How I got my job as a trainee solicitor – by a non-Law student

Having always been interested in a legal career, I knew I wanted to study a different subject at undergraduate level, therefore really enjoyed studying International Relations at the University of Birmingham. I graduated with a first class degree in July and am about to start the Graduate Diploma in Law in September. Having just been offered a training contract with a top 100 law firm, I hope that this blog post will be useful to those considering making future training contract applications.

I played an active role in university life and got involved in several societies –  I was Vice President of the Politics Society and Head of News at the student radio station, BURN FM – and had part time jobs, including being Lead Student Ambassador and working as part of Fresher’s Fest Crew. I was also a member of the Radcliffe Club, the society for non-law students interested in studying law, enabling me to attend workshops, networking events, and socials, enhancing my understanding of the law. From these experiences I learnt many skills, including balancing extra-curricular activities and academic deadlines, working as a leader and a team player, and being able to communicate effectively. Therefore in applications and at interviews I could demonstrate how I matched a firm’s competencies. I can say without doubt that law firms love those who get stuck in!

My primary recommendation for those hoping to get a training contract is to secure work experience and to get a place on a vacation scheme. During the last couple of years I have completed work experience in an in-house legal department, interned for the County Solicitor, shadowed partners at three top national law firms, interned in the House of Commons, and enjoyed a vacation scheme and a mini-pupillage. Doing so improved my understanding of the law and helped me choose which area of law I want to work in and which firm I wanted to train at, so it’s definitely worth allocating some of your holiday for work experience.

Students should make the most of the Careers Network, whether this is getting your CV or application checked by a careers advisor or attending one of the many events advertised on the website by law firms and other graduate recruiters. Being able to network effectively is so important in this field, so make sure you are good at balancing canapés and a drink and holding a conversation! Also, make sure your personal tutor knows who you are and what you want to do once you leave university, so organise a meeting with them every term to update them on your progress. How else are they going to be able to write you a glowing reference if they don’t know who you are?

On-top of what I have mentioned above, here are my five top five tips for putting together successful training contract applications:

  1. Research firms you are applying to inside out. Look at more than their graduate recruitment website, really delve into the work the firm is doing, who their clients are, and what their core business aims are. This shows you have good commercial awareness, something legal employers really like candidates to demonstrate.
  2. Apply for vacation schemes. Try and get a place on a vacation scheme before applying for a training contract, as you will gain a much better idea of the culture of the firm and what they are looking for in their future trainees. Also many firms only recruit trainees from those who have attended their vacation scheme!
  3. Proof read your applications thoroughly before submitting them. Do not copy and paste information or answers from other applications – I’ve heard of horror stories where applicants have got a firm’s name wrong, have written the name of another firm completely, or have said they wanted to work in an area of law that the firm doesn’t practice! Don’t give the person reading your application a reason to put you in the “no pile” because of a silly mistake!
  4. Submit your applications as early as possible. The deadline for most training contracts is normally on the 31st July. Law firms recruit two years in advance, so the deadline this year was for training contracts starting in September 2015. Don’t miss out just because you didn’t get your application in on time!
  5. Do not adopt the scatter gun approach and apply to every single law firm you can think of. You will be much better off writing a couple of very high-quality applications than lots of rushed applications submitted at 23.59 on the 31st July.

Good luck with your applications!

By Hannah Lane, International Relations graduate (Class of 2013)

About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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