Tips for obtaining a training contract

by Five Fantastic Lawyers™ on November 10, 2012

This post was contributed by Peter Overmeer, a Partnership Administrator at Jolliffe & Co. Solicitors in Chester. As partnership administrator, Peter deals with all administrative sides of the business, including hiring trainees.


It is a tough old world out there and with law firms cutting back and the increasing competition driving down rates, it has never been harder to secure a training contract. Against this background, what can a prospective trainee do to ensure that their application is at least noticed? let-alone get called to an interview or even being awarded that vital training contract?

As a firm, we have recruited a number of trainees over the years and as Partnership Administrator I have the unenviable task of sifting through all the applications and acting as the link between firm and applicant, seeing the process through from start to finish. Anything that makes the sifting process easier is welcome and candidates who shoot themselves in the foot at the outset often assist this. Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts compiled from my experience.

Initial Application

Read and follow the application instructions. If it says e-mail, e-mail, don’t bother sending a hard copy. If you cannot understand simple instructions now, how will you understand instruction from your clients later?

Submit in good time, any applications that skirt the deadline will most likely be rushed off, and you need time to thoroughly check everything through. Nor does it speak volumes for punctuality.

There is absolutely no excuse for spelling mistakes; even the most basic computers have a spell-check function these days, make use of it.

Keep your CV as short as possible – ideally within 2 pages. Avoid photos of yourself or worse several, as I have witnessed in one application.

Covering letters should not be too stuffy; say something of interest about yourself that will set you apart and give you something to talk about at the beginning or end of the interview. This is eminently preferable to waffling on about ‘what a difference you will make to the firm’ or how you want to join ‘because of their particular expertise in X’, when a glance at their website indicates they don’t so specialise. A trainee only ever wants to join a firm to get a contract, all the rest is guff that the firm will read in almost every other application.

Attending an Interview

If you have given a mobile number, keep your phone switched on. I once tried to call a candidate for an interview but he rarely used his phone, so immediately he lost out.

Arrive in good time, not at the last minute in a muck sweat. Allow for generous travel delays, better to kill time relaxing at your destination than sitting in a traffic queue steaming.

Dress appropriately and professionally. You may have assets, but it’s better to restrict yourself to those of an intellectual nature in your interview.

Be prepared; put some time into thinking about how your CV demonstrates your skills and competencies, think about your strengths and weaknesses and some archetypal interview questions, before you get called in. By doing this you will not have to analyse your CV on the spot and will be able trot out your well-prepared answer. This will give you the appearance of confidence even if nerves get to you.

Have a look at the firm’s website; if you seriously want to join them you should at least show some interest. If they have a strap line or slogan, learn it. This is one question I always ask, it shows the genuinely interested from the uninteresting.

Be yourself, be honest; don’t just answer what you think the panel want to hear. If you disagree with something that is said, say so in a reasoned way (differences of opinion do crop up in Law from time to time!) but don’t become argumentative. Don’t mumble incoherently, look at the people interviewing you, make eye contact, it not only helps to establish a connection but will also demonstrate the confidence you’ll need when addressing a court or dealing with a difficult client.

If you do not understand a question, say so; I once said to a barrister in court that I hadn’t understood his question, the presiding judge said “I am glad you said that because I didn’t understand it either!” it happens to the best of us.

Relax and SMILE! If you get called to interview you have already impressed with your CV. Then, if your interviewers warm to you as a person, in my experience, you have won half the battle.

If you have questions to ask, ask them. It shows interest. Ask what happens next at the end of your interview, it shows that you don’t see the process as over just yet.

There are many elements of this process that are out of your control; there may be candidates with more experience, better qualifications or a firmer handshake, you can’t alter those things. Just make sure that you do everything in your power to get right the things that you can control and you’ll be giving yourself a good start.

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