HOW TO LAND A TRAINING CONTRACT

Updated 10 July 2018

In the world of publishing they say that it takes ten years to become “an overnight success”. Landing a Training Contract is not something one does easily or without preparation either.

Law firms receive between dozens and hundreds of applications for each training contract vacancy. So how do they decide whom to call for interview?

FAMILY LINKS

It helps if you are born into a lawyer family. They know the profession, and they can pull strings to arrange opportunities for you. When one of my nieces was in her first week of a LLB degree I wrote to her that there would be a training contract for her in my firm whenever she wanted it – I just needed about a year’s notice to create a slot for her.

Actually she went to a much more upmarket firm than mine, but it must add confidence and happiness and greatly reduce stress to start a law degree knowing you have the offer of a training contract available whenever you want it.  And an uncle who sends you cheques to help you to buy law books is also wonderful. Lucky girl!

I have another niece in the pipeline for whom I expect to be able to arrange work experiences with good law firms through people who would be pleased to do me a good turn even though I have retired.

Assuming you do not have a cuddly uncle with his own firm, what do you do?

BUILD A CV

If you do not have a daddy or uncle who can just give you a training contract, you will have to go out there and get one for yourself.

These days it is not enough just to be very bright and a straight As student. There are tens of thousands of those. You have to have something extra. If you have the something extra, you may not need to earn straight As and a First Class Honours degree

Imagine yourself as the recruitment officer for a good firm of solicitors. What do you want in an applicant? Bright and hard working are necessary, but 90% of the thousands of applications will demonstrate “bright and hard working”.

Someone who has seen the inside of a lawyer’s office has the advantage that they already have some idea of what working in the law is about.

Someone who has seen the inside of several law offices, including company legal departments and local authorities, and top end and bottom end firms, has much more idea what the profession is about.

The applicant has demonstrated gumption in contacting these firms and in physically getting to their offices. Gumption is a hugely important quality that employers want to see.

Is “gumption” explicitly stated on your current CV?

Why not? Remember to “evidence” how you have shown gumption.

In the various law offices you will have learned many important skills. One is in keeping your mouth shut.

I always said to work shadowers and to work experience trainees that sometimes they will hear me say something they know to be untrue.

“So keep your mouth closed and work out why I am doing this.”  

This is a general concept. If someone whom you know to be honest and rational is being dishonest or irrational close your mouth and work out why.

Yes you can ask, but it is much more impressive if you can work out what the unknown factor is first. Instead of asking “Why?” you can give what you think is the answer and seek confirmation.

Other skills you will have learned are how to work a photocopier and how to make a hot drink. Yes there are boys who are so pampered at home that they literally do not know how to make a cup of tea!

For those boys it may be a major effort to learn how to go out and buy sandwiches while maintaining a cheery smile. Learn to get the money up front.

If you can obtain paid work at a law firm this is even better. It may be as holiday relief office junior. It may be that you go to the firm straight after school and spend an hour putting up the post and taking it to the post office. Or sometimes you are an intelligent body and note taker to go to court and sit behind a barrister.

With “work experience” you usually are a glorified coffee boy and junior because that is all your current skills qualify you for. With work shadowing you follow a person round to see what their job consists of.

If you take a work shadow position, make sure that you are free to follow the person for a 12 or 14 hour day, because some lawyers do work these hours. If you can keep up you will earn respect. And if not, you will have blown an opportunity to impress a decision maker.

Take up any placements, internships or whatever you are offered. Think of them as extended job interviews. They are also networking opportunities.

One of the sad aspects for me is that so many would-be lawyers have such limited horizons.  All they know is the small High Street firm that does conveyancing and divorces and they think that is all the legal profession is.

Thoughts of doing international law, or conducting negotiations in multiple languages simultaneously, or acting for a pop star in a media law dispute, or arresting a ship, or saving a client millions of pounds in tax in an afternoon – just do not cross their minds.

We have all seen great trial scenes on TV – but what about a bit of clever drafting that avoids having a dispute at all?

I knew one student who had Russian and Arabic as well as English. She was despondent because she could not see how they would help her gain a training contract with a High Street firm.

She was stunned when I said that her language skills would earn her a training contract with a multinational law firm.

If you wish to work in a particular area, it is wisest to gain experience in that area. Find out which lawyers are the best in the country or the best in the region. I suggest www.chambersandpartners.com  as your first reference point. This lists the leading lawyers in each speciality in each region.

Then you contact each lawyer direct instead of going through the firm’s normal portal. Lawyers are not desperately modest by profession. It is nice to read from someone that they know from Chambers and Partners that one is one of the best in the country for that speciality. The lawyer may just ignore the firm’s portal system and invite you. Or they may contact the portal administrator with “Say “Yes” to this one”.

Before you write any letter read a textbook in the area to learn what it is all about. Or input the sector area into www.bailii.org.uk and see what cases come up. Read the cases and see which lawyers were involved. Then contact them for work shadowing opportunities. When you write, mention the case.

The recruiting officer does not want bright but boring people.

The recruiting officer wants to see bright and interesting people. If you do an activity that is unusual, or you do a normal activity to a very high standard, the recruiter is more interested. Socialising, reading, and computer games do not carry any weight. Organising a speed dating club to raise money for charity, publishing articles or editing a law student magazine, or designing computer games all mark you out as different.

Lots of people have a foreign language. Have you published an article in a foreign language? Have you published an article in English?

What was your dissertation subject? Was it something relevant to what this practice does?

One common failing of CVs is that they state the job but they do not explain what was learned from the job.  “I worked as a part time shop assistant for Sainsbury’s for two years” may indeed be true.

“I started as a shelf stacker at Sainsbury’s where I learned the importance of personal presentation and a pleasant manner. I learned how to direct and take customers to items they wished to purchase. I learned to go “the extra mile” in customer service by going into the warehouse area to bring out goods that should have been on display. I learned how to deal with unhappy customers to the point that I was put on the customer service desk.

“I learned how to work a till and towards the end I was training new colleagues in how to pack goods at the till as well as in how to work the till.

“I was offered full time employment at Sainsbury’s with an invitation to apply for junior management posts. One month I earned the “mystery shopper” award for my professionalism.”

The second set of information sets out how you learned and what you learned and that you have a good work ethic. Although there is no immediate connecting point between that job and a training contract it shows you understand the importance of customer service and that you have “soft skills”.

Someone who has never worked is always weak here, because they cannot show internal progression in a job, cannot show they have learned from a job, or even that they can be punctual. A CV that shows internal promotions, additional responsibilities, that you have been rehired becuse the employer knows your work, speaks volumes about your attitude to work. And you have referees you can use.

What is your email address? “RaveDave99” or sexylegs@grope.com does not convey a positive image.

It is very common now for the employer to check out your social media sites.

Is there anything on your site or sites that suggests you enjoy sex, drink, drugs, wild parties or that you have undesirable friends? Does your site suggest that you hate your current employer or your university?

There are some people who use their FB site to express irritation with the little troubles of this world or to suggest they wish bad things to happen to our leaders. Clean it up before you send out any CVs.  

I received a CV from a qualified solicitor that contained over 100 spelling and grammar errors. I marked it in red ink, and sent it back with a compliments slip saying something along the lines,

“if you do not care what you send out under your name you will not care what you send out under my name. Sorry I cannot call you for interview”.

There is a trend for CVs to have a “personal profile” where the person describes themselves as “intelligent hard working capable” etc. I regard that as a waste of space.  “Spanish speaking qualified engineer with full driving licence able to start training contract immediately” is worth the space.

Research the firms to which you apply. If you really are limited to a one hour drive from home, then why apply outside that area? If you wish to do certain kinds of work, apply to those firms. Tailor your CV for those kinds of work. I have several CVs relating to the kinds of work I might apply for.

You may have been Secretary to your University Islamic Society. That will be only marginally attractive to an Islamic recruiter because almost every application they receive is from a practicing Muslim.

It will be a negative for many employers unless you can say “increased membership from 35 to 320 by inviting interesting speakers and organising social events. Raised £1875 for Pakistan Flood Relief”. You do not want to give the impression that you have only one interest in life, so also put down

“Correspondence co-ordinator for university Amnesty International club – increased number of letters sent from 40 a year to 960 a year. Got two people released. Raised £540 at two “release parties”.

So many people write poor CVs!

I had one young man who had boxed for Yorkshire as a teenager. I nearly had to hit him to get him to put that on his CV.

Before the interview, work out how you are going to get there. Do you have an aunt you can stay with nearby or do you have to get up at 4am to get to the interview?

Three days before the interview assemble the clothes you will wear. Do they still fit? Do they need cleaning, ironing, or polishing?

In “the good old days” of the 1970s I made 30 written applications for a training contract. I was so desperate I advertised. That worked!

It isn’t easy. That’s life!