Weekly Application Pitfalls

James Carrabino

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Oct 12, 2021
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Hi everyone!

In addition to my role as a community manager helping to address the queries of our lovely community members on the forum, I have also worked as part of TCLA's application review team to offer feedback on many of the applications that our members send in for review.

As December gets underway each year, the application cycle really heats up. In advance of what was a busy couple months of vacation scheme and training contract applications for many of our members, I decided to kick off a thread about common application pitfalls to avoid when writing law firm application answers.

I updated this thread weekly between the start of December 2021 and the end of January 2022 during the peak 2021-2022 application period. You can still see the weekly posts lower down in the thread, but I have consolidated my advice in this top post so that it can serve as an accessible resource for TCLA members going forward.

My list of common mistakes comes from errors that I noticed throughout my two-month period reviewing dozens of application. The most frequent mistakes I saw fit into six main topic areas, each containing six sub-headings within them (in alphabetical order)! Click on the headings and sub-headings below to see which errors candidates often make across these different areas:


‘I managed multiple deadlines by working efficiently and prioritising my tasks’ – this is surely how everyone manages multiple deadlines? The reader wants to know how you specifically approached this and what ‘working efficiently’ and ‘prioritising’ meant for you.
There will often be a question with two or more ‘limbs’. A common example of this question is, Tell us about your extra-curricular activities, positions of responsibility and achievements’. Make sure you signpost which part of your answer explains the corresponding component of the question. By ‘signpost’ I mean that you should be as obvious as you can when starting each point by either introducing it as an extra-curricular activity, position of responsibility or achievement. I would personally separate each limb into a separate paragraph but this is not absolutely necessary as long as you make it clear which one you are talking about at every stage throughout your answer.

An example of a statement that is not well signposted and does not adequately address any of the limbs of the question (despite touching upon all of them) would be:

‘As captain of my university’s hockey team, I implemented a training method that ultimately led our team to win a national tournament’.

This victory is certainly an achievement and the candidate’s captaincy is a position of responsibility, whilst the entire pursuit of hockey at university is an extra-curricular activity. Nevertheless, the applicant did not explicitly relate this statement back to any of the limbs of the question. Ultimately the question is seeking insight into how you achieved your achievements, how you approached your positions of responsibility and how you immersed yourself in a variety of extra-curriculars. If you wanted to convey this statement as a position of responsibility, for example, you would have to elaborate upon your role as the captain and how you specifically took responsibility for the team in order to implement the successful method of training. If you wanted to explain it as all three things (an extra-curricular activity, position of responsibility and achievement) then you would have to explain each one in turn.

A well-signposted version of the above example would be as follows (I have underlined the places where I explicitly refer to each limb of the question):

One of the major extra-curricular activities that I have been involved with throughout university is hockey, a sport that I have loved since a young age as a result of the strategy and collaboration that a team needs to win matches. My passion for hockey led me to take on a role of significant responsibility when I became the captain of my university’s hockey team. In this position, I was relied on to arrange training sessions and implement a new method of training. I consider one of my greatest achievements to be leading the team to our first national tournament victory in over a decade. By convincing the team to take up my novel training method, I ensured that the skills and fitness levels of the team members left us better prepared than our opponents on match days.’

This is certainly much longer than the first example, but it is necessary to properly explain how the activity relates to each limb of the question.

(You can probably tell that I know absolutely nothing about hockey – I will use a different example next time :D)
This also relates to questions with multiple ‘limbs’, as I discussed above. In addition to the question, ‘Tell us about your extra-curricular activities, positions of responsibility and achievements’, I have also seen the question, ‘Tell us about your awards, prizes, scholarships and an achievement of great importance’, or the question, ‘Tell us about your extra-curricular activities and leisure interests’, as well as further variations on this.

Needless to say, all three of these are a bit different. It is very tempting to think that you have come to the ‘achievements question’ or ‘extra-curriculars question' and you can simply copy and paste from another application. Often the ‘limbs’ of the question will be subtly different in each application, meaning that you need to tailor your answer accordingly. If the answer asks for prizes or scholarships, try to think of at least one prize and one scholarship that you received, even if these are not your main achievements. If the answer asks for a single achievement of importance, do not list multiple general achievements. In order to make it as clear as possible for the reader and to ensure that you are following the exact nuanced wording within the question, I would again recommend addressing each limb of the question in order, preferably in a short paragraph of its own.
This is relevant to questions about achievements more generally. I will start by saying that anything can be an achievement. Something that is an achievement to me may not be an achievement to you and vice versa.

You need to explain what you think of as the achievement. Let’s go back to my example from before:

‘As captain of my university’s hockey team, I implemented a training method that ultimately led our team to win a national tournament’.

I saw an applicant use a sentence like this, with the intention of conveying it as an achievement. But what is the achievement? Was the achievement the victory in the national tournament, or was it the success of the training method that the applicant implemented? The achievement could have been the fact that the applicant became captain in the first place. I will repeat that anything can be an achievement if you explain why it is an achievement for you. Implementing the training method could have been the real success here if the team had been struggling to find an adequate training process for a long time. The victory in the tournament may not have been a huge achievement if the team won this tournament every year.

In order to demonstrate why something was such an achievement, you need to explain two things:
  1. Why it was a goal worth pursuing for you
  2. What challenges you had to overcome
I have seen applicants write that their proudest achievement was coming to live in London, or that their proudest achievement was moving to Paris for a gap year and making new friends. Both of those things were actually excellent achievements when read in context, considering the challenges that the applicants faced in pursuing these goals, as well as their important reasons for pursuing these goals. Without gleaning this from other components of their applications, however, I would have not necessarily understood why these were such great achievements.

Say what the achievement is and explain why it is an achievement to you.
When a question asks about the personal qualities that would make you a good trainee solicitor, these are not the same as the skills which would make you a good trainee solicitor. Personal qualities include things like motivation, resilience and integrity, whilst skills include research, writing and language skills. Things like analysis or attention to detail could possibly cover both, in my opinion.

The question ‘What makes a good trainee?’ is NOT asking you why you are a good candidate. If you really, really, really want to highlight a certain skill that you possess to a high degree, then you may do so in a brief comment at the end, but do not make this the focus of your answer.
If the question asks, ‘Why do you want to become a solicitor?’, do not begin with ‘I am interested in commercial law because…’.

Sure, it’s often the exact same thing (although not entirely – in the above example ‘solicitor’ explicitly rules out barrister whilst ‘commercial law’ is more broad) but I would still make an effort to use the nuanced wording in the question. Your answer may be excellent but it will demonstrate that you have not tailored your answer to the question. The recruiter will know immediately that it is a copy-and-paste job from multiple other applications. At least use the wording of the application to maintain the pretence of being uniquely interested in the firm that you are applying to (preferably tailor other components of your answer too) 🤣
‘I first became interested in commercial law during my vacation scheme at X firm’, or ‘My desire to become a solicitor stems from my Open Day at Y firm’.

If these experiences were really the root of your interest, then why did you originally apply for them in the first place? I am not just being pedantic – law firms want to get to know you better as a person so that they can put your motivations in context. They want to know where your original inherent curiosity about commercial law came from, before you go about demonstrating how you pursued this interest and enhanced it. A vacation scheme or open day allows you to demonstrate how you began to affirm your desire to pursue commercial law through the things you learnt as part of the experience, but mentioning this by itself would fail to distinguish the sincerity of your motivations from those of other candidates who have also completed vacation schemes/open days.
‘I want to be a commercial lawyer because I am passionate about analysing documents in detail’.

Really?

Many candidates write something to this effect. Now, it is good to demonstrate that you know what a career in law entails; it often will involve detailed document analysis. Also, it is good to show your genuine excitement and passion for the career that you are about to pursue. But simply stating that you are passionate about something does not convince the reader that you are passionate about it…especially when it sounds like a rather dry and boring task.

Remember – show, don’t tell! Discuss how you love the sense of reward you feel after really understanding the crux of a complex area of law and being able to apply that understanding within your submission to a client. Perhaps mention times that you have really excelled when using a skill such as analysis.

Your answer need not explicitly state that you are ‘passionate’ about the issue and it can even leave open the possibility for you to find the task very boring at times. Nevertheless, it can more convincingly demonstrate the drive and passion that you bring to your work, even when it is not the most stimulating work in the world. This will help you craft an excellent answer on your motivations.
On a similar note to the above point, many applicants seem to have difficulty explaining their motivations more generally. I have frequently seen sentences such as, ‘I am interested in becoming a commercial solicitor because I want to use legal solutions to help clients reach desirable business outcomes’.

This expresses vague knowledge of what a commercial solicitor does, but is in effect just saying that ‘I want to become a commercial solicitor because I want to become a commercial solicitor’.

Even if the candidate is more specific by saying ‘I want to become a commercial solicitor because I want a career that involves teamwork and international collaboration’, I would still ask, ‘So why do you want a career that involves teamwork and international collaboration’?

Try not to use a motivation for one thing to describe a motivation for another, without ever actually explaining the reason behind either of your motivations.
‘On the Open Day I learnt that commercial lawyers make relationships with clients so that they can advise them on legal solutions to their business problems’.

This actually sounds kind of good when you read it, except for the fact that this is really obvious, isn’t it? Did you actually learn this on the open day (implying you did not know it before)? Did you not learn anything more specific or substantial on the open day? Filler sentences like these seem to appear a lot and I would not recommend putting them in as they could come across as naïve.
Candidates regularly manage to use nearly identical sentences to each other when they try to describe why they are attracted to a firm’s culture. This will often take the form of a candidate quoting a trainee who described the ‘hands-on’ approach or ‘welcoming environment’ at the firm. It can be great that you have spoken to or heard from someone at the firm, but be wary of espousing the firm’s talking points when, in reality, every single firm claims to have the exact same strengths.

An example of an answer to the question ‘Why this firm’ which could be written by any applicant and which could apply to any firm is as follows:

‘Having talked to trainees, I appreciate that the welcoming and friendly culture makes XYZ LLP stand out. I am eager to work in a team that is respectful and collaborative. The small teams and focus on formal training would make XYZ LLP a perfect learning environment for me’.

Honestly, I tend to find that making points about a firm’s culture can be a bit tenuous unless the firm really does have something unique about the way it operates (finding this can require a high level of research).
‘Tell us about something you are interested in so that we can get to know you better’. Do NOT try to relate this back to law or the firm unless it is a key component of your interest. I have seen answers by candidates attempting to relate their interests in hockey, baking and literature back to commercial law and it simply makes no sense. These are excellent examples for this question, but they simply do not relate to law and it would seem insincere to try to make them relate to law, plus it’s simply not necessary to do so.
I would avoid making what I think of as a lazy claim; ‘As a member of x community, I appreciate the firm’s commitment to y initiative.’

It is important to go a step further to explain why the initiative is impactful and important to you – I assume that it would not be enough for you if the firm were simply doing lip service to this initiative and so you can really enhance your point here by explaining how the firm has backed up its commitment. By demonstrating that you know the ways in which the firm goes above and beyond in the areas that you are talking about, you can then justify how you see yourself taking advantage of the opportunities which the initiative could afford you.
‘My previous job in investment banking means that I will enjoy and thrive in a corporate finance seat.’ I know what you mean, but remember that when a recruiter is reading at pace, poorly explained sentences like this one muddle your point in the reader’s mind. Your banking job does not mean either of these things by itself. If you disliked your banking job, then you probably will not enjoy corporate finance, and if you got fired for poor performance, then you probably will not thrive in this seat either. Make sure to back up every claim you make with a thorough explanation.
Many candidates write sentences like, ‘My international experience has prepared me for cross-border work’, or ‘I discovered in my banking internship that I enjoy and thrive in a commercial team environment,’ without actually describing what their international experience is or where they did their banking internship.

Even more common is that candidates do not do something quite this extreme but will write a sentence about how living and working in four different countries has prepared them to work at an international firm. As a reader, I really want to know which countries these are! I also want to know if you speak languages from those countries as well. I am not quite sure why the point is worth mentioning if it only gets mentioned so sparingly.

This seems strange to me but I do review applicants’ written answers on their own, so perhaps what is happening is that applicants assume recruiters will remember the experiences they are referring to from other components of their application (e.g. their work experience and education). This is the most plausible explanation I can think of for these kind of vague references.

I would not count on recruiters remembering things from other parts of your application, simply because they will be reading every application so quickly and they will be reading so many of them. If the point you are making is not self-contained and requires the person reading your application to refer back to another component of your application, then this could result in it not being properly understood.
The firm has ‘top-quality work’ – in what way?

It works on ‘big-ticket deals’ – like what?

The firm has a ‘reputation for excellent training’ – in whose eyes?

Remember that you should always provide evidence to back up your claims, especially if they could otherwise come across as fawning. Providing evidence also shows that you have done your research about the firm and know what you are talking about. This could simply involve mentioning a report that outlines the excellence of the firm’s work in a certain practice area, or discussing a blockbuster deal where the firm took a leading role.
I have touched on this in a previous post, but it is important to remember that an achievement can be anything that you have personally determined to be an achievement. It does not need to have a tangible prize or award attached to it in order for it to constitute an achievement.

The most important thing is being able to draw something from your achievement, so simply stating that your proudest achievement is winning a certain award and then moving on to something else is probably not the best approach.

If there is a tangible accolade that you received at the end of the achievement, then definitely feel free to mention it, but the more important component of your answer is your explanation of the challenge you faced and the journey towards the achievement. The achievement itself can be anything of value to you personally.
This is a (made-up, but using a mixture of details from applications I have read over the last few weeks) example of an answer to a firm-specific question. By ‘firm-specific questions’ I mean the ones that ask you why you want to work with them in particular… and yes, your answer to this question does need to be wholly specific to the firm so you should not be doing any copying and pasting from other applications! My following example would be a weak answer for an application to XYZ LLP:


‘I wish to train as a solicitor at XYZ LLP as it combines my interests in the intellectual nature of law and the complex character of the business world. Having worked at two international corporations, I have been fascinated by how businesses respond to new regulations and I am particularly attracted to XYZ LLP’s international outlook as a result. I value how being a solicitor at the firm would allow me to be a client’s first point of contact when approached with these difficult questions.

I believe that as a progressive firm, XYZ LLP will provide me with first-class legal training which will prepare me well for a successful career. I think that the firm’s large/small trainee intake will offer me a comprehensive/intimate training environment, which will present me with excellent opportunities for professional development. I am uniquely drawn to XYZ LLP because of the firm’s dual strength in both its transactional and disputes practices. This is unique and it really appeals to me as I hope to undertake seats in both practice areas as a trainee. Moreover, XYZ LLP’s award-winning pro bono work and diversity initiatives demonstrate that the firm’s values are closely aligned to mine.’


This answer manages to make a lot of claims about XYZ LLP whilst simultaneously saying very little that is specific about the firm (note that it does matter whether the firm’s trainee intake is large or small – candidates love mentioning this either way but it is really not a very interesting point to make since so many other firms share a similar-sized cohort and it is unclear which one really has a greater benefit to trainees).

When you are writing a firm-specific answer, really do your research. Now, this does not need to be an exorbitantly long process – you may have seen applicants on the forum say that they spend days researching a firm before applying, but honestly that is not necessary. I actually approached the firm-specific answers as a box-ticking exercise and in 1-2 hours of research I would make bullet points that allowed me to do the following:
  • Mention a deal the firm had worked on recently in an area of interest to me
  • Mention a partner I would possibly like to work with as part of my training contract
  • Mention a firm-specific initiative
  • Mention an award that the firm had won
  • Convey that I had an understanding of what the firm was really known for
Once you have done these things, you will have enough information to write your answer in a very short period of time whilst ensuring that every sentence is specific to the firm. It will not be too difficult and it will be a great answer!
In order to talk about why you like one career/practice area/firm, you do not need to say why you think it is better than another. In fact, that can often miss the point, which is to find your motivations for pursuing that career, not to learn about your assessment of a variety of careers.

‘The small environment, half the size of X and Y firm, would allow me to….’ – I have seen this a lot. This is sort of talking down on the larger firms as you are implying that the larger office environment is not as desirable. It is great if you want to describe why you would appreciate an intimate firm environment, but the environment of other firms is not relevant and it could seem unprofessional to discuss this. This is especially true because the small office at your firm could be much larger in a decade from now and they would not want to think that this could bother you.

‘I want to be a solicitor because I value a team environment and I would not have this as a barrister’. The question is asking at face value why you want to be a solicitor. You do not need to compare it with another career unless you are asked to. If you make an unsolicited comparison, the thing you choose to compare it to might raise more questions than it answers (for example, why you consider the alternative to be a barrister as opposed to an investment banker).
‘This decision confirmed the current legal approach to the same interest test’.

A legal test like this is something that a law student may assume everyone knows, but many non-litigation legal practitioners will not necessarily remember a specific point like this from their days as a student. Also remember that members of graduate recruitment have often not studied law themselves so if they are reading your application then it is better to err on the side of caution and explain any legal jargon that you want to use.
‘I enhanced my commercial awareness in my role as Performance Lead at XYZ Solutions.’

Candidates write things like this a lot. If your job title does not make it abundantly clear what your responsibilities are (or in this example how they relate to commercial awareness), then you have to explain your role beyond simply mentioning the job title. Also, if the company you worked for is not particularly well known, then the recruiter is probably not going to spend time looking it up, so I would add a brief description of what it does, e.g. ‘XYZ Solutions, a management consultancy for technology start-ups’.
For example, were your cycling achievements something that you pursed as part of your university extra-curricular activities, or did you pursue these in your spare time? It is useful to give the reader a sense of how serious you were about each activity you pursued and the extent to which you had to juggle your time in order to keep up the activities that are important to you.
Do not simply state that ‘I admire the firm’s commitment to mentorship/client service/ESG/diversity’ before proceeding to talk about how the firm excels in the area you chose, without saying why these things are meaningful to you.

Perhaps you think that some of these things are so ubiquitously good that you do not need to explain your attraction to them, but if this is the case then they probably do not really distinguish the firm from any other firm (there are very few firms not at least claiming to have strong initiatives in all of the aforementioned areas).

You have to dig deeper into what the firm does that is actually unique, why that is particularly important to you as a candidate and how you see it benefiting you throughout your career.
‘This news story interests me because it demonstrates the way in which laws of different jurisdictions interact’.

But why does that interest you? For example, are you a citizen of multiple countries who has been affected by the varying laws of different jurisdictions?

In order to explain how a news story interests you, you have to show that the contents of the story relates in some way to you, your experiences, background, interests or career aspirations. Doing this can feel somewhat contrived, but if you choose a story that genuinely piqued your interest then it is likely that you will be able to address these things.

It is important to consider the implications of the news story – will it have any effect on you personally? Will it revolutionise an area of law that you studied in depth? There has to be some sort of reason why you genuinely find the news story interesting that goes beyond simply stating that it interests you. Without this, your interest in the topic may seem insincere.
‘This demonstrates’ or ‘This is why I admire’ creates problems when it is unclear what ‘this’ is referring to. Sometimes a whole paragraph will start with ‘This shows…’ as if to say that all the points brought up in the previous paragraph culminate into your conclusion.

Always keep your language precise. If the reader cannot work out what you are referring to, then it is likely that you were not entirely clear in your own mind about the point you were trying to make. In such an instance, your point will be a lot weaker than if you were to spend time clarifying your thoughts and conveying your idea in precise language.
It is not good to have overlapping material between answers. By overlapping material I am referring to large chunks of text that are instantly recognisable to the reader as being highly similar to another part of your application. You might think that you have changed the wording enough for this not to be a problem, but if you are making substantially the same point about your achievement or experience then the reader will recognise this immediately.

This often appears when an applicant uses wording from a work experience entry to describe a question about the time they held a position of responsibility. You can definitely use the same example – that is not the problem at all – but you need to make sure there is a different point to be made. If you are simply describing your role as you have done in the work experience entry, then it is quite apparent and it comes across as if you had nothing else to talk about. A good answer may delve into a specific challenge you faced during your role and how that really tested you in your position of responsibility, as this is something you are unlikely to discuss in a stand-alone work experience entry.
‘I am particularly attracted to the firm’s small trainee intake, as I will have the opportunity to take responsibility early on. Although small intakes are not uncommon, I think that it will provide an excellent environment for my training and development.’

Candidates are often nervous to make a point if they are not sure about how valid it is, so they try to qualify it in the following sentence. If anything, this only serves to undermine the point overall. In the example above, why is a firm’s small trainee intake a selling point worth mentioning if a lot of firms have a small trainee intake?

State your points confidently – even if the details are not 100% correct, your thoughts will come across much more clearly this way!
This is a very common problem. Candidates want to show that they have adequately explained their claim or thoroughly displayed their competency, which is great. Often a STAR approach will be exceptionally useful in doing this. It gets a little excessive, however, when applicants write this kind of formulaic analysis into questions where it does not quite fit. Below I will give an example of the kind of situation where this issue may arise:

I would personally answer a question about my spare time interests by discussing the fact that I enjoy playing chess and pool when I have free time and that I love hiking and getting outdoors in general. I have a master’s degree in music, so I may be pushing the concept of ‘spare time interests’ by mentioning the amount of time I spend playing piano, but I would probably include that as well. What I would not do, however, is write out a full competency answer using STAR analysis about the time I demonstrated my leadership skills as part of my role in a musical education charity. That role alone was really more of a volunteering/work experience example and if I were to write about it simply because I think it sounds more ‘impressive’ than mentioning what I genuinely enjoy doing in my spare time, then this would undermine my answer. When applicants impose a very formulaic analysis onto a question that really just wants to get to know them better as a person, it can come across as insincere.
‘I am very passionate about becoming a lawyer at an international commercial law firm.’

So many candidates introduce their answer with a statement like this. It really does not say anything of substance and wastes words that you could be using to actually demonstrate this to the reader. Remember show, don’t tell – if your passion is not evident from the rest of your answer, then you can bet the reader won’t be convinced by virtue of this statement alone.
Some cover letters ask for candidates to include quite specific things (for example, your motivations for pursuing commercial law, your transferable skills, your positions of responsibility and an achievement that you are particularly proud of).

You do have to address all the limbs of the question, but the risk from what I have read is that many cover letters then become a compilation of competency answers, motivational answers and a ‘Why commercial law’ answer from other applications. Pasting in a hotchpotch of pre-written paragraphs simply does not lend itself to a cohesive cover letter. The cover letter should flow as a well-written and readable letter.

This is especially obvious when the last paragraph ends with something unrelated to the firm (e.g. an example of when the candidate demonstrated teamwork), before concluding with ‘Thank you for your consideration’ and a sign-off. You should at least summarise your letter and relate everything back to your excitement to pursue a career at the firm.

Some firms say that if you write three sentences in a row which could appear in another application, then your cover letter is not specific enough. Without going that far, I would push you to always make comments relating back to your motivations to work at the firm (e.g. how teamwork would relate specifically to the firm’s work) so that you maintain a sense of cohesion throughout the letter.
‘I developed my legal research skills in my law firm internship last summer. As part of my role in compliance, I worked with other team members to…’ – it then becomes clear by the end of the sentence that the role in compliance is a completely different job from the law firm internship. The reader needs to go back and work out that one point was not explaining the other – they were actually two completely separate points. This is particularly confusing, so make sure to signpost your answers and use paragraphs to clearly delineate your points.
A sentence should maintain a parallel structure syntactically in order to make it clear to the reader which verbs, nouns and adjectives govern which parts of the sentence. In longer sentences, a candidate’s failure to use parallel grammatical structures can really cause the reader to have to do a double-take and re-read the sentence if they want to understand it. Many recruiters will be reading at pace and so will just move on without taking the time to try understanding your point.

Let me give two examples of what I am talking about when I say a ‘parallel structure’:
  • Example 1: ‘I managed the society's financial affairs, including finding sponsors and fund allocation.’
Are you finding both sponsors and fund allocation? What does it even mean to find fund allocation?

Oh… ‘fund allocation’ is governed by ‘including’, not ‘finding’. In order to avoid this kind of ambiguous sentence, make sure that you use a parallel grammatical structure as follows: ‘I managed the society's financial affairs, including finding sponsors and allocating funds. Having two parallel verb+noun phrases (‘finding sponsors’ and ‘allocating funds’) clearly delineates that these are two separate activities, whilst having a verb followed by two noun phrases – as it was written previously – makes the reader incorrectly think that the noun phrases (‘sponsors’ and ‘fund allocation’) are grouped together.
  • Example 2: ‘I appreciate that regulations continue to evolve, there is a need to understand those changes, and that lawyers play a vital role in advising their clients on these changes’.
I had to read this sentence twice to understand it (which graduate recruiters will probably not have time to do).

My confusion was that at first I thought the phrase, ‘there is a need to understand those changes’, was a conclusion and not an item in the list of things that the candidate appreciated. I was then confused when the sentence continued, ‘and that lawyers…’ because this last clause seemed strangely tacked on to the end of the sentence, instead of forming part of a coherent list. For absolute clarity, I would write an extra ‘that’ so that each of the three items in the list is clearly signposted with the word ‘that’ as follows: ‘I appreciate that regulations continue to evolve, that there is a need to understand those changes, and that lawyers play a vital role in advising their clients on these changes’.
This reads poorly. For example, ‘I am attracted to the firm’s comprehensive mentorship opportunities tailored to each trainee, international secondments and culture.’

This reads fine though: ‘I am attracted to the firm’s culture, international secondments and comprehensive mentorship opportunities tailored to each trainee’.

It is sort of a stylistic convention that in a list of phrases, you start with the shortest and end with the longest.
  • ‘Currently, global transport is a particularly pertinent topic given that transport logistics have been under heavy spotlight and scrutiny recently’.
‘Spotlight’ and ‘scrutiny’ have slightly different meanings but not quite different enough, in my opinion, to use both in a law firm application answer. Try to avoid writing a pair of words or a group of phrases simply with the goal of making your sentence sound nice – those words are better spent making a new point!

  • ‘The firm holds a large market share within four niche and specialised sectors’.
The same principle applies here; in my opinion, only ‘specialised’ is needed and not ‘niche’.
Often when you spend a long time editing your answers, you edit out certain words and phrases for words and phrases that you think are more appropriate in the context. In the process, you are unlikely to read through your entire answer again to double-check that the same words and phrases have not been used somewhere else where they are more appropriate in the context.

See what I did there? My repetition of ‘words and phrases’ and ‘more appropriate in the context’ strangely stick out because they are repeated in close proximity. It all just sounds…awkward 🤣

The same problem arises when you begin multiple consecutive sentences with the same word each time (e.g. ‘Furthermore’) – it can become rather enchanting (in a bad way)!

As a result, I recommend always reading over your answer when you are fresh so that you are not 'too close' to your application. This will help you uncover all the awkward phrasing that may have crept into your answer.
‘I relish commercial law’s application of client-facing, business-tailored legal technology expertise in a team environment, drawing upon the integrity and resilience abilities gained from my leadership experience and pro bono passion.’ This is an exaggeration but a lot of candidates do stuff like this - there are like six sentences worth of points to make here which simply don’t make sense in one sentence. This is less effective than making one of those points really well and making fewer points overall.

Finally, I have compiled below the most common spelling and grammar errors which I saw arise during the peak application period of December 2021 – January 2022. I have simply listed these by the week in which I noticed them throughout that two-month period :)

I have noticed the following common American spellings (which we recommend avoiding in applications to a law firm's London office) appear very regularly:

Program (UK spelling is programme)
Practice (when used as a verb, UK spelling is practise)
While (UK prefers whilst)
Using ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ e.g. ‘maximize’ (UK is ‘maximise’)
UK spelling likes hyphens in compound words, e.g. co-ordinate
In the UK single quotation marks ‘’ are preferred to double “”
I have seen multiple candidates write ‘orientated’, when the correct word is ‘oriented’.

Punctuation should appear outside of quotation marks in British English (as with the comma and full stop in my above example) unless the punctuation was included in the quoted material. This is not the case in American English.

‘Got’ is still the strongly preferred past participle of ‘get’ in British English (as opposed to ‘gotten’ – I have done some double-checking on this to make sure that things have not changed since I was in school).

When writing two full sentences in close proximity, do not separate them with a comma. Use a full stop or, in the instance that the latter sentence relates closely to the former, you can use a semicolon – e.g. ‘I am very interested in corporate finance due to my internship last summer at a bank; I would like to ensure that I pursue a seat in finance during my training contract’.

Avoid writing subordinate clauses as sentences - e.g. ‘I am particularly impressed by the quality of the mentorship, the strength of the practice areas and the cohesion of the culture at the firm. Which is why I want to pursue my training contract at the firm’s London office’. Many of you will know not to do this but incomplete sentences like this crop up a lot, likely with the intention of preventing the previous sentence from becoming too long. Sentences have to have a main clause in order to be fully formed and I would not compromise grammar for stylistic effect in application answers.
'VC’ is an abbreviation for Venture Capital, not for…Vacation sCheme???? I have seen many candidates writing that they are applying to the ‘Spring VC’ at a firm and for the life of me I have no idea where this common error comes from!

On the above note, I would generally advise against using abbreviations at all unless they are exceptionally common, e.g. UK for United Kingdom.

Bear in mind also that British English does not use full stops in abbreviations where American English does (as in U.K. for United Kingdom). The same goes for titles like Mr/Dr/Ms, which in American English would be written as Mr./Dr./Ms.
There should be a single space after a full stop, not two spaces. Many candidates are inconsistent about using one or two spaces which is even worse.

This should go without saying, but make sure firm names and names of specific firm practice areas are spelt correctly. Use the ‘&’ symbol instead of ‘and’ where appropriate; use an apostrophe before the final ‘S’ only where appropriate (the supermarket ‘Morrisons’ does not have an apostrophe, whilst ‘Sainsbury’s’ does) and use a comma only where appropriate (Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP does not have a comma whilst Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP does).
Not maintaining continuity of tense

‘By early 2020 the business was struggling to sell its assets quickly enough to meet debts of over $100 billion. These liabilities included nearly $10 billion in bonds that are denominated in US dollars and were issued offshore.’

Nothing is technically incorrect in this sentence assuming that the bonds continue to be denominated in US dollars, but it sounds awkward to write ‘are denominated’ in the present when everything else is in the past.

This problem can also arise when writing about your experiences – you may express that you ‘have’ (i.e. present tense implied) a certain skill whilst you were doing something in the past. It can sometimes sound awkward to do this unless you are clearly and deliberately changing the tense (for example, you are actively emphasising that you continue to have this skill in the present day as a result of your past experience).
Order of Adjectives in a List

There are syntactical ‘rules’ about the order in which adjectives should appear within a list of adjectives. This is more an issue of style than strict grammar, but it will often sound wrong not to follow this order for a phrase consisting of multiple adjectives:

A. Determiner/Article (The/This/That/Some etc.)

B. Adjectives (in order of adjective categories below):
  1. Quantity or number
  2. Quality or opinion (general)
  3. Quality or opinion (specific)
  4. Size
  5. Physical Quality
  6. Shape
  7. Age
  8. Colour
  9. Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin)
  10. Material
  11. Type
  12. Purpose or qualifier
C. Noun

Here are some example sentences with each word’s category given in brackets (I could not come up with an example incorporating all 12…🤣)

‘The six(1) smelly(2) old(7) French(9) cheeses’

‘The large(4) round(6) blue(8) bowling(12) ball’

On the other hand, ‘The six French old smelly cheeses’ does not sound right, nor does ‘The blue round large bowling ball’. It would be especially bizarre to say, ‘The French smelly old six cheeses’ or ‘The bowling round blue large ball’.


This is not a hard-and-fast rule (there seems to be particular disagreement about the order of ‘shape’ and ‘age’ adjectives) and there are definitely other exceptions too. It is possible to change the order of adjectives for emphatic purposes or because a particular adjective is more closely associated with the noun – e.g. you would not say a ‘red French wine’ when you are referring to a ‘French red wine’, despite colour usually coming before nationality according to the above list.

Nevertheless, if you are in doubt about what sounds right in the sentence, then take a look back at this! It is easy to get ‘too close’ to an application and have no idea if your sentence sounds right any more so this can serve to help in those instances :)
Compound adjectives should be hyphenated – development-oriented, litigation-focused, hands-on and strength-based are all examples of compounds in which multiple words combine to form a single descriptive word that is used as an adjective. These compound adjectives should have hyphens to indicate that they are essentially being used as a single word.

Apostrophes after ‘S’ – only words which have been made plural using an ‘s’ have the apostrophe at the very end. An item of mine would be James’s, not James’ – the latter would imply that the item belonged to multiple individuals called Jame.

Capitalisation – if it is a proper noun, like the title of a firm, someone’s name, or the title of a specific practice group at a firm (as opposed to a general area of law like ‘litigation’), then it should be capitalised. Otherwise, there is usually no need to do so.
Colon vs Semi-colon

Many candidates seem to be getting these two punctuation marks mixed up. The general rule is that colons are used to introduce something following them, such as a quotation, example, or list. Semi-colons link two independent sentences or complete thoughts, indicating that the latter relates to the former. My example below includes both a semi-colon and colon as they ought to be used.

‘I am disappointed with my exam results; my percentages were as follows: 26, 34, 19 and 7’.

Judgment vs Judgement

In British English, ‘judgment’ refers to a decision by a judge in court, whilst ‘judgement’ refers to an individual’s decision-making capability, e.g. ‘she has good judgement’.

Singular or plural subject

‘The implication of the political developments, changes to business laws and generally volatile commercial landscapes arising from the pandemic are that there will be less stability going forward’.

The above sentence is grammatically incorrect. It is easy to see a lot of plural words and accidentally transpose these plural ideas into the verb of the sentence. The verb, however, should not be ‘are’ in this case but ‘is’, as it is governed by the singular word ‘implication’ at the start of the sentence.


I hope this is helpful! Please do reach out if you have any queries, either by tagging me in one of the public forums or by PMing me or e-mailing [email protected] if you have a more personal question regarding any of what I have written here.

Good luck writing your applications :)
 
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Jessica Booker

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Hi everyone!

In addition to my role as a community manager helping to address the queries of our lovely community members on the forum, I am part of TCLA's application review team and I review many of the applications that our members send in for review.

As December gets underway, the application cycle really heats up. In advance of what is likely to be a busy weekend of vacation scheme and training contract applications for many of our members, I have decided to kick off a thread about common application pitfalls to avoid over the coming months. I will update this post weekly with general mistakes that I notice as I review people's applications!

To start off with, look out for these common errors:



Non-sequiturs

‘I developed my legal research skills in my law firm internship last summer. As part of my role in compliance, I worked with other team members to…’ – it then becomes clear by the end of the sentence that the role in compliance is a completely different job from the law firm internship. The reader needs to go back and work out that one point was not explaining the other – they were actually two completely separate points. This is particularly confusing, so make sure to signpost your answers and use paragraphs to clearly delineate your points.

Not truly explaining each point

‘My previous job in investment banking means that I will enjoy and thrive in a corporate finance seat.’ I know what you mean, but remember that when a recruiter is reading at pace, poorly explained sentences like this one muddle your point in the reader’s mind. Your banking job does not mean either of these things by itself. If you disliked your banking job, then you probably will not enjoy corporate finance, and if you got fired for poor performance, then you probably will not thrive in this seat either. Make sure to back up every claim you make with a thorough explanation.

Not answering the question

When a question asks about the personal qualities that would make you a good trainee solicitor, these are not the same as the skills which would make you a good trainee solicitor. Personal qualities include things like motivation, resilience and integrity, whilst skills include research, writing and language skills. Things like analysis or attention to detail could possibly cover both, in my opinion.

The question ‘What makes a good trainee?’ is NOT asking you why you are a good candidate. If you really, really, really want to highlight a certain skill that you possess to a high degree, then you may do so in a brief comment at the end, but do not make this the focus of your answer.

Trying too hard to relate one’s answer back to law, commercial law or the firm, when the question does not ask you to do so

‘Tell us about something you are interested in so that we can get to know you better’. Do NOT try to relate this back to law or the firm unless it is a key component of your interest. I have seen answers by candidates attempting to relate their interests in hockey, baking and literature back to commercial law and it simply makes no sense. These are excellent examples for this question, but they simply do not relate to law and it would seem insincere to try to make them relate to law, plus it’s simply not necessary to do so.

Wasting words

‘I am very passionate about becoming a lawyer at an international commercial law firm.’

So many candidates introduce their answer with a statement like this. It really does not say anything of substance and wastes words that you could be using to actually demonstrate this to the reader. Remember show, don’t tell – if your passion is not evident from the rest of your answer, then you can bet the reader won’t be convinced by virtue of this statement alone.

Using too few words

‘I relish commercial law’s application of client-facing, business-tailored legal technology expertise in a team environment, drawing upon the integrity and resilience abilities gained from my leadership experience and pro bono passion.’ This is an exaggeration but a lot of candidates do stuff like this - there are like six sentences worth of points to make here which simply don’t make sense in one sentence. This is less effective than making one of those points really well and making fewer points overall.

I see these American spellings all the time, when we advise candidates to use British spelling

Program (UK spelling is programme)
Practice (when used as a verb, UK spelling is practise)
While (UK prefers whilst)
Using ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ e.g. ‘maximize’ (UK is ‘maximise’)
UK spelling likes hyphens in compound words, e.g. co-ordinate
In the UK single quotation marks ‘’ are preferred to double “”
Great post!

For good U.K. writing you should mainly use while rather than whilst. Whilst is particularly old fashioned and a much more modern style would use while.

Same with the hyphen. Coordinate is much more appropriate in U.K. writing than co-ordinate in modern writing.

Both matters are stylistic aspects though, so not really an issue if you went with one style over the other.
 
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James Carrabino

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Great post!

For good U.K. writing you should mainly use while rather than whilst. Whilst is particularly old fashioned and a much more modern style would use while.

Same with the hyphen. Coordinate is much more appropriate in U.K. writing than co-ordinate in modern writing.

Both matters are stylistic aspects though, so not really an issue if you went with one style over the other.
That's a great perspective @Jessica Booker, thank you! I think that candidates cannot go too wrong whether they use the more formal or more modern styles of writing here as long as they are consistent!
 

AP2000

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    Hey @James Carrabino, thanks a lot for your insight! These are really helpful tips for editing applications :) I found your comments on the skills vs personal qualities really interesting and I hadn't thought about this distinction before.

    In one of my applications there is one question asking about key skills that you'd bring to the firm in light of the work experiences outlined above, and a second question asking about other "key attributes" you'd bring to the firm given that clients expect more than just legal advice nowadays. I didn't make a distinction between skills and attributes. Instead for the first one I focused on skills/qualities relevant to trainee tasks and working within the law firm, and for the second one referred to skills and qualities relevant to clients. Would you say that "attributes" are more like "qualities"? And would soft skills even count as skills for such a question?
     
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    James Carrabino

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    Hey @James Carrabino, thanks a lot for your insight! These are really helpful tips for editing applications :) I found your comments on the skills vs personal qualities really interesting and I hadn't thought about this distinction before.

    In one of my applications there is one question asking about key skills that you'd bring to the firm in light of the work experiences outlined above, and a second question asking about other "key attributes" you'd bring to the firm given that clients expect more than just legal advice nowadays. I didn't make a distinction between skills and attributes. Instead for the first one I focused on skills/qualities relevant to trainee tasks and working within the law firm, and for the second one referred to skills and qualities relevant to clients. Would you say that "attributes" are more like "qualities"? And would soft skills such as communication skills even count as skills for such a question?
    I am so happy if I was able to help with that distinction and apologies for the delay to my response!

    That sounds like a pretty good approach in my opinion! I would say that the kind of 'soft skills' which you are presumably relating to client service, such as communication skills, seeing the big picture, or general interpersonal skills are really just qualities/attributes in disguise and so you can definitely use them here (although perhaps you can find a way of describing them that does not use the word skills - see my suggestion below).

    My overall advice is that if you're not sure whether something is a skill or a personal quality then it could probably pass for both. Language and coding skills are obviously not personal qualities whilst integrity is obviously not a skill. A lot of other things (including communication) could be both. I might avoid using the word 'skills' if possible as it makes the attribute sound trainable. Personal qualities should be inherent and not something that you can practise to improve on - how about 'communicativeness' instead of 'communication skills', for example? It is a more cumbersome word but better conveys communication ability as a quality rather than a skill - I will leave it up to you whether you decide to do this!

    By the way, I have added my advice for the last week (under DECEMBER WEEK 2) so feel free to take a look :)
     
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    George Maxwell

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    HI @James Carrabino
    I'm applying for the summer internship programme in DLA Piper,but I wanted to know what sort of work experiences do they expect in their application form from a first year law student.
    Hi @vertikamalviya,

    I think your question might be answered on this thread. If not, it is probably best to post your question on that thread or another just so others can benefit (and people, besides @James Carrabino, able to help are more likely to see it!).

    If it helps, in general firms ask for information about previous work experience to understand a few things. These include whether you have demonstrated a commitment to a career in law in the past to learning about the transferrable skills that you have developed. So I would advise you detail any work experience(s) with this in mind!

    Hope that helps 😇
     

    James Carrabino

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    HI @James Carrabino
    I'm applying for the summer internship programme in DLA Piper,but I wanted to know what sort of work experiences do they expect in their application form from a first year law student.
    Hi @vertikamalviya, I don't have much experience with DLA Piper myself but I think @George Maxwell has directed you to the right place! Happy to answer any other questions you have :)
     

    James Carrabino

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    By the way, to everyone following this thread:

    I am going to post each week's tips separately in comments below (in addition to updating the main post at the top) so that forum users will see when the thread has been updated! The updates will represent the most common mistakes that I see in the applications I review during the previous week - I hope that my post can serve as a checklist of what not to have in your application when you are proofing it before submitting!

    DECEMBER WEEK 1

    Non sequiturs


    ‘I developed my legal research skills in my law firm internship last summer. As part of my role in compliance, I worked with other team members to…’ – it then becomes clear by the end of the sentence that the role in compliance is a completely different job from the law firm internship. The reader needs to go back and work out that one point was not explaining the other – they were actually two completely separate points. This is particularly confusing, so make sure to signpost your answers and use paragraphs to clearly delineate your points.

    Not truly explaining each point

    ‘My previous job in investment banking means that I will enjoy and thrive in a corporate finance seat.’ I know what you mean, but remember that when a recruiter is reading at pace, poorly explained sentences like this one muddle your point in the reader’s mind. Your banking job does not mean either of these things by itself. If you disliked your banking job, then you probably will not enjoy corporate finance, and if you got fired for poor performance, then you probably will not thrive in this seat either. Make sure to back up every claim you make with a thorough explanation.

    Not answering the question

    When a question asks about the personal qualities that would make you a good trainee solicitor, these are not the same as the skills which would make you a good trainee solicitor. Personal qualities include things like motivation, resilience and integrity, whilst skills include research, writing and language skills. Things like analysis or attention to detail could possibly cover both, in my opinion.

    The question ‘What makes a good trainee?’ is NOT asking you why you are a good candidate. If you really, really, really want to highlight a certain skill that you possess to a high degree, then you may do so in a brief comment at the end, but do not make this the focus of your answer.

    Trying too hard to relate one’s answer back to law, commercial law or the firm, when the question does not ask you to do so

    ‘Tell us about something you are interested in so that we can get to know you better’. Do NOT try to relate this back to law or the firm unless it is a key component of your interest. I have seen answers by candidates attempting to relate their interests in hockey, baking and literature back to commercial law and it simply makes no sense. These are excellent examples for this question, but they simply do not relate to law and it would seem insincere to try to make them relate to law, plus it’s simply not necessary to do so.

    Wasting words

    ‘I am very passionate about becoming a lawyer at an international commercial law firm.’

    So many candidates introduce their answer with a statement like this. It really does not say anything of substance and wastes words that you could be using to actually demonstrate this to the reader. Remember show, don’t tell – if your passion is not evident from the rest of your answer, then you can bet the reader won’t be convinced by virtue of this statement alone.

    Using too few words

    ‘I relish commercial law’s application of client-facing, business-tailored legal technology expertise in a team environment, drawing upon the integrity and resilience abilities gained from my leadership experience and pro bono passion.’ This is an exaggeration but a lot of candidates do stuff like this - there are like six sentences worth of points to make here which simply don’t make sense in one sentence. This is less effective than making one of those points really well and making fewer points overall.

    I see these American spellings all the time, when we advise candidates to use British spelling

    Program (UK spelling is programme)
    Practice (when used as a verb, UK spelling is practise)
    While (UK prefers whilst)
    Using ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ e.g. ‘maximize’ (UK is ‘maximise’)
    UK spelling likes hyphens in compound words, e.g. co-ordinate
    In the UK single quotation marks ‘’ are preferred to double “”
     
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    James Carrabino

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    DECEMBER WEEK 2

    Anachronising your motivations


    ‘I first became interested in commercial law during my vacation scheme at X firm’, or ‘My desire to become a solicitor stems from my Open Day at Y firm’.

    If these experiences were really the root of your interest, then why did you originally apply for them in the first place? I am not just being pedantic – law firms want to get to know you better as a person so that they can put your motivations in context. They want to know where your original inherent curiosity about commercial law came from, before you go about demonstrating how you pursued this interest and enhanced it. A vacation scheme or open day allows you to demonstrate how you began to affirm your desire to pursue commercial law through the things you learnt as part of the experience, but mentioning this by itself would fail to distinguish the sincerity of your motivations from those of other candidates who have also completed vacation schemes/open days.

    Not reading the nuance of the question

    If the question asks, ‘Why do you want to become a solicitor?’, do not begin with ‘I am interested in commercial law because…’.

    Sure, it’s often the exact same thing (although not entirely – in the above example ‘solicitor’ explicitly rules out barrister whilst ‘commercial law’ is more broad) but I would still make an effort to use the nuanced wording in the question. Your answer may be excellent but it will demonstrate that you have not tailored your answer to the question. The recruiter will know immediately that it is a copy-and-paste job from multiple other applications. At least use the wording of the application to maintain the pretence of being uniquely interested in the firm that you are applying to (preferably tailor other components of your answer too) 🤣

    Writing disjointed cover letters

    Some cover letters ask for candidates to include quite specific things (for example, your motivations for pursuing commercial law, your transferable skills, your positions of responsibility and an achievement that you are particularly proud of).

    You do have to address all the limbs of the question, but the risk from what I have read is that many cover letters then become a compilation of competency answers, motivational answers and a ‘Why commercial law’ answer from other applications. Pasting in a hotchpotch of pre-written paragraphs simply does not lend itself to a cohesive cover letter. The cover letter should flow as a well-written and readable letter.

    This is especially obvious when the last paragraph ends with something unrelated to the firm (e.g. an example of when the candidate demonstrated teamwork), before concluding with ‘Thank you for your consideration’ and a sign-off. You should at least summarise your letter and relate everything back to your excitement to pursue a career at the firm.

    Some firms say that if you write three sentences in a row which could appear in another application, then your cover letter is not specific enough. Without going that far, I would push you to always make comments relating back to your motivations to work at the firm (e.g. how teamwork would relate specifically to the firm’s work) so that you maintain a sense of cohesion throughout the letter.

    Making unnecessary comparisons

    In order to talk about why you like one career/practice area/firm, you do not need to say why you think it is better than another. In fact, that can often miss the point, which is to find your motivations for pursuing that career, not to learn about your assessment of a variety of careers.

    ‘The small environment, half the size of X and Y firm, would allow me to….’ – I have seen this a lot. This is sort of talking down on the larger firms as you are implying that the larger office environment is not as desirable. It is great if you want to describe why you would appreciate an intimate firm environment, but the environment of other firms is not relevant and it could seem unprofessional to discuss this. This is especially true because the small office at your firm could be much larger in a decade from now and they would not want to think that this could bother you.

    ‘I want to be a solicitor because I value a team environment and I would not have this as a barrister’. The question is asking at face value why you want to be a solicitor. You do not need to compare it with another career unless you are asked to. If you make an unsolicited comparison, the thing you choose to compare it to might raise more questions than it answers (for example, why you consider the alternative to be a barrister as opposed to an investment banker).

    Not relating points back to oneself

    Do not simply state that ‘I admire the firm’s commitment to mentorship/client service/ESG/diversity’ before proceeding to talk about how the firm excels in the area you chose, without saying why these things are meaningful to you.

    Perhaps you think that some of these things are so ubiquitously good that you do not need to explain your attraction to them, but if this is the case then they probably do not really distinguish the firm from any other firm (there are very few firms not at least claiming to have strong initiatives in all of the aforementioned areas).

    You have to dig deeper into what the firm does that is actually unique, why that is particularly important to you as a candidate and how you see it benefiting you throughout your career.

    Assuming that a claim is self-explanatory

    On the same note as the above point, I would avoid making what I think of as a lazy claim; ‘As a member of x community, I appreciate the firm’s commitment to y initiative.’

    It is important to go a step further to explain why the initiative is impactful and important to you – I assume that it would not be enough for you if the firm were simply doing lip service to this initiative and so you can really enhance your point here by explaining how the firm has backed up its commitment. By demonstrating that you know the ways in which the firm goes above and beyond in the areas that you are talking about, you can then justify how you see yourself taking advantage of the opportunities which the initiative could afford you.

    Notes from this week’s spelling/grammar errors

    I have seen multiple candidates write ‘orientated’, when the correct word is ‘oriented’.

    Punctuation should appear outside of quotation marks in British English (as with the comma and full stop in my above example) unless the punctuation was included in the quoted material. This is not the case in American English.

    ‘Got’ is still the strongly preferred past participle of ‘get’ in British English (as opposed to ‘gotten’ – I have done some double-checking on this to make sure that things have not changed since I was in school).

    When writing two full sentences in close proximity, do not separate them with a comma. Use a full stop or, in the instance that the latter sentence relates closely to the former, you can use a semicolon – e.g. ‘I am very interested in corporate finance due to my internship last summer at a bank; I would like to ensure that I pursue a seat in finance during my training contract’.

    Avoid writing subordinate clauses as sentences - e.g. ‘I am particularly impressed by the quality of the mentorship, the strength of the practice areas and the cohesion of the culture at the firm. Which is why I want to pursue my training contract at the firm’s London office’. Many of you will know not to do this but incomplete sentences like this crop up a lot, likely with the intention of preventing the previous sentence from becoming too long. Sentences have to have a main clause in order to be fully formed and I would not compromise grammar for stylistic effect in application answers.
     
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    James Carrabino

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    Please view the most recent update to this thread below (I have also edited my original post up top).

    My advice this week on things to watch out for is slightly lengthier than previous weeks and I invite you to take some time to cogitate on my suggestions in advance of the numerous January application deadlines. Please feel free to respond to the thread with any queries you may have.

    TCLA's application review service is closed next week for Christmas. As a result, I will not be reviewing applications next week and so this post is meant to cover two weeks' worth of application pitfalls (I have been doing extra reviews this past week and so I have noticed more mistakes cropping up regularly). I hope that this serves as some useful food for thought over the coming weeks!

    I will be back to update this thread in the first week of January - in the meantime have a wonderful Christmas!



    DECEMBER WEEKS 3-4

    Using a STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) approach anywhere and everywhere


    This is a very common problem. Candidates want to show that they have adequately explained their claim or thoroughly displayed their competency, which is great. Often a STAR approach will be exceptionally useful in doing this. It gets a little excessive, however, when applicants write this kind of formulaic analysis into questions where it does not quite fit. Below I will give an example of the kind of situation where this issue may arise:

    I would personally answer a question about my spare time interests by discussing the fact that I enjoy playing chess and pool when I have free time and that I love hiking and getting outdoors in general. I have a master’s degree in music, so I may be pushing the concept of ‘spare time interests’ by mentioning the amount of time I spend playing piano, but I would probably include that as well. What I would not do, however, is write out a full competency answer using STAR analysis about the time I demonstrated my leadership skills as part of my role in a musical education charity. That role alone was really more of a volunteering/work experience example and if I were to write about it simply because I think it sounds more ‘impressive’ than mentioning what I genuinely enjoy doing in my spare time, then this would undermine my answer. When applicants impose a very formulaic analysis onto a question that really just wants to get to know them better as a person, it can come across as insincere.

    Not using a parallel structure within each sentence

    A sentence should maintain a parallel structure syntactically in order to make it clear to the reader which verbs, nouns and adjectives govern which parts of the sentence. In longer sentences, a candidate’s failure to use parallel grammatical structures can really cause the reader to have to do a double-take and re-read the sentence if they want to understand it. Many recruiters will be reading at pace and so will just move on without taking the time to try understanding your point.

    Let me give two examples of what I am talking about when I say a ‘parallel structure’:
    • Example 1: ‘I managed the society's financial affairs, including finding sponsors and fund allocation.’
    Are you finding both sponsors and fund allocation? What does it even mean to find fund allocation?

    Oh… ‘fund allocation’ is governed by ‘including’, not ‘finding’. In order to avoid this kind of ambiguous sentence, make sure that you use a parallel grammatical structure as follows: ‘I managed the society's financial affairs, including finding sponsors and allocating funds. Having two parallel verb+noun phrases (‘finding sponsors’ and ‘allocating funds’) clearly delineates that these are two separate activities, whilst having a verb followed by two noun phrases – as it was written previously – makes the reader incorrectly think that the noun phrases (‘sponsors’ and ‘fund allocation’) are grouped together.
    • Example 2: ‘I appreciate that regulations continue to evolve, there is a need to understand those changes, and that lawyers play a vital role in advising their clients on these changes’.
    I had to read this sentence twice to understand it (which graduate recruiters will probably not have time to do).

    My confusion was that at first I thought the phrase, ‘there is a need to understand those changes’, was a conclusion and not an item in the list of things that the candidate appreciated. I was then confused when the sentence continued, ‘and that lawyers…’ because this last clause seemed strangely tacked on to the end of the sentence, instead of forming part of a coherent list. For absolute clarity, I would write an extra ‘that’ so that each of the three items in the list is clearly signposted with the word ‘that’ as follows: ‘I appreciate that regulations continue to evolve, that there is a need to understand those changes, and that lawyers play a vital role in advising their clients on these changes’.

    Failing to answer every limb of the question

    There will often be a question with two or more ‘limbs’. A common example of this question is, Tell us about your extra-curricular activities, positions of responsibility and achievements’. Make sure you signpost which part of your answer explains the corresponding component of the question. By ‘signpost’ I mean that you should be as obvious as you can when starting each point by either introducing it as an extra-curricular activity, position of responsibility or achievement. I would personally separate each limb into a separate paragraph but this is not absolutely necessary as long as you make it clear which one you are talking about at every stage throughout your answer.

    An example of a statement that is not well signposted and does not adequately address any of the limbs of the question (despite touching upon all of them) would be:

    ‘As captain of my university’s hockey team, I implemented a training method that ultimately led our team to win a national tournament’.

    This victory is certainly an achievement and the candidate’s captaincy is a position of responsibility, whilst the entire pursuit of hockey at university is an extra-curricular activity. Nevertheless, the applicant did not explicitly relate this statement back to any of the limbs of the question. Ultimately the question is seeking insight into how you achieved your achievements, how you approached your positions of responsibility and how you immersed yourself in a variety of extra-curriculars. If you wanted to convey this statement as a position of responsibility, for example, you would have to elaborate upon your role as the captain and how you specifically took responsibility for the team in order to implement the successful method of training. If you wanted to explain it as all three things (an extra-curricular activity, position of responsibility and achievement) then you would have to explain each one in turn.

    A well-signposted version of the above example would be as follows (I have underlined the places where I explicitly refer to each limb of the question):

    One of the major extra-curricular activities that I have been involved with throughout university is hockey, a sport that I have loved since a young age as a result of the strategy and collaboration that a team needs to win matches. My passion for hockey led me to take on a role of significant responsibility when I became the captain of my university’s hockey team. In this position, I was relied on to arrange training sessions and implement a new method of training. I consider one of my greatest achievements to be leading the team to our first national tournament victory in over a decade. By convincing the team to take up my novel training method, I ensured that the skills and fitness levels of the team members left us better prepared than our opponents on match days.’

    This is certainly much longer than the first example, but it is necessary to properly explain how the activity relates to each limb of the question.

    (You can probably tell that I know absolutely nothing about hockey – I will use a different example next time :D)

    Ignoring the nuance of the question

    This also relates to questions with multiple ‘limbs’, as I discussed above. In addition to the question, ‘Tell us about your extra-curricular activities, positions of responsibility and achievements’, I have also seen the question, ‘Tell us about your awards, prizes, scholarships and an achievement of great importance’, or the question, ‘Tell us about your extra-curricular activities and leisure interests’, as well as further variations on this.

    Needless to say, all three of these are a bit different. It is very tempting to think that you have come to the ‘achievements question’ or ‘extra-curriculars question' and you can simply copy and paste from another application. Often the ‘limbs’ of the question will be subtly different in each application, meaning that you need to tailor your answer accordingly. If the answer asks for prizes or scholarships, try to think of at least one prize and one scholarship that you received, even if these are not your main achievements. If the answer asks for a single achievement of importance, do not list multiple general achievements. In order to make it as clear as possible for the reader and to ensure that you are following the exact nuanced wording within the question, I would again recommend addressing each limb of the question in order, preferably in a short paragraph of its own.

    Inadequately explaining achievements

    This is relevant to questions about achievements more generally. I will start by saying that anything can be an achievement. Something that is an achievement to me may not be an achievement to you and vice versa.

    You need to explain what you think of as the achievement. Let’s go back to my example from before:

    ‘As captain of my university’s hockey team, I implemented a training method that ultimately led our team to win a national tournament’.

    I saw an applicant use a sentence like this, with the intention of conveying it as an achievement. But what is the achievement? Was the achievement the victory in the national tournament, or was it the success of the training method that the applicant implemented? The achievement could have been the fact that the applicant became captain in the first place. I will repeat that anything can be an achievement if you explain why it is an achievement for you. Implementing the training method could have been the real success here if the team had been struggling to find an adequate training process for a long time. The victory in the tournament may not have been a huge achievement if the team won this tournament every year.

    In order to demonstrate why something was such an achievement, you need to explain two things:
    1. Why it was a goal worth pursuing for you
    2. What challenges you had to overcome
    I have seen applicants write that their proudest achievement was coming to live in London, or that their proudest achievement was moving to Paris for a gap year and making new friends. Both of those things were actually excellent achievements when read in context, considering the challenges that the applicants faced in pursuing these goals, as well as their important reasons for pursuing these goals. Without gleaning this from other components of their applications, however, I would have not necessarily understood why these were such great achievements.

    Say what the achievement is and explain why it is an achievement to you.

    Not providing background to titles and companies

    ‘I enhanced my commercial awareness in my role as Performance Lead at XYZ Solutions.’

    Candidates write things like this a lot. If your job title does not make it abundantly clear what your responsibilities are (or in this example how they relate to commercial awareness), then you have to explain your role beyond simply mentioning the job title. Also, if the company you worked for is not particularly well known, then the recruiter is probably not going to spend time looking it up, so I would add a brief description of what it does, e.g. ‘XYZ Solutions, a management consultancy for technology start-ups’.

    Notes from this week’s spelling/grammar errors

    ‘VC’ is an abbreviation for Venture Capital, not for…Vacation sCheme???? I have seen many candidates writing that they are applying to the ‘Spring VC’ at a firm and for the life of me I have no idea where this common error comes from!

    On the above note, I would generally advise against using abbreviations at all unless they are exceptionally common, e.g. UK for United Kingdom.

    Bear in mind also that British English does not use full stops in abbreviations where American English does (as in U.K. for United Kingdom). The same goes for titles like Mr/Dr/Ms, which in American English would be written as Mr./Dr./Ms.

    There should be a single space after a full stop, not two spaces. Many candidates are inconsistent about using one or two spaces which is even worse.

    This should go without saying, but make sure firm names and names of specific firm practice areas are spelt correctly. Use the ‘&’ symbol instead of ‘and’ where appropriate; use an apostrophe before the final ‘S’ only where appropriate (the supermarket ‘Morrisons’ does not have an apostrophe, whilst ‘Sainsbury’s’ does) and use a comma only where appropriate (Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP does not have a comma whilst Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP does).
     
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    vertikamalviya

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    Dec 15, 2021
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    Hi @vertikamalviya,

    I think your question might be answered on this thread. If not, it is probably best to post your question on that thread or another just so others can benefit (and people, besides @James Carrabino, able to help are more likely to see it!).

    If it helps, in general firms ask for information about previous work experience to understand a few things. These include whether you have demonstrated a commitment to a career in law in the past to learning about the transferrable skills that you have developed. So I would advise you detail any work experience(s) with this in mind!

    Hope that
    Hi @vertikamalviya,

    I think your question might be answered on this thread. If not, it is probably best to post your question on that thread or another just so others can benefit (and people, besides @James Carrabino, able to help are more likely to see it!).

    If it helps, in general firms ask for information about previous work experience to understand a few things. These include whether you have demonstrated a commitment to a career in law in the past to learning about the transferrable skills that you have developed. So I would advise you detail any work experience(s) with this in mind!

    Hope that helps 😇
    It does.Thank You so much🥰
     
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    James Carrabino

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    Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone was able to take a break from applications and relax a little over the holidays.

    Please find my first application pitfalls post of January below. My next update will be in two weeks as I have exams next week!

    Please do reach out if you have any questions about any of the things I have raised. I hope that this is useful in advance of a busy application month :)



    JANUARY WEEKS 1-2

    Not putting your experiences in context


    For example, were your cycling achievements something that you pursed as part of your university extra-curricular activities, or did you pursue these in your spare time? It is useful to give the reader a sense of how serious you were about each activity you pursued and the extent to which you had to juggle your time in order to keep up the activities that are important to you.

    Writing vague firm-specific answers

    This is a (made-up, but using a mixture of details from applications I have read over the last few weeks) example of an answer to a firm-specific question. By ‘firm-specific questions’ I mean the ones that ask you why you want to work with them in particular… and yes, your answer to this question does need to be wholly specific to the firm so you should not be doing any copying and pasting from other applications! My following example would be a weak answer for an application to XYZ LLP:


    ‘I wish to train as a solicitor at XYZ LLP as it combines my interests in the intellectual nature of law and the complex character of the business world. Having worked at two international corporations, I have been fascinated by how businesses respond to new regulations and I am particularly attracted to XYZ LLP’s international outlook as a result. I value how being a solicitor at the firm would allow me to be a client’s first point of contact when approached with these difficult questions.

    I believe that as a progressive firm, XYZ LLP will provide me with first-class legal training which will prepare me well for a successful career. I think that the firm’s large/small trainee intake will offer me a comprehensive/intimate training environment, which will present me with excellent opportunities for professional development. I am uniquely drawn to XYZ LLP because of the firm’s dual strength in both its transactional and disputes practices. This is unique and it really appeals to me as I hope to undertake seats in both practice areas as a trainee. Moreover, XYZ LLP’s award-winning pro bono work and diversity initiatives demonstrate that the firm’s values are closely aligned to mine.’


    This answer manages to make a lot of claims about XYZ LLP whilst simultaneously saying very little that is specific about the firm (note that it does matter whether the firm’s trainee intake is large or small – candidates love mentioning this either way but it is really not a very interesting point to make since so many other firms share a similar-sized cohort and it is unclear which one really has a greater benefit to trainees).

    When you are writing a firm-specific answer, really do your research. Now, this does not need to be an exorbitantly long process – you may have seen applicants on the forum say that they spend days researching a firm before applying, but honestly that is not necessary. I actually approached the firm-specific answers as a box-ticking exercise and in 1-2 hours of research I would make bullet points that allowed me to do the following:
    • Mention a deal the firm had worked on recently in an area of interest to me
    • Mention a partner I would possibly like to work with as part of my training contract
    • Mention a firm-specific initiative
    • Mention an award that the firm had won
    • Convey that I had an understanding of what the firm was really known for
    Once you have done these things, you will have enough information to write your answer in a very short period of time whilst ensuring that every sentence is specific to the firm. It will not be too difficult and it will be a great answer!

    Including the same material in multiple answers

    It is not good to have overlapping material between answers. By overlapping material I am referring to large chunks of text that are instantly recognisable to the reader as being highly similar to another part of your application. You might think that you have changed the wording enough for this not to be a problem, but if you are making substantially the same point about your achievement or experience then the reader will recognise this immediately.

    This often appears when an applicant uses wording from a work experience entry to describe a question about the time they held a position of responsibility. You can definitely use the same example – that is not the problem at all – but you need to make sure there is a different point to be made. If you are simply describing your role as you have done in the work experience entry, then it is quite apparent and it comes across as if you had nothing else to talk about. A good answer may delve into a specific challenge you faced during your role and how that really tested you in your position of responsibility, as this is something you are unlikely to discuss in a stand-alone work experience entry.

    Making reference to things without explaining/elaborating on them

    Many candidates write sentences like, ‘My international experience has prepared me for cross-border work’, or ‘I discovered in my banking internship that I enjoy and thrive in a commercial team environment,’ without actually describing what their international experience is or where they did their banking internship.

    Even more common is that candidates do not do something quite this extreme but will write a sentence about how living and working in four different countries has prepared them to work at an international firm. As a reader, I really want to know which countries these are! I also want to know if you speak languages from those countries as well. I am not quite sure why the point is worth mentioning if it only gets mentioned so sparingly.

    This seems strange to me but I do review applicants’ written answers on their own, so perhaps what is happening is that applicants assume recruiters will remember the experiences they are referring to from other components of their application (e.g. their work experience and education). This is the most plausible explanation I can think of for these kind of vague references.

    I would not count on recruiters remembering things from other parts of your application, simply because they will be reading every application so quickly and they will be reading so many of them. If the point you are making is not self-contained and requires the person reading your application to refer back to another component of your application, then this could result in it not being properly understood.

    Making naïve discoveries

    ‘On the Open Day I learnt that commercial lawyers make relationships with clients so that they can advise them on legal solutions to their business problems’.

    This actually sounds kind of good when you read it, except for the fact that this is really obvious, isn’t it? Did you actually learn this on the open day (implying you did not know it before)? Did you not learn anything more specific or substantial on the open day? Filler sentences like these seem to appear a lot and I would not recommend putting them in as they could come across as naïve.

    Placing a long phrase before short phrases in a list

    This reads poorly. For example, ‘I am attracted to the firm’s comprehensive mentorship opportunities tailored to each trainee, international secondments and culture.’

    This reads fine though: ‘I am attracted to the firm’s culture, international secondments and comprehensive mentorship opportunities tailored to each trainee’.

    It is sort of a stylistic convention that in a list of phrases, you start with the shortest and end with the longest.

    Notes from this week’s spelling/grammar errors

    Not maintaining continuity of tense

    ‘By early 2020 the business was struggling to sell its assets quickly enough to meet debts of over $100 billion. These liabilities included nearly $10 billion in bonds that are denominated in US dollars and were issued offshore.’

    Nothing is technically incorrect in this sentence assuming that the bonds continue to be denominated in US dollars, but it sounds awkward to write ‘are denominated’ in the present when everything else is in the past.

    This problem can also arise when writing about your experiences – you may express that you ‘have’ (i.e. present tense implied) a certain skill whilst you were doing something in the past. It can sometimes sound awkward to do this unless you are clearly and deliberately changing the tense (for example, you are actively emphasising that you continue to have this skill in the present day as a result of your past experience).

    Order of Adjectives in a List

    There are syntactical ‘rules’ about the order in which adjectives should appear within a list of adjectives. This is more an issue of style than strict grammar, but it will often sound wrong not to follow this order for a phrase consisting of multiple adjectives:

    A. Determiner/Article (The/This/That/Some etc.)

    B. Adjectives (in order of adjective categories below):
    1. Quantity or number
    2. Quality or opinion (general)
    3. Quality or opinion (specific)
    4. Size
    5. Physical Quality
    6. Shape
    7. Age
    8. Colour
    9. Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin)
    10. Material
    11. Type
    12. Purpose or qualifier
    C. Noun

    Here are some example sentences with each word’s category given in brackets (I could not come up with an example incorporating all 12…🤣)

    ‘The six(1) smelly(2) old(7) French(9) cheeses’

    ‘The large(4) round(6) blue(8) bowling(12) ball’

    On the other hand, ‘The six French old smelly cheeses’ does not sound right, nor does ‘The blue round large bowling ball’. It would be especially bizarre to say, ‘The French smelly old six cheeses’ or ‘The bowling round blue large ball’.


    This is not a hard-and-fast rule (there seems to be particular disagreement about the order of ‘shape’ and ‘age’ adjectives) and there are definitely other exceptions too. It is possible to change the order of adjectives for emphatic purposes or because a particular adjective is more closely associated with the noun – e.g. you would not say a ‘red French wine’ when you are referring to a ‘French red wine’, despite colour usually coming before nationality according to the above list.

    Nevertheless, if you are in doubt about what sounds right in the sentence, then take a look back at this! It is easy to get ‘too close’ to an application and have no idea if your sentence sounds right any more so this can serve to help in those instances :)
     

    James Carrabino

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    Please find my Application Pitfalls post for Week 3 of January below! As always, please reach out with any questions :)

    JANUARY WEEK 3

    Beginning sentences with ‘this’


    ‘This demonstrates’ or ‘This is why I admire’ creates problems when it is unclear what ‘this’ is referring to. Sometimes a whole paragraph will start with ‘This shows…’ as if to say that all the points brought up in the previous paragraph culminate into your conclusion.

    Always keep your language precise. If the reader cannot work out what you are referring to, then it is likely that you were not entirely clear in your own mind about the point you were trying to make. In such an instance, your point will be a lot weaker than if you were to spend time clarifying your thoughts and conveying your idea in precise language.

    Unwittingly undermining a prior point

    ‘I am particularly attracted to the firm’s small trainee intake, as I will have the opportunity to take responsibility early on. Although small intakes are not uncommon, I think that it will provide an excellent environment for my training and development.’

    Candidates are often nervous to make a point if they are not sure about how valid it is, so they try to qualify it in the following sentence. If anything, this only serves to undermine the point overall. In the example above, why is a firm’s small trainee intake a selling point worth mentioning if a lot of firms have a small trainee intake?

    State your points confidently – even if the details are not 100% correct, your thoughts will come across much more clearly this way!

    Offering unrealistic motivations

    ‘I want to be a commercial lawyer because I am passionate about analysing documents in detail’.

    Really?

    Many candidates write something to this effect. Now, it is good to demonstrate that you know what a career in law entails; it often will involve detailed document analysis. Also, it is good to show your genuine excitement and passion for the career that you are about to pursue. But simply stating that you are passionate about something does not convince the reader that you are passionate about it…especially when it sounds like a rather dry and boring task.

    Remember – show, don’t tell! Discuss how you love the sense of reward you feel after really understanding the crux of a complex area of law and being able to apply that understanding within your submission to a client. Perhaps mention times that you have really excelled when using a skill such as analysis.

    Your answer need not explicitly state that you are ‘passionate’ about the issue and it can even leave open the possibility for you to find the task very boring at times. Nevertheless, it can more convincingly demonstrate the drive and passion that you bring to your work, even when it is not the most stimulating work in the world. This will help you craft an excellent answer on your motivations.

    Explaining your motivation with another motivation

    On a similar note to the above point, many applicants seem to have difficulty explaining their motivations more generally. I have frequently seen sentences such as, ‘I am interested in becoming a commercial solicitor because I want to use legal solutions to help clients reach desirable business outcomes’.

    This expresses vague knowledge of what a commercial solicitor does, but is in effect just saying that ‘I want to become a commercial solicitor because I want to become a commercial solicitor’.

    Even if the candidate is more specific by saying ‘I want to become a commercial solicitor because I want a career that involves teamwork and international collaboration’, I would still ask, ‘So why do you want a career that involves teamwork and international collaboration’?

    Try not to use a motivation for one thing to describe a motivation for another, without ever actually explaining the reason behind either of your motivations.

    Using superfluous words
    • ‘Currently, global transport is a particularly pertinent topic given that transport logistics have been under heavy spotlight and scrutiny recently’.
    ‘Spotlight’ and ‘scrutiny’ have slightly different meanings but not quite different enough, in my opinion, to use both in a law firm application answer. Try to avoid writing a pair of words or a group of phrases simply with the goal of making your sentence sound nice – those words are better spent making a new point!
    • ‘The firm holds a large market share within four niche and specialised sectors’.
    The same principle applies here; in my opinion, only ‘specialised’ is needed and not ‘niche’.

    Placing too much emphasis on common firm talking points

    Candidates regularly manage to use nearly identical sentences to each other when they try to describe why they are attracted to a firm’s culture. This will often take the form of a candidate quoting a trainee who described the ‘hands-on’ approach or ‘welcoming environment’ at the firm. It can be great that you have spoken to or heard from someone at the firm, but be wary of espousing the firm’s talking points when, in reality, every single firm claims to have the exact same strengths.

    An example of an answer to the question ‘Why this firm’ which could be written by any applicant and which could apply to any firm is as follows:

    ‘Having talked to trainees, I appreciate that the welcoming and friendly culture makes XYZ LLP stand out. I am eager to work in a team that is respectful and collaborative. The small teams and focus on formal training would make XYZ LLP a perfect learning environment for me’.

    Honestly, I tend to find that making points about a firm’s culture can be a bit tenuous unless the firm really does have something unique about the way it operates (finding this can require a high level of research).

    Notes from this week’s spelling/grammar errors

    Compound adjectives should be hyphenated – development-oriented, litigation-focused, hands-on and strength-based are all examples of compounds in which multiple words combine to form a single descriptive word that is used as an adjective. These compound adjectives should have hyphens to indicate that they are essentially being used as a single word.

    Apostrophes after ‘S’ – only words which have been made plural using an ‘s’ have the apostrophe at the very end. An item of mine would be James’s, not James’ – the latter would imply that the item belonged to multiple individuals called Jame.

    Capitalisation – if it is a proper noun, like the title of a firm, someone’s name, or the title of a specific practice group at a firm (as opposed to a general area of law like ‘litigation’), then it should be capitalised. Otherwise, there is usually no need to do so.
     
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    James Carrabino

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    Please find the final instalment of my Application Pitfalls thread! I have posted this last one a few days early in case it proves helpful over the final weekend of applications - please reach out with any questions :)

    JANUARY WEEK 4

    Making unsubstantiated comments about a firm’s reputation


    The firm has ‘top-quality work’ – in what way?

    It works on ‘big-ticket deals’ – like what?

    The firm has a ‘reputation for excellent training’ – in whose eyes?

    Remember that you should always provide evidence to back up your claims, especially if they could otherwise come across as fawning. Providing evidence also shows that you have done your research about the firm and know what you are talking about. This could simply involve mentioning a report that outlines the excellence of the firm’s work in a certain practice area, or discussing a blockbuster deal where the firm took a leading role.

    Failing to properly explain a competency

    ‘I managed multiple deadlines by working efficiently and prioritising my tasks’ – this is surely how everyone manages multiple deadlines? The reader wants to know how you specifically approached this and what ‘working efficiently’ and ‘prioritising’ meant for you.

    Using the same word or phrase multiple times in close proximity

    Often when you spend a long time editing your answers, you edit out certain words and phrases for words and phrases that you think are more appropriate in the context. In the process, you are unlikely to read through your entire answer again to double-check that the same words and phrases have not been used somewhere else where they are more appropriate in the context.

    See what I did there? My repetition of ‘words and phrases’ and ‘more appropriate in the context’ strangely stick out because they are repeated in close proximity. It all just sounds…awkward 🤣

    The same problem arises when you begin multiple consecutive sentences with the same word each time (e.g. ‘Furthermore’) – it can become rather enchanting (in a bad way)!

    As a result, I recommend always reading over your answer when you are fresh so that you are not 'too close' to your application. This will help you uncover all the awkward phrasing that may have crept into your answer.

    Not explaining a technical term or complex legal process

    ‘This decision confirmed the current legal approach to the same interest test’.

    A legal test like this is something that a law student may assume everyone knows, but many non-litigation legal practitioners will not necessarily remember a specific point like this from their days as a student. Also remember that members of graduate recruitment have often not studied law themselves so if they are reading your application then it is better to err on the side of caution and explain any legal jargon that you want to use.

    Providing an inadequate explanation of why a news story interests you

    ‘This news story interests me because it demonstrates the way in which laws of different jurisdictions interact’.

    But why does that interest you? For example, are you a citizen of multiple countries who has been affected by the varying laws of different jurisdictions?

    In order to explain how a news story interests you, you have to show that the contents of the story relates in some way to you, your experiences, background, interests or career aspirations. Doing this can feel somewhat contrived, but if you choose a story that genuinely piqued your interest then it is likely that you will be able to address these things.

    It is important to consider the implications of the news story – will it have any effect on you personally? Will it revolutionise an area of law that you studied in depth? There has to be some sort of reason why you genuinely find the news story interesting that goes beyond simply stating that it interests you. Without this, your interest in the topic may seem insincere.

    Worrying about including a tangible accolade when describing an achievement

    I have touched on this in a previous post, but it is important to remember that an achievement can be anything that you have personally determined to be an achievement. It does not need to have a tangible prize or award attached to it in order for it to constitute an achievement.

    The most important thing is being able to draw something from your achievement, so simply stating that your proudest achievement is winning a certain award and then moving on to something else is probably not the best approach.

    If there is a tangible accolade that you received at the end of the achievement, then definitely feel free to mention it, but the more important component of your answer is your explanation of the challenge you faced and the journey towards the achievement. The achievement itself can be anything of value to you personally.

    Notes from this week’s spelling/grammar errors

    Colon vs Semi-colon

    Many candidates seem to be getting these two punctuation marks mixed up. The general rule is that colons are used to introduce something following them, such as a quotation, example, or list. Semi-colons link two independent sentences or complete thoughts, indicating that the latter relates to the former. My example below includes both a semi-colon and colon as they ought to be used.

    ‘I am disappointed with my exam results; my percentages were as follows: 26, 34, 19 and 7’.

    Judgment vs Judgement

    In British English, ‘judgment’ refers to a decision by a judge in court, whilst ‘judgement’ refers to an individual’s decision-making capability, e.g. ‘she has good judgement’.

    Singular or plural subject

    ‘The implication of the political developments, changes to business laws and generally volatile commercial landscapes arising from the pandemic are that there will be less stability going forward’.

    The above sentence is grammatically incorrect. It is easy to see a lot of plural words and accidentally transpose these plural ideas into the verb of the sentence. The verb, however, should not be ‘are’ in this case but ‘is’, as it is governed by the singular word ‘implication’ at the start of the sentence.
     
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