Matthew Berrick recently spoke with Stephanie Lartey who decided to write this guest piece. The aim of this article is to share Stephanie’s experience of securing a training contract with White & Case with limited legal experience.
Over to Stephanie for her insight!
Tip 1: It’s okay if you don’t know what area of law you want to get into straight away, try different things out and see what feels right.
I decided I was going to be a lawyer when I was six years old, after watching an episode of LA Lawyer. I’d been told that lawyers study history and English at school, so to me, that meant my GCSE and IB choices were set, and I’d definitely become a lawyer after that. It wasn’t until I got to sixth form that I realised my idea of the law was still only what I’d seen on TV, and I needed actual experience. After that epiphany, it should have been easy right? Wrong. I realised that not having any family members or knowing any adults in the law meant that I did not actually know where to begin. I started with the traditional google search but found that most firms just had schemes for university students. So, I began to work on a plan to get on one of those schemes.
In this article, I hope to share my journey to getting a training contract and provide tips on the best things to do when you want to gain a training contract. It’s no secret that the legal profession has long been regarded as noble and prestige, but there’s no reason why that nobility and prestige cannot be diversified and open to more.
Success metric: I came across Rare Recruitment. This was instrumental in exposing me to the different options law had to offer, and there are many other great organisations that are all too happy to help you get started too!
My legal journey
Tip 2: If you’re not sure where to start, focus on networking “informally” at presentations/dinners/law fairs and whatever else your university has to offer.
I joined the Rare foundations programme the summer after I received my IB results, and this opened my eyes to the world of commercial law. Open Days and Insight Days were the buzz words of the summer, but my biggest takeaway was learning that I could gain legal experience in a far simpler way than I had imagined. I could network. I signed up to every evening presentation I could find in my first year, and often found I was the youngest person in the room. But that did not matter, I was networking and finding out what working in a commercial law firm was like from solicitors who worked there; that was enough for me.
Success metric: One day when I was working as a telephone fundraiser for my university, I spoke to a Barrister who, after a lovely conversation about everything from driving tests to my five-year plan, offered me work experience for a week at a top commercial chambers in London. If you’re interested in hearing the full story, reach out to me on LinkedIn.
What skills make a successful applicant?
Tip 3: Every experience leads to a skill. So, don’t dwell on your shortcomings, accentuate your strengths.
I don’t think there’s an exhaustive list of skills that make a successful training contract applicant, every experience you have in life exposes or enhances a new skill. It’s just up to you to connect that skill you’ve gained to your role as a trainee.
During my first two years at university, I was surrounded by high achieving first class students, and I was barely scraping a 2:1. I’ll be honest, it was brutal, and I often wondered whether there was any point in applying for vacation schemes with the hope of getting a training contract, because everyone I spoke to seemed to have better grades than me. Then my mum said something to me in the first semester of second year which changed my outlook.
“Every experience leads to a skill. So, don’t dwell on your shortcomings, accentuate your strengths.”
I’d been working since the age of 14 and gained commercial awareness skills I didn’t even realise I would need for those interview questions because of it. I learnt to organise my time early on, often balancing two or more part-time jobs on the go alongside my education. I’m a proficient public speaker after years of reading the bible to the church congregation on Sundays. And perhaps most importantly, the variety of jobs I managed to obtain at such a young age showed that not only was I proactive, but I was also a quick learner who was always willing to learn new company cultures, and adapt to a given environment. What I thought I lacked in grades, I certainly made up for with skill.
So how does this tell you what skills make a successful applicant? Well that’s just it, it’s all the skills you gain through life. I genuinely believe firms want to see how you’ve grown as an individual, and how you’ve reflected on experiences to improve your skillset.
But if you don’t believe me and would rather name drop a few “safe” skills, companies always list five or so skills and values they embody on their websites.
Success metric: Focusing on my experiences in applications as opposed to name dropping skills like “attention to detail”, “creative”, and, “ability to work well in a team”, got me 3 vacation scheme offers, 1 mini pupillage, and 1 training contract.