Law Firm Assessment Centres: In-Tray (or E-Tray) Exercises

Assessment Centre Clinic – Part 4

This post is part of the Trainee Solicitor Surgery Assessment Centre Clinic blog post series. Start at the beginning of the series here…

In-Tray (or E-Tray) Exercises

This part of the assessment centre allows you to experience the typical decisions and dilemmas that come up frequently when working for a law firm. It gives assessors the opportunity to see how you deal with day to day business multi-tasking, so will give them a good indicator of how you are likely to perform with such challenges in the ‘real life’ workplace.

What to expect:

This exercise will take the form of a business simulation, where you play a particular member of staff, dealing with the tasks of a busy day. The background scenario will be described to you – typically it will involve you dealing with a build-up of work within a tight deadline.

So, perhaps it will be that you have returned form a week’s annual leave and need to clear your in-tray before leaving for a meeting later that morning. You will be given supporting documents including information on the company and an organisational chart, showing where you lie in the company hierarchy and who your direct colleagues are. The contents of the in-tray may include memos, emails, letters, messages, policy documents etc.

You will be given a time limit to complete a number of tasks relating to the items in your in-tray. Some tasks may be straightforward and just require a yes or no answer. Others may need a longer response, such as drafting a reply to a client query, delegating to an appropriate colleague or analysing given information in order to recommend a course of action to your superiors.

You will almost certainly be asked to classify the items by level of priority, indicating those which are highest priority and those which are less urgent. You may also be debriefed at the end of the task and asked to discuss your choices of action with an assessor or to present them in a written document.

An e-tray exercise is merely a more contemporary take on the in-tray exercise – it uses exactly the same principles but will be presented in the form of an inbox which you must work through and assess in the same way.

What are the assessors looking for?

  • An organised approach in which you manage time, and the tasks, efficiently
  • The ability to take in information quickly and accurately
  • The ability to stay calm and work under pressure
  • Analytical thinking, allowing you to identify and prioritise key issues
  • Commercial awareness, showing consideration for business implications
  • Strong written communication skills (possibly)

Top Tips:

  • Don’t panic. Take time to read the background information and skim through all the tasks before making any decisions on what actions to take. It may help to make rough notes at this stage.
  • However, try not to spend too much time analysing the topics in excessive detail. The assessors want to see evidence that you can grasp the essentials of an issue rather than its subtleties.
  • Prioritise the tasks in terms of importance and urgency but be aware of the difference between the two – don’t let urgent but trivial matters outweigh issues which do not necessarily have to be sorted out straight away but which nevertheless may be of higher importance.
  • Don’t try and do everything yourself. Consider tasks that can be delegated to more junior members of staff or forwarded to more senior ones. You need to show that you can make good use of company resources.
  • Expect the unexpected – look out for contradictions between tasks and how they may conflict with each other. And don’t be surprised by the arrival of new tasks mid-way through the exercise which may mean that adjustments to your original plans have to be made.

There is a free practice e-tray test available from the Civil Service which you can try here: E-Tray Exercise.

**You can also practice in-tray tests and receive full feedback to help you prepare at JobTestPrep >>>

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