Guest Post: A Training Contract Applicant’s Perspective

Countless aspiring trainees seem to have a remarkable aptitude for conveying an often over-zealous longing to work in areas or at firms in which they have very little knowledge or interest. This approach can undoubtedly be attributed to the oversupply of graduates coupled with the economic woes which have coloured the legal scene of late, with news of training contract reductions, deferrals and diminishing retention rates making for depressing reading. However law firms are increasingly perceptive to applicants who adopt a ‘scattergun’ approach to the training contract hunt, which rarely elicits the desired effect. It is important therefore not to lose sight of the type of firm you see yourself thriving at in both a professional and personal capacity.

The reality is that I did not grow up dreaming of becoming a specialist in investment funds and asset management or a leading authority in franchising and distribution arrangements. I doubt many ever do. Whilst that is not to say that one day I may wish to specialise in one of those areas given the opportunity, many like myself start our journey in law hoping for our very own Atticus Finch moment.

Yet it is often tempting to apply for any and all training contracts available in the hope of securing a fast-track to qualification, regardless of whether the firm’s ethos and values correlate with your own professional ideals. However, those who adopt this approach are likely to find themselves quickly disillusioned and unmotivated with their training contract, which will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on both the trainee and the firm. It is therefore important to focus on what you are looking to learn and accomplish during your training contract, as ideally you should be targeting a firm at which you see yourself far beyond the first two years.

Speaking of which, I was recently short listed for a final interview at a firm which ticks all the right boxes and at which I hope to pursue my career as a solicitor. A forward-thinking, full service law firm committed to continuously punching above their weight, whilst retaining a personal and approachable feel.

It became clear during the interview that recruiting a business-minded trainee that may be able to contribute to the growth and management of the business was important. This is particularly pertinent although by no means exclusive to a smaller firm, where there is often ample opportunity to contribute to the marketing and generation of new business. Indeed, the age old cliché of being commercially aware is particularly valued in what is an uncertain economic climate, and trainees are increasingly expected to help with business development and marketing, thus contributing to the firm’s future success.

So how can you ensure that you stand out from the crowd in what is in the eyes of many, a training contract drought? As an aspiring trainee, it is clear that the traditional approach to the application process is not always enough. Faced with fierce competition, those like myself who are looking to secure a training contract are often expected to discover innovative and attention-grabbing means of ‘promoting’ themselves. In view of continuing technological developments, I have recently taken a social media marketing approach to the application process by setting up a blog. As well as providing a breakdown of what I can offer and the type of role I am looking for, I hope it will also be viewed as demonstrating initiative and a clear commitment to pursuing a career as a solicitor.

Being able to offer a skill or quality which distinguishes you from your competition is also vital. For example, as a fluent Welsh speaker I was aware that the firm at which I was recently interviewed had a number of Welsh speaking lawyers. Having the opportunity to utilise my language skills is important to me. If I am successful in my application, I hope that I will also be able to strengthen the firm’s prominent reputation at being able to offer services to the Welsh speaking community.

Broadly speaking, it is important to tailor your application to the firms at which you see yourself thriving and stimulated in the long-term. Ultimately, doing your research and preparing well should eventually pay off. Hopefully I will soon be able to call myself a trainee solicitor but if not…erm…I may have to re-think the above!

This is a guest blog post by Rhys Jones, Law Student & Training Contract Applicant

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Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one to one coaching to those struggling with training contract, vacation scheme or paralegal applications and interviews.Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>