We get this question a lot from the candidates we work with - not just, Is my application good enough, but, What are my chances of landing a training contract?
These are the things you need to keep in mind.
It's an obvious point, but law is a competitive profession to get into - and that goes for regional, PI, high street and other practice areas and locations as much as for London and the City. With plenty of candidates chasing each role, firms can afford to be selective (read: picky). So, yes, your grades need to be high, because that demonstrates an ability to word hard and reach (academic) goals.
How high, exactly? Ideally AAB at A level, and a good (65%+) 2.1 from a reputable university, though we've worked with plenty of candidates with lower grades who overcame those grades with strong work experience (see below).
If you've genuinely experienced a period of difficulty or hardship which caused your grades to be lower than they'd have otherwise been, you'll need to address those circumstances in your application form (most have a dedicated section for this) or in your cover letter.
If you're committed to law but your grades are letting you down, improving them needs to be your priority - ahead of extra-curricular activities and social activities.
Have you clearly demonstrated your commitment to law?
While it's great that law and non-law students are generally treated equally in training contract applications, the latter need to work a bit harder to demonstrate that law is the right career for them.
Think about it - some law firms get 50 or more applications per vacancy. When they hire someone, they'll invest time and money into training that person up - at the firm where I trained, my intake was told that training us cost £200,000 a head (!) in time and resources. With figures like that at play, firms want to know that you're worth a long-term investment, and that you know what it's like to work as a solicitor. Do you know what the day to day work of a solicitor entails, or are you going in blind?
The key questions you need to ask yourself:
- What legal work experience do I have (whether formal or informal, in whatever area of law)?
- Do I have enough experience to show a sustained interest in law over time?
- Do I have experience in the area of law I'll be applying to work in?
The final question isn't always easy to say "Yes" to - for example, gaining experience in an area of law like corporate finance is difficult unless you've taken part in a vacation scheme.... which can be equally difficult to secure. As for the other questions, though: if you can't name recent, relevant experience, make it your goal to add legal work experience to your CV.
That might be a formal vac scheme, a CAB-like volunteering role at a local charity or non-profit, starting a blog to write regular updates about recent cases in a particular practice area, mooting, debating, attending hearings at a local court (they're free, usually open to the public and way more interesting than EastEnders), or just a few days shadowing a local lawyer. Get out there and gain experience.
Is there something about me that makes me stand out from other applicants?
Every application form and interview really boils down to, why should we hire you ahead of Joe Bloggs?
Now, you might be an academic superstar. You might have great language skills, or international experience, or plenty of work placements in the area you're keen to qualify into. Or it may be more subtle than that - maybe you're a good all-rounder, with extra-curricular experience that demonstrates strong teamwork, or good speaking skills, or transferable skills from a previous job.
You need to be very clear in your mind about what differentiates you from the next applicant, and really "sell" that - emphasise it - in your application or CV. Recruitment teams read many, many applications daily - be clear about what makes you the stand-out candidate.
Want to know how we can help your applications stand out? Read more here.