I had the pleasure of interviewing Razan Samkari who secured a training contract at a magic circle firm after several years of applying.
There is some real gold in here for you if you are struggling to get that elusive TC offer.
1. If you were unsuccessful in early applications, what was the main thing you did to turn that around in later applications?
I was unsuccessful in previous applications due to a lack of experience relating to the field the firm specialised in and failing to tailor my application to the firm.
For years, I applied and did not receive any interview requests until I started showing commitment to the specific field I was applying to join. For instance, I am interested in international commercial law so while I was unable to secure any vacation schemes or TCs, I applied to open days and summer schemes and later on went on a year abroad where I focused mainly on commercial subjects.
I also did extracurricular activities including joining the University’s newspaper by writing about commercial topics and joined events and virtual webinars sponsored by the firm I was applying to and other commercial law firms. This helped me receive interview requests by making my answers to the application questions more specific because I had examples to reference in relation to why law and the firm.
I then started also tailoring my application better by not only focusing on why me but linking why me to the specific firm in question and how I can add value to the firm. For example, when answering why the firm and what my experiences were, despite some of them not being law-related, I would describe what I did, the skills I gained, and then apply it to how I will be able to add value from my experiences by working in that specific field and law firm.
2. What was your approach to the “why law?” questions?
I personally decided to embark on a legal career after becoming the first Saudi female youth ambassador to Colorado, USA and representing my country in UN and UN Women seminars which demonstrated to me the importance of law.
However, I had to find an answer that not only answered why law but why that specific law practised by the firm. Therefore, while I did briefly mention my journey into why law because firms do appreciate authenticity, I made sure to gain experiences to evidence why law in that specific field, why I enjoyed it, and why I believe I will flourish in that field.
I also made sure to link why law to the firm. For instance, where the firm was strong in a particular practice area I highlighted my knowledge and interest in that or where there was an interesting case the law firm worked on I would flag it and say why I found it interesting and why it drew me to the firm and how I can further contribute to the team in future projects.
For example, I studied and worked on Bankruptcy cases in the UK, USA, UAE, and Saudi Arabia so where a firm was strong in international Finance I made sure to mention this and why my experiences will contribute to future cases where there are cross-jurisdictional elements, or where there is not multijurisdictional aspects, how I am a quick learner demonstrated by my ability to comprehend the laws of multiple countries.
3. What was your approach to the “why this firm?” questions?
I started by reading the firm’s website and websites covering firms including Chambers Student and Legal Cheek.
Once I was drawn to a firm, I joined university presentations sponsoring them, networking events, and webinars with their lawyers and recruitment teams. These events were crucial because they helped me narrow which firms I wanted to apply to, making me come across as more genuine and focused in my answers.
I also kept a file for every firm I was interested in and added notes including some insights I gained such as stories told by lawyers on their work which I mentioned to show that I went the extra mile to understand the work and expectations and to get to know the team that I am excited to join.
I also reached out to trainees and lawyers on Linkedin for “virtual coffee chats” who were willing to provide insights on the firm and the application process. This allowed me to not only gain unique insights to add to my application and distinguish myself from the other candidates but also add that I have connections in the firm in my application (with permission).
Lastly, I made sure to use my rejections to my advantage by viewing them as an opportunity to learn more about the firm.
For example, the firm I ultimately gained a TC initially rejected me, however, I learned a lot from that rejection about the firm and its culture which I was able to highlight in the next cycle.
4. If you could go back and give yourself some advice prior to you starting your first TC application what would you say?
I would tell myself to receive a TC you have to first believe in yourself and your capabilities.
I started the application process not believing that as an international student I would manage to gain a TC and I had statistics confirm how difficult it is.
I started every application and went to every interview not being myself and trying to be more formal than I really was and streamlining my accomplishments. I also felt like I was being asked questions to be tripped up instead of them getting to know me better and giving me an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge and abilities.
As soon as I started believing that I was a good candidate by increasing my confidence through work experiences, I went into interviews being my complete self and showing my enthusiasm and allowed the firm to know more about me as a person.
Therefore, my advice to anyone applying is to, first of all, do everything humanly possible to be confident and believe you are a good candidate and then apply to a firm you truly see yourself working for which will make you come across through the entire application process as more personable.
Lastly, believe that the partners truly want to know more about you and why you are a good fit for the firm so do not hold yourself back and be yourself and let them know why you are the best candidate for their firm and how you will add value.
5. How did you choose the firm you ended up getting a TC offer from?
I knew I wanted to work for a magic circle firm because I found their training and working style suited me more by working and speaking with different firms and reading about them on forums like the Corporate Law Academy and the schemes they provide and beyond.
I am also very passionate about learning about different jurisdictions which encouraged me to practice law in 4 different countries therefore I wanted to work for a firm that had offices all over the globe and would provide secondments opportunities for me to continue developing my international commercial knowledge. This helped narrow which Magic Circles I wanted to apply to.
I then attended networking events and webinars and got a sense of the culture of each firm.
I applied to all the Magic Circles and interviewed with three.
While I initially got rejected, I took note of the feedback and kept in touch with them and connected with them on LinkedIn.
I ultimately chose the firm I ended up getting my TC from by truly getting to know them by visiting their office and Google Alert-ing their website and deals and by keeping in touch with them and their trainees.
This made me realize that I truly do see myself training and working for them long-term which motivated me to go the extra mile in preparation in my second interview for which I also came across as very enthusiastic and personable which ultimately helped me land my TC.
6. What are the main mistakes you see TC applicants make now you have been successful?
The main mistake I made was to not properly tailor my applications to the firm.
I was applying to too many firms at the same time and while I made sure not to copy-paste my answers so that I came across as more personable, I was talking a lot about why me but not enough about why me for that specific firm.
Therefore, I advise anyone applying to go through the application questions by making a document and researching how they can integrate their skills and experience to that specific firm in their answers.
Also, do not apply to too many firms.
I started off by applying to 10 per cycle and I only started getting invitations to interview once I narrowed them down and focused on knowing everything about them and connecting with their lawyers and recruitment teams.
Another mistake I made is typos.
Make sure to print out your entire application and proofread it thoroughly, that is their first impression of you!
I also always failed interviews in the commercial awareness section by not keeping up to date with what is happening in the field or not knowing how to apply my commercial awareness to the questions provided and not being familiar with basic UK finance terms. You can brush up on these on Commercial Awareness For Students on Facebook or through their ComAware App dictionary section as a starter and through reading commercial news.
7. What was the most effective method you found for developing your commercial awareness?
I started the application cycle with almost no commercial background.
I eventually discovered commercial awareness is to do with exposing yourself to business, economic, and socioeconomic issues to the extent that you are able to have an analytical conversation about how a situation will impact businesses and firms.
I focused on commercial topics at university and my year abroad which created a foundation helping me link my commercial awareness to the law more critically.
Other sources that I used included commercial handouts written by Jake Schogger and Christopher Stoakes which gave comprehensions on commercial principles which I further developed through my independent research on concepts I was not familiar with and finding YouTube videos covering them.
I also joined workshops held by firms, universities including BPP’s “Trainee In-Tray”, and networks including Bright Network.
I utilised podcasts including FT News Briefing and Simply Commercial.
I subscribed to the Economist and Watson Daily and read articles daily on BBC Business and discussed them with family and friends.
I followed Finimize and The Corporate Law Academy updates as they give news articles then analyse their impact on firms and businesses.
Once I figured out which law firms I wanted to join, I read their newsletters which highlighted the commercial issues they are interested in helping me narrow my commercial awareness focus nearer to the interview.
Lastly, I followed many trainees and lawyers on LinkedIn and social media platforms because they truly allowed me to integrate myself in the field and follow hot topics.
8. What is the best advice you can give to a TC candidate who is just starting out, or who has been unsuccessful so far?
My advice to anyone starting the TC process is to spend time getting to know yourself and what you want first by applying for vacation schemes, internships, workshops, and virtual events, and researching.
Once you know what you want, be organized by making schedules on the firms’ deadlines.
Then, try to be as consistent as possible in reading commercial news and familiarize yourself with current commercial issues by creating an environment whether through social media or circles of friends with similar interests so you can discuss current affairs and train yourself in carrying a casual conversation about commercial topics.
Also, believe in yourself and your capabilities and try to do enough preparation to feel confident that you have done your best before going into an interview.
To those who have been unsuccessful, do not give up.
I always got fully heartbroken when I got my rejections and I got A LOT of them, give yourself a day but do not get stuck in despair.
Write down where you think you went wrong and ask the law firm for feedback to avoid making the same mistakes.
Take every rejection as an opportunity to learn more and be closer to your goal.
Also, do not compare yourself to anyone because we all have our own journeys in getting our TC!
Lastly, remember, a rejection is not a reflection of your capabilities at all.
However, make sure with every rejection you improve yourself and go into the second application cycle more aware and prepared.