Training Contract Application Tips From Start to Finish

This guest article written by Claire Jutsum focuses on how to tackle training contract applications based on her experience as a graduate recruiter.

Claire worked as a recruiter at Travers Smith for 17 years. After this period Claire moved to BPP Law School in their London office as a Student Recruitment Manager. Currently Claire is a Graduate Recruitment & Development Advisor at BDB Pitmans and a STRIVE ambassador.

Feel free to contact Claire Jutsum on LinkedIn or Matthew Berrick on LinkedIn should you have any further questions regarding this article – Over to Claire for her tips on training contract applications! 

1. Where to start and how many firms should you apply to?

When considering how many firms to apply to, the recommended number is 6 to 8 firms to ensure you have time for drafting and redrafting the content. Ideally, you have already attended firm events in person or virtually and previously liaised with representatives at law fairs, spending time networking over social media or currently waiting to complete a virtual event. Having shown a genuine enthusiasm, over a blind application, through any interaction with the firm, will reflect in your application and prove advantageous to reaching the next stage. 

Top Tip: You should include conversations of anyone you have met or networked with, at the firm, to convey your interest, just include a relevant reason for doing so and refer to any discussions that led to your interest. Do not just name drop.

2. Researching law firms – any tips?

So, where to begin if you are struggling to extend your list of firms to apply to. You will be familiar with law firm websites and probably not find this source, initially that helpful, apart from considering the size of the firm and international reach. Steer your focus and find the relevant graduate recruitment pages to check application processes, see current trainees, find out their ethos, who they look for, what they offer and numbers recruited. Smaller intakes are more popular and desirable, for obvious reasons, which may cause you to hesitate to apply due to the competition, however, never let this thought be a barrier to you applying! Prior to application, an essential read is the genuine views of current trainees through the ‘true picture’ in the Chambers Student Guide which provide a full A-Z of firms. You can also follow firms on LinkedIn to build up a picture of firms of interest and network with any current trainees or lawyers.

Top Tip: Do your own research, take any advice from others subjectively as everyone will have a different opinion and experience. 

3. What type of questions might you be asked when you apply?

There are a wide range of questions being asked – some are longer and some are shorter but most have a word count – some examples of current training contract questions are listed below:

  • [Firm] is frequently retained to work on the most challenging matters, and prides itself on its ability to deliver premium legal services and sound business judgment to its clients. In your opinion, other than the above, what are the three key reasons why our clients instruct us?
  • YOUR CAREER AMBITIONS: Please explain why you are applying to [Firm] and what your career ambitions are.
  • What do you think differentiates [Firm] from its competitors? 
  • Please provide details of any interests you pursue outside work and/or study. You should highlight any positions of responsibility held or other achievements you believe are noteworthy. (250 words max)
  • What transferable skills have you developed that you think will be relevant as a [Firm] trainee solicitor. In your answer please consider how you have demonstrated them and how you would apply them as a trainee solicitor. 
  • Describe why a career in commercial law appeals to you. What factors and influences have affected your decision to become a lawyer? (250 words max)
  • How does [Firm] differ from our Competitors that made you want to apply for a Training Contract with us? (400 words)
  • What skills/knowledge have you gained from your previous work experience that will help you become a successful lawyer? (200 Words)
  • When have you used your skills or experience to make a practical difference to another person or group of people?
  • Give an example of a recent development which you think represents a change or an opportunity for a firm like [Firm]. How should [Firm] respond to that challenge or opportunity? (200 words)
  • Can you please give us an example of when you have taken the initiative to develop a new idea and perhaps challenged the status quo? (250 words)
  • What is commercial awareness and how is it relevant in law? (250 words)

This will now explain why you should limit the number of applications you make and the necessary time required to research each application!

Top Tip: Work out your replies by including all the content you want to include, then work on cutting down through condensing the information – this will ensure your focus is not distracted by the word count in the first instance.

3. How can you keep answers concise and to the word count?

Examples of condensing sentences to convey the same message, concisely, and with an emphasis on the reader interpreting your sentences easily are:

Compare the first bullet point to the second bullet point in italics:

  • I communicated with my team to establish where I could be of most help and resorted to reviewing each document to ensure monetary sensitive information and witnesses personal details were redacted. 
  • We distributed team tasks and I took responsibility for reviewing and redacting any monetary sensitive and personal witness information.
  • I played a vital role in securing a deal with a company whereby I Initially analysed the company and then created a unique selling point for our company. I liaised with the business development officer who secured a meeting with the CEO, whereupon I successfully communicated how the financial capabilities and network of our company could assist with the potential future business that could arise from a deal.
  • I played a vital role in securing a deal with a company through securing a meeting with the CEO, whereupon I successfully communicated how the unique selling point of my idea could provide future business.

Top Tip: Your answers should be delivered in a concise manner with good grammar and precis skills proving essential when covering content within the word count. Remember that specific details are not always necessary to relaying your message.

4. How should you describe your work experiences?

Ensure you work out, carefully, the most relevant (ie. the latest) work experiences to describe your positions of responsibility and what you achieved. Provide more information for the latest or current work experiences, often this is presented in a bullet point format, but condense any older experiences. If you have a huge amount you will need to condense these further to either a one line description. Just concentrate on what skills you need to convey and what is the most useful information to provide. Ensure bullet points are to the point, and not drawn out, aiming to provide a skill developed or exhibited. Examples are below with the condensed version in italics:

  • As a manager, I needed to manage and support respondents in the survey. This allowed me to gain experience in problem-solving. For example, the survey took place during Christmas and some of the respondents have experienced technical issues, however, I was not able to reach my manager as she was on holiday and therefore I needed to resolve the issues by myself, such as suggesting they use another browser. 
  • I managed and supported respondents completing the survey, and was responsible for resolving any technical issues that arose, where I utilised my problem-solving skills. 
  • I received positive feedback from my supervisor for my substantial contribution who subsequently extended my internship duration. I found satisfaction in knowing that, by filing over 100 trade marks during my 3-month internship, contributed to the firm’s success in reaching first place in the total number of trade-marks filed in 2019.
  • Having contributed to the firm’s success in reaching first place for filing the most trade-marks in 2019, my supervisor acknowledged my substantial contribution and the duration of my internship was subsequently extended.

 Top Tip: Long descriptions are not necessary to conveying the success of a task.

5. Questions on commercial awareness – where do you start?

As a pointer to any commercial awareness related questions, the following description on how commercial awareness can be described below might prove useful:

Commercial Awareness is about understanding a client’s business, their particular sector and who their competitors are against current political and economic issues affecting the industry. To understand the firm’s current and future financial prospects requires a thorough understanding of contractual, regulatory and financial matters which can impact on the business now and in the future. All these factors allow legal experts to provide cost-effective tailored solutions through devising strategic objectives that identify the best way forward, whilst also mitigating risk.

6. How to incorporate what you know about the firm and include relevant deals

Ensure you build in any knowledge with a focus on not just listing factual information but incorporating your ideas, thoughts and opinions. When you decide which deal you are going to include, ensure you write about why it is of interest to you and state an opinion that is your own – how do you think it will affect a particular outcome and possibly the wider legal world? If you provide an insightful, individual outlook this will come across, and later at interview, relevant deals you write about may very well be picked out to talk about, and if that is the case, expect a much more intensive drilling down. Know your topic well!

7. Show confidence – this is no time to be modest

It is difficult to use words that convey and ‘over sell’ yourself, it does not come naturally, but subtle changes to a sentence will bolster how you come across and produce a stronger application. 

Top Tip: Ensure someone independent reviews your application for content, grammar and an overall opinion. Ask them to also suggest changes that show you are selling yourself appropriately ie. accomplished, capable and confident. 

Not selling yourself:

  • I believe my ability to communicate effectively, through adapting numerous project changes, and working as part of a team, are essential skills which I hope I can offer the firm as a trainee.

Selling yourself:

  • My ability to communicate effectively, through adapting numerous project changes, and working as part of a team, are essential skills I can offer the firm as a trainee.
8. What examples can you provide to show your value as a potential trainee?

Provide positive statements in your answers, where applicable, such as:

  • My ability to analyse complex information and simplify it clearly, as well as managing several tasks simultaneously, will ensure I thrive at [Firm] as a trainee.
  • I am intellectually curious, approachable and proactive, attributes which I believe would make me a fantastic trainee at [Firm].
  • My ability to work well under pressure and meet demanding deadlines further distinguishes me from other candidates.
  • As a paralegal at [Firm], I worked autonomously and was therefore responsible for my own workload which allowed me to develop time management, multi-tasking and legal research skills.
9. How can you convey your interest for a career in law as a non-law student?

It is advisable to use an example of an area of law that has inspired you so far – combine this with a personal statement on why it has interested you, as an individual, for example:

  • A career in law is stimulating and challenging, giving me the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment alongside talented individuals. I am specifically drawn to family law as I thoroughly enjoy the direct and client focused approach alongside the detailed nature and the significant impact on individual lives. 
10. Before submitting your final application – final check list:

Top Tip: Some firms may process applications up to the deadline, some may not, but either way, never send in your application on the last day. Huge numbers of applications often result in the system crashing so your application may not be received or accepted. 

  • Ask someone you trust to provide honest feedback on your application. After many hours spent on your application you will require a new perspective.
  • When using the spell check ensure it is set to check English UK spelling – spell checks are usually set to US spelling. Check this through Tools, spelling and grammar, option and dictionary.
  • You can sometimes submit supporting documentation to your application but keep this relevant and to one or two pages at the most.
  • If you have any visa requirements, include these where indicated, but if you are not asked include this information in your covering letter.
  • Ensure your cover letter confirms any days or times you are not available for interview as there may be a small window of dates offered.
  • Submit once finalised as a deadline is only a guide and applications may be reviewed sooner. Submit no later than 3 days prior to the deadline date.
  • Keep a record of all applications made and when they were sent.
  • Once you have submitted your applications, check your junk email regularly, as interview invitations can (and have) ended up in these folders!

Lastly to note, you will receive rejections, but do not take these personally, you are just being judged by the huge numbers of applications and the competition, they do not know you and your potential!

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