Help – I Can’t Get a Training Contract – What Am I Doing Wrong?
in Careers Advice, Job Applications, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Help – I Can’t Get a Training Contract – What Am I Doing Wrong?

Probably nothing at all is the very quick answer, the slightly longer answer would be to check your work experience, get an application form reviewed and relax a bit. An even slightly longer answer would be as follows.

Check Your Academics

Are you fitting the criteria for the training contract applications you are making?

Large Central London law firms usually have requirements of virtually perfect GCSEs, virtually perfect A levels, a very high 2:1 or first class degree from a ‘good university’ and some evidence of an interest in the law.

If you have DDE at A level, barely any GCSEs, a 2:2 degree and no work experience, then in most cases you will be wasting your time applying.

If you have low grades then chances are your route into law is going to very different to someone with good grades, because you are going to have to seize opportunities as they come. This means that you’ll probably have to go down the paralegal or work experience route and hope something crops up following this. You cannot expect to be applying for jobs where the law firm want specific academic qualifications and you don’t have them.

Check Your Work Experience

Work experience is not just something you do for the sake of it, it gives an employer evidence that you know what a legal job entails. For example, applying for a job in a high street law firm undertaking conveyancing and wills and probate work is not going to be a good idea if you have no idea what a conveyancing or wills and probate solicitor does.

You may get offered a job and then absolutely hate the work and leave quickly. In that case the employer has wasted their time taking you on in the first place.

It is much easier for the employer simply to recruit someone who has got two years conveyancing experience working as  a paralegal in a high street law firm. This way the employer knows full well that the person they’re taking on knows what the job is going to be and simply has a desire to qualify.

Similarly the same applies in a commercial law firm – if you have no work experience or three months work experience as a family paralegal in a legal aid firm, it’s really not going to help you know whether or not you want to be a corporate finance solicitor one day.

A two week vacation placement with a good quality practice will go quite a long way towards confirming whether or not this type of career is going to be of interest to you (some people regard the work as utterly boring and tedious but good for paying your bills), but the more experience the better.

What we usually recommend is to get work experience in a whole host of different types of law and legal settings including in-house, private practice (large and small) and local authority. This way you build up a bank of work experience that may or may not open doors for you, but similarly will provide you with lots of evidence of your experiences when filling out application forms.

Check Your Applications Carefully For Grammatical and Spelling Mistakes

We see so many applications and CVs that have errors in them, that we strongly recommend checking through every single time on a word for word basis. The applications you make are virtual investments in your future career and any time spent on them is good time (provided you do not just go over the same things again and again). Write your application form to start with, then read it, thinking about if you were an employer and what you think of it, and then read it as if you were a proof reader checking it for mistakes. This should give you a good idea of what needs revising and what sounds good.

Check Your Personal Life

Something that aspiring lawyers quite often overlook is the need to have a connections with the person interviewing you. If you have a boring existence without any external extracurricular interests then your conversation during interview is going to be pretty much based on the law, and you won’t ever get to discuss anything where you might have a connection with the person interviewing you. For example, if you like skiing and have skied across France, Austria and Bulgaria, then if this is on your application form or CV it gives the interviewer something to chat about if they are similarly keen skiers. If it’s not on the form they won’t actually know this and whether or not to instigate a conversation about it.

Don’t Panic!

So many graduates come through their lives in a completely sheltered environment where they succeed at everything they do, that when they get rejected from a training contract application or paralegal work they instantly panic and think there’s something wrong with them. The same applicants then start looking around for magic touches to add to their application forms and get convinced that there’s something in them that means they’re not suitable for that particular firm, or they start to suffer with mental health issues, view themselves as failures and consider something has gone tragically wrong with their career.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and you need to get this into your mind from the outset if you are going into law. This is an incredibly competitive profession with very few jobs available and lots of people chasing them.

Even when you qualify as a solicitor there are certain fields of law where getting a job as a newly qualified solicitor can be difficult and there are lots of solicitors out there looking for roles. You are going to fail at times, and it may be you have done absolutely nothing wrong. You may have perfect academic results, outstanding work experience and a high level of extracurricular activities. You may have been for interview and shone and be eagerly anticipating an offer of a training contract. However, the law firm you have been to may have had 2000 applications and really liked 200 of them, but only have 30 places to offer, and it may just be that you were one of the unlucky ones.

It is true that at times we hear of firms where it’s pretty obvious they have reserved their training contract(s) for a daughter or son of one of the friends of the senior partner, but very often firms are in a difficult position making decisions on potential trainee solicitors where there is virtually nothing between the candidate choices they have.

Geographical Locations

If you are applying for a law firm based in Leeds but have absolutely no connections to Leeds, then your chances of success are lower than somebody who has lived in Leeds all their life and is locally born and bred. It is important to bear this in mind and whilst we cannot encourage you to move to Leeds in order to make an application, you do need to think about this carefully, and how you can make your application to that firm more locally linked. There are ways and means of doing this, but you will need to make decisions and include details as you personally see fit…

Don’t Give Up

Failing to get a training contract is not a failure at all; it is simply a change in your circumstances. It may be that you have to spend another year looking around at paralegal work while you make more applications, but this may be a good thing for your future career as it may give you more options or change your mind as to the type of law you want to do.

Never see a rejection as a failure, but instead see it as an opportunity to do something different.

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Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk