One of the things that candidates for training contracts and vacation schemes are most commonly advised to do is to research the firms they are applying to.
However, one of the most common things I see that lets candidates down with their applications is a lack of effective research.
This does not mean candidates are ignoring the advice they are given, just that they are not doing enough research or using a wide enough range of research resources or activities.
The Importance of Effective Research to Your Chances of Securing a Training Contract
For your research to be effective, you must not only gather information which you can then parrot back to recruiters. It is not an academic exercise to show them how much you've learnt.
Instead, you need to utilise your research to help with critical aspects of the training contract recruitment process.
For example, you will need to gather information, and then analyse for the most significant aspects, on the following:
1. What the firm is looking for in its future trainees - only by doing this effectively, can you have a chance of properly tailoring your application and interview answers to that firm specifically.
2. What a career in your chosen area of law will be like - if you haven't taken a deep dive into this, and then got clarity over why you wish to pursue that specific career path then this is likely to lead to rejection.
3. What working at a particular type of firm and in particular practice areas will be like - if you haven't been able to identify your preferences in this regard then you are unlikely to convince a firm of your motivations for wanting to work for them (see more below)
4. What doing your training contract at a specific firm will be like - again, if you haven't researched the firm and its training contract in detail AND clarified why its the best fit for you then a firm is unlikely to want to take the chance on you finding out they are the wrong choice for you 6 months into you starting work there.
This level of research is time-consuming but without doing it and coming up with your genuine reasons for wanting a career in law and why you want to apply to certain firms over others then your chances of success will be diminished. It is obvious when people are applying having not done this research and having not thought through their reasoning.
You need to give your genuine answers and reasons for wanting to work for a firm based on your thorough research. There is no easy way of shortcutting this (such as getting others to help you) as you will need this to convince the firm when you see them in person at interview.
Careers advisers and those connected with the legal profession can help guide you on what to include in your applications but they can't give you your reasons for wanting a career as a solicitor or why you want to work for the firm you are applying to. They can give you pointers on how to do your research and where to do it but there is still a lot of work for you to do if you want to beat the competition into getting a training contract.
Notwithstanding that a lack of research may lead to rejections, it is also vitally important that you do this research for yourself as this is a very important stage of your legal career and your decisions now will have a long term effect on your future.
How to Supercharge Your Research
The majority of candidates will conduct most, if not all, of there research online. I call this "desk research".
They will use their university/law school resources, check out well-known law careers sites such as LawCareers.Net and Chambers Student, and read countless articles about "how to secure a training contract".
This certainly has its place and I recommend lots of online resources to candidates I coach and mentor.
However, if you only do desk research you are missing another highly impactful way to do research that has a much greater return on the time invested.
This is what I call "field research".
What is Field Research
Field research is about getting out 'into the field' and doing research through personal interaction. It will breathe life into your applications and interviews, and time and time again I see this set a candidate apart from the masses.
You should spend time with people already working in and around the profession to develop your own unique knowledge, connections and experiences.
You can then utilise these to good effect in the recruitment process.
Why Field Research Is So Important
Interacting with the right people will undoubtedly increase your chances of success.
> Firms Like To See Evidence of It
> You Will Make Better Decisions
> You Will Find Answering Motivation Questions Easier
> You Will Receive Invaluable Recruitment Advice
Firms Like To See Evidence Of It
Firms like to see evidence you have done your research thoroughly enough to develop an understanding of key areas.
For example, what does the job entail, what makes that firm unique and specifically why you want to work for them over other firms.
If you don’t seek to meet the firm’s representatives or at least a range of other firms’ representatives, you may find your understanding falls short of where it needs to be.
And when firms spot gaps in your knowledge they will most likely put you on the “No” pile.
You Will Make Better Decisions
The knowledge you develop from field research will help you make more informed decisions about which firms are the right fit for you.
These decisions are critically important to your chances of success.
Until you meet firms in person you are working solely on limited information from law firms’ marketing materials and third parties.
It’s a bit like online dating with the aim of marriage. Would you want to choose “the one” from online profiles only or would you prefer to meet with them first to understand them better?
Answering Motivation Questions Will Be Easier
If you have personal interactions to reference you will find it helps you give more convincing answers to motivation questions such as “Why this firm?” and “Why commercial law?”.
For example, a great way to demonstrate your motivation to a firm is to say: “One of the primary reasons I want to work for your firm is because of [INSERT FACTOR] which I learnt when speaking with one of the firm's trainees at the [XYZ] law fair.”
This is much better than overused cliches such as “I am passionate about working for an international commercial law firm like XYZ due to its leading reputation in banking”.
You Will Receive Invaluable Recruitment Advice
Meeting people already inside the legal profession is a great way to get advice on how to succeed in the recruitment process.
I have seen this advice be instrumental in many candidates’ success and it can be obtained in many ways. For example, it might come from a question you ask in a one to one conversation at a law fair, or it might come from a law firm’s career presentation you attend.
Where To Do Field Research
There are many ways of getting access to those already in the legal profession.
Here are some of the most common opportunities.
Face to Face Opportunities
• Law Fairs – opportunity to speak to trainees, lawyers and recruiters in one place. Each of them is brimming with the exact information you need.
• Open Days – held at law firms and other organisations such as the Government Legal Service. Similar to law fairs except you get more time to find out about the organisation and quiz its representatives.
• Law Firm Presentations – you will learn more about a firm and often receive invaluable tips on how to secure a training contract with that firm.
• Speaker Programmes – universities and organisations such as the Junior Lawyers Division have great speakers. For example, in-house lawyers talking about the work they do.
• Mentoring – many universities and law schools have mentoring schemes which pair you up with a mentor who is usually a practising lawyer. Alternatively, you could ask someone via your own networking.
• Networking – try finding events run by relevant law groups or associations which have student memberships. Attend local business networking events to connect with local solicitors. Look out for events run by your university and law school where lawyers and trainees will be present.
• Information Meetings – ask people if they could spare 20 minutes sometime for a coffee so you can ask them questions about their work and get advice on the recruitment process.
• Work Shadowing – ask if you could shadow a lawyer for a day. Whilst doing so you can ask your questions and perhaps build a mentoring relationship for the future.
• Tutors & Lecturers – many are ex-lawyers so can give you the benefit of their experience. They may also be able to introduce you to other lawyers in their network.
Whilst face to face is better as you are able to build more of a connection, I also recommend contacting people remotely.
• Email Graduate Recruitment – email firms about their recruitment process or aspects of their training. It’s a great way to make a simple connection and get some information at the same time.
• Social media – connect with firms and ask questions of the recruiters or trainees via their graduate Twitter accounts and Facebook Pages.
• Blog Commenting – keep an eye out for new blog posts by graduate recruiters, trainees or lawyers at specific firms. If the opportunity exists you can make a comment and ask a question within it.
• Online Forums – lookout for people you would like to speak with on law forums and connect with them that way.
• LinkedIn Groups – similar to online forums. Find LinkedIn groups where lawyers, trainees and recruiters are posting. Make a connection by contributing to the conversation before asking a question or two.
Time For Action (& Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone)
Despite all these opportunities many candidates are not doing much of this.
I appreciate it can be challenging and takes many of you out of your comfort zone.
However, becoming a trainee solicitor will regularly take you out of your comfort zone so it’s good to get some practice now.
In my experience, those of you who utilise these opportunities will find your applications and interviews much easier to navigate.
I guarantee other candidates will be doing this as part of their career pursuits and they will be in a much stronger position because of it.
Surely that’s a good enough reason to stretch yourself and take action!
Seek out opportunities for personal interactions, prioritise them in your schedule and make the most out of each and every one of them.
When you come to your applications and interviews you’ll be glad you did!