How do I get a training contract in a law firm?

Training contract professional services coaching

One of the main requests I get in my work as a professional services career coach is to guide students through the process of applying for a training contract in a law firm.

There’s perhaps no bigger decision for students pursuing a career in law than deciding which area to specialise in, and which law firm to apply for. Once you’ve made those monumental decisions, then there’s the matter of actually applying and being accepted! No small feat.

Going through this process alone is as intimidating as it is unnecessary. Thankfully, there are career coaches out there (like me) who have first-hand experience working in legal services and can help you decide what to do and know what to expect.

Here is a breakdown of the full process:

1. Decide which areas of legal practice interest you the most.

Saying you want to be a lawyer is like going into a restaurant and telling the waiter you want food. Each branch of law is its own kettle of fish, and deciding which area you want to specialize in will determine whether or not you’re happy through your career.

You might already have a firm idea of exactly which area you want to specialize in, or you might be at a complete loss.

If you’re having trouble deciding, you can narrow down your options substantially by assessing the personality skills required in each area of practice. For example, if you struggle to communicate sensitively and empathetically, family law is not for you!

Take your personal interests into consideration too. If you have a deep and genuine interest in politics and how governing bodies function, Public Law might be the perfect match for you. Working in a field you are genuinely passionate about gives you great job satisfaction.

Here is a list of some popular areas of practice:

  • Banking and finance
  • Civil liberties and human rights
  • Commercial
  • Environmental
  • Employment
  • Family
  • Health
  • Media
  • Public
  • Real Estate
  • Tax

Deciding what areas you’re interested in will help you in the next step of choosing a law firm. If you are still struggling to narrow down your options, you can opt to apply for training contact with larger law firms which will allow you to rotate between different seats and get experience in different areas of the law. Be aware though that training contracts for large law firms are generally more competitive than for smaller firms or legal teams within a company.

2. Choose a law firm

Now that you know which areas of law interest you the most, it’s time to get researching!

  • Use our friend Google to help you find law firms that specialise in your preferred area of practice.
  • Work with a legal services career coach who will have knowledge of law firms and their modus operandi.
  • Talk to senior law students who have already participated in schemes.

Once you have narrowed down your list, it’s a good idea to start networking.

People make the mistake of thinking that the application process begins with the written application form, but you can do a lot to enhance your prospects during this phase of selecting your preferred law firm.

  • Attend open days, law fairs and networking sessions.
  • Talk to trainees and associates and get a feel for how their firm works and if you think you’ll be a good fit. At this point, you will be able to narrow down your earlier selection.
  • Go prepared with a list of insightful questions that show your interest in their firm and in their area of practice. A great opener is “What made you choose [firm X]?”
  • Keep things positive: don’t ask negative questions and if you dislike a specific firm don’t mention it to anyone, keep it professional.
  • Follow up and connect with trainees and associates on LinkedIn. Remind them where you met and who you are.
3. Submit your written training contract applications

Obviously, you want to make the best possible impression in your application, cover letter and CV. A real challenge is to keep in succinct whilst also including all relevant. This is where legal services career coaching is particularly useful.

Recruiters will be on the lookout for key information that you can’t afford to omit. A career coach with a strong understanding of legal services will guide you through what specific details work best in your favour. They’ll help you keep your application concise and make it stand out.

If you want to write a first draft before talking to your career coach, The Lawyer Portal has a useful guide to help you with the basics.

Application deadlines vary depending on your study route. Law students can apply in their penultimate year, whereas most non-law students apply in their final year.

Most city and national firms accept applications from November up until the 31st of July. Each law firm is different so make sure you check well in advance.  Candidates who submit their applications early may be at some advantage, so it’s advisable to get a move on!

4. Prepare for and attend interviews

If your application is successful, you’ll then attend a training contract interview. These can be on the phone, over a video call or face-to-face.

You’ll need to be prepared to answer:

  • General questions: “why do you want to work here?”
  • Questions specific to the law firm and the industry: “who would you say are our main competitors?”
  • Competency questions: “tell us about a time when you had to adjust your communication to suit a particular audience.”
  • Questions referring to your application: “Your application mentions that you shadowed a judge at your local court. What did you learn from your experience there.”

Your career coach will have a specific approach to interview preparation. They’ll provide you with a set of tailored questions for you to prepare for based on the firm holding the interview and the information in your application. 

Aside from giving the right answers, you’ll need to deliver them in a timely and appropriate manner: no stumbling, no prolonged hesitation, you’ll need to be calm and considered. The only way you’ll achieve this is with repeated practice.

It’s quite difficult to self-assess your performance as you practise. You can ask a friend or family member to help you, but only if you can trust them to be objective and honest in their feedback.

Ideally, you want to practise with someone with knowledge and experience in legal services. That’s why it’s good to book in a few dedicated sessions with a career coach who can practise with you and give you constructive criticism to help you improve your interview technique.

5. In house assessment

Once you have successfully passed the interview process, you might be invited to attend an assessment day. 

Assessment days differ but are likely to include a case study, a second, less formal interview, a group task, and a written assessment.

It’s a chance for recruiters to see more of your personality, how you work in a group and how you present yourself. It’s a lot harder to prepare for an in house assessment, but there are a few set tests you can practise with your career coach. Mainly, however, you’ll need to rely on your knowledge and ability, so building your confidence and self-belief can go a long way to helping you give the best impression of yourself.

6. Get an offer

All going well, you’ll receive a phone call with an offer from your chosen firm. Time to celebrate your success! Of course, it’s completely up to you whether or not you accept their offer. You’ll have a grace period of around a month (depending on the firm) to accept or reject their offer, so take your time if you need it.

After reading all that, I’m sure it feels like you’ve got a long road ahead, but as with any journey, you’ve got to take it one step at a time. Wherever you are along the road, if you feel you would benefit from the guidance of a professional services career coach, get in touch and I’ll be happy to help.


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