Writing Apt Apps Should Be Done In Laps
Welcome to the Training Contract Crash Course!
This blog is designed to help you, yes YOU, get on your way to securing a training contract. Writing applications is, unarguably, one of the most challenging parts of the training contract process. This is the stage where most candidates fall down. It is not always due to the quality of applications. However, most of the time, there are small tweaks you can make in your application to get the best result. I am going to talk about the training contract process in the context of running a long-distance race.
Long-distance runners do not finish a race after one long sprint. They run a series of laps that are timed separately. It takes serious mental fortitude to run a long-distance race and I believe writing an application (and applying for a training contract) is directly comparable! Here are my 5 laps to writing an apt application.
Lap 1: Be Specific
When applicants apply for law firms, one of the main reasons they get rejected is because they are not talking about the differences between them and other firms. I understand. You have many applications and you want to send out as many as possible. Maybe, just maybe, if you send out 100 then someone will see your potential and give you a job. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. You will not improve your chances of securing a training contract by sending high volumes of generic examples of why you want to work at a law firm. In order to be specific, start by making sure every line of your application or cover letter references something about the firm. Here’s a brief template for writing an answer that is specific to why you are applying to a certain law firm:
“I have applied to x because I have seen that x has done x and achieved x as a result. This shows that x is x and this is further shown by x. I am interested in working at the firm because of this. I have done x before, which shows how I could work in x’s environment, which appears to be x, x and x. Given the people that I have talked to, the research I have done and the experience that I have, I believe x firm can help me train to be an excellent lawyer.”
I did not write this for you to copy and paste into every application. This template is meant to show you how you can build a conversation around what you like at the firm that draws out different parts of your application. You want to be as detailed as possible why you want to apply to the firm or you will risk your application being thrown away.
Lap 2: Select your firms carefully
I say “select your firms carefully” because I am all too aware that many students prefer a scattergun approach when they come to applications. The amount of people that I knew who would copy and paste why they want to work at a firm and change the name is astounding. Unless you are incredibly persuasive, which is not easy on a copy and pasted applications, I suggest you take a different approach. Instead of applying to the first 50 firms that you see at your university law fair, why don’t you meet 50 law firms, pick 10 firms that interest you the most and start focusing on them.
You can never “over research” a firm because most law firms that you will come across on your social media have lots of experience in their field. If anything, whatever research you do will never truly scratch the surface as to a law firm’s history. Speak to some lawyers from the firm, grab a virtual coffee, look on websites like Chambers Students and Legal Cheek that discuss different law firms’ strengths and weaknesses. This can help you build a broader picture of the firm and make an application that is unique in nature.
Lap 3: Work Experience goes further than law
Many students message me saying “I don’t have lots of legal work experience – am I good enough?”. The short answer is yes. You are good enough. Let me explain why. Lawyers have to work under pressure. Deadlines are looming, clients want answers quickly and clients trust you as their legal adviser to get things right. If you have worked in a high pressured environment, where you have had to work in a team to achieve collective results that benefit an overall goal, you have a great experience. It just depends on how you have framed it. Let’s look at two examples here that show the difference between “Just a shelf stacker” and a “super shelf stacker with a keen interest in law” in a typical work experience section.
“I stack shelves at my local Sainsburys. I needed money for university so I worked part-time. I have to replace the items on the shelves with new items regularly and I occasionally help people with their shopping enquiries.”
“Outside my studies, I work part-time at my local Sainsburys. I work part-time because I support my family on my income and I self-fund my LPC studies. I work in a team to deliver optimal client service through handling enquiries, organising the work floor, and reporting to my line manager for additional tasks. In my role, I have to have keen attention to detail to spot various products expiring, good communication skills to delegate tasks to my teammates should the shop floor get busy and good teamwork skills to ensure we complete our tasks effectively.”
Can you see the difference? Not only can you show that your skills are transferable to a trainee solicitor through how you discuss your experiences but you can also show just how commercial you are too (will come on to this when we talk about commercial awareness.) Being a lawyer does not require all the legal work experience in the world. It requires a practical understanding of how to work under high pressured situations and deliver results for your clients through your understanding of the law.
Lap 4: Don’t Be Modest
This links to my point about work experience are more than law. You cannot be a lawyer without showing the best sides of your experiences. It’s easy to play down your experiences in fear that you are making them sound bigger than they are. However, you would be surprised by how much skills you can demonstrate by being a mother who self-funds her undergraduate degree. You would be surprised how many skills you developed as a marine biologist prior to studying law as you sought to change your career. You would be surprised how the shifts you pulled at your local pub can actually translate to something far more than pouring beer in a glass!
There is so much value in your experiences and you need to tap into the value of your experiences in order to show to recruiters that you are who they are looking for. Don’t be modest – if you worked hard in it, be honest! It can be slightly embarrassing at first to say that a time you faced a challenge was when you were training as an athlete and you fell in the mud because your shoelaces were untied! However, believe it or not, these are all human experiences that show something greater about you.
Lap 5: Don’t Forget the Goal
Finally, I want you to always remember that when you are writing an application that the end goal is to get a training contract. A training contract is a contract to train you as a lawyer. Think about it: “A contract to train you as a lawyer”.
A contract is a legally binding agreement where a law firm will offer you training that you would then have to accept and the consideration for this is that you become a great lawyer, you get paid by the firm as well as other benefits. If a law firm, a place with lots of lawyers, is going to legally bind itself to see you develop then you have to show them from early on that you want that investment. You have to show them that you are ready to be invested in and that you are going to give them a return on that investment.
Having said that, if you are ready for a training contract and have developed your skills to the requisite level, the tables have turned. Once you get to interview and once you thoroughly prepare, do you want to invest your time and effort to train at that firm? Can you see yourself growing there? Is it the best place for you? These are all questions that will help you form your application and the conversation at the interview stages. Are you both ready to make the investment in each other? Only time will tell.
Are you struggling with your CV and want feedback?