When it comes to shortlisting for interview, more often than not the application form is your only opportunity to impress and that can be difficult to achieve on paper. Taking your time to get your application right and ensuring it stands out from the crowd is therefore essential. However, far too many candidates do not take the process seriously enough and submit multiple average applications which have a limited chance of success. A good application takes time, so quality rather than quality is definitely key.
Initially, it is much better taking time to consider what type of lawyer (and where) you want to be and thereafter researching the firms you want to apply to. If you want to be regional lawyer with a top 100 firm in the East of England then the list of firms you should research more or less pick themselves (with Birketts one of the first names on your list).
The importance of legal work experience
Legal (or at the very least commercial) work experience is still one of the most important aspects law firms look for in applications for summer vacation schemes and training contracts. While work experience is far from an accurate predictor of the quality of the candidate it does demonstrate a commitment to the law.
Perhaps more importantly it provides some real work experience for you to draw upon in deciding who to apply to and thereafter in your application form and interview. Unless you know you absolutely want to be a regional solicitor try and aim for some variation in your experience. This will help you make decisions about not only where you want to work but also the practice areas that most interest you.
The Application Form
It may seem obvious, but an accurate and well-written application form will immediately make a good impression on a recruiter. In an incredibly competitive market, misspelling the name of the firm or addressee may lead to instant disqualification. Thereafter, the content and structure of your answers will demonstrate your analytical ability and show your written presentation skills. As a bare minimum ensure your answers are clear, concise and logical
It helps to read the application form carefully in advance and, we would suggest, more than once. When you have created your on-line profile, it’s then time to start completing the questions. Make sure you are free of time pressures when completing your application and can give it the attention it warrants. Most online systems will allow you to save your updates and return when you can be at your best.
If you want to make your application stand out then tailor it specifically to the firm you are applying. While this may sound obvious, too many candidates copy and paste answers from one application form to the next without adjusting it to the specific firm and in some cases the question.
As a regional firm we receive a number of applications each year from good candidates who have clearly used answers from their applications to City or even magic circle firms (some forms even enthusiastically reference our London office we don’t have). At best an experienced recruiter will be able to spot generic answers quite easily. At worst you may cause offence.
Research, research and more research
Despite the obvious fact that we all practice law, all firms are individual and we like to feel as such. Like most firms, at Birketts LLP we really get excited when an individual can demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the firm; what we do, where we are based and even our market position or strategy.
Where possible, go to extra lengths to support your application. Have you met someone from the firm? Have you been networking with us at a careers fair or presentation? What do you know about us that we might not expect you to know? While we would caution against shoehorning random facts into each question there will be at least a couple of opportunities (particularly within the more free form questions) to demonstrate an enhanced understanding of what the firm does or how it approaches training contracts.
Without doubt you need to be smart to be a lawyer at a top firm and on this basis most law firms still use education as a minimum criteria factor. Firms receive hundreds of application forms so are often very strict with academic results as a means of fairly sifting applications down to a manageable number. Unless you’ve got some mitigating circumstances (or plenty of time on your hands) it is essential to target your applications to firms that meet your academic profile.
For the avoidance of doubt spelling, grammar and formatting must be perfect. Once complete, print off a hard copy of your application as it can be easier to pick up on mistakes this way. Cast your eye over your application form again the next morning and get someone else to read over it for you too. A fresh pair of eyes can work wonders.
If your academics aren’t perfect or you don't have the connections to arrange work experience each summer please don't despair. Most firms want to see individuals who are well-rounded and have an engaging personality, those who have consistently good academics but who are also be able to share a conversation (from trivial to serious) with a client or Partner.
At Birketts we have lowered our academic criteria and have briefed all those involved in the process that that not everyone has the time or the contacts to undertake work experience. Neither is necessarily an accurate predictor of success and both can act as a barrier to the profession.
Why do you want to be a lawyer with (insert name of firm here)?
Most firms at some stage will ask you a question (in one form or another) about why you want to be a lawyer with them. While the question is probably something you’ve been asking yourself for many years, not all candidates are able to provide a good answer, either in the application or at interview. It really can’t be overstated how increasingly important it is to get a place on a vacation scheme given the high level of competition for training contracts. However, the better you understand and can articulate your reasons for applying, the better your chances of making an application to the right firm and being successful in getting an interview.