What you should consider when applying for training contracts

It has almost been six months since I started my training contract with Woodfines. Soon I will be changing seats and moving to a different office. The thought of experiencing a different seat and a new practice lead me to thinking about how to select and short-list firms to apply for.

The starting-point for short-listing which firms to apply to is deciding what type of firm you want to work for, the practice areas you enjoy and the location you want to work in. These questions can seem very daunting and you might think that you don’t have enough information to make a good decision, especially if you are still an undergraduate, but law firms are asking for trainees to apply earlier and earlier, so it is important to get a good head start.

Taking a flexible approach

It’s important to have an idea of the areas of law you are interested in when looking at which firms to apply to, but you should remain flexible. Most trainees’ expectations change during their training contract and many law firms want a trainee who will be flexible to their needs as well as the trainees. Being knowledgeable and passionate about certain areas of law can be an advantage during an interview but being too fixated on one area so early in your career could put many firms off.

Location, location, location

Location seems a strange requirement, but firms are making an investment when they take on a trainee - it costs time and money to train you so they want to make sure the investment is worthwhile. Being able to demonstrate a connection to the area the firm is based or being able to provide a good reason why you want to live and work in a certain area may set you above other candidates with similar skills and qualifications. This might be especially important to regional firms who rely on their local knowledge to gain new clients.

Know what you want and where you want to be

It is widely acknowledged that students find it difficult to distinguish between law firms and so find it hard to know what type of firm to apply for. I know of potential trainees who at interviews have been asked about other firms they have applied to and failed the interview because the firms they give, in their answer, are not representative of the firm they are currently interviewing with. The story of the interviewee who said ‘I applied to your firm because I only applied to magic circle firms’ and was met with the response ‘we are not a magic circle firm’ is a story I was told when I was a student. It is therefore important to know what type of firm you would like to work for.

Different strokes for different folks

The choice is wide - from international firms to major city firms, firms that hold a significant presence in one region, national firms or independent high-street firms. Major city firms tend to take on more trainees than their regional counterparts. The city firms may offer greater perks, but have a reputation for long hours. Often the benefit of a regional firm is immediate hands on experience and the potential to handle your own case load, this is often balanced with lower salaries and the potential problem of being met with the follow up question ‘who?’ when friends ask who you work for. When deciding the type of firm that suits you best, you can really benefit from research, vacation schemes and work placements, but you can also visit careers fairs and use publications such as the Lex 100.

Do your research and tailor your applications

You should apply to a number of firms, but these firms should be specific to you. Each application, however similar the firms seem to each other, should be tailored to the firm you are applying to and based on research that goes beyond just the firm’s website. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get offers from your first choices - your perfect training contract could be with a firm you haven’t discovered yet.

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