Is my education in Colombia the reason I can’t get a training contract?

Graduating from a ‘non-fancy’ university is my biggest disadvantage

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In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring solicitor thinks her overseas education is holding her back.

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I am currently finishing the Graduate Diploma in Law at City, University of London. However, I studied International Business at a Colombian university, and I believe this is my biggest disadvantage.

Even though I obtained a first and straight As and Bs in my equivalent course to A-levels, it seems that firms are not interested in my background. I have applied for several vacation schemes and I don’t even get called to any interviews. I have asked for help in the careers department and from several friends who have secured placements. Both have reviewed my applications, but still no luck.

Before moving to London, I worked for three multinationals in the logistics departments for the oil & gas, technology, and telecommunications sectors back home. Then I moved to Norway where I learned Norwegian and volunteered with refugees. In London, I have done some pro bono work in City’s law clinic and volunteered for a well-known City firm.

I am starting to worry about my situation. While many of my fellow classmates are attending assessments, I cannot even get past the first filter. Alternatively, I have thought about funding the Legal Practice Course (LPC) myself and joining a firm as a paralegal to get some legal experience, but I am not sure if this is worth the financial risk.

Are there many people who have been educated in non-fancy universities outside the United Kingdom that have succeeded in this industry? Should I give up the idea of becoming a solicitor?

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64 Comments

Anonymous

I doubt your international credentials are a problem – many firms would consider other languages and cultural awareness as an advantage. I suspect there’s something else wrong, perhaps the quality of writing in your application, or lack of extracurricular activities.

(37)(1)
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HB

I got all A*s and As at GCSE and A Level. Went to Cambridge and got an ok 2:1. Had decent extracurricular activities and wrote good applications. Still got far more rejections for VS and TC applications than interviews (perhaps 4:1).

Managed to get a TC in the end, but basically it’s a very competitive market.

(38)(3)
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HB

I suspect though that I was disadvantaged because I am white, straight, male and privately educated. After I got a TC, out of curiosity I sent off a few half-finished applications saying I was homosexual. Got interviews for all of them.

(27)(53)
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Anonymous

As oxbridge only give out seconds- not 2.1 and 2.2’s- I’m forced to ask what percentage you achieved? If it’d under 60% you have a 2.2.

Secondly, box ticking aside, you have to ask if you would have got those grades at a “problematic” state school and would have then gone to Cambridge. Realistically, as you didn’t get 80% on your degree, I doubt it. Private schools do inflate your grades, and firms know that. I don’t see what’s wrong with factoring that in.

Lastly, when you did get to an interview you sailed through I assume? Many people that don’t have your “disadvantages” will not, simpley because it will be more difficult for some partners to connect with them- which is the mark of a good interview in my experience.

I’m not sure you really had as hard a time as you think.

Many of us send off dozens of application forms, and barley got any response.

(3)(35)
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Anonymous

My apologise, my dissertation tutor received a straight second from oxford- which he classed as a 2.1. Not quiet sure that invalidates the broader point.

(2)(3)
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HB

I got 65% average I think, seem to remember it being a 2:1 (that’s what I put on applications at least).

You’re right – I have had many advantages in life. My point isn’t that I should got a TC more easily. Rather, my point is that when I acquired a ‘diversity’ characteristic I had more success. Could have been a coincidence I admit, as I only sent off a handful of apps post-TC.

(7)(10)
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HB

Also, I’m sorry if this seems a bit whiney. I really don’t mean it to be. I’ve had a fortunate life and have massive sympathy for people who struggle to get a TC. I’ve been there before (took me over a year).

(14)(4)
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Anonymous

Not at all, I was making a broader point about diversity statics- not attacking you personally. That would be extremely juvenile.

I would say that your LPC grade may have pushed you over the top, or perhaps some additional experience, or experience in knowing what they wanted to hear? In my experience, the best lawyer struggle with HR, and walk through the rest of the process. Though I’ll admit, I am too young to make such a sweeping statement.

(0)(3)
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Anonymous

Why should you have got a TC more easily? No offence but 65% average isn’t at all impressive. I had top academics pre-university, a strong First at Oxbridge in first year and predicted a First, and still felt very happy when I was accepted on to vacation schemes at two MC firms. I was fully prepared to have to apply elsewhere due to competition. Don’t understand the entitlement that very average students from Oxbridge seem to have.

(7)(21)
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HB

Sorry, I think I didn’t phrase that very well or you misunderstood.

I *don’t* think I should have got a TC more easily. I’ll be the first to admit that 65 is very average for Oxbridge and that I’m not particularly bright all things considered.

However, it’s fair to say my academics are probably above average, and so my point is that even if that is the case the whole process can be tough.

I think I’ll stop posting now!

(17)(1)
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Anonymous

Sorry I did misread that! You seem more self-aware than I realised, and I wasn’t trying to suggest that you’re not bright, you clearly are by any measure, simply that hundreds of bright people apply to these schemes.

(8)(3)
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Anonymous

HB – You were lucky – I know of a couple of TC applicants – Oxbridge 2.1 , who are on their 3rd and 4th year of applications . I also know of some with a 2.1 who secured a TC (including MC ) within a few months of graduating

(5)(5)
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Anonymous

I secured a City TC within three months of graduating, and I didn’t go to Oxbridge.

(2)(8)
Anonymous

I secured a City TC within three months of graduating, and I didn’t go to Oxbridge.

Big difference between a City TC and Freshfields and Fieldfisher. The latter is pretty meh in the grand scheme of things.

(6)(7)
Anonymous

What kind of firms are they applying to?

In my experience, if everything is order, people who graduate without TCs are often being too picky. For example, I have a friend who only applies to magic circle/silver circle/US firms, and has done a host of vac schemes.

I would hazard a guess that if he extended his pool to top 20-35 firms, he would pick a TC up pretty soon.

(3)(0)
MCass

As someone with an Oxbridge First, currently consoling myself in the loo of a certain Fleet st firm, consider doing something different. Most people here aren’t as well qualified and you can easily do something more interesting with those grades.

FYI I think a 65 from Oxbridge is very respected and it’s the sort of grade that city law firms love.

(20)(0)
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Anonymous

Possibly, but honestly the whole training contract/vac scheme thing is potluck anyway and there are countless things applicants do to mess up their chances, ranging from the obvious like not doing enough research on the firm to stupid little things like typos or grammatical errors. A Colombian education doesn’t shout out to me as something that would make a vac scheme or TC unachievable. I don’t know why you’re not getting interviews. It could just be bad luck, or it could be that there’s something else wrong with your app that you haven’t told us about, but I don’t think it’s Columbia.

If anything, a different background gives you a huge advantage over the 20-year-old applicants who haven’t even ever had a summer job and are relying on their involvement as secretary of their uni’s Origami Society to sell their competence. I know nothing about you, but I suspect if you researched and selected firms that have a specific focus on things in your background (read: ENERGY!) you shouldn’t have a problem.

(12)(0)
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Anonymous

I am from Colombia and I studied Law back home, I did the GDL and I am doing the LPC at the moment, I have not secured a training contract either but I know about Colombian people working as a solicitors here in London. I do not think that the country where you are from, in our case Colombia, is per se a disadvantage. I am sure that it is hard for everybody not just for us. Best wishes and good luck.

(11)(0)
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Chancery tenant

Shame I thought firms and chambers were eye-rollingly obsessed with “quirky” or “standout” candidates with weird backgrounds.

I didn’t get my interviews through academics or potential or ability to do the job, it was all down to , inter alia being on North Korean
pop idol/inventing the vajazzle/interning at the UN/EU (vajazzle regulation directorate ofc)

Sparkle over substance is the name of the game in legal recruitment these days, so I’m very surprised.

Perhaps invent stories about how you set up a human rights life coaching service in Liberia?

(9)(3)
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Anonymous

If you require a work permit, then your application form has to be practically faultless to meet the work permit processes, and that isn’t even factoring in the firms who won’t or can’t sponsor a Tier 2 visa for someone completing a TC (the vast majority).

If you do have the right to work in the UK, then it is likely to be your somewhat varied career path that is causing more concern than your academics. The work with refugees pro-bono activity and law clinics is likely to contrast strongly if you are applying to commercial firms. Are you really explaining your motivations for the career well enough when you background suggests interest in other areas?

(10)(0)
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Anonymous

Which university in Colombia was it?

No offence, but if its wasn’t from Uniandes in Bogota, your chances are pretty much zero. Every other uni in that country is a pit.

(10)(1)
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Anonymous

“Even though I obtained a first and straight As and Bs in my equivalent course to A-levels, it seems that firms are not interested in my background. I have applied for several vacation schemes and I don’t even get called to any interviews.” Sounds like almost any applicant, drop the self-entitlement

(8)(1)
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Anonymous

I think it can workout. I self funded, and that was the only way I could get a paralegalling position at a top firm. If you know you can do the job, and can wait it out on very poor wages for a year or two, then it can be worth while- though it is a ridiculous risk.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

I had my heart set on joining this mid-market US firm that shall remain nameless. I attended open evenings, I helped the GRM organise a workshop at my university, and I spent weeks researching the firm before writing up my application. My A-Levels were solid and I was on track for a high 2:1 from a good university. I received a PFO almost immediately. Didn’t even make it through the first round. I later got a VS from another US firm. I sent my application to them less than a half-hour before their deadline, and other than reading their profile on Chambers Student, I did no research for the application.

It’s all a crapshoot, mate. Don’t be disheartened. You’ll be alright.

(14)(1)
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Anonymous

I would definitely not do the LPC as an international student who does not have a work permit (not sure if this is your case) as based on my understanding it is very rare that firms would hire a candidate who is off their student visa immediately before the commencement of a training contract, the test they would have to satisfy to hire you at that point would be much higher as compared to them sponsoring your LPC and then converting your tier 4 visa to a tier 2.

As to your concerns in relation to the attention (or lack thereof) from firms towards your background – from my experience it is usally a boon than a bane, it’s usually a matter of how you put yourself across in an application. If thats what you want a firm to notice you for, make sure you put it across as a strength – simply saying that you studied outside of the UK is not going to cut it. Perhaps try to include the answers to the question “why would firm X want someone from X as a trainee?”in your application – try to sell to them what you can offer as an individual.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

It isn’t rare, it is just a slightly more complicated process when you are not transferring from Tier 4 to Tier 2 and it would be part of a capped number of visas nationally. Fair number of firms can still obtain a permit on that basis though.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

I am an ordinary English bloke. 2:1 from Nottingham. No extra curriculars to speak of. I don’t speak Spanish very well. I don’t know anything at all about Colombia. Not Colombian law or Colombian culture. I am trying really hard to get a job at a Colombian law firm but I am unsuccessfully. I am very upset.

(10)(0)
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Anonymous

Cynical, but true. If you come to a foreign country with no connection (education, internships) to the UK, you should work real hard and not expect much in the beginning.

(From a Russian trainee in a City firm)

(3)(0)
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Timnicebutdim

Pot luck absolutely plays a large role in a successful applicant. At my firm, one of the partners mentioned to me that she was in a bad mood as she had to sift through training contracts over her weekend. Catching a partner in a good/bad mood can be the difference.

(0)(0)
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