6 TIPS FOR SECURING A TRAINING CONTRACT
Charlotte is a future trainee with a top US firm and she is sharing her top tips from her personal experiences to help if you are in the process of trying to secure a training contract.
1. Demonstrate well-roundedness.
Legal work experience is of course important when applying for training contracts or vacation schemes. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a law firm. Most law schools, if you are still at university, have legal clinics, and they are a great way to get an insight into practice and develop some of the transferable skills graduate recruitment will be looking for. Essay or negotiating competitions are also a great place to start and some even offer work experience as a prize!
On the flipside, whilst legal work experience is great, and demonstrates a commitment to a legal career, non-legal work experience is just as valuable, if not more so don’t undersell it! The skills you develop working in, for instance, hospitality, are extremely transferable and should be harnessed in both your application and interview. In the same vein, interests, and hobbies outside of work or academia are good talking points in interviews, and can be leveraged to make an interview much more conversational as they come in very handy when answering common competency questions that come up!
Just remember that the role of a lawyer is largely an advisory one, in which you are required to work with people, on behalf of people. At a firm operating cross-jurisdictionally on client issues, communication, teamwork, and attention to detail are critical skills; leverage your non-legal work experience to demonstrate that you have these.
2. RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH!
So, where to begin? Research!
Firstly, instead of taking a scattergun approach to applications, I would suggest sitting down to try and figure out what you wanted out of a firm in terms of the culture, training, and opportunities for practice long-term. Whilst it seems logical to think sending as many applications as possible will increase the chance of securing a vacation scheme or TC, strategy is more important. A tailored application to 1 or 2 firms is more likely to get you somewhere vs a generic application sent to 20. As a starting point, the Chambers Student Guide, the Legal 500 and Legal Cheek were incredibly helpful in narrowing down my focus when it came to applications.
Secondly, although it can be daunting, further research can help you figure out what differentiates firms from their competitors and allow you to tailor your application. A common question that comes up is ‘what differentiates X firm from their competitors?’, this research can help you successfully answer it. Really develop an understanding of the work they do, their practice areas, and their global presence. One question I got asked a question in my TC interview was about where I would open a new office and why. If I had failed to look at where the firm operates, I would have floundered. But, because I had a good idea of where the firm had offices and had a rough idea of developing areas of practice, I was able to answer the question (I hope) convincingly. Further, depending on the firms you are applying to, a lot of them have blogs and company podcasts which are regularly updated and can give you a great insight into the work the firm is currently doing across their practices and what clients the firm has been working with. For instance, if the multi-jurisdictional and fast-paced deals with household names is what appeals to you about a career in a city law firm, make this clear in your application and use the information you have gathered to support this. Depending on the clients and the profile of the deal/transaction, the financial times can also be a great source of information.
In saying that though, it is important to remember that anything can differentiate a firm, it doesn’t need to be a commercial factor. For instance, with Sidley, the culture of the firm was a major differentiating factor for me; more specifically, their commitment to D&I and Pro Bono which all lawyers, of all levels of seniority, are encouraged to partake in. If this interests you and it comes up, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask if trainees have the opportunity to get involved and contribute to these initiatives. Finally, going back to the point on being well-rounded, positions of responsibility at university or extra-curricular can demonstrate your ability to engage with a wider community and collaborate, so if you were on a committee for instance, be able to demonstrate how you got involved and what difference you made.
3. Commercial awareness
Commercial awareness is somewhat of a buzzword, but it is key. The law does not operate in a vacuum, rather a career in a city law firm allows you to put your interest in commercial affairs into practice. You need to be able to understand the client’s business but also how the law firm itself operates as a business. TCLA is a great source, and they publish a free weekly newsletter each week. The Commercial Law Handbook is also incredibly helpful and demystifies a lot of key terminology and jargon. And again, the Financial Times is great for building commercial awareness. Look at hot-topics or high-profile deals. A lot of law firms also post practice area updates or blogs, which detail developments both widely and in the law that are impacting the legal sector and clients.
4. The interview: why law and why this firm
Depending on the firm, the components of the assessment centre may differ significantly. Often, it may involve a partner interview, a case study and a group activity of some sort focused on business activities/development.
In terms of the interview, you want to be able to demonstrate the personal qualities you possess that will make you a successful solicitor, but more importantly, why you want to be a solicitor, and specifically why you want to be a solicitor at X firm! Training contracts are huge financial commitments on the part of the firm, but also are a huge commitment from you. They want to ensure you understand what you are getting yourself into. In terms of the former, STAR is a great structure to largely stick to – Situation, Task, Action, Result. Ensuring you hit these points when answering questions can demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to excel in the job. STAR is also incredibly useful when it comes to competency and behavioural questions, which can cover areas from problem-solving to your ability to work in a team, so it is always a good suggestion to prep a few answer skeletons beforehand! In terms of the latter, don’t give a generic response, relate it to the firm you are applying to or interviewing with.
This is where the importance of research, as mentioned above, comes in! Research a firm, and find 2-3 aspects that interest you, using evidence to support your points. For instance, have you had work experience in a specific practice area that the firm is well known for, and you are heavily interested in? Explain how this work experience solidified your interest and relate it to the current work the firm is doing. For instance, if private equity is something that interests you, talk about the fast-paced deals in terms of the learning experience that could provide, the sophisticated high-profile clients, the cross-practice and cross-jurisdictional nature of the work, and the exposure to a variety of businesses as PE funds often acquire a variety of companies for their portfolios. Understanding the nature of the TC they are offering is also important. For instance, if they have a smaller intake, as many US firms do, the training is less likely to be as formal as you would get at a Magic Circle – why does this interest you? Potentially you could discuss how it would give you real responsibility at an earlier stage in your career which you wouldn’t get elsewhere., in which you would be expected to learn hands-on through exposure to high-value, complex transactions and disputes.
In terms of group presentations/activities, business development is often the focus. Look at what is effecting law firms. Legal tech is currently a big aspect of business development, so do some research prior to the assessment centre, and look at whether the firm is actively implementing legal tech and why there is the pressure to do so. More generally, offer to keep watch of the clock and if the assessment centre is in person, volunteer to be the note-taker. Don’t be overbearing but also don’t be a wallflower.
5. The dreaded case-study…
With the case study component of the interview, structuring your thoughts is key. Flag what issues you aim to talk about and go through them logically; ensuring you take clear and concise notes during the preparation time can massively help with this. Circling back to commercial awareness, it is key if given a case study that you are clued up on current commercial developments and can relate them to the issue at hand. It is also important to be able to remain calm under pressure, many interviewers will continue to ask questions that get gradually more technical. In saying that, understand the basic technicalities of the law. For instance, why do PE funds leverage debt? If financing the deal with debt, what security can the creditors take? Practical Law and TCLA Forum have some good resources on this to help you get to grips with it. But don’t stress. In my final TC interview, I got stuck on a question about securitisation, and instead of panicking, I asked the partner interviewing me to explain it to me, and then I managed to answer the question correctly. Remember, they are not looking for experts, they are looking for people who can learn.
For the case study component of the interview, it is also important to think about what lawyers would be engaged in a deal, and what issues would they be looking out for? For instance, if the corporate team is engaged in a deal, what would they be looking at? They would be looking at contracts with suppliers and whether there are change of control or termination provisions; they will also be looking at the company’s articles of association and any provisions in shareholder agreements which could prevent shareholders transferring their shares in the case of a share purchase. Alternatively if there are any disputes, litigators may be necessary. For instance, they would look at whether there is any past, current, or pending litigation, but also the risk of future claims against the company or regulatory investigations.
6. Finally, don’t stress!
Finally, don’t stress. If you have prepared that’s all you can do. It sounds cliché but be yourself, law firms are not looking for robots. The average age for qualification is 29, so if you don’t manage to get a TC in your first application cycle, just remember most people don’t. Take some time to gain some more experience and work on your applications and just apply again next year.
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