Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail- With a Future Trainee at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius

Welcome back everyone! Today we have three new articles in our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors. In our first article, we hear from a future trainee at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

1. Who is your training contract with?

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

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


3. Which university did you attend?

Queen Mary University of London (LLB) / University College London (LLM)

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

I was born and for the most part raised in Italy by an Italian mother and a Belgian father. Except for a few years spent abroad, I attended Italian state school until I moved to the UK in 2016 for my LLB.

I am currently completing my LLM and engaging in different work experiences before starting my LPC in September 2021.

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

I decided to apply to commercial law during my LLM. Having completed a degree in Law and Politics and enjoying both subjects, studying an LLM was a fundamental experience for me to understand what I wanted from my career. It allowed me to bridge the gap between my professional experience, obtained through different internships, and my academic interests. I thus decided to become a commercial solicitor as I look forward to helping clients with mitigating the risks inherent to high-value commerce and/or taking advantage of opportunities. My recent summer associate position at a US firm clarified that I wanted to pursue commercial law involving high-levels of responsibility and cross-jurisdictional work. I had the opportunity to conduct crucial research for the antitrust element of a transaction involving the client's competitors and their market share, including the operational differences between jurisdictions. I realised that I am most productive when working in a streamlined team and I highly enjoyed the additional complexities that came from navigating through different legal jurisdictions.

6. How many applications did you send?


7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?


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

As I did not know anything about training contracts nor their application process, at first, I tried to attend as many events as I could to find out what types of firms I was attracted to. I also attended several campus events, talks and seminars on training contract tips and advice. Although I sent a few applications, I struggled to understand why I wanted to work for a specific firm. Using resources such as Chamber Students, Legal Cheek,, the Lex 100, Legal 500 etc, I began to look at firms' practice areas, trainee intakes, strengths, diversity & inclusion and pro bono initiatives and all other things that I deemed important. For me, I was applying to firms that worked at the crossroads of IP and Competition law. This meant firms with strong tech and life sciences expertise. As I understood that magic circle firms were not for me, I focussed on mid-sized UK firms. I made an application timesheet where I would write all the firms I wanted to apply to when their applications opened and closed, whether they recruited on a rolling basis, how many trainees they hired and other stages they had. Although it took me quite some time (around 6 months) to understand how this process worked, my application strategy was quite clear even when I lacked the actual application writing skills. Regarding the content of my applications, I asked for help to all my friends who had succeeded (from getting multiple interviews to obtaining a training contract). At first, I spent quite a lot of time on my applications in between lectures and during the weekends. The more I became familiar with application forms, the less time I needed to spend on them. However, I spent an incredible amount of time researching firms, the legal profession and different practice areas which helped both my applications and my choice of the right firm.

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

I changed my application strategy when I had a very clear idea of what I was looking for in a firm. Applying later on in my university career definitely helped my credibility, strategy, and conviction. Once I realised what firms were looking for in application forms and I was able to sell my story and what I wanted and so I started getting results. This made me re-evaluate my priorities. If before I was applying to different firms to learn more about them, now I was almost exclusively applying to US firms due to their small trainee intake, high-levels of responsibility, inherent international nature of the work and flexibility in their training contract structure. I realised that the latter was better suited to my personality than a rigid and more formal training contract structure offered at UK firms. I liked the idea of possibly splitting my seats between two similar practice areas, repeating a seat I might have liked, asking for a seat not 'formally' advertised as an option and the possibility of international secondments. I was looking for a large, international firm but with a smaller London office allowing to develop personal and professional relationships. I was drawn to smaller trainee intakes as I aimed to train with a firm offering quality opportunity and a willingness to dedicate support and responsibilities. Working directly with partners in smaller teams ensures that trainees are treated as junior associates. As a graduate applicant, I also believed that very small trainee intakes were more prone to give weight to my LLM or additional experience, which I realised to be true in certain cases. This was relevant in my case, as I was still at university with more experience than second year students but could still not compare to applicants with paralegal or further legal experience. Lastly, as an international candidate who lived in the US for certain periods and who obtained most of her legal experience at US firms, I felt that American firms and their culture would be better suited to me.

10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?

My commercial awareness was almost non-existent when I started applying, which also delayed my application process. To build it I advise you to adopt a method that works for you. For me, this meant listening to a lot of podcasts and signing up to different newsletters that came directly into my inbox (TCLA Weekly Commercial Awareness Update, Finimize etc) that I would read before going to sleep. Every morning I would listen to the FT News Briefing and Wake Up to Money (BBC) together with other episodes from different podcasts that seemed particularly interesting that day. My favourite podcasts were (and still are): Behind The Money, Business Daily, Your Money Briefing, Planet Money, Think Commercial, The Freshfields Podcast, The Journal, The Economist Asks, Bloomberg Markets and different sector-specific podcast such as the Tech Briefing (WSJ), Pharma Intelligence Podcast, IP Fridays, Technology Intelligence, Linkubator etc. The first two podcasts mentioned are very good starting points for someone who is looking to build commercial awareness. I also signed up to the newsletters of the firms I was applying to so I would receive their deals and/or blog posts in my inbox as well. While researching firms I would also look at their social media, specifically LinkedIn and Twitter for more deals and blog posts. As a lot of my friends are in law or other professions requiring good commercial awareness, I would make sure to discuss topics with them as often as I could. This is helpful to exchange thoughts, build arguments, consider other opinions, and become accustomed to talking about commercial issues. Moreover, some of my modules i.e. Cross-Border Mergers & Acquisitions were very helpful. Lastly, I bought two books (which I actually did not use myself but heard they were very useful): 'Everything You Need to Know About the City' and 'The Commercial Awareness Handbook'.

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

What made the difference between my successful and not successful interviews was the perception I had about myself. Having a very clear idea of why you want to work for the firm, what you can add to the business, why you did the things you did in the past and where you are going in the future is essential. It is important to be confident (never arrogant) and showcase your personality. It is also worth noticing that interviews depend very much on the firm's culture. Different firms will have different interview styles, priorities, skills, and competencies they are looking for more than others as well as certain types of personalities and so on. Try and adapt to the situation. I do, however, believe that interviews that come more naturally to the candidate and the firm are more likely to be successful. For this reason, it is imperative to find ways of calming your nerves before the interview. I do not have a specific technique that I used as I am not an anxious person and I am able to behave naturally under pressure. If that is not the case for you however, virtual interviews or assessment centres could be helpful. Moreover, breathing exercises or a student version of exposure therapies might be helpful i.e. joining the debating society, mooting, attending a more intimate networking event or any other exercise that involves getting out of your comfort zone, speaking in public or having to entertain people in a more senior position than yourself.

Preparing is also fundamental. I would prepare a list of examples that could draw on when asked about skills or competencies and go through them. I would look at all the skills in the firm's 'what we look for' page and make sure I had those prepared. I would read a lot about the firm and anything I would find useful. The longer before the interview the preparation is done, the more genuine you will sound during the interview. Cramming interview preparation might make it look like you are answering exam questions and being detached rather than talking about your own experiences. If the firms you are applying to have very technical interviews I advise starting to prepare before even getting the interview. There are a lot of resources on case studies, written exercises, group exercises and other assessment centres tasks online to use to prepare as well.

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

I cannot give too much advice on these as I have not done many. Having a broad knowledge of commercial, political, and social issues will help answer any case study interview. In the case study interviews I have done, the topic was chosen consciously so that the candidates would not know anything about it, and the interview followed a written exercise on it. This was deemed to test a candidate's ability to think quickly, adapt and apply their knowledge to the situation in question. It is very important to remain calm and likeable under pressure. The best advice I can give is to structure your thoughts well, talking your interviewers through the steps you are taking to answer their questions.

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 having no idea where to start. Having done a Law and Politics degree, I never thought that I was going to become a solicitor, hence trying to understand everything about law firms, commercial awareness and the process of obtaining a training contract during my LLM is what slowed me down in my application process. I advise anyone at the beginning of their degree to try and do most of the learning in their first year, hence starting second year prepared for what is coming, rather than having to go through the learning process while also applying. I advise everyone to seek help from anyone around them that might know a bit more than them on application writing, interviewing, tests, and anything else. Meeting law firms through attending open days, law fairs, networking events, presentations, commercial awareness sessions and any other event is crucial to the process of understanding what you want from your career and where you think you fit in. In my opinion, networking is more important in terms of making decisions, building long-term relationships and contacts, and learning about the firm, rather than directly helping in the application process. I think it is really important to figure out your priorities before starting the application process. It is harder than anticipated when most universities push you towards big law (mostly magic and silver circle), and that might not be for you. Therefore, engaging in our own personal journey as soon as possible will make the whole process easier. If like myself you decided to apply later on in your academic career or even in life, speeding up the learning process will necessitate a lot of time, focus, research, and determination.

In terms of practical setbacks, my problem was learning how to sell my story in written applications. Asking for help to my friends who had signed a training contract or were getting better results is what allowed me to get to the next stages. I knew that my interview skills were superior to my application writing skills, hence it did not take me long after cracking the code to written applications.

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

I cannot say I would have done anything radically different as I got my training contract in my first cycle of applications and at a firm that I absolutely love and could not be more excited to join. However, considering what my biggest setback was, if I had taken the previous year or at least the summer to go through that learning process I would have been better prepared for the application cycle. I also wish I had asked for help with regards to my written applications earlier on as it would have allowed me to stand a real chance with all the firms that I applied to rather than only the second half of applications I sent. Nonetheless, Morgan Lewis only has a summer vacation scheme hence I am glad it worked out this way rather than obtaining a training contract at a different firm in the Winter/Spring.

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?

I think the best advice I can give to applicants is, fail to prepare, prepare to fail. The more prepared you are the more naturally you are going to be able to speak about things, discuss topics and be confident in your story and your experiences. It will also give you a better perspective of whether a firm is actually for you and whether you are on the right track to achieve your goals. Although the application process is daunting and rejections can be disheartening, you really only need one to go well! Remain focused and keep working on becoming a better candidate, and always remember that the application process is a two-way process: firms want to hire you, you just have to show them why!

Best of luck!

About Us

The Corporate Law Academy (TCLA) was founded in 2018 because we wanted to improve the legal journey. We wanted more transparency and better training. We wanted to form a community of aspiring lawyers who care about becoming the best version of themselves.


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