It may be a bit of a cliché, but there are certain skills that all law firms look for in prospective trainees - if you can demonstrate them, you're one (very big) step closer to getting that
training contract. Here are the three you can't do without.
1. An interest in law. This may seem blindingly obvious - what with you applying to join a law firm and all - but we regularly see applications where candidates go on at length about their interest in English literature, netball, fly fishing, Japanese... anything except law. While law firms do typically look for well-rounded candidates with hobbies and interests outside of law, you must still be able to demonstrate why you want to work as a solicitor. Easy enough if you happen to study law.
If not you should look to gain something resembling legal work experience:
i. Pro bono work - not all providers require the levels of commitment that puts some people off the Citizens Advice Bureau. Ask around locally / at your university and get involved once a week or once a fortnight.
ii. Vacation schemes / internships, however informal. Not everyone can land a vacation scheme at a Magic Circle firm, but most candidates can at least get some high street / regional experience to demonstrate that you understand the day to day work of a solicitor. A few stints in different firms can be an ideal way to show interviewers that you have tried different areas of law and can clearly articulate why corporate / criminal / tax / whatever is the right area of law for you.Keep in mind that a lot of smaller practices will not have formal vac schemes (or even HR departments). Be prepared to send a few speculative emails or drop off your CV and a short, polite cover note at reception.
iii. Get paralegal experience in a busy department of a City firm. For example, the recruiter DA Solutions (no affiliation to us) regularly places dozens of candidates in Magic Circle firms for anything from a day to a few months on large projects - you'll get paid work experience in some of the best firms in the country, and a massive boost to your CV.
2. Teamwork. You may naturally be a bit of an introvert, but any firm considering you will want to know that you have the social skills, confidence and maturity to deal with a range of people, particularly when things are busy or pressurised. Just about any activity can be spun to demonstrate teamwork, but sitting on a university committee, team sports (obviously) and social projects (fundraising, purposeful gap years and the like) are clear indications of an ability to work in a team.
Prepare to be asked a competency-based question about your team-working skills:
"Tell me about a time you had to work with other people to reach a common goal."
"Tell me about a time you had to convince other people about something."
"Tell me about something you achieved as part of a group."
3. Attention to detail. Law firms' fixation on attention to detail is partly because some (alright, most) areas of law require people to care about getting the little things right. Ultimately though, firms want to ensure their juniors don't make a colossal slip-up that ends up on the front page of the national papers.
The best way to demonstrate this skill (and make sure your application isn't sent straight to the bin) is to ensure an error-free application. Proofread repeatedly, ask a friend (or use our services), and don't leave applications to the last minute. Relevant work experience includes editing, writing, doing anything accountancy related / acting as a treasurer, or a background in science.
Of course there are other skills which are valuable for solicitors and trainees to have - but the above are crucial to getting your foot through the door.
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