Application Season For First Time Applicants

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of aspiring lawyers contact me about the application process. Many are applying for the first time. They feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available for aspiring lawyers and don’t know where to start.

In this article I discuss some FAQs that I’ve received from first-time applicants, as well as how I approached the application process.

Part I: FAQs

I want to pursue a career in commercial law. What can I apply for?

This depends on the stage you are at and the specific law firm(s) you are applying to. However, generally speaking:

  • All students and graduates can apply for (virtual) open days and networking events:
    • At these events, you may have the opportunity to meet partners, associates, trainees and the graduate recruitment team.
    • These provide great insight into a firm’s training, culture and recruitment process. They are therefore a great way to evidence your interest in the firm when you apply there.
  • First year law students and second year non-law students can apply for first-year schemes:
    • These typically run for up to a week. Candidates may participate in group activities, workshops and work shadowing and may be allocated a trainee buddy.
    • First-year schemes look great on CVs as they demonstrate a candidate’s interest in commercial law. They also allow candidates to learn more about the legal profession, expand their network and build their profile at a firm early on. Some firms will even fast-track their first-year scheme candidates for vacation schemes or training contracts.
  • Penultimate year law students and final year non-law students can apply for summer vacation schemes:
    • Vacation schemes are internships. Their duration varies depending on the firm and the time of year (although they are typically 2 weeks long).
    • Candidates may participate in workshops covering the firm’s strategy, different practice areas, pro bono work, diversity initiatives and secondment opportunities.
    • Additionally, candidates generally sit in at least one practice area, where they are set work and may even be invited to attend group meetings, department-wide social events or client calls.
    • At the end of the scheme, candidates are generally considered for a training contract.
  • Final year law students and graduates can apply for spring and winter vacation schemes, or for training contracts directly.

When can I start applying and when should I submit my written application by?

Applications for first year schemes generally open in January. Applications for vacation schemes and training contracts tend to open on 1 October.

Each firm has a different deadline; some will be in December, others in January. However, lots of firms recruit on a rolling basis (i.e. first come first serve), so firms generally encourage candidates to apply as soon as they are able to submit a high quality application.

How will I know when X law firm will start recruiting, whether I am eligible to apply, and when their deadline will be?

Head to X law firm’s website, or Legal Cheek’s calendar.

What does the application process entail?

Again, the answer to this is firm and scheme specific. However, firms will generally require applicants to complete:

  1. A written application: outlining their academic qualifications to date, any work experience they have completed, and their motivations for pursuing a career in law at that particular firm.
  2. Psychometric testing: firms commonly use a critical thinking test called the Watson Glazer.
  3. Video or telephone interview.
  4. Assessment centre: typically an in-person day comprising of various assessments. This may include a case study interview, a competency-based interview, a group exercise or an in-tray exercise.
  5. Offer!

Part II: How I approached the application process

This section discusses how I approached stage 1 of the process outlined above. While this is based on my personal experiences and working style, I hope it provides a starting point for you to develop your own approach.

  1. Initial research

The legal market can be categorised into different types of law firms.

Conducting some initial research helped me to decide what I wanted to gain from my training, and therefore which types of law firms were right for me. Of course, this will be different for everyone, as each person has their own unique preferences. However, as an example, I was interested in training at:

  • A full-service firm (i.e. a firm with a variety of practice areas. I’m not sure which practice area I want to specialise in, so I wanted to keep my options open!)
  • With a large trainee intake
  • With lots of formal training opportunities and hands-on supervision
  • With a strong international presence  
  • With great client and international secondment opportunities. (For first time applicants: during the two year-long training contract some firms give trainees the opportunity to spend six months working in one of their offices around the world, or at one of their clients. This was something that really appealed to me!)

If you would like more information on how to research firms, please click here.

2. Attending networking events

Networking events are generally advertised on Legal Cheek, firms’ websites and your university’s Law Society page. At networking events, I always noted the names of the people with whom I spoke, their roles at the firm, and parts of the discussion that resonated with me. This meant that when applying to my chosen firms, I had personal examples that I could use to evidence my motivations for working there.

For more information on how to network with firms, click here.

3. Deciding where to apply and prioritising

When meeting representatives at various firms, I asked myself: can I see myself working with these people on a daily basis? This helped me to narrow down where to apply.

There is no “magic number” of firms to apply to, as everyone is different. In fact, the best piece of advice I was given was to prioritise quality over quantity. Each application you submit should be firm-specific, and should contain minimal spelling and grammatical errors, or else they will be rejected immediately.

Having decided where I wanted to apply, I researched the relevant application deadlines and prioritised firms accordingly. I then worked through my list.

4. Balancing applications with academic studies

Applying for law firms can be time-consuming. However, if you are a student, it is important to make sure that your academics do not suffer as a result given that many firms require candidates to obtain at least a 2:1.To achieve a good balance, I set aside a set number of hours each week for completing applications. I also set myself “mini-deadlines” along the way.

5. Drafting and re-drafting!

Learning to write a strong application is a skill: it requires practice, time and dedication. After writing my applications, I always asked family members, my university’s careers centre and offer holders in my network for feedback. The constructive criticism I received enabled me to produce much stronger applications.

6. Submission time!

Upon completing my final draft of any application, I would leave it for 48 hours before proof-reading it once more to ensure there were no spelling or grammatical errors. Then, I hit submit!  

We hope you found this helpful! Don’t hesitate to email us  ( or to message us on Instagram (@thelegallineup) if there is any other content you’d be interested in reading!

Still feeling uneasy about writing applications? The Legal Line Up teamed up with Little Law to launch a guide on how to answer typical application questions!

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