It is first worth briefly addressing what a training contract actually is. These are offers of employment for an aspiring solicitor to join a law firm for a two-year period of training after completing a qualifying law degree/a non-qualifying degree and the PGDL (conversion course) and the SQE. These two years of training satisfy the SRA requirements of QWE (qualifying work experience) which a solicitor needs to qualify and practice in the UK.
Training contracts are highly competitive (less than 5% in some contexts, though varying widely based on the type of firm), and in order to maximise your chances of success you need to ensure that your application is of the best quality possible. A range of detailed advice is available on how to pass a training contract application, but a few key points to outline here include:
This article, however, focuses on a more specific point in regard to training contract applications. While you want to make your applications as polished and tailored as possible, this takes time. Submit too few applications and your odds of success are very slim (remember, this is a very competitive process), but attempt to complete too many applications and the quality of each is likely to start falling drastically (again, there is only so much time available). An obvious question which arises as a result: how many training contract applications should you send?
The answer is based on a number of factors specific to your own situation – read on to discover a range of points worth considering.
The first point worth considering is that you need to consider how much time you have available. If you are at university or law school, this means finding time between lectures, seminars, reading and essays to complete applications. If you are a career changer, this likely means working into the evening to complete applications. For the purposes of this article, let us focus on the more common situation of the former.
The training contract application cycle usually aligns with the first term of your academic year – from around September to December. You are likely to be busy with a heavy start-of-year workload, and prioritising training contract applications too heavily is likely to make your academic work suffer. This cannot be allowed to happen – law firms, after all, will be looking closely at your academic achievement, since this is a key skill sought out by recruiters in law. You may remember a situation in A Levels where you were struggling to revise for upcoming exams while attending university open days – it’s a similar situation here. Don’t let training contract applications ruin your grades, or you won’t be securing one regardless of how many you submit.
Equally, if your workload is particularly light at the time of vacation scheme/training contract windows, it can be worth going in hard on your applications.
Another point worth considering is being tactical on your number of applications based on the deadlines for different training contracts. In particular, you want to apply to ‘rolling basis’ training contracts first (those where applications can be approved as soon as the window opens, rather than recruitment waiting to review them all as soon as it closes). This should be built into your schedule and will likely affect your planning for how many applications you can get done.
You also need to consider what you’re looking for in a training contract – both in terms of practice area and type of firm. If you’re broadly interested in corporate work on an international scale, you’re looking at all of the Magic Circle firms (Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, Freshfields, Allen & Overy, and Linklaters), all of the elite US firms, and at least some of the Silver Circle firms to narrow it down from.
On the other hand, if you’re set on a particularly niche area of law or type of firm, for example a large, high-paying international firm with a particularly strong IP practice, then your options are much smaller (think Bird & Bird or Bristows), and thus less applications are natural.
If many of your target firms are of comparable nature, then some of your answers between application forms or interviews may be transferable. Now, this comes with a very obvious warning – your answers need to be tailored very closely to the firm for many questions (e.g. ‘what about X firm appeals to you?’). However, personal, broad questions such as ‘why do you want to be a solicitor?’ can at least follow partially the same path in multiple applications (you might have one or two anecdotes or pieces of work experience you think work well, and will bring up across multiple applications).
Making use of transferable responses is one way to save time and maximise the number of applications you can send, though should not detract from the tailored specificity of each application to its target firm.
Determining the ideal amount of time to allocate to your training contract application is crucial for striking the right balance between quality and efficiency. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it is recommended to invest a significant amount of time and effort into each application to ensure its overall strength.
Typically, spending around 10-15 hours on a single application is a reasonable estimate, considering the research, tailoring, and proofreading required. However, this timeframe will vary depending on your familiarity with the firm, complexity of the application, and personal writing style. Remember, rushing through applications may compromise their quality, while spending too much time on a single application may limit your overall capacity. Therefore, strive to find a balance that allows you to submit well-crafted applications within the given deadlines while maintaining a high standard of quality throughout the process.
While training contract applications certainly do require close, careful attention to detail, it is simultaneously a numbers game (and therefore, to some extent, luck). Regardless of how good you think your application is, it’s not only up against a huge number of other applications, but also being scrutinised by a subjective recruiter at the other end who is scanning thousands of applications and making yes/no decisions based on minute differences between applications.
The truthful answer to the question is thus often: as many as you can get through without compromising on quality. The number which arises as a result varies widely for different applicants, but to put a (very) rough number on it for the sake of a ballpark figure, many aspiring solicitors will send somewhere between 5 and 15 applications in a cycle. As previously stated, however, you will want to make this judgement call based on your own situation.
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