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Application advice

Kate O'Sullivan

As autumn rolls around again, so too does the training contract application season – which invariably means applications forms. I don’t think any trainee could honestly say that they enjoyed this step of the application process! However, I found that if I adopted a structured approach, and planned them in advance of the deadlines, they weren’t quite so painful. Below is a step-by-step method I used when drafting my applications – I hope some of the tips will be useful for you too.

Step 1: The Groundwork

Before you start drafting the application, you should do the groundwork. I split this into two tasks: commercial and legal research, followed by competencies and skills.

Commercial and Legal Research

a) Legal graduate recruitment websites – these are a fantastic resource as they allow you to compare law firms by practice area or sector. Frequently the information is provided by current trainees, which provides an honest insight into the culture and ethos of the firm.

b) Law firm website – after you know which firm you’re applying to, next head to their website. It’s here that you can get to grips with the firm’s business. Identify their practice areas and sectors – which of those interest you most? What markets are relevant for that firm?

c) Microsites – lots of firms now have microsites, commenting on important cases or market trends. Reading up on these topical blogs is a great way to show your interest in the firm and commitment to that area of law. Bristows, for example, have some useful sites on the UPC, Competition & IP and the Cookie Jar

d) Legal news – whether it’s a legal blog or a news website, these resources are useful for staying up-to-date with the legal industry, as well as alerting you to pivotal cases and deals. If you find any firm-specific-stories interesting, it’s good to weave them into your application.  

e) Case law – a bit of a niche tip here, but as I was interested in life sciences litigation, I searched case law databases to see what firms were involved in which cases. If you don’t have access to subscription services, BAILII.org is a fantastic free resource for case reports.

Competencies 

You can do all the research in the world to show your legal knowledge, but the law firm is ultimately interested in one thing: you! To show them that you’re the candidate they’re looking for, you need to identify which competencies and skills they value and illustrate how you’ve demonstrated them. 

To do this, you could go through the law firm’s website and jot down all the buzzwords; what have you done that shows these traits? Consider your work experience, projects at college, societies at university, volunteering, or even a challenge you’ve overcome – you’ll have a wealth of experiences to draw upon. Any example of how you’ve demonstrated a skill or trait it fantastic, as it makes you stand out from the crowd.

Step 2: The Drafting

If you’ve done the groundwork above, this bit (hopefully!) will be easy. Use your research to explain why you want to work for that firm, what aspects about their practice areas and sectors interest you, and how you’ve demonstrated the competencies that they’re looking for.

The one thing to remember is to tailor your application: really shape your answers to that specific firm. After you’ve finished your draft, remove the firm’s name from the entire application and try to replace it with another firm – do your statements still apply? Would the application be make sense if it was sent to another firm? If that’s the case, you need to go back and tailor it some more.

Step 3: The Finishing Touches

This application is the first impression you make on that law firm – you want to make it a good one. Try not to let silly typos, which are so easy to fix, ruin all of the effort you put in during research and drafting. Leave your draft for a few days, before coming back to it with fresh eyes – you’ll be surprised at the minor mistakes you notice or small nuances you can tweak. It sounds obvious, but read it, re-read-it, and re-re-read it again – if you can persuade someone else to review it as well, even better.

Hopefully some of these points will help with your application - best of luck!

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