Welcome to our section featuring Q&A sessions with our panel of top UK law firm representatives, who'll tackle any topic to do with graduate recruitment, applications, interviews, training contracts, vacation schemes and much more. If you have a question we haven't covered, just drop us a line, or tweet us @TheLex100, and we'll keep it in mind.
When sending off my initial application, how can I ensure that I stand out from the competition?
Make the most of opportunities to attend Open Days and Careers Events. Introduce yourself to the law firm's representatives, particularly the graduate recruitment officers. Aim to find out as much as you can about the firm and their application process from them. Build up a good rapport with them and they may well then remember you when they receive your application.
When writing the application itself, mention the fact that you have attended relevant events and name the people you have met with. Ensure your application is tailored to the firm by highlighting any experience or knowledge you've gained that could relate to the firm's areas of focus. Articulate your passion and commitment to join that firm in particular. It's an obvious point, but ensure your spelling and grammar are impeccable. If you can communicate your commitment to working for a particular firm and can explain the ways in which you would add value, you will make it easy for a firm to say 'yes' to you!
What are the most common errors in written applications?
One of the most frustrating mistakes on application forms is the misspelling of the firm name! Attention to detail is an important part of being a lawyer, and to ensure your application makes it past the first review, double check it doesn’t contain any spelling and grammatical errors (brush up on your apostrophes and practice/practise!). It goes without saying that you really cannot afford to get the firm name wrong!
Aside from avoiding grammatical errors, the structure of your answers and the way in which you present yourself on paper is crucial in capturing our attention. Open text questions are a chance for you to show off your writing skills (concision and structure), commercial awareness, enthusiasm for the law and interest in Shearman & Sterling. The work experience section needs to bring to life your experience - you should give some context to your previous roles and explain what you learnt, enjoyed or didn't enjoy. The best candidates will tie these experiences back to law and explain how they'll help you succeed as a solicitor.
Lots of people write their applications in draft first but make sure you check the formatting when you copy and paste across as sometimes this can go awry. Finally, give your printed application to a friend to proofread, and proofread again yourself. Don’t forget to ensure everything is written in an appropriate professional tone and all capital letters are in the right place. Press submit and cross your fingers!
Shearman & Sterling
What do all excellent applications have in common?
A superstar application form is thoughtful, relevant, and genuine. Each section of the application form should showcase your unique strengths and personality:
Interest & Achievement Section - Include your best examples to give the greatest impact rather than including everything. Show diversity through these examples, for instance, working as part of team, working individually, one off experiences and ongoing interests so you can demonstrate your ability to be agile and adapt to new environments.
Working Experience Section - Relevant experience is helpful but firms recognise that this is not possible for everyone to have these opportunities. Ensure you include other experiences that can support your motivation to law e.g. attending open days and events. As law is a client led industry so we appreciate diverse experiences that can bring this expertise into discussions with clients.
Career Focus Questions - In these questions we are looking for evidence that you have done your research and you are able to show your passion and commitment to the career path.
Overall Communication - Please ensure your communication throughout your application form is clear and concise as this is a common area where candidates lose marks.
How do you assess training contract applications?
Our training contract application form is in cover letter format and is designed to help you showcase your talents. We ask for information about you and your education, as well as a 1000-word cover letter that tells us why you want to be a lawyer, and why at Ashurst in particular.
When reading your application form we are looking for you to demonstrate the six competencies that we look for, in addition to satisfying our academic requirements of 340 UCAS points at A Level (or equivalent), as well as being on-track to achieve/achieved a 2.1 in your undergraduate degree.
We recruit on a rolling basis and so we take the time to read every application that we receive and offer an interview if the individual is able to demonstrate all competencies that we look for. It is important, therefore, that you take the time to really familiarise yourself with Ashurst as the in-depth research that you incorporate in your application form really will help you to make your form stand out.
How can I make my commercial work experience relevant to a law firm application?
The majority of applicants tend to have some kind of commercial experience e.g. work experience or a university project that is relevant to their application. The tricky thing is how you can communicate that in such a way so that it is relevant to the role.
You need to ensure that everything you include can be seen as useful experience for the job you are applying for. Getting this across in a concise and engaging way is important, especially when you consider there is usually a strict word limit on the application.
Our top tip is to research the facts about the firm you are applying to and list the key skills that you think they place importance on. You can then tailor your application so that it matches what they are looking for. Law firms’ websites are usually a good source of information and the best place to start for any research. You can check if your qualifications and abilities match up to the requirements needed for the job. You can then start building your application and highlight the most appropriate areas of your work experience.
Most work experience will give you lots of transferable skills. In fact, the real skill of the job application process is in deciding which of those are the most relevant to highlight!
In a written application, how can I explain the relevance of my extracurricular university experience?
Involvement in extracurricular activities shows your personality and proactive nature, and we want to recruit creative and interesting individuals. You pick up transferable skills such as team work/leadership from being in a sports team, University society, volunteering for charities or playing in a music ensemble. Make the most of your time at university and sign up to societies, this will also help provide various examples on your application form which you can then expand on at the interview stage.
Norton Rose Fulbright
When writing an application it is important to consider what is the employer trying to find out and what are they looking for in their applicant. Therefore, when describing an extracurricular university experience, don’t just tell a story in a timeline of events, but also include aspects that highlight your personal qualities. This may include how youapproach decisions, how you reacted to scenarios, how you dealt with others and how you thought about elements that are beyond the obvious.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the reader has no prior knowledge about what you are describing. This may seem obvious, but often it is overlooked how something described in writing may not come across as it actually happened. Do not overlook the fact that the reader was not present to understand all the details, such as: the diversity of the people you were engaging with, the external factors influencing your behaviour etc. If you think these details are important, bearing in mind the end goal, then include them and make them clear. Therefore, all applications should reflect a true and honest version of oneself.
How do I get across my personality throughout the application?
Everyone finds it really difficult to embrace the application form as way to let your personality shine through and differentiate yourself against the competition. Being successful in the application process is not purely about just reciting what you feel the employer is looking for, and suppressing who you are as an individual, organisations' really do want to get to know you and your personality.
Firstly, it is worth spending the time assessing what are your attributes, values, strengths, and passions? If you are not sure about these, ask friends or family for help to develop this further. Once these are clear, make sure you thread these key themes throughout your application form to give the employer a clear picture of who you are. It is important to support these themes, with evidence and appropriate examples using your interests and life experiences.
A point of caution, make sure you pay close attention to the question that you have been asked, as well using it as an opportunity to let that personality glimmer through. Therefore, always consider the structure, words used, language and tonality of your answers to make sure you are expressing yourself fully.
How do I best bring up / show the research that I've done about the firm?
The best research will have breadth as well as depth – don't just use our own website (although that will give you an idea of how we present ourselves) but use a variety of resources to understand how we are perceived in the market and what people are saying about us.
A common mistake is to regurgitate blocks of text on the application form or in the interview, which can give the impression that you might have a brilliant photographic memory but you haven't really taken the time to think about what you've read. The best way to show you've done your research is to personalise it; rather than telling us something we already know, talk about how it resonates with you and ties in with your interests and experiences. This will help us to understand why we're the right firm for you and why you might be the right trainee for us!"
As law is extremely competitive, the majority of good applicants will have excellent academics, solid work experience and interesting extra-curricular activities.
What makes applicants stand out from the rest is the research they have carried out on the firm they are applying to and the way they use this research to draw on their own experiences in referencing and talking about the firm.
Every law firm is different and it is your job to find out: where the firm sits in the legal market; who are their main clients; and what are their areas of expertise. This information should feed into the ‘why my firm’ question on the application form / cover letter.
At the interview, you will need to feel confident talking about the research you have done and not be frightened if you are asked any exploratory question. Sometimes, you could be asked for an opinion which may require you to make a quick judgment.
Don't be afraid to have a view and be ready to maintain your stand. The key is to stay calm and answer logically, evidencing from your own experiences and learning."
What is the best approach to presenting my strengths and weaknesses?
There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, so be prepared to spend as much time discussing your weaknesses as you would highlighting your strengths. I always advise students to look at the key skills and qualities which the firm in question really values. You then need to provide credible examples on your application form and during your interview to prove that you have some experience already.
However, don't forget that we are also looking for potential - and we provide a lot of training during the training contract and beyond - which is why it is also important to identify what you need to get better at. Be honest and, where possible, be prepared to discuss why you feel that you can learn the required skill or, even better, demonstrate that you have already started to work on your weaknesses. For example, if you know that public speaking isn't your strength, get involved with societies or activities which will allow you to practice this skill."
When presenting your strengths and weaknesses the recruiter is looking for evidence that you are aware of the areas that you excel in, as well as those areas that you are conscious of a need to improve in.
The key is self-development and research. Research of both the firm you are applying to and yourself. Make sure you understand the competencies that a firm is looking for and if your weakness falls in one of these areas, ensure that you demonstrate to the recruiter why it is important for you to work on this weakness. For example, you may not be the most confident presenter but understand that a legal career will involve pitching to clients. It is, therefore, an area that you will focus on developing through volunteering to take the role of presenter in group tasks at work/university.
It is not a trick question when asked to discuss your weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, we are simply looking for evidence that you are able to push yourself to develop and that you would be successful in an environment where constructive criticism is given in order to help you reach your full potential."
What are your top tips for application-writing?
The starting point should be asking yourself 'What does a trainee do? What does their role involve and what skills would they need?'. You’ll obviously need to do some research at this point – most firms websites and other legal sector media will give you a good place to start from. Think beyond your application to the bigger picture. Consider why we're asking the questions we are, and what they give you the opportunity to tell us.
Depending on how you think and how your mind works, you might want to take a very structured approach or you might want to write TRAINEE SOLICITOR in the middle of a piece of paper and brainstorm! Write down everything you're good at and you've done and then start to narrow it down and link it back to the skills and competencies you would need to display as a future solicitor. This should help you avoid generic responses and individualise your application as you will be working with your skills, strengths and experience, which is what we're looking for.
The final thing is to make sure you've answered the question we've asked, not the question you wish we'd asked! Relevance is key and so is ensuring your answers are succinct, to the point and avoid repetition.
How do you best approach the "Why are you interested in this law firm?" essay question?
All law firms are different. They may not look like it at first glance but I can assure you they are, and this question is asking you to show us what has interested you about our firm in particular. The key is to only apply to firms that actually do interest you and then try to illustrate what it is that sparks your interest. This may be the deals, the clients, the culture, the international spread or a combination of these things and other considerations. Try not to be generic and remember if you can remove the firm's name and replace it with another's then you haven't shown us what it is about our firm that is attractive."
This is a question you should have asked yourself before you started the application so the answer should come easily! Don’t be tempted to edit an answer you have used in an application for another firm – start with a blank page. This way you won’t make the fatal mistake of getting the firm’s name wrong.
Your answer should focus on what appeals to you about the firm – the work it does, the clients it has, the opportunities it offers and how this suits you and your aspirations, your experience and your skills. It should convince the recruiter that you understand what is different about the firm.
You don’t need to impress with your knowledge of the firm, we take it as a given that you will have done your research, so don’t reel off facts and figures or name drop deals and transactions if they don’t have any context – make every word count!"
Which are the most common (and most sensitive) application or CV errors you've run into?
The most common mistakes we see are candidates not proof-reading carefully enough and/or not researching the firm well before applying. Simple errors can occur from relying too heavily on spell-check or copy and paste functions. Lawyers have to be meticulous in their work as an error in a contract can change the meaning. We're looking for people who can demonstrate the same level of care. My advice would be to print out what you've drafted and read it on paper rather than on screen. Your eye is more likely to see the changes required. If necessary, ask someone else to check it for you.
The second main error is not researching firms well and making generic applications. We want to know why you'd like to work here and generic wording, such as "I would relish the chance to train at a leading firm who work on ground-breaking deals such as [insert deal from the news section of our website] isn't likely to answer to demonstrate this convincingly. Good research is likely to lead you to make fewer applications but of far better quality."
The training contract or vacation scheme application form is often the first contact that you will have with a firm and, as always, first impressions count. Needless to say obvious errors such as spelling mistakes or poor grammar detract from your application, but some other common errors that we come across are:
Any of these errors will suggest that you are just filling in a form and are not particularly keen to join the firm that you are applying to. I know it is time consuming to fill in application forms, but it is worth putting the time and effort in as it is easy to spot when applicants have not!"
How can I demonstrate that I am a team player in my application?
The Ashurst application form is in covering letter format providing plenty of opportunity for you to demonstrate that you have this competency – team and interpersonal skills.
You will be joining a supportive and team-based environment and so need to be able to demonstrate that you can play your part. Furthermore, interpersonal skills are essential in building and maintaining relationships not only with the firm, but with our clients. Think carefully about these factors and why we look for this competency before drafting your examples that demonstrate you are a team player.Roles of responsibility show that you are able to take the lead in a team environment, but we are also very interested in hearing about team situations that you are involved in where you aren't necessarily taking the leadership role. These examples can come from a variety of places – perhaps you are a member of a society, have a part-time job that involves a high level of team work, or perhaps played an integral role in a piece of group coursework.
Always remember the importance of demonstrating your role within the team and how you assisted in the situation. It is your application that the recruiter is reading, not your friend at university that you worked on a project with.
Lawyers carry out work and advise clients in teams. The strength of full-service law firms, and those with multiple practice areas, is their ability to draw on a team's knowledge, experience, skill and diversity to provide solutions for their clients.
Each individual will play a role in a team. Some lead, some facilitate, some follow etc. Students should start to understand the role that they play in a team. Maybe you encourage others. Are you a good motivator? Are your skills around project management and making sure deadlines are met? Can you negotiate well? Whatever skills you have that help you work in a team, identify them and be able to explain how these skills helped a team project – ideally giving clear examples of your personal contribution and explaining the results.
Good examples to use include team sports, university projects, extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs. Whatever example you choose to use, it’s best to link it as closely as possible to the teamwork skills required by lawyers and show the tangible results of your contribution.
Why do firms encourage training contract applications from non-law students?
We are keen to accept applications from candidates who have studied law and those who come from non-law backgrounds as both routes into private practice bring a range of skills and attributes. We encourage candidates to be open-minded and choose degrees they are naturally interested in. If they are keen to study law, then this is a great way to explore different areas and learn the basics from day one.
However, if students decide to immerse themselves in other disciplines, this will not prevent them from pursuing a career in law at a later stage. In fact, studying other degrees can often boost your employability by allowing you to draw on transferable skills such as analysis, creativity, problem solving and so on. Experience outside the ‘traditional’ route can often bring different ideas, skills and perspectives to the table that law firms will be keen to explore.
Thanks to the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), students from any discipline can undertake a year of studying to gain the technical equivalent of an LLB. This essentially means that non-law students are in the same position as those coming out of a three-year undergraduate degree with an added advantage of broadening their knowledge outside of the legal world.
In a practical sense, how can a non-law background help a lawyer to succeed in their work?
Each student's unique experiences and varied degree subjects are essential in helping firms provide the best possible service for each client they work with. As a non- law background can help firms to understand their clients from a different perspective and give further. Therefore, firms recognise the importance of recruiting non-lawyers as it is important that they reflect their clients who usually cover a broad spectrum of industries. For instance, at Taylor Wessing we recruit around 50:50 law to non-law trainees.
Non law degrees help you develop a range of skills, which are crucial to becoming a successful lawyer. The practical application of these skills in the legal environment has essential commercial implications as it allows firms to remain competitive and fresh with their external offering. An example of one such skill are degree disciplines, which involve analysis or critical thinking as solicitors spend a lot of time analysing complex documents to try and understand how it fits together. Other such skills are attention to detail, problem solving, flexibility or presentations skills. The list of transferable skills from non-law degree is extensive, therefore, it is important to recognise that there are advantages to this background in the legal environment
The skills that we look for and test in our graduate recruitment process are identical for students pursuing both the law and non-law routes. It is our core skill set, exhibited by all lawyers at Ashurst, which allows an individual to succeed and thrive in our collaborative environment.
These core competencies that we look for are transferable, and non-law students will, typically, finish their degrees with strong evidence of developing this skill set. The role of a lawyer is a business advisor. There will be large quantities of documentation for the lawyer to read, condense and pull out the key information and facts from. It is then the process of analysing this information and drawing on knowledge and experience to implement a creative solution. This is a process that you will be familiarising yourself with as you progress through your degree, in whatever subject area.
Ashurst is lucky to have such a diverse workforce spread across its global network. Although the end goal is identical for every employee, we draw on each individual's strengths and unique backgrounds – plenty of these coming from a non-law starting point.
At Ashurst, we aim beyond pure legal knowledge. Beyond commercial advice. Be known for something more: a clarity of thought and an instinct for problem solving that can influence leading businesses and organisations the world over.
Are there certain subjects in particular that large City firms are keen to recruit from?
At Norton Rose Fulbright, both law and non-law students from any degree discipline can apply to our graduate schemes including our open days, vacation schemes and training contracts. As a progressive employer we recognise that top talent comes from recruiting a diverse workforce including degree discipline. Like other global law firms, we boast a broad client base.
Therefore, a firm with a diverse range of employees is well placed to understand the needs of a wide range of clients. This means that our people must come from a variety of backgrounds in order to bring different qualities and perspectives to our work and the success of the practice. We encourage students to explore their interests at university as this will ensure a fulfilling experience as well as allow students to bring their personality and unique perspective to the firm. At Norton Rose Fulbright we want to continue being a successful global firm which can only be achieved by recruiting both law and non-law students and show that everyone can thrive, succeed and develop in our practice based on their talent.
Why should students consider a career in law?
Keep two things in mind when considering a career in the law:
Aside from the degree subject and the grades achieved, are firms interested in details of the academic work students do?
We have a section on our application form where applicants are able to provide us with information they feel is relevant, which they haven't already included in their application. This is the perfect place for applicants to discuss the details of their academic work, such as dissertation topics, essay assignments or thesis papers.
We are interested in these details for a number of reasons. First, it gives us further insight into the applicant and their interests. Second, it showcases an applicant's ability to juggle multiple priorities, as undoubtedly they will have already included information regarding their involvement in several extra-curricular activities. Third, discussing their academic work will demonstrate their analytical ability - something we look for in our future trainees. But, beware: anything you put on your application is fair game and our interviewers will likely ask you to provide them with more detail as well as press you on your research and any conclusions you've drawn.
Yes! Particularly at interview stage this becomes very relevant. Please be prepared to talk about your degree in detail. Why did you choose the subject? What have you enjoyed the most? If you can talk about a module, exam or essay question with intelligence and interest, you can show off many of the core competencies law firms are looking for: intellect, communication skills, analytical skills and persuasive skills to name a few. It's even better if you can relate your example to the business or legal worlds.
Interviews play a key part in getting to know the candidate as an individual. We want to know why you chose your degree and what you focused on throughout your course. If you study law – what inspired you to choose this degree at such a young age? If you're studying another subject – what aspects of your course do you think will be relevant for your future career? Now that you've invested all that time and money in your degree you should certainly be willing and able to talk about the details at length and to your advantage!
Is work experience in the other branches of the legal profession valid for training contract applicants?
Work experience in a legal environment provides a sound foundation; from exposure to professional behaviours to effectively dealing with a client. Whether in fee-earning teams or other branches of the legal profession - learning professional conduct and learning from peers in fast-paced and innovative environments is extremely beneficial to any professional. These kinds of skills are what give the advantage to applicants who are successful in securing a training contract.
It has enormous value to learn about building a strong reputation in a professional environment, including one within a legal placement. However, you should never approach work experience for the sole purpose of improving your chances of securing a future training contract. Everyone should approach work experience with the personal goal of becoming an excellent professional ready for any challenge.
What efforts does your firm put in place to successfully integrate trainees?
Like most firms, the offer of a training contract comes 1 - 2 years before our trainees actually join us.
We try really hard to make them feel part of the Bond Dickinson team from the point of offer but there is a fine balance between integrating and stalking, although we hope we're walking on the right side of that one! We have a LinkedIn group for our future trainees that allows us to share information and helps them to start forming networks with their future colleagues.
We also have a number of opportunities for them to social with their future colleagues including the firmwide Christmas parties, informal drinks and welcome lunches pre induction. We run a formal and structured induction programme which sees them all spending their first week together in one location, getting to know each other, and us, learning more about the firm, the vision and culture and the role that they have to play in all of that. From day one, they are allocated a mentor, usually a lawyer who has recently qualified with us, who's role it is to support them through their first few months and beyond.
At Norton Rose Fulbright, we promote the early integration of our trainees so they feel welcome and supported as they embark on their careers with us. This begins with a pre‐LPC day that allows future trainees to meet their intake and familiarise themselves with the Firm. Future trainees are allocated a Trainee Buddy, with whom they maintain regular contact throughout their studies.
A Keep In Touch day mid‐way through the LPC allows us to ‘check in’ with future trainees and discuss their progress. We host a Seat Fair during which representatives for each practice area meet with future trainees to answer their questions, enabling them to make informed decisions when they submit their first seat preferences.
Trainees complete a 2.5 week induction at the start of their Training Contract. Trainees are encouraged to join one or more of our sporting societies, diversity and inclusion groups and the Charities Committee, which provide opportunities to develop firm wide contacts. Trainees are allocated a Partner Mentor who oversees their development and provides support throughout their Training Contract.
A Trainee Forum, an active Social Committee and regular Learning and Development sessions ensure that integration is promoted throughout the Training Contract and beyond.
How are trainees assessed during their training contract?
Once you join Norton Rose Fulbright as a trainee you will be assessed throughout your training contract both informally on the day to day tasks you complete and also on a more formal basis through our 360-degree appraisal process. In each of their four seats, trainees receive a mid-seat review and an end of seat appraisal.
The mid seat review takes place with the trainee’s supervisor and is a great opportunity to discuss any areas for development as well as areas of strength. Trainees then have the rest of their seat to focus on the areas they would like to develop and enhance. The end of seat appraisal is a slightly more thorough 360 degree process where trainees are asked to complete a self-review and feedback is sought from members of the trainee’s team.
All of the feedback is discussed at a meeting between the trainee and their supervisor and is another opportunity for the trainee to discuss areas where they would like more experience as well as constructive feedback to assist in their development.Trainee appraisals are an important development tool and support our trainees in the progression of their career well beyond qualification.
Do trainees have to undertake any formal studies during their training contract?
Trainees are required to undertake the Professional Skills Course (PSC) during their period of recognised training. The PSC develops the professional skills of a trainee before they qualify as a solicitor. The PSC consists of three compulsory modules as well as elective elements. While each module has its own method of assessment, a course provider is with the trainees throughout their assessment, providing expert teaching, support and guidance.
The modules are completed at different times to maximise their impact and resourcefulness to the trainees. For example, certain courses are more relevant and tangible once trainees have completed at least one seat, so they can get more to grips with what is being covered. Each module is relatively short, with the longest being three days in total, and trainee supervisor understand their importance.
Aside from the PSC, trainees will attend on-going departmental training throughout their four seats. This training is usually delivered at the trainee level or to the whole department/legal group. No formal studies or assessments follow this training, however it provides vital knowledge about the department, their clients and the law.
Please explain how the qualification process works…
The qualification process can be a challenging time for our trainees, so we are very open about the process so you feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel! From start to finish, our qualification process usually lasts no longer than three months. We encourage discussions with trainees, to support them with identifying which roles they would like to be considered for from our vacancy list. Trainees are also permitted to apply for more than one role if requested.
Once decisions have been made, the interviews are organised asap ensuring there is enough time for adequate preparation. Following interviews, the department partners will make decisions and the Graduate Partners will inform trainees of the outcome. We always try to retain as many NQs as possible (87% this year); having trained them we expect them to be first-rate associates with good prospects for continued career growth at Taylor Wessing. However, those trainees, who are unfortunately not successful, will be given a significant amount of support from the firm. Including, but not limited to; recruitment and agency information, CV and Interview workshops. Plus we have a great alumni network as you never know when paths may cross again!
What should I research before an interview?
Interviews are a two way process – they give both the firm and the candidate a chance to discover if they are a good match for each other. Therefore you really do need to do a lot of detailed research into the firm. You cannot rely on the graduate website: look into trainee profiles and 'days in the life of' to decipher culture and the reality of life at the firm; look at transactions and news stories to ensure you're up to date with the latest work and awards the firm is involved in and also pay attention to some facts and figures – don't name drop these but get them right, as it's embarrassing to get the basics wrong with any names or dates you might wish to mention!
And don't forget to research yourself! Have another read through of the application you sent off; this is all your interviewers know about you so far, so make sure you build on all that excellent work experience and the insightful answers you gave to any open ended questions.
Ahead of an interview it is important that you undertake thorough research not only into the firm that you have applied to, but also into yourself.
You should have already researched a firm ahead of submitting an application, and so the next step is to take this research further allowing you to deepen your knowledge and understanding. Really think about why you chose to apply to that firm – is there a particular practice area that you are interested in, did any deals really grab your attention or are you particularly drawn to any training initiatives that you have read about?
The second element is equally important – researching yourself. The interviewers will see your application form and appreciate that you put a lot of time and effort into it. They will, therefore, ask you plenty of questions surrounding it and have an expectation that you provide more detail than what they have already read. Any awards, roles of responsibility, information about the firm or deals that you have mentioned are likely topics of conversation and so be prepared to expand on these.
The interviewers will be looking for your commitment to the firm and so thorough research is crucial to allow you to perform at your very best in the interview.
How can I conduct myself during an interview to ensure that I’ll be remembered – for the right reasons – as a unique candidate?
Firms review application forms carefully, meaning that by the time you are called to interview, they are fairly certain you have the capability to be one our trainees and we want to find out more about your potential, personality and motivations for applying.
The best way to be remembered is to make sure you act like yourself in the interview. Don’t be afraid to give some colour on why you are interested in the role and bring to life the transferable skills you have picked up through work experience, your academic life and any extracurricular pursuits. This does not mean going into unnecessary specifics, instead be honest about the real reason you first became interested in law or why you have a passion for international deals or pro bono work, or even your university hockey team!
Speaking honestly and from the heart will ensure you are engaging, genuine and enthusiastic. When nerves take over it is very difficult to be friendly, smiley and confident. If you practice beforehand, are aware of your body language and bring enthusiasm to the interview, you will have put yourself in the best position to ensure you’re remembered for being a positive, enthusiastic candidate with a great attitude.
Is it ok to go off topic in an interview so that I can show my personality?
An interview is an opportunity for your interviewers to get to know you and your motivations for pursuing a career in law. As a result, we would always advise that a candidate should be prepared to speak about 80% of the time on topics such as their studies, interests and their reasons for applying to Norton Rose Fulbright.
We would always encourage candidates to be themselves and not who they think we want them to be. With that in mind, never be afraid to demonstrate your personality in an interview, where appropriate.
However, always ensure that your answers are pertinent and succinct. Our interviews are designed to test particular competencies, therefore if a candidate fails to be concise, it can sometimes be very difficult to test all of these competencies fully.
We always try to ensure that candidates feel relaxed during the interview, however never lose sight of the formal setting and do always maintain a professional and confident manner.
How can I overcome any nerves that I may feel on the day?
We've all been there; our brain tells us that we're nervous so the body gives us a nice boost of adrenalin – accompanied by that awful sick feeling. You can either allow the adrenalin to get the better of you, or harness it to deliver a great performance. One of the biggest tips I tell people is to convince yourself that this surge of adrenalin is excitement. Visualisation can be a great tool when overcoming nerves. Tell yourself all the reasons you have to be excited about this interview and visualise achieving the result you want.
Don't overlook the power of exercise. By exercising prior to interview you are releasing endorphins and keeping your dopamine levels up. You're also using up all that nervous energy. Tensing muscles during an interview and releasing them can also help get rid of excess adrenaline that causes those physical symptoms, including your mind going blank!
And remember, nerves are driven by fear of the unknown. The more you reduce the unknown the less nervous you will be. Plan how to answer the questions you won't know the answer to. Once you've mastered the art of addressing these questions your nerves will become much more manageable!
What kind of questions should I be prepared to answer during my interview?
By the time you attend an interview you should have had the chance to get under the skin of a firm and started to develop an understanding of the skills, knowledge and competencies they look for in their trainees. Understanding this will help you to prepare for the kind of questions a firm is likely to ask, as an interview process should always be reflective of the firm to which you're applying.
However, although there will always be some questions that are a little more firm-specific, the majority will want to know about your ability to work in a team, your ability to communicate effectively and your overall commercial awareness. Good preparation is essential before undertaking an interview, along with a healthy dose of self-reflection, but make sure you're still natural in your delivery and have the confidence to flex your experiences to answer the question we've actually asked you, not the question you wish we'd asked you!
Finally, you should obviously have strong reasons for applying to the firm interviewing you, and be able to articulate these. Don't wait until you're sitting in front of a partner like a rabbit in headlights before thinking about why you want to work there; that never goes down well!
Each firm will have its own personality when it comes to interview questions so it is important to prepare for a wide range. At Shearman we are quite conversational and tend to go through your motivations for a legal career, what you like about the firm, the relevant skills you have and so on. We also ask the more standard competency questions as well as some less conventional strength-based questions; these allow candidates to talk about themselves and allow us to see your natural inclination to certain tasks and skills.
Lawyers need to compete not just by knowing the law, but by giving clients business savvy advice. Therefore you will not get through an interview without being asked some commercial questions. We don't expect candidates to know many legal intricacies, but we do want you to be confident with business language and to be able to talk through a deal rather than just name dropping on your application form!"
What are the most common interview slip-ups/errors you’ve noticed applicants make?
During interviews, both for vacation schemes and training contracts, the main error that candidates can make is failing to answer the actual question that the interviewer has asked. Candidates will often have prepared and rehearsed answers that they wish to recite to the interviewer.
We fully appreciate that candidates want to tell us what they know, however, this approach makes it sound as though they are giving generic answers rather than building a rapport with the interviewer. The interviewer wants to get to know the real you and so remember to take a moment to digest the question that has been asked, and to link your knowledge and experience to fully answer this – do not go off on a tangent."
One of the most common ‘mistakes’ applicants make is that they do not allow their personality to show at interview. At Norton Rose Fulbright, our people come from a variety of backgrounds and, because of this, bring different qualities and perspectives to our work and the success of the practice.
We don’t want to hear rehearsed answers. Listen to what your interviewer is asking you to tell him or her, and respond accordingly. Don’t be afraid to use examples which you haven’t included on your application form – we’ll probably spend most of the interview asking you to share your opinions about topics which you haven’t mentioned. After all, the application form is your way of securing an interview and we will assume that you have plenty of other examples to choose from which will add colour to your answers, and help us to get to know you.
We value individuality – our clients are all different, so we need different personalities to represent them – so be yourself, try to relax and build rapport with your interviewers."
What are your top tips for making a good impression during an interview?
Congratulations! You've been selected for an interview. Now what? Here are some top tips to leaving your interviewers with a great impression:
At the end, thank your interviewers for their time and ask when you can expect to hear back. Good luck!"
What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
At Norton Rose Fulbright, Corporate Social Responsibility encompasses many areas. Our London corporate responsibility programme focuses on diversity and inclusion, pro bono and volunteering, sustainability, charitable activities, the Norton Rose Fulbright Sail the World Challenge and the anti-bribery and corruption standard. Thus, there are many opportunities for the firm to give back to the community around us while giving our employees the opportunity to take an active role in society.
As part of a global legal practice, we believe we have a responsibility to promote global sustainability and to contribute to the development of our local communities. Therefore, we place particular emphasis on conducting our business in a sustainable way.
We also participate in a range of charitable and pro bono programmes aimed at benefiting those in the global and local community who are vulnerable and in need of our support.
In London, we have a strong relationship with the charity Barretstown, which provides a programme of therapeutic recreation for children with cancer, leukaemia and other serious illnesses. We paint cottages and plant trees in preparation for their summer camp and advise them on property and other legal issues. We also participate in local programmes. For example, trainees volunteer at legal advice centres in Croydon and Tower Hamlets and all employees can volunteer to provide teaching assistance to local schools in Southwark.
Corporate Social Responsibility is a fundamental part of measuring success of firms and also from an applicants' perspective, this says a lot about the culture of firms regarding their strategy and focus. CSR is assessing the difference a firm makes to the lives of the people in our community - internally and externally - and beyond. All firms have different focuses whether that be: environment; legal pro bono; charity and / or the arts.
For legal firms, pro bono is an important focus as lawyers have a responsibility to ensure legal advice is accessible to all where it may not normally be obtainable.
It only takes a small amount of each individual's time for firms to make a great impact as a community so it is important to work for an organisation that has a strategy to ensure time is spent on such promoting activities.
Why do law firms have CSR programmes?
As a leading global law firm we have the capability to make a positive impact in all spheres of our operations. Delivering on this commitment is key to achieving our firm's ambitions. It impacts upon all that we do: working with our clients to deliver consistently outstanding legal services; our role as a thought leader in the broader legal and business communities and striving for workplace, environmental and social sustainability.
We believe that by setting ourselves high professional and ethical standards and acting responsible in our dealings with our clients, our staff and the wider communities of which we are a part makes us a better law firm, a better employer and a better corporate citizen.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is integrated within our firm strategy and our approach to managing our global firm and it means being the best organisation we can be. It is a reflection of our values in action; a core component of our culture.
Trainees have always been active and supportive of our wider CSR programme and in 2011 we launched the Trainee CSR Committee. The Committee, which has representation from all intakes, manages, organises, develops and implements a range of initiatives/activities.
Why do lawyers conduct pro bono work?
The majority of law firms are embracing Corporate Social Responsibility. Well-structured CSR programmes encompass community involvement, workplace, marketplace and environmental activities. These elements should work together in a complementary way, for example, supporting a particular non-profit/charity can be enhanced by combining pro bono legal support with charitable fund raising and volunteering.
It is very easy for firms to opt to spend limited time doing community work rather than providing pro bono legal assistance. However, as lawyers we are in a privileged position to provide legal advice and representation. In an age of austerity there is a growing unmet need for pro bono legal support from disadvantaged and marginalised groups/individuals. Lawyers have the capacity to assist organisations/people in a meaningful way to access justice, and potentially change lives.
The establishment of pro bono projects and initiatives will involve both time and financial investment. pro bono not only provides benefits for the client and/or the community, investment in pro bono may deliver business benefits in terms of improved legal staff recruitment and retention (staff want “to give back”), staff engagement, broader professional experience and a practical demonstration of the firm’s ethos and culture. In short undertaking pro bono is a win for those who need to access justice and for those who can help deliver it!
What measures can the legal industry take to further improve levels of diversity?
The legal industry has made significant progress in the last few years in making the profession more attractive and accessible to a diverse talent pool. This has included collaborating in the area of social mobility: providing work experience to those from disadvantaged backgrounds to increase aspiration and career opportunities. Similarly there are networks to bring together firms' LGBT networks, working together to promote awareness and understanding. On gender equality we are seeing more firms commit to a target for female representation within their partnerships: businesses regularly set targets for key areas of performance and it is a really positive development to see diversity being recognised as one of these.
At Taylor Wessing we value difference: we have developed a series of partner-led initiatives aimed at getting everyone talking. We are having 'big conversations' - looking at the steps we can take to make our culture even more inclusive; we have a flexible working think tank, considering how we build agility into our working practices; we have a reverse mentoring scheme, in which over 40% of our partners are being mentored by a junior female lawyer; and we launched a Straight Allies programme. All of which we hope will see us thrive together as a firm and as a team.
Diversity needs to be a part of all attraction, recruitment and retention processes and policies. At Shearman we are working hard to improve diversity in a number of ways including:
The legal industry is making huge progress in this area and clearly acknowledges the strategic importance of a diverse workforce.
What efforts has your firm made to be an inclusive employer?
An inclusive employer encourages a culture where people feel able to bring their whole self to work without fear of discrimination. Inclusion underpins our approach to unlocking all the benefits off a diverse workforce. This includes our policies, employee network groups and education.
Perhaps most important though is how staff experience inclusion and our inclusive culture emerged as the second highest scoring category in our global staff survey last year.
Diverse organisations are more creative, more innovative and, ultimately, more successful. Ashurst has an instinctively inclusive culture but, like many professional service organisations, is acutely aware of the need to do more to address the lack of progress of under-represented groups, for example women.
Ashurst takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously and our Board has adopted a new diversity strategy which sets gender targets for 2018. In London, our LGBT, Women's and Multicultural networks hold regular events inside and outside the firm and raise awareness of the rich variety of backgrounds, faiths and cultures represented at the firm.
As we are extremely committed to and proud of this inclusive culture, it is therefore crucial that we integrate this into the graduate recruitment process. We receive applications from a vast number of universities across the UK, as well as international universities spanning the globe. We do not have a typical 'list' of universities that we look to recruit from and welcome applicants from any university. With our current trainee intake coming from 24 universities, the alumni links that we have are very strong and allow us to work with universities on a more personal level.
Crucially, we understand the importance of getting to know you as an individual and run events every month that are open to everyone – the Inside Ashurst Series. We encourage you to attend one of these events to experience the inclusive culture of Ashurst for yourself.
What are the benefits of having a diverse workforce?
Traditionally, law firms have been regarded as the domain of the select few, but modern firms have, for some time now, valued the benefits of a diverse workforce. A diverse workforce can benefit an employer in so many ways. It can create a firm that is able to think innovatively in respect of its own practices and service provision; it enables a firm to respond better to a client’s needs.
Through harnessing the rich mix of experiences and skills that employees have, firms can convert these into teams that are open to ideas, groups that offer different approaches to problems, and thus lead to a firm that is able to offer improved resolutions.
At TLT, we consult with our workforce on all aspects of their employment and consider lifestyle factors that are important to them. By fostering an environment of trust and respect, we strive to achieve the maximum contribution from the majority of people.
There is considerable research to suggest that businesses with a diverse workforce have increased productivity, creativity and also profitability. In a service industry we are nothing without our people and being able to create a fully diverse and inclusive culture where we value our people will ensure that we retain the very best people from the broadest pool which will, we believe, give us a competitive advantage. This is key to ensuring that we have a sustainable business and can achieve our vision and business ambition.
We also put clients at the heart of what we do and more and more they are telling us that they require diversity of thought in the solutions we offer, diversity in the teams we use and a stated commitment from us to ensure that diversity is embedded within our business. The majority of the tenders we see include questions around our diversity commitment and clients want to see that our aspirations in this area are aligned with their own. Engaging with diversity and inclusion on all levels therefore has a direct benefit to us in terms of maintaining our existing clients and helping us to deliver new clients within the business.
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