Eight musts for training contract applications


This website is full of indispensable advice on how to apply for training contracts. There's a lot of it, so we've distilled the main points here.


1. Don't make too many (or too few)

Though a scatter-gun approach to applications has been known to work for some, it  is not one we recommend. Over the years we've chatted to many trainees who first applied to firms in bulk, before realising this was a terrible idea and then doing some proper research and tailored applications for a select bunch. We'd equally warn against applying to just one or two firms even if you're madly in love with the firm and know it's The One. That said, there are advantages to Putting all your eggs in one basket. Our research shows aiming for a dozen gets the best results.


2. Do your research

This is pretty obvious but it's still worth restating. Read our feature on How to research a firm properly if you're unsure how to do this. Naturally, the Student Guide's True Picture is a great research tool for finding out about firms, but it's also a jumping off point to find out more a firm's practices, international network, strategy and so on from other sources like The Lawyer or the Chambers Global rankings.


3. Know your firm

If you apply to a firm with big property and commercial teams which acts mostly for businesses, don't tell them how much you love private client work. Sending off your CV to a firm which is big on family? Don't tell them how much you love crime then awkwardly insist the two practices are very similar. This applies in more subtle ways too: if a firm does a lot of charities work but this is mostly the preserve of a few partners at the top and the firm doesn't actually offer a seat in this area, then don't go on about this practice in your application. To find out about practices and other specifics of law firms use the True Picture or the Chambers UK rankings.


4. Tailor your application

This is possibly the most important piece of advice you need to follow when making job applications. The trick is to show each firm throughout your application why you want to train at that firm in particular. You can do this by highlighting particular aspects of the training – secondments, mentoring, the social life – or a hallmark of the firm in general: its international network, practice areas or location. Elsewhere on this website you can read more about Making successful applications.


5. Understand the application process

Don't try applying to a firm which only accepts online applications by means of a CV, and don't try to email your motivation letter to a firm which only accepts applications in the form of handwritten missive. Alongside every firm listed on this website we provide a How to get a training contract at ... article (in the bonus features section) which contains a full breakdown of the application process, with advice on how to deal with your initial application and each subsequent step.


6. Be commercially aware

Commercial awareness means understanding the business climate a firm operates in and what challenges are faced by it and – crucially – its clients. There's much more to it than just reading the FT before an interview; it's something you need to be continually working on. If you want to work for a corporate firm you'll need to understand major issues affecting businesses in the UK and around the world – financial services regulations, the rise of emerging markets, the implications of a possible UK exit from the EU etc. If you're interested in areas of law like family, employment and human rights you'll need to understand the latest new laws, court decisions and procedural changes affecting these areas.

Either way, our feature on Trends affecting the legal profession is a good jumping off-point. Sometimes a commercial awareness question may be as open-ended as 'Tell us about a business-related story you've been following' or 'Why do you want to work in family law', but we've recently heard of some far trickier commercial questions being asked of students. For example: 'How can we, as an international law firm, maintain our competitive advantage in a global market?' or 'If you had to pick one of our practice areas as a focus for expansion, which one would it be and why?'. So, be prepared!


7. Show off your competencies

Competencies are commodities in the recruitment market. As always follow the rule: 'show, don't tell'. If you want to indicate you're a good leader don't just say you are  give an example of a time when you displayed leadership qualities. If necessary use the STAR technique: Situation-Task-Activity-Result. Competency questions can be straightforward – 'Demonstrate a time when you showed good teamwork skills' – but many firms are now asking more complex questions, such as 'What competencies are important in a successful commercial solicitor and how have you shown these competencies in the past?' Find out more about competencies by reading the feature How suitable are you and what are recruiters looking for?


8. Be early

Some firms start looking at training contract applications before their application deadline has passed, and may even begin inviting people for interviews. Others wait until after the deadline to begin sifting through applications. Either way, there's no harm in applying early. But: don't allow this approach to undermine the quality of your application – be sure you are proud and pleased with what you've produced before you send it off. Definitely get a willing friend or relative to proofread it for you first.


This feature was first published in our June 2015 newsletter and has been updated since.