Don't Compare Your Chapter 1 to Someone Else’s Chapter 10- With a Future Trainee at Edwin Coe LLP

Welcome back everyone to our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors. Today we have a great article lined up in which we had the lovely opportunity to hear from a future trainee at Edwin Coe LLP.


1. Who is your training contract with?

Edwin Coe LLP


2. Are you a law or non-law candidate?

Law


3. Which university did you attend?

University of Warwick


4. Please could you tell us more about your background and current stage?

I am originally from Cheshire, where I attended a leading independent school. I am currently in my 4th and final year of university where I study Law and Business Studies. I will be starting the LPC in September 2021 prior to commencing my TC in September 2022.


5. When and why did you decide to apply to commercial law?

I had the opportunity to undertake a mock interview with an Addleshaw Goddard partner in sixth form. During this interview, I learnt that the Law is frequently exposed to opinion and debate. This resonated with my interest and ability to critically evaluate arguments, having debated topical issues in my school’s Current Affairs Clinic. I had already completed a small internship at my uncle’s private practice specialising in Real Estate & Private Client work, yet it wasn’t until this interview that I was sure that I wished to study law at university.

As an engaged economics student at school, I found that I was interested in understanding how law firms interacted with the macroeconomy and capital markets as independent businesses. This drove me to apply for and fortunately secure multiple insight schemes during my first year of university. Through partner-led presentations and commercial case studies, I appreciated the teamwork required of commercial lawyers to achieve optimal solutions for a diverse range of clients and to help mitigate predicaments before they actually arise.

I found this aspect of a commercial solicitor’s role particularly interesting given the need to constantly engage with the UK’s dynamic and ever-evolving common law system, which coupled with the unparalleled exposure to a different industries facilitated by a career in commercial law, indicated the versatile skills that this career can help one develop whilst also having a positive impact on the wider world.


6. How many applications did you send?

12


7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?

6


8. How did you go about the application process? Did you map an application strategy?

During the summer after my second year, I devoted considerable time to preparing for the upcoming application season. Having primarily experienced large/mid-sized City & Silver Circle firms at insight days (e.g. inter alia, Hogan Lovells, Taylor Wessing, & Stephenson Harwood), I opted for a blended approach in my application strategy. I knew I wanted to apply to these established City firms – though not the Magic Circle echelons – yet I wanted to keep my options a little more open, since I had the aim of making around 10-12 vacation scheme applications that cycle.

Naturally, this entailed a substantial amount of research over the summer, principally covering every quality source I could find online – especially for the firms I hadn’t met in person before – such as: Chambers’ ‘True Picture’, Lex 100, Legal 500, Vault, & each firm’s social media profile. What I didn’t realise early enough was the extent to which firms can be differentiated by practice area. What I mean by this is on the Legal 500/Chambers firms are grouped in very specific ‘bands’ as dictated by their respective rankings for different practice areas. Using this strategy to research each firm’s practice area strengths provides you with a far more coherent, and crucially, a more nuanced, understanding of how firms differentiate themselves by practice area and their position in the legal market as a whole. In and of itself, this is also considerably more useful than simply knowing that BCLP has a stronger Real Estate practice than Clifford Chance, for example. This strategy is also useful for identifying a firm’s closest competitors.

However, just a word of caution: whilst firms do expect your main reason for applying to them to centre on their practice strengths and the work they do, be careful not to pursue this type of research at the expense of citing other important factors in your application form, such as culture, work/life balance, trainee intake, TC structure, international opportunities etc. It is often the case that a firm will have a unique combination of factors that no other firm possesses when they don’t appear too different on the surface – this is a point of differentiation I certainly used in my application research.

Ultimately, the firms I applied to had strengths relating to my prior experience: Real Estate; Private Client; Mid-Market Corporate; Disputes. They were also smaller (<20) intakes and predominantly with a UK heritage. On a couple of occasions, I also networked with firms during on-campus recruitment events that first term just to add some extra polish to my application before soon sending it off.

Time-management wise, I typically spent a good 3-4 days researching each firm & reaching out to lawyers on LinkedIn if I hadn’t met the firm before to try and gauge its culture & USPs more effectively than purely sticking to online resources. With coherent research notes, this made each application relatively quick – e.g. no more than half a day – to write well.

P.S. TCLA’s Law Firm Insights proved extremely useful in guiding my research too – highly recommended!


9. Did you change your strategy during the application process and, if so, what did you change?

With a fairly limited understanding of the legal market in my first year of university, I was rather fortunate to not only secure 4 insight days, but to also reapply to some of them for vacation schemes a couple of years later, thus putting my insight experiences to the best use possible.

Whilst it was very satisfying to have gained that initial ground in my first year, building up my portfolio of legal work experience, my application writing technique and understanding of exactly how firms differentiate themselves required much more refining. Aside from improving more technical things in the summer before my first vacation scheme cycle (summer 2019), such as application technique & commercial awareness, one of the best steps I took was interacting with current trainees & associates on LinkedIn, usually requesting a short phone call to discuss life at the firm & what was expected of trainees specifically. Whilst eventual ‘name-dropping’ in applications isn’t a silver bullet to interview, taking the initiative to reach out without having met the firm before was highly informative regarding how I demonstrated to the firm that I was a good fit for them in my applications – e.g. by highlighting experiences which demonstrated the competencies the firm was specifically looking for, as mentioned by those I reached out to.

Don’t be disheartened if don’t get a response on LinkedIn either – the vast majority of lawyers would love to help but simply don’t always have the time/just forget to reply. Send messages to multiple people at the firm in question & you greatly improve your response chances – you only need one!

Again, regarding time management, I’m quite lucky to be a morning person by nature and would often get up between 5-6am on weekdays to plan, write and review my applications before devoting the rest of the day to university work & social commitments. Whether you’re a lark or an owl, try & find a routine that naturally works best for you and stick to it – successfully balancing applications & university commitments is all about ‘making time’, knowing that the extra effort will pay off massively in the longer-term.


10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?


Commercial awareness was a concept I had grappled with since I was about 17. Like most candidates, I naively thought it just meant being able to recite FT headlines! I started out using BBC News & Bright Network’s Commercial Awareness update which provided a concise, ‘entry level’ summary of political and economic developments.

However, it wasn’t until I started reading TCLA’s Weekly Newsletter after my second year of uni & using some premium resources (e.g. M&A & Private Equity) guides that I really understood the premise of commercial awareness and how law firms were implicated in such developments around the world. The investment in TCLA Premium definitely paid – and continues to pay! – dividends for improving my commercial awareness.

E.g. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the anatomy of an M&A deal or trends in the Private Equity market, such as covenant-light deals, the rise of LBOs, & record levels of dry powder, the possibilities to apply this fundamental knowledge to much broader macroeconomic topics like interest rates, fiscal policy, emerging markets, technology etc. truly are endless. It may appear highly theoretical at first instance, but Jaysen does an excellent job of applying this ‘theory’ to real-life scenarios that crucially pertain to how lawyers operate in these contexts!

Aside from learning more deeply about these topics, I spent roughly 30 mins – 1 hour every weekday morning reading the FT (via my university’s subscription) – and not just the headlines, but more unique topics, such as property, private equity, and M&A, that I had filtered out of personal interest & that I knew I could confidently discuss in interviews – to reiterate: it really is fruitless reading an article you’re not interested in just because doing so may seem ‘the done thing’.

Reading up on the ‘news’ section of law firms’ websites themselves was also useful in seeing how the people candidates aspire to be like (partners) approach major events in the news and analyse them from the perspective of the law firm itself – this helps with understanding how your commercial awareness also extends to knowing the exact value of your role as a trainee solicitor/associate/partner in a firm itself in responding to commercial developments & how you can constantly add value to clients.

In the Spring this year, I also took the initiative to establish my own website, ‘Speculation’, where I critique developments in the alternative assets industry (e.g. property, private equity, fine wine, & art). Not only did this help me apply my existing commercial knowledge – and develop my commercial awareness – but was also great to talk about during interviews since it showed my genuine interest in quite a niche area & my initiative to start a dedicated blog covering it – which I hadn’t seen elsewhere.


11. What is your best advice for succeeding at the interview stage?

Preparation is key!

I devised potential competency, motivational, and commercial questions – many of the competency and motivational ones overlapped between interviews – before each interview I simply asked a family member to act out a mock interview with me. It may feel awkward at first but, assuming you’re a serious candidate (which you should be having received an interview invite) then this feeling will quickly fade, and it’ll just become second nature after the first 2-3 practice interviews.

NEVER script an answer (I made this mistake for a few questions before my first assessment centre and it just sounded robotic) – it also renders you unable to think quickly on your feet when faced with an unpredictable question (which you will no doubt get at some point).

Make sure you’ve got some ‘social momentum’ going into the interview too – i.e. talking to someone in person/on the phone for just 10-15 minutes can really stimulate your fluency and ensure you don’t immediately stumble over your words as soon as you greet the interviewer. This will also help with making a personable impression via small talk at first too.

Finally, it sounds cliched, but turn the interview into a genuine conversation – my offer resulted from an interview in which I had done approx. 40-50% of the talking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the interviewer relating to an answer you’ve just given since this will show your capacity to engage in a civil, interesting debate/discussion & that you genuinely value their opinion too – this should also go a long way in demonstrating your positive attitude towards teamworking too.

ALWAYS ask questions at the end – again: interesting, unique questions that require substantive answers – i.e. nothing which you could find out online. I was fortunate to be told who my interviewers were by the firm which made me an offer, which, with a week prior to my interview, gave me ample time to research them, their practice areas, backgrounds, any articles they’d written for the firm/elsewhere etc. & therefore devise well-thought-out and engaging questions for them to answer at the end too. Because I was genuinely interested in the answers they gave and had an opinion on the questions I asked too – e.g. if they concerned a case the firm was involved in/a new regulation coming into force from the EU etc. – this meant I was also able to respond effectively to their answer which would often lead to an extensive ‘back and forth’ between us. Overall, my Q&A with my interviewers at the end lasted a good 25 minutes!


12. What is your best advice for case study interviews?

Structuring your analysis is essential. Telling the interviewer, the number of points you’re going to discuss straight up when they ask you about the case study will instantly let them know what to expect in terms of the general overview of your answer. It’s also incredibly easy for them to follow your thoughts this way.

Managing your time is critical as well. By way of common sense, you should be allocating the bulk of your time to your analysis of the case study and developing a personal opinion on it – e.g. if you’re given 30 minutes to ‘read’ the case study, spend 5 mins actually reading it, 15-20 minutes analysing it & extracting the key points, and the remaining 5-10 minutes reading back over it to confirm your thoughts or spot any discrepancies in your analysis or points which you may have missed. Knowing how to intuitively tackle case studies is very analogous to interview preparation in that the most productive thing you can do beforehand is practice. Now this appears quite a broad statement, so for clarity’s sake, I’ll detail the two main things I did in terms of case study ‘practice’ below:

1. TCLA’s mock case studies – especially useful for M&A case studies.

2. Reading a randomly selected newspaper article (preferably commercial though) from the FT, for example, and setting a strict time limit of, e.g. 20 minutes, to read through it and extract the main issues, as well as discussing what the author’s intentions are & any biases they may have etc (something to think about as you become more advanced).

If possible, you could also ask a family member/friend to select the article for you, read through it extensively themselves first and prepare questions on it to really test you on the spot when you’ve gained proficiency in first analysing an article yourself. Remember: Half the time in case study interviews the interviewers are simply assessing how you’re answering a question, not what you answer with. It’s style over substance in that respect, yet this is important to appreciate when considering that there rarely will be a ‘right’ answer to a legal problem in your career as a solicitor and that multiple angles are often worth considering before deciding what the best solution for a client might be.

So, if you don’t know what a collateralised debt obligation is, for example, don’t sweat it. Of course, you should have some fundamental commercial awareness skills, but interviewers would much rather you give an informed, personal answer that shows common sense rather than focus on granular technical concepts that a client may not understand themselves in a vain attempt to sound impressive.

Don’t wilt under pressure! If the interviewer challenges you, stick to your guns (unless it is blindingly obvious that you’ve gone off-piste with your answer) – defending your argument shows character & your potential to safeguard your clients’ interests as a commercial solicitor against opposing counsel, for example.


13. What was the biggest setback you encountered during your journey to a training contract? How did you deal with it?

Aside from receiving almost as many rejections as interview invites, the largest singular setback I faced which also required a great deal of resilience to overcome was the effect of COVID--19 on recruitment. Having secured a summer vacation scheme back in April this year at the firm which eventually made me a TC offer, they quickly informed me that they were cancelling the scheme due to Covid concerns. Although they fast-tracked me to the final round interview for the TC in September (which fortunately I was successful in) those 5 months between April - September entailed considerable uncertainty over whether I would secure a TC this year, and whether in fact the firm would actually go ahead with its TC recruitment this cycle, since my vac scheme had failed to materialise in supporting me in my TC journey.

The only consolation I had was that I was still in a privileged position compared to most applicants and that I knew the firm liked me, having offered me the VS initially.

To deal with the uncertainty though, as soon as my summer exams were out of the way, I remained determined to stay in the application game whilst direct TC applications remained open elsewhere & submitted a few more high quality applications – one of which actually took me through the next 4 recruitment stages right through to the firm’s final-round TC interview where I could’ve potentially had two offers to consider! Though I didn’t eventually receive that offer, I already had my existing offer by the time the other firm rejected me &, by having simply remained in ‘application mode’ throughout the summer and maintaining a high level of commercial awareness, I knew that I stood in good stead for my interview &, if that didn’t go well, at least I would have a wealth of experience to draw on for the next cycle – though I remain very grateful that I no longer have to apply!



14. If there was anything you would do differently, what would it be?

I would probably have made more of a continued effort during my second year to attend more insight days/schemes. Though I gained places on these in my first year, I was still left with a fairly elementary understanding of the legal market and, moreover, which exact firms I wanted to work for. Had I continued networking in this way during my second year, I would’ve sharpened my ultimate vacation scheme application strategy for my third year – looking back now, some of the firms whose vac schemes I applied to were a complete mismatch for myself, and visa-versa.

Despite knowing which practice areas, I wanted to specialise in – e.g. private client and real estate – I still wasted a couple of applications to large banking-focused firms which, though open-minded, probably wasn’t the best idea. Those applications could have been devoted to more private wealth-oriented firms instead, for example.



15. What is the best piece of advice you can give to future applicants? Do you have any advice for individuals who might’ve been in a similar position to you?

Self-belief can be an incredibly powerful driver of your success in pursuit of a TC, especially at interview stage. Know your worth throughout the application process by honing your strengths and not dwelling too much, if at all, on your weaknesses. Yes, law firms want well-rounded candidates, but they really want candidates with a flair for a couple of very specific skill sets & then just a good level of competence elsewhere. If you’re an excellent communicator & you’ve got experience in public speaking, writing, or debating, then sell that to the firm right away & mention why you do it/enjoy it to showcase your personality.

Likewise, if you’ve started a business, really emphasise your entrepreneurial mentality to the firm as a way to stand out. It’s all about recognising and being proud of your achievements to date, no matter how big or small, to give you the right mentality and unwavering self-belief throughout the application process. Don’t get too hung up by others’ posts/job updates on LinkedIn either – most of whom you’ll likely know hardly anything about and so don't compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 10. Instead, as mentioned, continue focusing on yourself & don’t be afraid to seek support/confide in others when necessary (TCLA’s forum is a great resource for this). Remember, the application process for securing a TC is one of, if not, the most competitive out there, so there will be times when you don’t want to get out of bed to research a firm/write an application etc. Yet if you refrain from making excuses, develop a solid routine that works for you, stay consistent in honing your application technique and commercial awareness, then doing so will pay huge dividends in the long-term. Trust me.

With all that said, best of luck with your applications this cycle!
 
Last edited:

TCinpipeline

Star Member
Oct 31, 2021
28
21
Welcome back everyone to our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors. Today we have a great article lined up in which we had the lovely opportunity to hear from a future trainee at Edwin Coe LLP.


1. Who is your training contract with?

Edwin Coe LLP


2. Are you a law or non-law candidate?

Law


3. Which university did you attend?

University of Warwick


4. Please could you tell us more about your background and current stage?

I am originally from Cheshire, where I attended a leading independent school. I am currently in my 4th and final year of university where I study Law and Business Studies. I will be starting the LPC in September 2021 prior to commencing my TC in September 2022.


5. When and why did you decide to apply to commercial law?

I had the opportunity to undertake a mock interview with an Addleshaw Goddard partner in sixth form. During this interview, I learnt that the Law is frequently exposed to opinion and debate. This resonated with my interest and ability to critically evaluate arguments, having debated topical issues in my school’s Current Affairs Clinic. I had already completed a small internship at my uncle’s private practice specialising in Real Estate & Private Client work, yet it wasn’t until this interview that I was sure that I wished to study law at university.

As an engaged economics student at school, I found that I was interested in understanding how law firms interacted with the macroeconomy and capital markets as independent businesses. This drove me to apply for and fortunately secure multiple insight schemes during my first year of university. Through partner-led presentations and commercial case studies, I appreciated the teamwork required of commercial lawyers to achieve optimal solutions for a diverse range of clients and to help mitigate predicaments before they actually arise.

I found this aspect of a commercial solicitor’s role particularly interesting given the need to constantly engage with the UK’s dynamic and ever-evolving common law system, which coupled with the unparalleled exposure to a different industries facilitated by a career in commercial law, indicated the versatile skills that this career can help one develop whilst also having a positive impact on the wider world.


6. How many applications did you send?

12


7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?

6


8. How did you go about the application process? Did you map an application strategy?

During the summer after my second year, I devoted considerable time to preparing for the upcoming application season. Having primarily experienced large/mid-sized City & Silver Circle firms at insight days (e.g. inter alia, Hogan Lovells, Taylor Wessing, & Stephenson Harwood), I opted for a blended approach in my application strategy. I knew I wanted to apply to these established City firms – though not the Magic Circle echelons – yet I wanted to keep my options a little more open, since I had the aim of making around 10-12 vacation scheme applications that cycle.

Naturally, this entailed a substantial amount of research over the summer, principally covering every quality source I could find online – especially for the firms I hadn’t met in person before – such as: Chambers’ ‘True Picture’, Lex 100, Legal 500, Vault, & each firm’s social media profile. What I didn’t realise early enough was the extent to which firms can be differentiated by practice area. What I mean by this is on the Legal 500/Chambers firms are grouped in very specific ‘bands’ as dictated by their respective rankings for different practice areas. Using this strategy to research each firm’s practice area strengths provides you with a far more coherent, and crucially, a more nuanced, understanding of how firms differentiate themselves by practice area and their position in the legal market as a whole. In and of itself, this is also considerably more useful than simply knowing that BCLP has a stronger Real Estate practice than Clifford Chance, for example. This strategy is also useful for identifying a firm’s closest competitors.

However, just a word of caution: whilst firms do expect your main reason for applying to them to centre on their practice strengths and the work they do, be careful not to pursue this type of research at the expense of citing other important factors in your application form, such as culture, work/life balance, trainee intake, TC structure, international opportunities etc. It is often the case that a firm will have a unique combination of factors that no other firm possesses when they don’t appear too different on the surface – this is a point of differentiation I certainly used in my application research.

Ultimately, the firms I applied to had strengths relating to my prior experience: Real Estate; Private Client; Mid-Market Corporate; Disputes. They were also smaller (<20) intakes and predominantly with a UK heritage. On a couple of occasions, I also networked with firms during on-campus recruitment events that first term just to add some extra polish to my application before soon sending it off.

Time-management wise, I typically spent a good 3-4 days researching each firm & reaching out to lawyers on LinkedIn if I hadn’t met the firm before to try and gauge its culture & USPs more effectively than purely sticking to online resources. With coherent research notes, this made each application relatively quick – e.g. no more than half a day – to write well.

P.S. TCLA’s Law Firm Insights proved extremely useful in guiding my research too – highly recommended!


9. Did you change your strategy during the application process and, if so, what did you change?

With a fairly limited understanding of the legal market in my first year of university, I was rather fortunate to not only secure 4 insight days, but to also reapply to some of them for vacation schemes a couple of years later, thus putting my insight experiences to the best use possible.

Whilst it was very satisfying to have gained that initial ground in my first year, building up my portfolio of legal work experience, my application writing technique and understanding of exactly how firms differentiate themselves required much more refining. Aside from improving more technical things in the summer before my first vacation scheme cycle (summer 2019), such as application technique & commercial awareness, one of the best steps I took was interacting with current trainees & associates on LinkedIn, usually requesting a short phone call to discuss life at the firm & what was expected of trainees specifically. Whilst eventual ‘name-dropping’ in applications isn’t a silver bullet to interview, taking the initiative to reach out without having met the firm before was highly informative regarding how I demonstrated to the firm that I was a good fit for them in my applications – e.g. by highlighting experiences which demonstrated the competencies the firm was specifically looking for, as mentioned by those I reached out to.

Don’t be disheartened if don’t get a response on LinkedIn either – the vast majority of lawyers would love to help but simply don’t always have the time/just forget to reply. Send messages to multiple people at the firm in question & you greatly improve your response chances – you only need one!

Again, regarding time management, I’m quite lucky to be a morning person by nature and would often get up between 5-6am on weekdays to plan, write and review my applications before devoting the rest of the day to university work & social commitments. Whether you’re a lark or an owl, try & find a routine that naturally works best for you and stick to it – successfully balancing applications & university commitments is all about ‘making time’, knowing that the extra effort will pay off massively in the longer-term.


10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?


Commercial awareness was a concept I had grappled with since I was about 17. Like most candidates, I naively thought it just meant being able to recite FT headlines! I started out using BBC News & Bright Network’s Commercial Awareness update which provided a concise, ‘entry level’ summary of political and economic developments.

However, it wasn’t until I started reading TCLA’s Weekly Newsletter after my second year of uni & using some premium resources (e.g. M&A & Private Equity) guides that I really understood the premise of commercial awareness and how law firms were implicated in such developments around the world. The investment in TCLA Premium definitely paid – and continues to pay! – dividends for improving my commercial awareness.

E.g. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the anatomy of an M&A deal or trends in the Private Equity market, such as covenant-light deals, the rise of LBOs, & record levels of dry powder, the possibilities to apply this fundamental knowledge to much broader macroeconomic topics like interest rates, fiscal policy, emerging markets, technology etc. truly are endless. It may appear highly theoretical at first instance, but Jaysen does an excellent job of applying this ‘theory’ to real-life scenarios that crucially pertain to how lawyers operate in these contexts!

Aside from learning more deeply about these topics, I spent roughly 30 mins – 1 hour every weekday morning reading the FT (via my university’s subscription) – and not just the headlines, but more unique topics, such as property, private equity, and M&A, that I had filtered out of personal interest & that I knew I could confidently discuss in interviews – to reiterate: it really is fruitless reading an article you’re not interested in just because doing so may seem ‘the done thing’.

Reading up on the ‘news’ section of law firms’ websites themselves was also useful in seeing how the people candidates aspire to be like (partners) approach major events in the news and analyse them from the perspective of the law firm itself – this helps with understanding how your commercial awareness also extends to knowing the exact value of your role as a trainee solicitor/associate/partner in a firm itself in responding to commercial developments & how you can constantly add value to clients.

In the Spring this year, I also took the initiative to establish my own website, ‘Speculation’, where I critique developments in the alternative assets industry (e.g. property, private equity, fine wine, & art). Not only did this help me apply my existing commercial knowledge – and develop my commercial awareness – but was also great to talk about during interviews since it showed my genuine interest in quite a niche area & my initiative to start a dedicated blog covering it – which I hadn’t seen elsewhere.


11. What is your best advice for succeeding at the interview stage?

Preparation is key!

I devised potential competency, motivational, and commercial questions – many of the competency and motivational ones overlapped between interviews – before each interview I simply asked a family member to act out a mock interview with me. It may feel awkward at first but, assuming you’re a serious candidate (which you should be having received an interview invite) then this feeling will quickly fade, and it’ll just become second nature after the first 2-3 practice interviews.

NEVER script an answer (I made this mistake for a few questions before my first assessment centre and it just sounded robotic) – it also renders you unable to think quickly on your feet when faced with an unpredictable question (which you will no doubt get at some point).

Make sure you’ve got some ‘social momentum’ going into the interview too – i.e. talking to someone in person/on the phone for just 10-15 minutes can really stimulate your fluency and ensure you don’t immediately stumble over your words as soon as you greet the interviewer. This will also help with making a personable impression via small talk at first too.

Finally, it sounds cliched, but turn the interview into a genuine conversation – my offer resulted from an interview in which I had done approx. 40-50% of the talking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the interviewer relating to an answer you’ve just given since this will show your capacity to engage in a civil, interesting debate/discussion & that you genuinely value their opinion too – this should also go a long way in demonstrating your positive attitude towards teamworking too.

ALWAYS ask questions at the end – again: interesting, unique questions that require substantive answers – i.e. nothing which you could find out online. I was fortunate to be told who my interviewers were by the firm which made me an offer, which, with a week prior to my interview, gave me ample time to research them, their practice areas, backgrounds, any articles they’d written for the firm/elsewhere etc. & therefore devise well-thought-out and engaging questions for them to answer at the end too. Because I was genuinely interested in the answers they gave and had an opinion on the questions I asked too – e.g. if they concerned a case the firm was involved in/a new regulation coming into force from the EU etc. – this meant I was also able to respond effectively to their answer which would often lead to an extensive ‘back and forth’ between us. Overall, my Q&A with my interviewers at the end lasted a good 25 minutes!


12. What is your best advice for case study interviews?

Structuring your analysis is essential. Telling the interviewer, the number of points you’re going to discuss straight up when they ask you about the case study will instantly let them know what to expect in terms of the general overview of your answer. It’s also incredibly easy for them to follow your thoughts this way.

Managing your time is critical as well. By way of common sense, you should be allocating the bulk of your time to your analysis of the case study and developing a personal opinion on it – e.g. if you’re given 30 minutes to ‘read’ the case study, spend 5 mins actually reading it, 15-20 minutes analysing it & extracting the key points, and the remaining 5-10 minutes reading back over it to confirm your thoughts or spot any discrepancies in your analysis or points which you may have missed. Knowing how to intuitively tackle case studies is very analogous to interview preparation in that the most productive thing you can do beforehand is practice. Now this appears quite a broad statement, so for clarity’s sake, I’ll detail the two main things I did in terms of case study ‘practice’ below:

1. TCLA’s mock case studies – especially useful for M&A case studies.

2. Reading a randomly selected newspaper article (preferably commercial though) from the FT, for example, and setting a strict time limit of, e.g. 20 minutes, to read through it and extract the main issues, as well as discussing what the author’s intentions are & any biases they may have etc (something to think about as you become more advanced).

If possible, you could also ask a family member/friend to select the article for you, read through it extensively themselves first and prepare questions on it to really test you on the spot when you’ve gained proficiency in first analysing an article yourself. Remember: Half the time in case study interviews the interviewers are simply assessing how you’re answering a question, not what you answer with. It’s style over substance in that respect, yet this is important to appreciate when considering that there rarely will be a ‘right’ answer to a legal problem in your career as a solicitor and that multiple angles are often worth considering before deciding what the best solution for a client might be.

So, if you don’t know what a collateralised debt obligation is, for example, don’t sweat it. Of course, you should have some fundamental commercial awareness skills, but interviewers would much rather you give an informed, personal answer that shows common sense rather than focus on granular technical concepts that a client may not understand themselves in a vain attempt to sound impressive.

Don’t wilt under pressure! If the interviewer challenges you, stick to your guns (unless it is blindingly obvious that you’ve gone off-piste with your answer) – defending your argument shows character & your potential to safeguard your clients’ interests as a commercial solicitor against opposing counsel, for example.


13. What was the biggest setback you encountered during your journey to a training contract? How did you deal with it?

Aside from receiving almost as many rejections as interview invites, the largest singular setback I faced which also required a great deal of resilience to overcome was the effect of COVID--19 on recruitment. Having secured a summer vacation scheme back in April this year at the firm which eventually made me a TC offer, they quickly informed me that they were cancelling the scheme due to Covid concerns. Although they fast-tracked me to the final round interview for the TC in September (which fortunately I was successful in) those 5 months between April - September entailed considerable uncertainty over whether I would secure a TC this year, and whether in fact the firm would actually go ahead with its TC recruitment this cycle, since my vac scheme had failed to materialise in supporting me in my TC journey.

The only consolation I had was that I was still in a privileged position compared to most applicants and that I knew the firm liked me, having offered me the VS initially.

To deal with the uncertainty though, as soon as my summer exams were out of the way, I remained determined to stay in the application game whilst direct TC applications remained open elsewhere & submitted a few more high quality applications – one of which actually took me through the next 4 recruitment stages right through to the firm’s final-round TC interview where I could’ve potentially had two offers to consider! Though I didn’t eventually receive that offer, I already had my existing offer by the time the other firm rejected me &, by having simply remained in ‘application mode’ throughout the summer and maintaining a high level of commercial awareness, I knew that I stood in good stead for my interview &, if that didn’t go well, at least I would have a wealth of experience to draw on for the next cycle – though I remain very grateful that I no longer have to apply!



14. If there was anything you would do differently, what would it be?

I would probably have made more of a continued effort during my second year to attend more insight days/schemes. Though I gained places on these in my first year, I was still left with a fairly elementary understanding of the legal market and, moreover, which exact firms I wanted to work for. Had I continued networking in this way during my second year, I would’ve sharpened my ultimate vacation scheme application strategy for my third year – looking back now, some of the firms whose vac schemes I applied to were a complete mismatch for myself, and visa-versa.

Despite knowing which practice areas, I wanted to specialise in – e.g. private client and real estate – I still wasted a couple of applications to large banking-focused firms which, though open-minded, probably wasn’t the best idea. Those applications could have been devoted to more private wealth-oriented firms instead, for example.



15. What is the best piece of advice you can give to future applicants? Do you have any advice for individuals who might’ve been in a similar position to you?

Self-belief can be an incredibly powerful driver of your success in pursuit of a TC, especially at interview stage. Know your worth throughout the application process by honing your strengths and not dwelling too much, if at all, on your weaknesses. Yes, law firms want well-rounded candidates, but they really want candidates with a flair for a couple of very specific skill sets & then just a good level of competence elsewhere. If you’re an excellent communicator & you’ve got experience in public speaking, writing, or debating, then sell that to the firm right away & mention why you do it/enjoy it to showcase your personality.

Likewise, if you’ve started a business, really emphasise your entrepreneurial mentality to the firm as a way to stand out. It’s all about recognising and being proud of your achievements to date, no matter how big or small, to give you the right mentality and unwavering self-belief throughout the application process. Don’t get too hung up by others’ posts/job updates on LinkedIn either – most of whom you’ll likely know hardly anything about and so don't compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 10. Instead, as mentioned, continue focusing on yourself & don’t be afraid to seek support/confide in others when necessary (TCLA’s forum is a great resource for this). Remember, the application process for securing a TC is one of, if not, the most competitive out there, so there will be times when you don’t want to get out of bed to research a firm/write an application etc. Yet if you refrain from making excuses, develop a solid routine that works for you, stay consistent in honing your application technique and commercial awareness, then doing so will pay huge dividends in the long-term. Trust me.

With all that said, best of luck with your applications this cycle!
Great insight! How does one access the TCLA Law Firm Insights mentioned?