Unfortunately, because firms don’t provide feedback, students often think they’re being rejected because they’re lacking something in their experience or grades – and I do understand why you’d think that.
But most of the applications I’ve seen fall down because of the application, not the applicant. It’s always because their application isn’t tailored enough or they don’t sell their experiences i.e. specifically talk about what they did and why that was impressive/what was the outcome.
I’d go so far as to say an objectively weak student who knows how to write about their experiences is much more likely to be accepted than an exceptional student who can’t. That’s how essential it is.
How important are grades at the top firms? I didn’t do so well in my first year due to circumstances, but looking at LinkedIn I see trainees with first class grades and A* at A-Level
It’s a barrier, but it’s not detrimental. Grades are just one factor of many in an application. Sure, at some firms they may have more weight, but even then you can make up for it if the rest of your application is good.
I’d suggest avoiding LinkedIn profiles. The candidates with top grades are more likely to list them on their profile. A friend of mine got a third in his first year and starts at Linklaters in September, but he’s not going to be posting those grades on LinkedIn.
I received a number of rejections in my first application round, where, even though I thought I was writing tailored applications, I later realised my language was too generic and could easily have been used to describe another firm.
I completely get that this is very difficult because firms – despite saying they’re all different – do seem very much the same. Here are the steps I followed:
Step 1. Research
I’d copy/paste all relevant information I found about a firm into a word document.
Main sources I used:
· Chambers Student Guide: The natural starting point, it’s great to get a sense of what the firm is like from an internal and external perspective. It provides a useful overview of the firm, any recent developments or achievements and an insight into the strongest practice areas.
· The Lawyer: Useful for profiles, recent developments within the firm and insights into a recent deal. I’d usually go back 3-4 years if I found lots of information, sometimes even more.
· Legal Week: If you haven’t used your free trial this I best saved when you have a 30-day period of applying to many firms or attending interviews. It’s a high-level version of the Lawyer.
· Firm’s website: The graduate page will give a sense of what they’re looking for and the perspective you have to take when applying. The main website is useful for finding a recent deal or learning more about a recent press development. Also check out the about page and any awards.
· Legal 500/Chambers and Partners: Useful for an insight into a firm’s strongest practice areas and how it compares to competitors – check tiers and the recommended people.
· Lawyer2B: This can be a useful resource for profiling lawyers or graduate recruitment.
· Legal Cheek: This was in its infancy when I was applying, it now seems alright, albeit very gossipy.
· Roll on Friday: The profiles for the ‘firm of the year’ can be a very useful – if not informal – outline. Good for an insight into culture.
· Lex 100: Decent for a basic outline.
By this point, you’ll have a sizeable word document with a mix of great and irrelevant information.
Step 2: Condense
I would then split my screen with a fresh word document opened up (alternatively you can print out the research document).
I would then go through the very large research document and condense everything into my own words, summarising the relevant and discarding the irrelevant. By doing this you’ll not only come out with a very useful file with specific information about the firm but you’ll also start to pick up themes, remember facts and really understand the firm. The information you have to hand for your application will be targeted and when it comes to the interview, you’ll have a lot of useful information available.
Step 3: Spot the difference
By this point, you should have a better understanding of the firm and once you’ve done a few of these, you’ll have a sense of what makes Firm X different from Firm Y and how it sits against its competitors. Some of the areas a firm can differ include:
- Geographic reach
- Practice area strengths
- Important deals
- Management structure or management change
- Leadership strategy
- Recent mergers
- Training or development
- Lateral moves and recent partnership moves
- Growth (internal and external)
- Recent profit figures
- Innovation & Technology
- Size of intake
You can then dip into this and pick three to four very specific details about the firm.
I didn’t want to go into corporate/commercial law until late into my second year of uni so that left me with little time to prepare and very little confidence (when everyone else seemed to have completed first year schemes/knew what they were doing etc.). It took me a long time to believe I could get into a good corporate law firm and I spent way too much time being hard on myself.
I wish I realised sooner that the whole process – applications/interviews/schemes – are trainable skills and much like learning to play an instrument or working out, it’s going to be tough in the beginning but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
And something a bit more concrete: I would have saved applications to certain firms until a bit later after I had some time to practice. That came back to bite me for a few when I couldn’t re-apply in the same cycle despite having a significantly better application.
I recently did a vacation scheme and I’m trying to incorporate the experience into my application. I’m finding it hard – do you have any advice?
I had to do the same thing: I spent ages crafting my ‘story’ of how my entrepreneurial experience translated to an interest in commercial law. After my first scheme, no matter how many times I tried to tag that experience to my answer, it felt out of place. In the end I started over; I took a blank piece of paper and wrote an answer to ‘why commercial law’ without referring to my original.
Even though it was frustrating having to scrap the original, the revised answer was much better. It was genuine and informed by my actual experience in the vacation scheme. So that’s my advice, start fresh, forget about your old applications and write down three bullet points on why you’re interested in corporate law. You’ll likely come up with an answer based on your vacation scheme experience.
When I first started writing applications, they weren’t very good and I got lots of rejections. I was ecstatic to get my first telephone interview only to stumble on the final question: ‘what are the advantages and disadvantages of interest rates going up’. I was rejected a few hours later by an automated email. That sucked.
I managed to get a few interviews and assessment centres with mid-sized firms that round. I assumed they’d be easier, but I was proven wrong quickly. My hardest ever interview – including silver circle/magic circle and US law firms – ended up being at one of these firms.
After a string of rejections, I was starting to give up hope. A few days later I received an interview invite from the last firm I’d applied to, minutes before the deadline on the 31st January. That was one I’d written off (I had realised shortly after applying that I had spelt the name of the firm wrong throughout my application form!). I’m still not sure why I got that interview.
Fast forward a bit, that interview became my first vacation scheme and my first training contract offer. Battling through more rejections helped me get my second scheme, then my third and then my fourth.
Rejection is tough. Writing an application is exhausting: it means hours of drafting, editing and proof-reading. And the more you’ve tailored your application, the more you’ve invested into a law firm. It gets worse the further you go: a rejection after an interview hurts; a rejection after a vacation scheme feels like a confirmation that you aren’t good enough.
But time spent isn’t time wasted. As you write more applications you get better: you pick up typos, revise sentences and dig deeper into your interest in law. With more interviews you become more confident, better able to understand how firms differ and more familiar with the business world.
One of my favourite examples is a student of mine who had really poor first year grades. He worked exceptionally hard, went to events and honed his application technique, but two years went by and he kept getting rejected without an interview. That third year was going to be his last before he packed it in. He starts the LPC in September as a future trainee at Linklaters.
A training contract application asks what issue in the press affects their international practice, I don’t really know what areas to focus on and whether it means the firm as a whole or particular practice areas?
This question gives you a broad scope. You could zoom in – the impact of a particular regulation, or zoom out – the impact of an event on the economy. You could look at how the firm’s global practice is impacted in response to client-driven changes or other law firms e.g. competition as others increase their scale through mergers. The issue you choose all depends on your understanding of the firm and how it operates. In terms of answering the question, there’s no set structure provided it’s clear and concise. You may want to outline the issue briefly first and then detail 2-3 ways it’ll impact the firm. You can show off some of your knowledge of the firm as you go along. Sometimes, it also helps to form an opinion on the topic
Unless years have elapsed or you’ve completed more vacation schemes or you’ve woo’ed them in person, re-writing your application won’t change the fact that they’ve already spent the resources to evaluate you. At that point, it would be more appropriate to give a new applicant a chance.
An application form asks how an issue will affect the practice of an international law firm. I don’t know whether I should just be talking about how it affects clients or just the law firm? I’m thinking it should be both?
It’s quite difficult to tell without seeing the question, but your reasoning sounds about right. I remember those questions – trying to work out whether to talk about how X affects clients or X affects law firms – and yes in those cases I’d generally discuss both. Generally, if something is big enough to impact clients, law firms will have to be responsive to those issues.
I’m stuck. On the application form I have to answer why this firm and the skills and qualities required by a lawyer, which would normally be fine, except I have to fit both answers in 200 words. How should I split the questions? And do you have any suggestions?
Yes I’d aim for 50:50. It’ll be difficult but very useful in your future applications; you’ll learn how to write concisely (not that you don’t already!) and make every single word count.
My tip would be to write it all out first rather than trying to perfect it along the way: let your thoughts flow even if it goes well over the word count. Then continue to delete unnecessary words and rewrite sentences until you’ve got your 200-word masterpiece.
Do you have any advice for dealing with the wait? I mean after an application has been sent off, it’s making me very anxious!
To name a few:
- Advice from GR/partners on what they’re looking for in an application
- Understand what the firm does/how it operates
- Pick up the small things that trainees/associates/partners comment on: this really reveals a lot and you can often learn how they see their competitors or what firm culture is
- To impress GR/partners with good questions and get noted
- To immerse yourself in the world: you learn how to conduct yourself around partners, how to network and other soft skills
- To feel less nervous when you go for interviews (because you’ve met them/been at the firm before)
- To connect with a certain trainee/associate/partner and write that on the application form or tell them at interview to show your interest in the firm
- Most of all – and this is often forgotten – work out whether corporate law is right for you and whether X firm is right for you. This is really important.
I’m really struggling to answer the ‘Why this firm’ question on an application form, I feel like my answers are too generic.
Due to mitigating circumstances, my A Level grades weren’t very good and I only got BCC (but I did go on to get a 1st at uni). I’m worried that I won’t stand a chance at the silver circle/magic circle/US firms?
Well done on the first. As you have mitigating circumstances, your GCSE/A Levels shouldn’t be a stumbling block to getting through. But you may need to be a little proactive when it comes to speaking to graduate recruitment before you send off your applications. Often it helps if you have the opportunity to explain your situation first, especially as you’re applying to firms where candidates will have achieved much higher grades. If you can meet them at a firm event, then great, or try to give them a call.