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You are here:   Ultimate Law Guide > Careers Advice > Apply yourself - application forms

Apply yourself - application forms

Apply yourself

Application forms are often long, exacting and daunting to begin, and this is why you must treat the application forms like a rigorous piece of coursework; in terms of the level of research and preparation that is involved in completing a quality application to a law firm.

Ultimate Law Guide believe application forms are challenging for the simple fact that they reflect the competitive and demanding (albeit worthwhile) nature of the legal profession. Law firms receive thousands of applications by students, for only a handful of places, so they can afford to be selective.

Once you have completed one quality application, the rest become easier, so it is worth taking your time when drafting training contract application forms. You should aim to provide the graduate recruiter with infallible evidence on why they should choose to recruit you above any other candidate. This helps you stand out from the crowd, because many students fail to submit applications without errors. It is tempting for a lot of aspiring lawyers to adopt a scattergun approach and apply to as many law firms/chambers as possible. However, fewer well researched and considered applications are often much more effective because employers are looking for applications that demonstrate thorough preparation and sufficient knowledge of the law firm / chambers.  

Law firms / chambers want to know why you have picked them ahead of any other competitor; so you must carry out a great deal of research, collate all relevant information and carefully tailor your application to each individual firm / chambers. After all, they invest a lot of time and money in training you and your application should showcase you will be a worthwhile investment and worth having on board.

Ultimate Law Guide is here to provide top tips to help you understand what it takes to complete a top-level first class application form and boost your prospects of achieving training contract success.

  • What is your source of motivation for aspiring to become a lawyer? Consider your reasons and source of motivation for a legal career. It is important to first visualise yourself as a lawyer - then have this picture of yourself at the forefront of your mind. This will help you to persevere throughout your studies and the rigorous career management process because you will know exactly why you really want to become a lawyer, which should help you to apply yourself in a focused, determined and disciplined way.
  • Research and Brainstorm: Preparing your applications involve a great deal of thorough and careful research. This will help you to gain a better understanding of the types of law firms you would like to apply to and help you to consider why you have chosen a law firm in particular above any other firm. Also, start to think about what skills / abilities you can personally offer a firm; devise a skills table to highlight personal examples of your experiences, extra-curricula activities and achievements to highlight when you demonstrated this comprehensive skills set. Obtain work experience in areas of law that you find interesting. This will help you to make sufficiently informed choices about your career plans; so you know what the role of a solicitor actually involves, which should help you find out why you are suited to this type of legal career.
  • Narrow down the list of the firms you wish to apply to: Assess whether the firms' / chambers are a good cultural match for you, decide what you want from an employer in terms of your long-term career prospects. Do the firm / chambers undertake the type of legal work [practice areas] you are interested in? What is the number of trainees / pupils in their intake? This provides a criterion for you to see which law firms' are suitable for you to spend your long-term future career.
  • Be organised about the application process and apply early: the earlier you commence drafting your application forms the better your chances of landing an interview: from our own experience, application forms take much longer to complete than you will initially anticipate and you will also stand a much better chance of securing an interview for a training contract if you submit your application before each law firm's deadline. Most law firms' receive in excess of 2,000 applications, competition is extremely fierce, and there tends to be a huge panic and impending rush of applications on the deadline day, so applying before the training contract deadline helps you to get your application seen ahead of the huge pile of deadline-day application forms.
  • Never miss a deadline.
  • Ensure you make the most of every section of the form: Use each part of the application form to promote your skills-set effectively by persuading law firm's why you (above any other talented student) will be suitable.
  • Attention to detail: Your application form is your only opportunity to demonstrate your attention to detail and meticulous nature, skills which are an important part of a trainee solicitors' portfolio of skills. Most law firms will reject your application if they pick up on a typo, or SPAG error. It is therefore really important that you proof-read your application form. Ask trusted friends and family members to read through your application form before you send it to a law firm. It is always good to leave your application and return to it with a fresh pair of eyes, to re-read and/or amend the final draft one last time, before you deem it ready to submit.

* Graduate Recruitment officers /managers are the gatekeepers to deciding whether your application form is of the required standard to put you through to the next round, and offer you an interview for a training contract. You have to make sure your application is of the requisite high standard because graduate recruitment managers are accountable to the partners and the future success of the law firm for the candidates they put forward.

  • Follow instructions: Carefully read and adhere to instructions on the training contract / OLPAS application form. If the form asks for a 200 word answer, then ensure this is what you do. 
  • Answer the question: Do not write an answer to a question you would have preferred to have been asked, or that you have prepared on another form. Separate the question into component parts, this helps you to focus your mind and ensure you provide a complete answer. 
  • Be clear and concise:If you need to explain a section in more detail, address it in your cover letter.Try and aim to keep your answers accurate and as succinct as possible. 
  • Personalise your answers:Ensure your answers are tailored specifically to a particular firm; avoid generic answers which simply list your skills. Graduate recruitment managers have a specialist antennae, experience and expertise to decipher between dull and uninspiring answers and well-researched, tailored responses to that individual law firm. Excellent answers use personal examples unique to your own experiences which illustrate your skills, and make it personalised by saying "How", "why" and "what" you did. Any application forms submitted which fall short of this standard are invariably shifted onto the rejection pile. Personalised answers engage the reader and offer an insight into who you are, why you should be associated with that law firm and why they should choose you in particular.  

* Top Tip: A graduate recruitment partner at a leading law firm recently informed me that: "personalising answers shows early sign of an applicant's ability to work out what employers want to see, and then select those aspects of themselves and their experiences that best fit with that employer....this demonstrates good commercial awareness and excellent client handling skills which we want in our future lawyers".  

  • Make it relevant to the firm: The best application forms are tailored to the law firm you are applying to. This provides evidence that you know what is happening at their firm, understand the firm's strategy and future direction: Have they recently landed the mandate to represent a new house-hold name client? Has the law firm recently acted on a high-profile and significant commercial transaction? A firm in a phase of expansion is likely to be a dynamic and exciting place to work. Search for press coverage to see if there is anything of interest to note when you are thinking about your applications. 
  • Explain why you are applying to the law firm, rather than any of their competitors: Step into the employers shoes and find out what the firm and their lawyers are all about.  This will help you to evidence how your experience / skills will put you in a good position to meet their recruitment needs. Avoid cutting and pasting your answers form previous application forms that you have completed, law firms can spot this a mile off, and you run the risk of mentioning the name of a different (rival) law firm, plus not actually answering the specific question on the firm's application form. 

* Top Tip: Make a conscious effort to include the particular firm's distinguishing factors as often as possible. As a golden rule, highlight your own specific distinguishing factors on the form and think very seriously about what you can offer the firm, also known as Unique Selling Points ("USP") to sell yourself and market your personal brand effectively. In addition, you can provide extra information in a covering letter to help you shine and offer further information in support of your application which should boost your employability prospects.  

  • Structure your answers: This will set you apart and show you have carefully thought about your answer. We found the best way to answer this type of questions is to: 
  • Underline the key parts of the question to ensure you address your mind to each component part of the question. This will help you to focus on each part of the question in the same order as you answer the question. This improves the structure of your answer, so it is clear and succinct, which makes life easier for the graduate recruiter reading your answer and shows you communicate effectively, i.e. "think" like a lawyer already, by already using headings and bullet points. It helps to think of each answer as if you are telling a story, i.e. a beginning, middle & end. What did you do? How did you do it? What was the outcome? It may sound too simplistic, but it is surprising how many applicants fail to follow a logical order to structuring their answers to questions.  
  • Use headings: Law firm's do not expect you be the finished article, but you need to demonstrate that you have the talent to be a top lawyer in the future. If you use headings and structured paragraphs you make it easier to showcase your skills and potential to become a successful lawyer in the future.  Use a range of examples: SHOW DON'T TELL! Use good examples from your hobbies, extra-curricular activities, work experience and achievements to demonstrate your comprehensive skills set. Use recent examples to demonstrate the required skills in your application. As a rule of thumb, the best answers are as significant and unique to you as possible, easy to discuss at the interview and are relevant.

 

COMPETENCY BASED QUESTIONS

* Many students struggle with the open-ended competency based question which tend to focus on teamwork, problem-solving, communication and judgment skills.

A frequently asked question is "What has been your greatest ever challenge, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn?" Now law firms are not expecting you to have climbed mount kilamajaro for Comic Relief, or sailed around the world; they would like to see a fun, interesting and introspective example which provides a useful insight into your thought process of how you handled a challenging situation in a calm and rational way. We use the following format to answer questions, although a lot of successful applicants use the S T A R technique to answering questions, by breaking down their answers into Situation - Task - Action - Result.

In our guide; Ultimate Guide to Training Contract Success, we suggest tackling questions by putting into the following structure:

1.    Situation or context,

2.    Task or problem faced

3.    What was the outcome/result?

4.    What have you learnt and what skills did you develop?

 
* Law firms expect applicants to showcase their commercial awareness throughout the training contract selection process, demonstrating your understanding of this concept starts with showing examples where you have used your skills set and business savvy to overcome challenging situations. 

*Always keep a copy of the completed application form: Most training contract interviews are often based around the answers you convey in your application. If you are invited to an interview, revisit your application form first because it is highly likely that you will be asked to elaborate on the points you raised here, as this is what would have sparked the initial interest in you.