Embrace Your Difference - With a Future Trainee at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

Welcome back everyone! Continuing with our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors, today we have two fantastic articles lined up.
In our first article today, we hear from a future trainee at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP


1. Who is your training contract with?

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP


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

Non-Law


3. Which university did you attend?

The University of York


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

I am state school educated and the first generation of my family to go to university. I had no contacts in the legal profession during my application process. I self-funded the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and completed it the year after I graduated. I am currently completing a non-law masters and I will start the LPC in September 2021.


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

I decided on commercial law in the summer before my final year of university. I had been thinking about law for a few years prior, but I found myself quite intimidated by the profession with no idea how to access it. I tried other careers such as marketing and TV production through work experience placements but always ended up back at law, so I eventually decided to go for it.


6. How many applications did you send?

24



7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?

1



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

By my third cycle I had a clear application strategy. I made a list of the type of firms I wanted to apply to, based on my interests and the type of environment I thought I would learn and work best in.

I was interested in private equity and I also wanted to be part of a small trainee intake. Consequently, most of my target firms were US firms as they typically had smaller intakes with a strong private equity practice. I also knew that other factors like internationalism and diversity were particularly important to me because of my background and past experiences so I focused on applying to firms that shared this focus. In doing so, I applied to a select number of firms that fit these criteria rather than employing a scattergun approach, which was the mistake I made in my first cycle.

In saying this, do apply to as many firms that fit your criteria as possible. You want to produce excellent, well researched applications for every firm you are applying to. The number of firms that you have the capacity to do this for will differ from individual to individual depending on their schedule but also how quickly they can write strong applications. Essentially, you want to apply to as many firms as possible to increase your chances of getting a training contract, but do not sacrifice the quality of your applications for the quantity.

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

My first two cycles, particularly my first, were pretty chaotic. In my first year I was still learning about the application process and the legal industry in general which translated to a very unstructured application strategy and therefore an unsuccessful conversion rate. I was applying to any firm I liked the sound of without a clear goal. This would show in my applications as they were not firm-specific. My commercial awareness and knowledge of the legal industry was also weak which showed as well.

By my second cycle, I knew a lot more about the application process and the industry more generally but I still needed to perfect my application technique and video interviews (I was getting through to the next round for more firms by then). My applications were far more focused, and I had improved a lot in answering commercial awareness questions. However, I was still applying to a fairly wide range of firms and hadn’t thought too much about narrowing this down.

At the end of my second cycle I really thought about what I needed to improve because I was adamant that my third cycle would be my last. I looked over a lot of my past applications and pinpointed target areas of improvement. I decided that I still needed to refine my application technique i.e. I needed to be more succinct and improve my grammar, etc. I also felt that I needed to gain more legal experience, as I had none at that point. That way, I could back up my answers for ‘why law’ questions especially in a far more convincing way, which is particularly important as a non-law student, even though I was completing the GDL.

By my third cycle I had a very focused application strategy. I wrote a list of everything I wanted in a firm (see above for key points). I then targeted firms that met that criteria.



10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?

I read books such as Chris Stoakes’ ‘All You Need to Know About the City’ and ‘All You Need to Know About Commercial Awareness’. These books were instrumental in helping me to gain background knowledge about the commercial context in which law firms operate and also in learning about how law firms operate as a business.

I also bought TCLA’s premium subscription and completed some of their courses. The courses were really helpful in learning how to connect wider commercial contexts to law firms. They were also useful for learning how law firms operate which is another aspect of commercial awareness that is often forgotten, or at least one that I had not considered much before TCLA and reading the above books.

I also listened (and still listen) to the ‘Financial Times News Briefing’ podcast on Spotify and read The Economist as a way to keep up with my commercial awareness. It is important to keep up to date as commercial awareness is not a fixed point. It is a skill that you need to keep developing throughout your career. Furthermore, the FT podcast and The Economist were very useful in helping me to ascertain commercial topics that I am interested in. This in turn helped me to answer and prepare for commercial questions in applications and interviews.

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

Firstly, you need to be well prepared. Draft bullet points to answers for as many interview questions that you can think of. TCLA has a really useful question bank that I used for my interview preparation. Always prepare answers for ‘why law’ and ‘why this firm’. These are by far the most common questions and you can expect them in almost every interview you will have. However, don’t memorise a script. Your answers need to be natural and conversational otherwise you’ll appear too stiff. If you have a script you may also end up rushing through your ‘script’ and giving unclear, unfocused answers.

Try to relax (easier said than done). The interviewers really want to get to know you and they want you to do well. One way I tried to relax was to compartmentalise the interview. I kept in mind that interviews are only 30-60 minutes of my life so I can at least pretend to not be nervous in that time and I can be as nervous as I want before or after. By ‘acting confident’ from the beginning of my interview, I was no longer nervous within about 10 minutes. That way, I was able to give more measured, thoughtful answers.

Take time to think about your answer and talk through your thought process. If you don’t know the answer to a question, then it is fine to say that you don’t know. However, always say what you think the answer might be and why. In doing so, your interviewers can see your thought process which is often more important than getting the right answer. You are not expected to know everything.


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

I haven’t done too many of these, but I think the best way to approach them is to be structured in both your preparation (i.e. reading through the case study) and in your answers. Think about the practice areas of the firm and how the case study will affect each practice area. A good way of thinking about how the practice areas will be affected is to think of impacts through the PESTLE(M) framework (political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental, and moral impacts). You do not necessarily need to think of an impact under every heading, but the framework will help you to organise your thoughts and think about issues from different perspectives. Additionally, consider different stakeholders and how they will be affected e.g. the firm, clients/ consumers, banks, etc. You will also need to know what each practice area in the firm does (and what practice areas the firm has), so read up on this beforehand.

Now that you have thought of key issues exemplified by the case study, you also need to think of solutions. This is probably the most important part. The solutions do not have to be overly complicated or technical, often the best ones are simply common sense. Therefore, do not be afraid to give what seem to be simple solutions, and then move on to the more technical ones if you can think of any. Do not neglect to say a point because you think it is obvious. You will not be given credit for any thoughts you do not articulate.


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

My biggest setback was the constant rejections at the application stage. Application stage rejections can be demoralising because you do not get feedback so it can be difficult to know where to improve. I have discussed the changes I made to pass the application stage above. However, before I made these changes, I had to work on my mindset to build up my resilience. I tried to remember that the rejections were not personal and that often they are simply because you are not the right fit for the firm, not that you are a bad candidate in general. In saying that, if I felt down, I would allow myself to feel like that and I would take a break from applications if I needed to. Often taking a break helped me to gain perspective.


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

I would perhaps start earlier in my preparation for applications. By this I mean I could have started writing applications over summer (or at least plan some of them) so I could have gotten them in early for the winter cycle.

In a similar vein, it would have been helpful to narrow down the firms I wanted to apply to earlier on in the cycle so I could have attended their open days and targeted them at events.


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?

There is no rush to secure a training contract. Some people secure one in their first cycle and others don’t. Either way is fine. The difference of a few years is nothing compared to a potentially decades long career.

Don’t try to mould yourself into what you think firms want you to be. Embrace your difference (your USP). That’s what will make you stand out.

Enjoy the time you have before securing a training contract, as once you have one, you will have one or two years before you are working long hours. Make the most of different opportunities like travelling etc. Often having a range of experiences can make your applications stronger anyway; don’t limit yourself to only legal opportunities.

Don’t feel like you need to apply to firms just because other people are applying to them. Focus on what you think you want from a career at this stage.

Make the most of resources that are there to help you e.g. legal events, TCLA, LinkedIn contacts. Doing so can help bridge the knowledge gap between individuals who have contacts in the industry and those who don’t.