The Student Column: 10 top tips on choosing a law firm that’s right for you

The Student Column: 10 top tips on choosing a law firm that's right for you

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Lydia Williams studied at York University and started her training contract with Travers Smith in September 2017. Here, Lydia reflects on her experience of the application process and offers 10 insightful tips on choosing a law firm that’s right for you. 

1) Get in Touch

Speaking to lawyers within firms can give you a great insight into the culture of the firm as well as the work that they do on a daily basis. It looks fantastic on an application if you’ve shown the initiative to speak to someone before you apply and people are often flattered when you show an interest in what they do, so don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice. If you speak to someone at a careers fair or an open day make sure to get their name and send them a follow-up email, and make the most of LinkedIn to start getting connected.

2) Do a Vacation Scheme

Not only is this a much more assured way of getting a training contract, vacation schemes are also the best way to judge if a law firm is right for you. They provide you with more time to get a feel for the firm, and more opportunities to impress them and show off your capabilities than a short interview would. It’s much easier to get an idea of what working there will really be like by experiencing it for yourself.

3) Be Genuine and Relaxed at Interviews

It’s important to be well prepared for interviews, but don’t let this take away from how you conduct yourself on the day. If you rote learn answers this may show that you aren’t able to think on your feet, and it may also take away from giving an accurate reflection of your personality. Try to relax and be yourself; the interviewers are looking for capability but also for people that they want to sit in an office with. 

4) Consider the Firm’s Selection Process

Although it can be difficult to remember whilst you’re trying to impress at interviews, open days and on vacation schemes, it’s important to consider how contact with the firm impacts on your impression of them. Law firms all have different methods of recruiting, and this can be a good indication of their treatment of trainees. Some law firms may really challenge you intellectually at interviews, or try to get the best out of you at vacation schemes by setting up interesting challenges whilst providing support. These experiences can be a good indication of what life as a trainee would be like with them.

5) Look Further than Online Brochures

It’s easy to be taken in by glamorous promises on law firms’ websites, such as doing overseas seats. However, the best way to find a firm that’s the best fit for you is to consider what kind of work you want to do and culture you want to work in on a daily basis. If you don’t enjoy the particular culture or practice areas of a firm in London, it won’t make it much better if this environment is transplanted somewhere more exotic.

6) Base your choice on Practice Areas

The work you do as a lawyer will be entirely different depending on which practice area you work in. As a trainee you will sit in four (or sometimes six) seats and after two years you will specialise in one of these areas, so it’s important to consider the practice areas that may interest you.

7) Read the News

Reading the news will provide an insight to the deals and disputes that a firm is currently involved in and help you understand which practice areas work on those transactions. It may also provide an insight into recent or potential future development within the legal world. For example, if you are looking for a small or medium-sized firm you may discover that the law firms that you are considering could be facing a potential merger with a larger firm.

8) Training Contract Structure

Training contracts are structured very differently across firms, as some firms structure their offices so that a trainee is always seated with a partner and/or an associate, whilst others give trainees their own office. Consider the structure that you feel would provide you with the best way to grow and develop as a lawyer.

9) Use Your Resources

From your university’s careers service to the vast amount of advice available online, there is plenty of research that you can do to gain an insight into firms before you apply. Make the most of all resources available to you as this will improve your applications and ensure you are selecting firms that will be best for you. Some online careers advisors even offer contact with lawyers within various firms, and are willing to provide extensive advice to you personally concerning applications. Be willing to listen and take their advice on board.

10) Be Selective

Being selective by choosing five or six firms to apply to will mean that you have more time to tailor each application to the criteria specified in the brochures. Highlight that you not only want to be a lawyer but also that you specifically want to be a lawyer at that firm; offering someone a training contract means investing a huge amount of time and money in them, so showing commitment is key.