They offered me the TC. Ten years of applications to finally get one offer. Pretty crazy. Still processing this.
I’ve been thinking for a while about what to write here. It has been a long time since my application cycles began.
I’m more relieved than anything to have accepted a training contract offer. I’m really looking forward to the career, and I’m very pleased about the firm.
A few words in reflection:
1. I thought I was prepared but I was not.
This was both personal and emotional. I thought I would slip my way through applications like I had in the past based on the strength of my working background and my networking ability. I was wrong, and had I accepted earlier in the process that there were serious parts of my application that needed work, my position would have been better.
2. Applications reward brevity and clarity.
Our role models for this aren’t great. Judicial decisions are incredibly verbose and coursework often copies this standard. However, solicitors bill by time. On my Vac Scheme I was given a lot of reading to process quickly. When sending summaries, or reports, or any work to supervisors and partners, I became acutely aware of how little time they were able to put into it. The more concise my legal writing was, the less time they spent reading it, the less it cost the client. (this list should not be taken as model behaviour!) The application questions often have low word limits for this reason.
3. Find services dedicated to helping aspiring lawyers.
University career services were not helpful for me. It was beneficial for me to find services that were dedicated to helping aspiring lawyers. (Such as TCLA)
4. Figure out your personal narrative and make it coherent.
This was a challenge for me as a mature candidate with mitigating circumstances. I worked with many people to help me position myself appropriately. Your life is full of wonderful examples of learning – even the failures. When framed right, what you perceive as weaknesses will become demonstrations of strength and resilience.
5. Law firms probably won’t give you feedback, but if they do accept it completely.
Don’t try to prove them wrong or fight against their hiring policies. I had one firm tell me that under no circumstances could they accept my mitigating circumstances. It was hard to hear, and I only I found this out by networking with lawyers from the firm and calling the graduate recruitment team directly. I learnt to position myself differently and did not make another application to the firm. (Get good feedback from TCLA reviewers!)
6. Reach out. If you have mitigating circumstances or need accommodations, there’s no problem telephoning or emailing firms and asking how they treat these. (Sometimes a direct call can be better than an email!)
I had two different firms slip information to me that they probably shouldn’t have said. In once case they had already made all their hires and weren’t accepting more applications, even though the portal was still active. In the other, they had only intended to hire internal candidates, despite opening the application portal to external candidates. I definitely felt unhappy to hear this, but it did save me from wasted effort.
7. Two things to learn from #6 are (a) apply early and not at the final deadline, and; (b) sometimes rejections aren’t about you at all.
8. Study the legal environment.
It’s helpful to understand the ecosystem of law firms and how they interrelate. It’s not enough to just see ‘magic circle’ and ‘silver circle’ or ‘international’ or ‘city’ and ‘US’ firms. Understand the types of business they engage in and who they think of as their main competitors. The next step is to understand why and how they compete.
Go to law firm events and ask questions about their core practice. Follow up with presenters and ask questions about their positioning. Applying with a passion for transactional law at a firm that derives 60% of its revenue from litigation might be a mistake.
Firms release marketing materials that make them look 95% identical. It’s easier to ask direct questions where you can on how the firms feel that they are distinct from other firms and what they feel their strengths are.
9. Always improve and revise.
If you think of a better answer that you ‘should have’ written later on, make a point of going back and saving it in the document. If the application is still fresh in your mind, then write out the answer. There’s no sure chance that you’ll have a TC by the next application cycle, and most firms either rotate the same questions or change answer lengths as a way to keep things simple. A little work now will help you later on. (and while it may feel embarrassing to apply to the same firm two years in a row, get over that shame if it’s really a firm you like – most will appreciate your persistence applying more than once)
10. Treat applications like a full-time job if you can.
The people I have met (from outside my cohort) who found the fastest success were those who could afford to either quit their jobs or take a break from studying for several months and work on applications. Law applications are absolutely biased towards those who come from backgrounds where they can afford to do this. But if you can’t, like I couldn’t, then applications should become a part-time job at least one night a week and one full day on the weekend. Have your family or flatmates understand that you are ‘working’ and really put in the time.
Honestly – this is the part of the process where you’ll feel ‘most’ like a lawyer already in that you’re sacrificing free time for your career. If you aren’t someone who can easily do this when it’s important (applications are pretty important) then probably commercial law isn’t really for you.
11. One at a time.
I was overwhelmed when making too many applications at the same time. I found more success taking each one on its own and not worrying about other applications. In fact, when I was focussing on multiple applications at the same time, I was so worried missing deadlines that I didn’t work effectively. I wish I’d realised this much earlier.
12. Long-form questions.
These are what matter most – for those of us who didn’t get TCs on our first attempt. I was worried about grades, my background, mitigating circumstances or something else irrelevant. The rest of your application should be done to a high standard, but your long-form questions are the most likely reason for a rejection. Every word in every line needs to deliver value – cut out everything that is flowery or repetitive. (again, do not take this piece as demonstrative!). No fancy grammar or overly long sentences. Use the TCLA reviewers, or anyone else you can. This is the criteria by which you’re primarily evaluated.
13. Make sure your skills are easily accessible and clear in a skills question.
Make sure to look out for a skills question as well – sometimes they aren’t always clear. Convincing a HR team that your unlikely skill is relevant is an additional obstacle you’re creating for yourself. One list I was unexpectedly given by a firm’s HR team was: “Showing initiative, communication skills, being a team player, time management, drive and ambition, commercial awareness and attention to detail.” This list isn’t exhaustive of course, but it was helpful.
You’re still here?
That’s a lot to write. Hopefully the bulk of it was obvious. Perhaps you can take some inspiration from it or use it to refresh your own applications.
Had I properly internalised these things I would have had a training contract earlier.
I hope my thoughts can help you on this journey, and good luck in your applications!
This is a guest post written by a future trainee solicitor. The opinions are those of the author and do not represent those of The Corporate Law Academy.