The Student Column: 10 top tips on how to secure a training contract

Ben Tansey studied Law at Durham University. He completed a few vacation schemes in the City, and, after receiving offers from two different firms, accepted a training position at Weil Gotshal & Manges which started in March 2016. He has kindly shared with us his top 10 tips on securing a training contract.

 

1) Make sure you’re well-rounded
Obtaining a training contract is very competitive so it is vital to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate with the necessary skills, drive and commercial acumen required to become a lawyer. Firms will also want to gain an insight into who you are and what your passions are outside of academia. Taking part in extra-curricular activities and talking about your hobbies and achievements is a great way to demonstrate that you can work well as part of a team, that you have leadership capabilities and that you can manage your time effectively.

2) Get a good mark in first year
Because first year results have little, if any, bearing on the final degree result, many students make the assumption that the first year of their degree course will not be taken into consideration by potential employers. This short-sighted view could hold you back from successfully pursuing a training contract. While your first year of university is of course a time to enjoy the university experience, it is important to recognise that the marks gained will be taken into consideration by law firms when considering vacation scheme applications.

3) Apply for first year schemes
A number of firms now offer insight programmes and work placements aimed specifically at first year students. Taking advantage of these opportunities will not only show a real desire to work as a commercial lawyer, but it will strengthen future applications and give you an early insight into the role of a trainee. In such a competitive market, it is vital to make the most of every opportunity you can, and first year schemes can give you an early advantage in the hunt for a training contract.

4) Attend networking events
Ensure that you are aware of the key dates and events in your university or law society’s calendar as these are great opportunities to engage with the firms you are interested in and to generally find out more about the profession. Having the opportunity to ask questions and talk with graduate recruitment, partners and associates could give your application an edge over a candidate who has merely read their website, and could help shape your future application.

5) Apply for vacation schemes
Applying for vacation schemes is a great step towards securing a training contract. Many firms now recruit from their vacation scheme as it allows them to get to know candidates over a prolonged period of time. For candidates, it provides the opportunity to get a real insight into the firm. It is essential that you think carefully about each application you make. Ensure that you tailor your responses to the firm you are applying to. Consider what the firms core practice areas are, what the latest deals or transactions they have worked on are and, most importantly, why you want to work for them.

6) Don’t apply for too many vacation schemes
You might think that sending an application to multiple firms will increase your chances of securing at least one vacation scheme. However this tactic can and often does have the opposite effect. Using a single set of generic responses in every application that you make will not increase your chance of securing an interview. My advice would be to think more strategically about the applications that you make, submit fewer forms and spend more time ensuring that they are tailored and to a very high standard.

7) Keep up to date with commercial events
Commercial awareness is a term often associated with vacation scheme and training contract applications. My tip for developing your commercial understanding is to read the business section of a quality newspaper on a regular basis in order to keep up to date with the deals and transactions that the firm you are applying to is working on, and to ensure that you are thinking about the current factors affecting the business of both that firm and their clients. Being able to talk about these things in an interview, as well as the micro and macroeconomic factors influencing the market, will demonstrate that you are a candidate with a genuine interest in a career in commercial law.

8) Enjoy your vacation scheme
If you are offered a vacation scheme, make sure that you enjoy it! Throw yourself into every opportunity that the firm offers you, whether it is drafting a document for your supervisor or attending a social event in the evening. I think that one of the best ways to make a good impression on a vacation scheme is to do everything with a positive attitude. Demonstrating that you are someone who is willing to learn and get involved in tasks no matter how big or small, who is a team player and enthusiastic about the work you have been given. By doing this, you will give yourself the best chance of being offered a training contract.

9) Work hard on your vacation scheme
Of course, having a good attitude alone won’t guarantee you a training contract offer. When doing the work that you have been assigned, it is vital that you perform the task to the best of your ability. You will be assessed on the quality of your work, so try to ensure it is of excellent quality, but don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand – I certainly did! I would also recommend avoiding basic faux pas like checking your phone whilst you are working or turning up late to the office.

10) Put your studies first
You will be aware that in order to secure a training contract position you need to spend time and effort making applications. However it is important to strike the right balance between preparing applications, attending interviews and undertaking vacation schemes with ensuring that you are putting in the maximum effort to your studies. After all, if you don’t achieve a firm’s minimum academic criteria you are unlikely to be offered a job – so put your studies first!