To apply for a training contract, you will need to identify the law firms that you want to submit an application to. You will need to work out what kind of law firms you want to apply to. For example, are you interested in commercial law or criminal law? Do you want to work for a city firm or a regional law firm?
You will need to do your research. Once you have chosen which law firms you want to apply to, you need to treat every application like an individual project.
Usually, you will need to complete a training contract application form and submit a solicitor CV and covering letter to each law firm you apply to.
To help you prepare for your training contract applications, Clifford Chance offers a series of Skills Sessions which are designed to help you build your commercial awareness as well as tips and advice on how to apply.
Take a look at Clifford Chance’s video on how to prepare an application and what you should do you before you apply:
Check out Clifford Chance’s training contract page for more information on their programme structure, benefits and application procedure.
Five to ten law firm training contract applications are recommended. If you try to apply with too many firms, you risk missing deadlines trying to complete them all. If you only apply to one firm, you risk having no other law firms to fall back on if your application is rejected. You need to apply to just enough law firms, but not too many.
It is no secret that securing a training contract is a difficult process. The odds vary massively between firms. However, at the top end of the scale, at elite US or Magic Circle law firms, you could be roughly looking at a success rate of anything between 20% and 5%.
Your odds are significantly higher based on a number of criteria, however, including the university you have studied at or the grade you have achieved (e.g. a 1st compared to a 2:1).
Based on the competitive point above, it is natural to want to apply to a number of different law firms for a training contract. Estimates vary widely between aspiring lawyers, though many will aim to send off somewhere between 5 and 15 applications.
You also need to consider which actual firms pique your interest. Shortlisting firms to apply to can be based on a number of factors, including:
Eligibility for training contract and vacation scheme applications will vary for each firm. The only way to be sure is to check on each firm’s individual website. If the information is not clear at that stage, feel free to drop an email to the firm’s recruitment team.
Each firm sets their own deadlines for training contracts. Most aspiring lawyers will be applying to vacation schemes in the hopes of receiving a training contract at the end of the scheme, but others will submit ‘direct’ training contract applications. These two paths will usually have different deadlines.
Broadly speaking, training contract and vacation scheme application cycles roughly align with the first term of the academic year – you’ll probably be busiest with applications between September and November.
It is also worth noting that some firms deal with applications on a ‘rolling’ basis – meaning they will be accepted or rejected as they come in. Prioritise these applications first.
For an overview of dates, you could take a look at The Lawyer Portal’s training contract deadlines page.
Not all training contract applications require a CV. Those that do will often use them as a key part of the application process, and so it is important to refine yours as much as possible. These are a few key elements of a solicitor CV to consider:
Standing out in your CV does not mean being overly outrageous in your choices of formatting. Stick to safe fonts such as Times New Roman, basic colours and adequate line spacing and borders. Overall, your text itself should do the talking when it comes to your individuality.
In terms of length, most people can adequately fit their relevant experience onto one side of A4. Aim to stick to one side of A4.
While not compulsory, it can really help your CV to stand out if you are able to include a few personalised lines at the top of the page providing a broad overview of who you are. This could include your current educational institution, a handful of concise, work experience examples, a few adjectives best encapsulating your character or personality, and a particular area of passion within the legal sector. Keep it short, concise, and relevant.
Many training contract applicants are students or recent graduates. As a result, you are unlikely to have amassed a huge catalogue of work experience. Instead, your educational achievements are likely to shine through the most. Provide details of your grades (anything from GCSE or age 16 onwards is often recommended), as well as predicted grades for university study if you have not yet graduated.
Not all applicants will have relevant legal work experience at this stage. If you do, then you should certainly include it. If not, use your unique experiences to your advantage. Other easy ways to gain experience with some relevance to law include becoming a brand ambassador. The Lawyer Portal has a shared brand ambassador scheme with law firm Bird & Bird. You can also look out for online virtual work experience programmes.
For each piece of work experience, include the name of the organisation, the name of your specific role, the tasks involved in this role, and the start and end dates. Order your work experience by relevance – the best at the top, then work your way downwards.
A small number of firms will ask for cover letters. This is an excellent chance to personalise your application, since covering letter for law firms are essentially an opportunity to link your personal experiences and demonstrate how these are closely aligned. For this reason, cover letters need to be very closely tailored to the firm itself.
There is no set structure or format for a covering letter for a law firm, but many will choose to follow some of the following guidelines:
The vast majority of applications will feature a handful of boxes asking you specific questions, which you will need to answer in a paragraph or two. Common questions include:
The key point to add in terms of differentiating yourself at the interview stage is the fact that your abilities on paper (e.g. educational qualifications, work experience, etc.) have ticked a box. Whether via video call or face-to-face, interviews are your chance to really let your personality shine through. Make sure to come across as personable, engaged and genuinely passionate about participating in a training contract with this firm. Your interviewers may be your supervisors one day – they will also want to see if you will integrate well into the firm’s culture.
Every law firm has a different training contract application process, but you will find that many of the questions give you an opportunity to demonstrate what makes you different from other applicants. Some of the training contract questions might include:
If a training contract application asks this question, avoid being overly academic or focusing solely on legal theory. You need to demonstrate how your experiences relate to you wanting to become a lawyer. Make sure your answer is personal, talks about your skills, motivations and relevant experience. You should also cover your short- and long-term career goals.
A lot of law firms ask this question to assess your character. To answer this question, make sure you use the job specification to guide you. The job specification usually features the type of characteristics a law firm is looking for. Once you know what a law firm is looking for, you can be specific with your answers.
Give an example of a time you demonstrated a specific quality or personality trait. It is important that you can back up what you say when answering personality-focused questions.
To answer this question, you must do your research on the law firm(s) that you are applying to. Specifically, you should research the key practice area(s) of the law firm, their training program and their culture. You should answer in a natural and structured way.
Law firms are looking for clear communication so that when they first read your answer they can quickly see how you have linked your career aspirations with what they can offer you.
This training contract application question is designed to assess your commercial understanding, motivation to join a firm and your analytical ability. For this question, you need to fully research the law firm(s) you are applying to for a training contract.
You will need to go beyond the law firm’s website with your research and look at the type of candidates a firm recruits, the skills and qualities the firm values in its people. You should research the firm’s clients, the sectors they operate in, its market position and its strategy.
Once you’ve gone through all the steps of the recruitment process, you should hear back from the firm within a few days to a month on whether you were successful at gaining a place. So what do you do once you’ve received an offer?
It’s important to take some time to carefully consider your options. Evaluate the firm’s culture, values, and the opportunities they offer for professional growth. Consider reaching out to current or former trainees to gain insights into their experiences. If you have multiple offers, compare the benefits, such as practice areas, salaries, and training programs. Take into account your long-term career goals and how each offer aligns with them.
Once you have made your decision, promptly notify the firm of your acceptance and express your gratitude for the opportunity. Remember, this is just the beginning of your legal career, so make sure to start off on the right foot by making an informed decision.
Take a look at Clifford Chance’s video on what the next steps are once you’ve received an offer:
Find out more about what life is like as a trainee at Clifford Chance.
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