By Karolina Lewicki
A common mistake for applicants is to simply apply to any law firm that has a recognisable name and an attractive salary on offer without being able to specify why they wish to work for that particular organisation. While there is nothing wrong with applying to multiple firms, make sure that you know why you are interested in your chosen firms over others and prepare your application accordingly. Interested in tech? Maybe apply to firms with predominantly tech clients. Coming from a science background? Perhaps you might want to target firms with a focus on intellectual property.
The point is to be able to differentiate between firms and bring this across in an application. In order to do so, you will have to spend some time researching the law firms you might be interested in to build an understanding of what each firm’s practice could mean for your training. There are plenty of resources available online which can help you do that, but it is also helpful to talk to current trainees about their respective experiences. Make sure to attend law fairs and events featuring potential future employers and ask questions to better understand the internal workings of a firm.
In my case, I decided to apply to RPC because of its fast-growing commercial practice which was recognised by numerous publications and legal awards. I also had previous work experience in the legal tech sector, which I felt would fit in well with the firm’s innovative outlook and the work and clients within the MIPTOC group in particular. This, in connection with the firm’s renowned disputes practice and international presence, convinced me that it would be a good fit for me and my interests.
Firms will have different approaches to how they deliver their training contract experience. While each trainee solicitor needs to satisfy the qualification standards set out by the SRA, there is no one prescribed way of how the training is structured which can significantly affect your experience.
It is important to think about what you want to get out of your training contract and seek out firms that meet the criteria for your desired development. For example, certain firms will have four six-month-long seats, whereas others might have six four-month-long seats, and some a completely non-rotational system.
Similarly, many firms have a list of obligatory departments to be completed as part of the training contract, while other places offer a more flexible approach to how you wish to structure your training. The intake size is another aspect which is relevant – do you prefer to be part of a cohort of 70 trainees or are you more comfortable in a smaller setting? It is also worth thinking about additional factors such as international and client secondment opportunities, which can provide you with a different perspective of a solicitor’s role.
The above played an important role for me when I was making my decision to apply to RPC. I was looking to join a firm with a medium-sized intake, flexible training with an international edge and secondments. RPC fulfilled all of my requirements – the firm has an intake of roughly 15 trainees per year and offers seats in a variety of sectors and practice areas, most of which deal with cross-jurisdictional work. Additionally, trainees have the opportunity to go on client secondments as well as to apply for a seat abroad in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
My final piece of advice is to give good thought to the differences in law firms’ internal cultures and values, which many applicants may initially underestimate. This could include a range of factors. For instance, some firms might have a flatter hierarchy than others, potentially allowing for greater partner exposure early on, as opposed to places with a more conservative mindset. Likewise, certain firms might be more inclined to give trainees a lot of responsibility from the start, while others might prefer to provide solid training on the basics first. There is no ‘right’; or ‘wrong’ culture – the key is to know what your preference is and what works best for you as an individual.
Sometimes it is hard to judge a firm’s culture. However, as with general firm research, it can help to attend events and reach out to people who already work at the firm and who understand these dynamics. It is also a good idea to track a firm’s activity on its website and social media to see what initiatives and projects it might be involved with. This could be anything ranging from sustainability and pro bono to topics relating to diversity. Take time to think about what aligns with your personality and identify any cultural non-negotiables before making a decision to apply to a law firm.
My personal preference was to work in a non-hierarchical and approachable professional
environment, which offers a high quality of work at the same time. I chose RPC because it visibly stood out to me from other firms with its open and friendly culture, while still featuring at the top of the legal rankings in the City. Having spoken to some of the former trainees I met at law fairs and networking events, I quickly learned that the impression I had of the firm was accurate and shared by those who were already working there, which solidified my desire to apply.
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