scheme cycle. I’m now a second-seat trainee at my dream firm, RPC, and these are some of the things I wish I’d known at the beginning of the marathon that is getting a TC (side-note: I’m running an actual marathon next year and it brings me comfort to know that it won’t be as challenging as getting a TC was). 

My Most Important Lesson

Rejection doesn’t mean you’re not good enough

I received what felt like countless rejections, with highlights including one from a firm I hadn’t even applied to in that cycle, and a brutally timed one that landed in my inbox at 6.30am on a Monday morning (a truly wonderful start to the week). It’s all too easy to take this sea of rejections to heart; an email that is entirely impersonal yet simultaneously reads like the most personal repudiation of your past achievements and future potential. 

What I’ve realised now, is that the rejections are doing you a favour. Being 18-months into my career at RPC (I was a paralegal here for six months after my LPC), it cannot be understated how important the culture of your firm is. They have to be a good fit for you as much, if not more, as you are a good fit for them; they have to share your values; they have to make you feel supported and capable of achieving your career goals. They also have to do the type of work you’re interested in. RPC is an outstandingly compassionate law firm that manages to balance top tier work with a friendly and inclusive environment. I’ve worked on the highest profile litigation of the year (see three of our cases featured in The Lawyer’s Top 20 cases of 2023) and received above-and-beyond support through the most difficult personal circumstances of my life. 

I reflect now and feel grateful for every rejection. I was applying to the wrong firms for the wrong reasons, and had I received an offer from any of them I would’ve snapped it up without hesitation. That would’ve prevented me from continuing my journey, working out what was important to me, improving my applications and ultimately getting to where I have. 

Rejection is a normal part of the application process and just because you’re not there yet, it doesn’t mean you never will be. Keep going. 


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Law Firm Applications: Practical Tips

That said, there are practical tips you can employ to shape those applications.

Work out what you want

One of the best things about a career in law is how varied it is. There are different types of law, firm, and training contract. The biggest mistake I made in my earlier applications was not appreciating these differences enough and instead trying to shoehorn myself into every firm that offered a TC.

In my successful cycle I took the time to research, work out the type of law I wanted to do and the type of firm I wanted to be in. I narrowed this down to commercial litigation, at a City-based firm, in a small enough intake to provide a personal experience and a high degree of responsibility. RPC ticked all these boxes, but I wouldn’t have known they were right for me had I not taken this measured approach. I wish I’d done this sooner and saved myself rejections from firms that realistically were never going to be the right fit. 

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly

Applications are extremely time-consuming. They’re also extremely competitive. There is absolutely no point doing an application if you’re not going to give it the effort it demands. This means researching the firm thoroughly, tailoring your answers to that firm wherever possible, justifying why you’re interested in and suited to them. Start your application early enough that you have time to edit your answers to their full potential; submitting on the day of the deadline is unwise. 

As part of your research, compile a shortlist of firms, note their deadlines, and apply well in advance. I hastily cobbled together many poorly researched applications on the deadline day and now recognise that making a handful of good applications is a better strategy than dozens of poor ones.

All work experience counts

Legal work experience is hard to come by, but don’t despair, pretty much all work experience is useful on your applications. The trick is to identify the commonality of that role with a career in law and really highlight that. For example, I had been a tour guide in a cave (public speaking), a proof-reader (attention to detail) and a childminder (client service). Then personalise the work experience section of the application form to demonstrate not only your suitability to law but your suitability to law at that firm. For example, if their website says they value teamwork, talk about how you’ve worked in a team while working in a restaurant. You might think you can copy and paste this section but tailoring it to each firm as much as possible was one of the biggest differences between my unsuccessful and successful applications.

Ultimately, nothing worth having ever comes easy and a TC is very worth having. The application process tests your resilience but it’s also incredibly rewarding when you finally achieve your goal. The biggest thing I wish I’d known before applying to law firms was that I would get there as long as I kept trying.  

Looking for legal work experience? Find out more about RPC.


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