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You are here:   Ultimate Law Guide > Articles > Get Your Career Into Top Gear!

Get Your Career Into Top Gear!

Securing a training contract has never been easy. But the practical realities of the recession have since turned what was already an extremely competitive process into an even more difficult one. It is now more important than ever to develop a clear and focused training contract application strategy in order to maximise your chances of securing the training contract you deserve in 2010.

Successful career planning begins with thinking ahead and carefully considering your future destination: (1) where you want to be and (2) how you are going to get there. It was not too long ago that we were in your shoes, trying to navigate our way through the training contract application process. We aspired to become commercial lawyers at leading law firms – so, we knew where we wanted to be, but part of the difficulty for us largely centred around how were we going to get there? It can sometimes be a long and winding road to securing a training contract. In order to develop a clear and focused strategy throughout my own personal journey, I thought of myself as driving a car along that road to my training contract destination.

Work hard throughout your studies:

The wheels are your academics, so your A-levels, your degree and your GDL/LPC. The vast majority of law firms look for candidates who have achieved 1st class or 2.1 results throughout their degree and attention is often placed on strong A-level and degree results, as they represent a barometer of your intellectual capability. Thus it is very important to try your hardest to ensure you achieve the best results you possibly can. For students with a 2.2 degree, or who have experienced academic setbacks, we have a chapter on what to do to improve your employability prospects in our publication, Ultimate Guide to Training Contract Success.

Self evaluation:

Take a seat and use a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Being aware of both what you are good at, and areas you may need to improve in, can help you to develop your applications and portray yourself as strong a candidate as possible.  Revisit past applications and review where you can improve. Consult feedback from firms and analyse where you went wrong. Also be aware of opportunities you might have to build up your contacts within the legal field at university and during work experience. Consider the threat of competition from both law and non law graduates and how you can differentiate yourself.

Thorough and detailed research:

Use the steering wheel to steer yourself towards the firm that is right for you. Check what firm’s are looking for in their future lawyers and select aspects of your achievements, skills and work experiences that best match their criteria. Using the above SWOT analysis, identify your capabilities and select the firms that match your career aspirations and your interests.  Remember to be ‘ambitiously realistic’ about your decisions and choices; should you perhaps be targeting firms with less stringent entry criteria? Have you thought about casting your net further afield in terms of the location and type of firms you are applying for? Remember that it is always possible to move firms once you have qualified.
Become commercially aware:

Commercial awareness is the engine to move forward and get ahead in your career planning. Law firms look to recruit talented students with an all-round, comprehensive portfolio of skills, but above all they want people who can (a) think commercially and from the client’s perspective; (b) communicate effectively and relate to clients; (c) have an interest and understanding of the business of a law firm, their clients, the environment in which law firms and their clients operate and the role of a commercial lawyer; and (d) work effectively whatever the business conditions. In short, they want people who are commercially aware. Commercial awareness is therefore a prerequisite for students, because lawyers in all sectors of the legal profession need to be commercial in their outlook and more skilled than ever before, in order to meet the requirements of modern legal practice and a smooth integration into life as a trainee solicitor.

Ultimate Law Guide deliver commercial awareness workshops and skills seminars to students at law Schools and universities nationwide. The workshops are a straight-talking, practical guide of how to gain a competitive edge in the search for a training contract; designed to meet the realities of today’s rigorous legal recruitment market, and equip students with a thorough grounding in commercial awareness in the context of the more specific components of the training contract selection process.

Please also visit our commercial awareness forum [e-learning resource] via our website www.ultimatelawguide.com for articles on commercial awareness and to help you keep abreast of topical issues and current developments from the legal and business environment.

Apply early:

Plan your journey well in advance. Familiarise yourself with the deadlines of your chosen firms. Many of the larger firms recruit two years in advance, with an application period usually lasting around six months. Do not leave it until the last minute to submit your application.  You can increase your prospects by applying early, allowing graduate recruitment teams to give maximum attention to your application.  


Effective and purposeful networking:       

Your CD player and surround sound speakers. Success in your legal career is determined by the quality of the relationships that you build up throughout your legal career, because legal business is a people’s business. Networking can be an important step to a career in law, and it is certainly a stepping-stone to progression during your career. The secret of networking is all about having a genuine interest in people, being an interesting person to talk to and getting on well with people.
One of the best resources available to a would-be solicitor is people they know. Tapping into your existing personal network can start with focusing on people you already know (whether it is friends, relatives, colleagues, classmates or acquaintances). This is a vital first step to effective networking. You should also remember that you are also a part of other people’s networks. Networking is also about getting to know people who are in a position to help open new and exciting opportunities. People do business with people that they like. You may have heard somewhere that the business of law is about people and not paper. If you make a good impression among the contacts you meet, don’t be surprised to find yourself talked about in very positive terms. When liaising with potential contacts, be polite, respectful and clear about the help you are seeking. You should find that most people will be flattered that you thought of asking them for guidance to steer you in the right direction.


Promote your strengths and major Unique Selling Points (USP’s):

The tinted windows and alloy wheels are the key factors that make you stand out from everyone else on the same road as you on this journey into the legal profession. Showcase the additional skills that you can bring to a firm. What is the business case for hiring you? For example, if you are interested in telecoms, and wish to apply to a firm undertaking TMT work, why not try to gain some experience within the industry before you apply? You could also research some of the firm’s key clients and apply for work experience to show a real understanding of your firm’s market and their clients. Articulate the additional skills you can bring in a viable way to show that you are a valuable and attractive proposition to a prospective law firm.

This article is written by Luke Murphy. Luke is a member of the Ultimate Law Guide team and a future trainee solicitor at Clarke Willmott LLP.

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