Securing Three Training Contract Offers As An International Candidate - With DS

Welcome to the next article in our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors. Today we are delighted to hear from DS, who successfully secured three training contract offers as an international student.

1. Who is your training contract with?

Baker McKenzie

2. Are you a law or non law candidate?

Law

3. Which university did you attend?

King's College London

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

I’m an international student from Malaysia. I am of a minority ethnic background, attended a state school and am from a low-income family. I graduated in the summer of 2020 and after an intense summer of vac schemes, am currently taking a much needed gap year at home before commencing my LPC in 2022.

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

I didn’t really know anything about commercial law and the world of VS and TC apps until the end of my first year, and even then I wasn’t entirely sure what being a commercial lawyer even meant. If I’m being honest the first thing that drew me into this process was the insane amount of pressure from my peers that made me feel like securing a TC was something I had to do. My more substantial desire to be a commercial lawyer developed in the summer of my first year following a two month stint at a local law firm in my home country. By some luck (for me), the corporate team at that time was heavily understaffed and was working on a huge IPO on the local stock exchange and doing an important sukuk (Islamic bond) issuing. My supervisor was a recent NQ who trusted me to do a lot of things beyond just menial research. Most notably she let me have a go at drafting part of the prospectus document (which she then heavily changed and edited of course). I came to realise that commercial law meant more than just being good at the law, it meant understanding a lot of what was going on in different industries and being able to use that understanding skilfully in every part of your work. Later that summer, following on from how much I enjoyed the two month stint, and how intrigued I was by the world of IPOs and bonds, I applied to and secured a place on an insight program at the J.P Morgan offices in Singapore. The three-day workshop really grew my understanding of basic financial concepts and surprisingly enough I enjoyed wrapping my head around how derivatives, securities and bonds really and truly worked. I now knew for certain that I not only enjoyed the legal side of commercial law but I most definitely enjoyed the commercial side too. The combination of these two experiences alongside attending a multitude of law firm open days in second year, cemented my drive to pursue this career.


6. How many applications did you send?

20

7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?

3

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

In my first application cycle, I didn’t have any kind of strategy at all. I knew I wanted to apply to firms that had a strong corporate/finance practice given my interest in the area. But I personally felt like all the firms in the city had strong expertise in those areas (evidence of my poor research and poor understanding of firms at that time) so it was really just a randomised mess. In my second application cycle, I was a lot more methodical. My criteria for firms were: 1. Practice areas - Due to my aforementioned experience at J.P Morgan and how much I enjoyed studying a finance module at university, I knew I wanted to work at big City firms that had a strong corporate/finance practice. This remained largely unchanged from my first app cycle. 2. Diversity - I knew that I would only be applying to firms with a strong emphasis on diversity. Following the one vac scheme I did in second year, I knew I could never seriously make it through two years at firms, which have poor BAME associate and partner representation. This became a huge non-negotiable factor for me. 3. Interaction - I focused on applying to firms, which I had interacted heavily with before as I felt that through my interactions I was able to better understand the firms and would be able to produce better quality applications.

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

One substantial change in my application strategy came from accepting that I had no choice but to become extremely skilled at the Watson Glaser if I was ever going to make it into the doors of some of my favourite firms. This meant taking 20 mins a day to practice the WG for two months so that I never fell below the benchmark for any WG test in my second app cycle. The other big change that I implemented was that I stopped applying to various open days and networking events. Instead I applied to join the specific mentoring schemes Aspiring Solicitors and SEO London offer. Applying to the Aspire scheme and the SEO London Corporate Law Programme meant that I was automatically invited to various open days at firms without having to send out more applications. I also came to realise that it didn’t necessarily matter where I had met representatives of a firm and that it could honestly be something as accessible as a law fair. Just actively trying to have meaningful conversations with representatives that would give me a better understanding of the firm and provide me with information that I could then use in my applications was more than enough. Less time spent applying to open days also meant more time to produce quality vacation scheme apps which ultimate made a huge difference in the 3x more success I had in my second app cycle.

One final thing that I did is that in my final year of university I actively turned down the president position for one of the societies that I had already been involved in. Extra-curriculars take up an insane amount of time and energy. In my second year at university alone (first app cycle), I was on the committee for three different societies and again, barely had time to spend drafting applications. My success in my second app cycle proved something to me that I feel like too many candidates don’t realise – it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you’re the president of a society or an events officer or a secretary, all that matters is that you have demonstrated you have interests outside of law, and have a multitude of real examples that you can draw on for competency interviews.

10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?

My main sources for commercial news were the FT Daily News Briefing podcast on Spotify and TCLA’s Weekly News Briefing Newsletters. There definitely is a formula to commercial awareness. Pick an industry you’re interested in + identify the issues + develop an opinion + tie it into how can law firms help.

Three pieces of advice:

1. There are some broad issues that you should absolutely know about (US-China Trade Wars, Big Tech, etc.) You are very likely to get asked general questions about this stuff and your opinion on it. This is where something like the FT podcast is particularly helpful because they discuss some of the more interesting points and tend to include great preliminary angles for you to analyse the stories from.

2. When being asked specific commercial awareness questions, partners aren’t typically trying to catch you out. Anything specific they ask you will be based on things that you have mentioned in your work experience or in your application itself. I always looked back at my application to identify if there was any work experience I had done or deals I had mentioned that were related to specific industries. I would then make sure to know what was going on in those industries and to develop a strong opinion on the key issues. All four interviews I did in my second app cycle, I got asked almost identical commercial awareness questions based on what was already in my application – typically this was related to stuff in my work experience section.

3. Pick a few key industries that you are genuinely interested in and keep up with the news in those areas. When I did get asked more broad commercial questions like “tell me about a news story that interests you” I just spoke about the industries I kept up with.

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

There are two different types of interviews:

1. Competency interviews

Make a master table/document of all the general competencies that law firms look for, identify different examples for each one and make sure each example is as detailed as possible. Competency interviews can be incredibly easy to mess up because if you aren’t extremely methodical about each step you took in a particular situation, then you probably aren’t demonstrating the competency well enough for your interviewers. At the same time, if you are really well prepped beforehand then they are incredibly easy to do well in.

2. Partner interviews

These interviews tend to be more generic. Focused on yourself, your application and your journey right up to that point. It goes without saying that you need to know your application really well and know yourself well – Why law? Why this firm? Why you? What’s unique about your experiences?

This might seem like really clichéd advice but my biggest tip is to just be yourself. The professional version of yourself, yes, but still yourself. In my first app cycle, I thought that all firms were generally looking for an extremely serious candidate. So this was the candidate that I was in interviews. I still got a VS yes, but that firm couldn’t have turned out to be more wrong for me, so it was highly unsurprising when I failed to get the TC. Self-sabotage at its finest.

In my second cycle, I was more myself. I would make a joke or two (mine was always the same joke but it always worked), be honest about how I didn’t initially do a law degree because I wanted to be a lawyer, talk about the more personal/real achievements I was proud of (not just the sometimes superficial university society related stuff) and was just the more energetic individual I am on a day to day basis. My best interviews have always been where the interview felt like a really enjoyable conversation. Part of this will obviously depend on luck. Perhaps the partner you get is more serious or doesn’t find your experiences as interesting but I personally believe that having the charisma and confidence to be able to turn interviews into interesting conversations is a skill in itself, and it’s skill that will always turn even the most formal question answer interviews with the most stoic people into somewhat enjoyable situations. I would recommend doing your best to build those skills because at the end of the day, partners want to hire people they believe would fit in well at the firm and that they would enjoy working with. It is important to remember that at the end of the day, for most firms, it is partners that sit around at a debrief session and discuss feedback from supervisors and your interview performance – they are the ones who will be in that room rooting for you. Being able to make a partner enjoy an interview will go a very long way in securing you the offer.

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

Practice, practice, practice. TCLA has fantastic resources and practice case study interviews. Sign up to TCLA premium because it is 100% worth it (not a sponsored post haha). Jaysen’s M&A course is a god send and covers so much of the basic must know stuff that will come 90% of the time in case studies.

Familiarise yourself with the Porter’s Five Forces framework and the PESTLE analysis because they provide really good ways of analysing any case study. I would also highly recommend finding some consulting case studies online. Some firms ask you to write/discuss the case study from the perspective of a lawyer/trainee so you can really go in on the legal issues and solutions. But some firms ask you to write/discuss the case as a consultant or business analyst in which case discussing legal issues will just seem misplaced or even worse – like you didn’t read the instructions. Consulting case studies are all about business issue and solutions and nothing else. They are often very sparse and have barely any detail so you really have to think of realistic but creative solutions. That style of thinking is really good to have when doing case studies even at law firms.

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 aforementioned failure to convert a TC following my first ever vacation scheme. Honestly speaking, I have never ever worked harder for anything in my life. So when the rejection email came, I was beyond crushed. As a second year international student, this meant I had one last year to do vac schemes and secure a TC before the process would become inevitably more complicated and even more impossible. The amount of pressure, anxiety, self-doubt and lack of self-confidence I felt really took a toll on me mentally and emotionally.

I took a month off, which because of the time limit I had with regards to my T4 visa expiring, was all I could afford. During that month the biggest thing I realised was failing to convert my VS had a lot to do with things outside of my control. Maybe the partners didn’t think I’d be a good fit, maybe my supervisor didn’t think I was enthusiastic enough about the work and a whole host of other things. I became convinced that if I had what it took to get VS at an MC firm in my first app cycle then I could definitely do it again. In all honesty, I already knew that the firm wasn’t the right place for me so I tried to view things as positively as possible. This was my last chance to find a place I’d truly be happy at. I also came to realise that the success stories of people you see on Linkedin who get a TC in second year and start it straight out of university are the anomaly. Most people go though two, three or four app cycles before they start seeing any kind of results. So I wasn’t a failure for not having a TC in my second year, I was part of the norm, and what I was going through was more than okay.

I still had plenty of self-doubt that lasted all throughout my third app cycle. Even after I had the three VS offers, my anxiety somehow had me convinced I wouldn’t get a TC from all three. Sometimes after a rejected app I had spent weeks working on for a firm I really liked, I’d just binge watch a huge amount of Netflix to recover before I kept going again. Taking time out and having a strong support system makes all the difference.

The community here on TCLA is also phenomenal. It is the one place that people are honest about how difficult it is to secure a TC, how much they struggle and how much more triumphant it is when they finally make it. All three VS-es and TCs I secured in my final year was the product of the kindest strangers on the forum who were more than happy to provide me with detailed advice and help on video interviews and ACs. It’s funny how competitive some people can be. From personal experience, there are people who even after securing a TC themselves still feel like they’d be losing something by helping someone else. But Jaysen has somehow managed to create a phenomenal platform of people who are genuinely willing to help everyone in any way possible so again, not a sponsored post, but make a TCLA account!

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

I would stop comparing myself to other people. My second app cycle I did just that (or at least I did my absolute best to do that). I deleted Linkedin and never really spoke about apps to people that asked (there are after all far more interesting things to talk about anyway). I chose to rely on the few friends that I knew genuinely wanted me to succeed. This made all the difference because I was just more focused on my apps and what I could improve on. This in turn allowed me to produce better quality apps and I was far more confident when walking into interviews.

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?

Every single person’s journey is unique. No one is late and you are never too old to secure a TC. Never forget that people only ever talk about their successes and never their failures. Under my advice for TC interviews I said that there is some luck involved in the process. Some people are lucky on the first try, and others (like me) have to keep trying before the 1% of luck you need to cinch the 99% of hard work is finally on your side. So if you truly want this career for yourself, then never stop trying, because you never know when the tide will turn in your favour.

In hindsight, I am incredibly glad I didn’t secure the TC in second year. The 3x more success I achieved this year is the greatest testament to how far sheer determination and perseverance have taken me. I am also just going to enjoy my TC far more because I know I am at the right firm for me. I truly believe the right firm for everyone exists. It just takes some finding.

To end on an incredibly cheesy note, I want to share two of the most inspirational quotes that really rang true for me this year:

1. When you truly want something, and you truly work hard and give your all for it (sorry Paulo Coelho I definitely think this caveat applies to your original line) all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.

2. If your journey is longer and harder, it is because your calling is higher.
 

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