If you are reading this then you have probably started applying, or have started thinking of applying, for some sort of legal position. This may be for a paralegal role, a vacation scheme or even for the much sought after training contract. Consequently, you may have already grasped just how stressful and time-consuming this application process can be. My very first tip is to take a deep breath in, relax, and simply accept that while the application process is tough and long, this is just the way it has to be. I hope that my experience in applying for a variety of legal roles can provide some useful insight.
Tip 1: Work Experience
Although I am sure that you are already aware of the significant need to gain some professional work experience, the importance of it is certainly a point worth repeating. Moreover, make sure that you try to get a variety of jobs which develop different skills, rather than just having one long term job. Firms will be looking in our applications for evidence of the range of attributes that we will probably claim to possess; if you have had the same job for five years, it may provide a steady source of income, but it will limit the amount of personal development you will be able to evidence to the firm. In reality, gaining a variety of job experiences is easier said than done, especially if your studies are keeping you busy, or you need to maintain a steady income. This is something that many City law firms are aware of and it’s okay to say that you haven’t been able to take other forms of work experience because of the financial need, as long as you can present the skills that you have gained from your long term employment. A great alternative solution is to get involved with university societies and volunteer roles. These roles provide excellent opportunities to learn and develop new skills which you can discuss in your application, and they are generally quite accessible.
Tip 2: Open Days
I cannot stress just how important it is that you try to attend as many open days as possible, especially for the firms to whom you intend to apply. In nearly every application, you will be asked to explain what it is that interests you about that particular law firm. Of course, it is almost impossible to say anything uniquely insightful when the only sources of information you can utilise originates from the firm’s own website or from legal directories. Answers regurgitating information found from these sources often sound artificial, and graduate recruitment can see right through them. Open days provide both the perfect opportunity to gather information directly from the personnel employed at the firm and will provide you with an insight into the firm’s ‘culture’. This will help you to formulate your own unique and genuine answers to the aforementioned question. Open days also provide a useful opportunity to make an impression before you even send your application and it will prove that you have taken an active interest in the firm. A positive aspect of open days is that they generally possess a more simplified application process and are easier to attend, although this is ultimately dependent on the firm.
Tip 3: Organisation
As previously mentioned, the application process can be long and arduous. If done properly, one application will take a couple of days (if not longer) to finish. Time management and organisation is thus of paramount importance. Before you begin, make sure that you have listed all of the opening and closing application deadlines for your chosen firms: this makes it far easier to prioritise which applications to begin with. It is also advisable to start the applications as soon as is reasonably possible, especially for firms that hire on a rolling basis. I can sympathise with the fact that when the application processes open, you might be incredibly busy and therefore it may be inviting to wait till closer to the deadlines to begin. When I did this very thing for my first round of training contract applications, I failed to progress in any of my attempts and I’m sure the lateness of my submissions were a contributing factor in these rejections. Furthermore, applying early allows you time to apply for new firms before their deadlines close if you receive rejections from your initial choices early on, therefore it is incredibly worthwhile to consider completing your applications as soon as possible (without compromising on quality, of course).
To improve the quality of your application, ensure that any information in the answers you provide always either links back to the firm or to the specific question that they have asked – you don’t ever want Graduate Recruitment to ask ‘why’ or ‘what is the significance of this’ when reading your application, you need to be clearly answering these questions for them.
Most importantly, make sure that the quality of your applications is never compromised by the quantity you are submitting. It is far better to complete a smaller number of applications which are of high quality than vice versa.
Tip 4: Proofreading
Get at least one person to proofread your applications. Don’t just ask the proof-reader to check for grammatical errors; get them to make sure that everything reads well and ask them to remove any waffle. Considering the amount of time that you should have put into your application, it may be hard to have someone critique and alter it, but you must learn to swallow your pride and ask for help from people who may have been doing this type of thing for years. This is something people do even when they are well established in their legal careers, so do not feel like you are cheating yourself. Ideally, it would be useful to ask a person who possesses a legal career, or someone also applying for legal roles, but this is not essential. Considering that in some applications you will have to also send your CV, it would be a good idea to get someone to also proofread that.
At Law Student Help, our team of editors are more than happy to proofread applications – head over to our tutoring section or drop us a message via our contact form to find out more.
Tip 5: Watson Glaser/Verbal Reasoning Test
Many top firms require applicants to complete the Watson Glaser test or another verbal reasoning test, often at an early stage of the application process. The Watson Glaser test is an aptitude test aimed at evaluating an applicant’s ability to critically grasp and comprehend situations and information. There is only one real route to prepare for tests like these, which is to complete practice versions of the test until you feel confident in your ability to take it on for real. Luckily, there are lots of free resources online which offer practice versions of this test, with perhaps the most useful practice tests being available on some top law firm’s websites themselves, such as Linklaters and Herbert Smith Freehills.
Make sure that when undertaking these practice assessments, you carry them out under the same conditions as you would for the real one. If you cheat by using more time than would be allowed or by asking others for help whilst you are doing it, you will not properly prepare yourself. It is also completely unadvisable to cheat on the actual test itself too, as some firms ask you to re-take the tests in their offices on assessment days to check you didn’t cheat which, if you did, could lead to a seriously embarrassing outcome. Outside of the practice attempts, feel free to ask others for help and advice in answering the questions, especially if they have taken these kinds of tests before.
Tip 6: Interviews
If you progress past the first stage of your application, you will be asked to attend at least one interview and assessment day, and preparation is key for this crucial stage. Make sure you know exactly where and when you are going for the interview and do not be afraid to double check with the firm. Another useful bit of information to find out from the firm would be whether your interview is going to be competency based or more general. It will always be better to be really early than slightly late, even if it does mean that you are waiting in a nearby coffee shop for a bit. Law firms take presentation incredibly importantly, so make sure that you are looking your absolute smartest. In terms of the actual interview, make sure that you are clued up on everything that you wrote about in your application, because they will pick you up on it. Use your work experience to show the various developed skills that you possess, and if you feel you may be lacking a key skill, present how eager you would be to develop that particular skill if offered the chance.
Perhaps the most important preparation is to research the firm. Obviously, because you listened to my earlier point, you will have all the information you gathered from the open day. However, do not let your research stop there. Learn about the history of the firm, notable contributions by key partners of the firm, and try to find out about any big cases the firm has been involved in. To demonstrate your commercial awareness, it would also be a good idea to try to learn about the firm’s strategies and analyse any notable progression or expansion by the firm in recent years. In the feedback from two successful interviews I recently attended, the employers were most impressed by my detailed knowledge about the history of the firms and the individual partners, including their legal contributions to society outside of the firm. However, do be careful when researching partners’ work, as you never know if the very same partner will be interviewing you!
It is also worth noting that many universities offer practice interviews and practice assessment days, sometimes even run by the graduate recruitment teams from top City firms. If this is offered at your university make sure that you attend, because there will not be a better opportunity to prepare yourself for the real deal. Making the most of the feedback that you receive following these practice runs may be the factor that allows you to be successful on the day.
The last thing to remember is that you, along with every other aspiring solicitor that has ever applied, will receive rejections. Try to remember that this will not be the end of the world, and focus your attention on learning from where you think you may have gone wrong. If you are really struggling, maybe you are trying to run before you can walk. A brand ambassador, administrative or paralegal role is a fantastic opportunity to get your foot in the door at a law firm and, similarly to open days, the application process for these roles are often a bit more straightforward. Whether these roles will provide any scope for internal progression is admittedly uncertain, and is largely dependent on the specific firm. Regardless, there is no doubt that this extra legal experience will significantly benefit any future applications for better roles within other firms.