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Training contracts: Application form top tips

By Eleanor Beattie
Book open Reading time: 5 mins

One of the questions I get asked the most is how to stand out in an application form so I've put together some of my top tips for approaching firm research and how to make your application the best it can be!

Get organised

There's lots of pressure on you and we know that; exams, course work, a job, extracurricular activities and you have to have a social life at some point!  We understand how hectic it can be.  Give yourself enough time, work out which law firms you want to apply to and check if they recruit on a rolling basis or not. Recruiting on a rolling basis means a firm will review applications as and when they receive them. Alternatively, they may wait until after the deadline to start reviewing them. It’s important to know what type of recruitment process your firm uses, so you can plan which firms to concentrate on first. 

Research, research, research!

If I've said it once I've said it 100 times, the best application forms are well researched… and I don't mean a regurgitation of the facts and figures from our website! You need to demonstrate an understanding of the work we do, the sectors we operate in, the culture of the firm and of course what we look for in our future trainees. Why is research so important? Because it'll help you decide if we are the right firm for you.

Of course our website is a good place to start; there's a wealth of information on our lawyers and most recent deals. Then go one step further, read our press releases and when you notice particular fee earners who have been involved in work that interests you, google them! They will undoubtedly have contributed to an article, journal or even be interviewed on TV!

Another great way to research is firm is to meet representatives at an event. This is the best way to get an understanding of a firm's culture.

The magic number?

How many firms should you apply to? I'm hesitant to put a perfect number on it as everyone is different, however I will say only apply to the firms you actually want to work for. It's obvious when an applicant is only applying because they want a training contract. Five well researched applications will get you much further than 50 generic ones. 

Answer the questions

It sounds like obvious, but I often read applications which are well written but don’t actually answer the question. I'll admit, the majority of city firms probably ask similar questions, but don't get caught out - there will be slight nuances between them. Don't fall into the trap of writing one application and trying to fit it into each form. I'm afraid you'll need to start from scratch every time!

Let me give you an example; one of our questions is 'What makes you particularly well-suited to a career at Trowers & Hamlins over other applicants?'

A lot of candidates will explain what would make them a good commercial solicitor, which is all well and good, but it's not actually answering the question. We want to know why you think you're particularly well suited to a career at Trowers specifically.

Write in plain English

Plain English uses short, clear sentences and everyday words without using unnecessary jargon. To do this successfully you'll need to reread and edit your work several times over.

Do not underestimate the importance of a well written application form. Strong written communication skills are vital for any solicitor. Be clear, succinct and ensure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are correct.

Make sure you make full use of the word limit in each answer but with valuable words which will clearly answer the question. Our word count is 250 words per answer. If you are writing 50 words your answer is probably not in-depth enough but if you are writing 250 words and they are not answering the question that has the same result.

Legal vs non-legal work experience

A slight disclaimer; this is my own opinion and relates to an application for Trowers & Hamlins. Other firm's opinions may differ, so it's always worth double checking with them first.

Should you include non-legal work experience on your application form? Absolutely! Work experience is about the skills you've gained. If it's helped you gain or develop a skill which would be useful in a career in law, then absolutely. Having a Saturday job in Tesco for the last three years is no mean feat and it could have taught you how to work in a team, adapt your communication style to tricky customers, leadership skills, the list goes on! You are as unique as your experiences, so we want to hear about them.

List of competencies

The majority of firms somewhere on their website will have a list of the skills or 'competencies' they look for in future trainees, i.e. team player, strong communication skills, commercially aware, etc. Once complete, print your application form and highlight where you think you've demonstrated each skill.  If you don't feel like you have demonstrated each one, try and include it in either the work experience or your answers and remember that those competences are the skills we're assessing you on when reading your application forms. 

Get someone else to read it 

Re-read and get other people to check your application. Don't let silly mistakes or typos cloud what would otherwise be a strong application. When you've read something over and over again you won't be able to spot your mistakes after a while. It's a good idea to get someone to read it who hasn't got a legal background. Ask them to think about whether it makes sense? Do they think it answers the question?

Hopefully these tips will have started you on your way to writing that killer application form. I look forward to reading your application soon!

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