Last-minute training contract applications are a waste of time

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Thinking of burning the midnight oil to make a bid for City glory? Don’t, advise top law firm specialists


Students aiming to bid for highly prized City law firm training contracts who have not applied before tomorrow’s deadline might as well go down the pub instead of firing off last-minute applications.

That is the unofficial message from several senior graduate recruitment executives at leading Square Mile practices.

The harsh verdict came a day after a voluntary code of practice for the recruitment process dropped the 31 July training contract application deadline. In future law firms are advised to set whatever closing date they see fit.

However, Legal Cheek has spoken to a clutch of top law firm recruitment bosses, and the consensus view is that an 11th-hour rush to apply is a waste of time for students.

While City law firms are reluctant to acknowledge that view openly, it is widely accepted that by tomorrow most — if not all — training places starting in 2017 will have already been allocated.

Indeed, senior recruitment executives have laid out for Legal Cheek a process that is far longer, detailed and almost of Big Brother proportions than most law students will be aware.

Firms start clocking individual students as earlier as recruitment fairs, where notes are taken on those attending a stand and showing intelligent interest. The next step is law firm open days, where again recruitment teams will log those attending and make notes next to their names.

By the time applications for vac scheme places roll around, the firms have a good idea of those students that are keen on the practice. They award points to those that rocked up to the firm’s recruitment fair stand and then turned up at an open day.

Students that manage to clamber over the vac scheme hurdle are then much better placed in the race for a training contract offer.

Ultimately, the message is this: if the first time a law firm hears from a student is at five minutes to midnight on 31 July, the recruitment exec’s finger is almost certainly headed towards the delete button.

The number of training contracts up for grabs in the City and across the rest of England and Wales for the 2014-15 round is still unknown. Last year, the Law Society reported that 5,001 contracts were registered.

That figure was more than 1,000 down on the pre-global financial crisis high in 2007-08, and 6% down on the previous 12 months. The vast majority of places — more than 93% — were registered with private practice law firms.


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

At least people are now being honest about this.

Applying for training contracts last minute has always been a waste of time, but you can only know that if you have been told it by someone knowledgeable, otherwise kids would reasonably think that a deadline is a deadline. In reality, of course, 95% of places at most top firms have been filled by vac schemers and those who applied for a TC within a couple of months of applications opening.

Deadlines ought to be actual deadlines, and be open only for a two month period or so. Plenty of time to do numerous applications.

Currently, the system is skewed enormously to help law firms. They can never be certain of how many excellent applicants they get, and so have to recruit on a somewhat rolling basis, meaning that it is actually good insurance to have a constant year-round flood of applications to ensure that no place goes unfilled after that promising vac schemer throws up on a partner’s shoes. But this does not help students, many of whom are not aware that you have to apply pretty much within a few months of the process opening anyway.


Not Amused

“At least people are now being honest about this.”

They aren’t being honest. LC is being honest. They dishonestly advertise a deadline that isn’t real. Thus benefitting kids whose parents know that the deadline is a lie.



There’s no dishonesty about it. There has to be a cut off at some point but there’s no disputing that the earlier you submit your application, the more organised you appear for starters. There’s nothing to prevent a firm from giving the first twenty applicants a training contract so why should they have to wait?
It’s not dishonest in the slightest.


Not Amused

It is dishonest to operate secret rules. Your counter argument ‘but everyone knows’ is simply not true (when you say ‘there’s no disputing’ what you mean is ‘I was told’). Many do not know: worse, many of those are from disadvantaged backgrounds, because no one tells them.

Knowing something is not an achievement. It merely requires someone to tell you. Middle class kids (particularly those with parents in the law) get told. Disadvantaged kids do not get told.



The 31st of July ‘deadline’ is not even a mentionable barrier when discussing the problems disadvantaged students face in getting a TC. This whole story is a non-story. Nearly all firms clearly put in their FAQs that they advise you to apply well before the deadline. If you don’t have the common sense to get yourself up to speed with the most basic structure of training contract recruitment for the firm you’re applying to, then you won’t get a training contract anyway. And besides, not all firms do this, many large ones do not recruit on a rolling basis.


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

I see what you mean, but I was under the impression that this was going to now change given the removal of that part of the recruitment code. Perhaps I’m wrong. Either way, I am glad that LC is publicising this but do rather question whether it is a useful time to do so. Will this article not actually put off a lot of people who weren’t aware of the real deadline and were planning to make their applications? To them I would say that they still should – it is not impossible to get a TC by applying today, just more difficult.


Not totally convinced..

I don’t really buy this. I applied in the last recruitment cycle around the 30th of July.

I’m starting the LPC at BPP on Monday. I had two TC offers from two MC firms and a final interview that I turned down with a third MC firm.

I’d like to see actual evidence from legalcheek that this is really true.



This is not true. I submitted an application for a TC at Clifford Chance at 5pm on 31 July a few years ago and was successful.


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

One anecdote does not mean a thing. CC could have had a vac schemer turn down their offer at the last minute and liked the look of your CV – it happens. The fact remains that you were far less likely to succeed than the people who applied eight months earlier than you, who will have already been holding offers for six months before you even had an interview. Is your cohort entirely made up of people who applied like you did, or were the vast majority vac schemers and people who applied months earlier?



Any statistics on this? I applied last day at HS (as was), Freshfields and Links, got offers at all 3. I’m not sure whether it’s as unusual as all that.

I’m also sceptical about detail of records. I’ve been asked to give feedback and doubt whether it’s that structured in most cases .


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

Would be good to have statistics. My ‘evidence’ would be anecdotal too, I’m afraid, along with the fact that every law firm in the country says you should apply early in order to have a good chance.



I applied on the last day, admittedly for vac schemes, and got offers from Links and A&O.

It happens a lot with vac schemes which tend to be more competitive than TCs, as students can do multiple schemes. On the other hand, a lot of them aren’t rolling.



The article doesn’t say that it is impossible to get a TC offer if you apply at the deadline, just that your chances are dramatically reduced.


Anon 1241

My point is that the title of the article is not accurate. Last minute applications are not a waste of time. Saying they are is simply not true.

You seem to equate a vac scheme offer to a TC, which is not the case. People don’t get vac schemes and and get offers and vice versa.

I do not know about the CC intake, I chose to train at another firm.

The truth of the matter is, it is the smarter move to apply early. But if it’s deadline day and you have some time it will do no harm to fill out a few applications. If you meet the criteria you still have a chance of getting a TC.

I’m sick of everyone being so doom and gloom about getting TCs. Sure, it’s tough, but it’s not impossible. Get good grades at uni, go to a few open days, read the financial press and don’t scare your interviewer by being overly intense.


Not Amused

Allow me to be the first to slow hand clap HR for once again putting in place an elaborate system which discriminates against poor born and disadvantaged children.

The longer and more convoluted your recruitment process, the more you (unwittingly or knowingly) start to bring cost and fore knowledge in to play as deciding factors. Poor kids from Cumbria cannot attend unpaid London open days or non-campus law fairs. Children of middle class parents are more likely to know which firms to talk to at a recruitment fair and to be better targeted and informed from a younger age. Children from private schools (we know) have greater confidence and soft skills, so making notes on how impressive a 19 year old is when they ask for a free pencil will only benefit one type of kid.

Well done. Your moronic quest to justify your own salary is now an active bar to social mobility in Britain. *clap* … *clap* … *clap*



Someone sounds overly bitter towards HR. I bet there’s an interesting story behind that.



In my experience what he says is bang on – HR departments create barriers to mobility, and limit diversity in all industries, by:

1) Implementing elaborate and onerous application processes that exaggerate even further the advantage of someone with inside information (since they know what kind of answers to give) and make the completion of large numbers of applications impossible thus giving an advantage to those who know where best to target their applications (through inside information).

2) Insisting on experience that is practically impossible to gain without connections in the industry concerned. Internships are the classic example of this. At its most ludicrous, you see the HR departments of IT firms putting out job adverts demanding 5 years of programming experience in a language that is only ~3 years old.

3) Using automated screening software that simply filters out anyone without the requisite, narrowly-defined qualifications. A typical example of this would be the use of fixed GCSE maths scores to screen out candidates for places with accountancy firms – the fact that older candidates will have taken their GCSEs/O-Levels when the were much more difficult, and that anyway the person concerned may have gone on to score much more highly in a relevant subject at A-level or degree level is ignored.

Of course, HR staff can argue with some justification that they have to find some way of cutting through the volume of applications they receive for certain positions. The result, though, is increasingly un-diverse professions and an increasingly immobile workforce.

Rather less convincing, however, are those in recruitment positions who place all blame on, for example, state schools and the people who study in them. When I hear someone from a public school background complain that they cannot recruit state-educated workers because they do not interview well, saying that they are “barely literate”, “don’t know how to dress for a business meeting” and so-forth, this strains all credulity.

Finally, there are those who are quite unashamed about their prejudices. The person in a position to decide who would get hired into the magic circle firm they worked for who said “We only recruit Blues and Blondes here”, for example.



And lo, if you are at the ‘wrong’ university the firm won’t attend careers fairs or set up their own recruitment events and a so potential applicant can’t notch up a point for attending one.

If you’re a mature or part-time student and can’t get to these events because of work commitments, you can’t notch up a point.

Thus even a CV blind application process may be rigged (or at least putting certain groups of applicants at a disadvantage) from the start because of the recruitment decisions made by the firm and which are out of the hands of the applicant. Whilst prior contact with a firm may be a good indicator of genuine interest, these sort of practices must be contributing to the under-representation of certain social groups in the allocation of TCs.


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

I didn’t attend a single recruitment event when I was at university and still got an excellent TC a couple of years later. Although they help to make yourself known to the firm, I don’t think that this is a particularly large block on recruitment compared to the issue in this article. No recruiter has ever looked at an average application and thought “well this person spoke to Alice at Bristol’s recruitment fair so we’ll take them anyway”, whereas it happens all the time that they say “I’ve never met this person but their application is superb so let’s have them in for an interview.”


Not Amused

Sadly I think you are showing your age. This sort of nonsense is becoming much more common.


Non-Oxbridge Pleb

I’m not very old actually. I admit I might have been lucky and missed it – there is definitely a recruitment machine that rolls through the universities trying to snap people up and get them on the conveyor belt of insight day-vac scheme-TC.

Thinking about it, I probably came to the whole thing later than most people because neither of my parents are in law or do anything commercial, and my only experiences of TC applicants were the stereotypical Tarquins and Georgias who I didn’t feel I would ever want to work with. Possibly part of why I didn’t bother with recruitment events, or why I ever even considered becoming a commercial solicitor. You have to go out of your way to become engaged. It was only after interning in commercial firms abroad and stumbling across an aspect of it I loved that I realised it was for me.

But I think the idea that people get interviews because they came across well at a curry does not seem likely, purely because no one seems to get asked to report back to HR about specific people. Maybe I’m wrong. With a strong application form, though, I don’t know if anyone is going to be disadvantaged by not writing down that they met the HR manager. It’s hard to see what more firms could do for disinterested students than come to campuses and advertise their presence.



Excellent TC my arse. From your chippy screen name and constant negative posts I’d guess you’re a serial paralegal

Non-Oxbridge Pleb

Ouch. MC actually, but don’t let that impact your hatred. I try to be quite positive to be honest, sorry for not living up to your standards!

The screen name came from a sarcastic reply about six months ago to a post that claimed only Oxbridge people got good TCs. It’s meant to be sarcastic, not chippy.


If you didn’t go to Oxbridge and you have Oxbridge as incorporated into your screen name that strikes me as a little chippy.

No hatred just a bit bored by the constant stream of slightly obnoxious and usually negative posts. Is it CC by any chance? You strike me as a CC sort of chap.


U douche

Non-Oxbridge Pleb

It’s not CC or A&O.

I don’t think I am chippy in my posts, but of course that’s a matter of perception. Again, I’m sorry to have offended you by apparently being too ‘negative’. I’ll reconsider my tone if I’m coming across as obnoxious.

Not Amused

If we lived in your world I would be very happy indeed. All I want is a totally meritocratic system where what matters is the strength of the application form and deadlines are honest and meaningful.

It just seems the point of the story (and I’m afraid what happens far too often) is that HR have stopped relying wholly on those and are now adding in additional (secret) criteria, the impact of which is almost always to discriminate against poor born kids.

So my best hope is that you get promoted to partner and try to change a few things. I will cross my fingers for that. (I’m not kidding)



@Non-Oxbridge Pleb – I can tell you for certain that some firms, possibly many firms, do in fact report back to HR/Grad Recruitment following such events you mention. It can vary from a standard law fair, to an employer presentation on campus, through to an open evening at the firm’s office – I have witnessed and indeed myself taken part in rating/flagging up any candidates that stand out positively from the crowd. When it comes to candidates applying such candidates will have this flag next to their name which will only help them when it comes to deciding whether or not to call them for interview.



I applied for most of my applications in June, and a few more this July. I understand the principle of recruiting on a rolling basis, but I do find it deceitful that firms have a cut-off date of 31 July but will not review applications submitted by the deadline just because they are late. A lot of firms say they review all applications after the deadline – will be interesting to see if this is true, or another sly tactic.



Recruiters have been saying this for years. This is not all of a sudden “being honest”, many have been frank about this for years.

As for the points about these processes/marketing strategies putting certain groups at disadvantage, don’t you think they might monitor and try to work to the best they can to limit this with the small amount of resource they have got?

Don’t you think they would like to go out to as many universities as they would like but due to their team size and lack of budget, can only go to ones where they can give evidence to back up their rationale for attending?

Or that they question the partners who agree to sponsor a £200k+ chair at Oxford, when they know that money could actually go towards more effective recruitment initiatives that would help a wider demographic?

Or that they put proposals forward for budget increases to help increase intern salaries so those from outside the area can afford accommodation but often get turned down as its not seen as important/a priority?

And don’t you think they get frustrated when a senior partner takes significant amounts of money from their budget to fund a useless advertising contract with RoF?

Some people who work in this area truly do support recruiting a diverse trainee population. They don’t do it for the pay cheque, they do it because it is something they actually care about. But if all that’s worth is a slow clap and a condescending tone from certain people on here, so be it.


Not Amused

The creation of these processes which discriminate against poor born and disadvantaged children has been the creation of HR. 30 years ago these processes where not in place. Now they are. These processes discriminate against the poor. At the same time, these processes have been used to justify increasing HR employment levels at all UK firms over the last 30 years.

It is not condescending to point out that HR have set in place systems which benefit themselves, harm the poor and arguably harm their employers.

They can whine all they like about how it (allegedly) upsets them to discriminate against the poor, but they are still discriminating against the poor – no matter how bad that (allegedly) makes them feel. Actions speak louder than words.

As I set out above, you are right to say this isn’t all of a sudden being honest. They remain dishonest. This is LC being honest and thank goodness for that. LC is a force for social mobility, that is why I thoroughly support it. HR are demonstrably not, hence I don’t support them.



If you want to think that everyone within one profession is exactly the same in their attitude/approach, then there is no point even trying to reason with you. I understand your frustrations (I have never been a fan of HR either) but your view is far too simplistic in its blame.


Not Amused

There are many causes to the problem of poor social mobility. However this story focuses upon just one of those causes – unnecessary and secretive selection methods implemented by HR. Accordingly it is entirely appropriate for me to limit my comments to criticising the focus of this story.

For criticism of the other causes of poor social mobility 0 please see the appropriate story where you will note, comments from me.

This story is about the harm HR are doing to social mobility. If instead of damning them, I praise them, then I would be just as guilty as they are.



Some of the large firms do help out with accommodation fees.



Undoubtedly because someone in HR highlighted that without it, it would be blocking access to many attending the schemes.



It goes both ways in my view – a lot of firms will leave some places deliberately until the last moment in the hope of attracting the “star” candidates who, for one reason or another, leave applications until the last moment.

NA does, however, make a very compelling point that the students who are unable to attend recruitment fairs and open days are at a significant disadvantage. The reality is that the whole thing is a game, and kids with better-informed parents are normally the ones able to play it best. Sadly though, it doesn’t start in a student’s final year – well informed parents will have made sure that Jemima has been advised to complete the Duke of Edinburgh award, Grade 8 piano, save the children in Nigeria and become president of the university Law Society long before these processes even begin. Less-informed kids end up having to play catch up.

Let’s now even mention how the new recruitment code allowing students to be recruited in second year is only going to amplify all of this…



Our best recruits have been former paralegals within the firm. You know what they can truly deliver.


Boh Dear

If you’re getting offers from more than one MC firm in the first place it’s probably likely the only difference those firms see between you and The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg is some feathers and a beak; day 1 or 11th hour application, you’re likely to get an offer.



Not Amused – you are still making the awful assumption that all HR people are the same.

You seem intent to brand them all as creating these secretive and discriminatory processes, that in turn impacts social mobility negatively.

All I am trying to say is that there are many out there who are doing everything they can to complete oppose the things you suggest, and often that means going against the wishes of their line managers, who more often than not are Partners.


Not Amused

Well I can only comment on this story – which is HR inventing and implementing systems which discriminate against the poor.


Anon (etc.)

As a general rule, I am sure this is right. The only thing I would say is that I did apply for a TC last minute, to a firm I had thought about but not really decided was a first pick. I had finished my other apps so cobbled something together as the deadline was approaching in a sort of what-have-I-got-to-lose kind of way. Ended up being invited to an assessment day that I almost skipped (had another TC offer in the bag).

Got there and bloody loved it. Great firm, great place to train. Got a TC, went off to law school, kept on as an NQ. All I’m trying to say really is that, if you have the time, you might as well try.

Before you say it, it was (and still is) a top 20 (by PEP) firm.



This article has saved me hours. Thank you legal cheek for making the whispers commonly passed between professional parents more widely heard.



Bottom line: An application on the deadline is better than no application at all.



My biggest issue is that by having the arbitrary deadlines (31st July) which usually resulted in students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying on or shortly before the deadline, does not only mean that these students are rejected, but also in some cases they cannot apply again. Many of the larger city firms take the approach that you can only apply once and if you are unsuccessful are either barred from applying again or must show significant improvement upon the second application. If the deadlines themselves are misleading, students are wasting what may be their only chance to apply on an application for a job vacancy that no longer exists.

Hopefully this will no longer be the case, but I’m sure something new will crop up to get in the way of progress. I mainly have my fingers crossed that firms don’t start accepting applications from first years, because that really would put disadvantaged students in a poor position, since it takes them longer to accumulate a CV that some students can simply pay for.



Firms won’t be abiding by the new code if they accept applications from first years. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen (the code is only voluntary) but I would hope many firms won’t even consider it for a number of issues it creates (outside of the negative PR).



One moral of the story: talk to people who are actually involved in the process through unofficial channels. Not people who used to work at a firm, not people who are about to work at a firm, but people who do work at a firm and take an interest in graduate recruitment.

If you don’t know anyone like that, go to or a similar outreach programme and ask someone what you should be doing and when you should be doing it. No one worth working with will hold your questions against you.

I’m on there as a professional ambassador, largely because I knew absolutely no one who could tell me anything about becoming a solicitor (my dad knew a couple of people vaguely, but they were all ex-private practice and qualified in a different era) and, as a result, I made a ton of mistakes early on that I had to learn from in order to get a job.



Chris from AS looks like such a poofta



Let’s get two things clear:

1. Having a deadline is not discrimination. Having a deadline that isn’t “real”, probably is.

2. More importantly, if you’re doing law and you aren’t aware that most TCs apps should be done early, that’s your own damn fault. You’d have to live under a cave, never use the internet, never talk to another person, without discovering either the deadline and/or the fact that applying early makes sense (for multiple reasons). You’d also probably not realise that vac schemes are the way to go. Again, this is 99.9% of the time related to being lazy, not poor.

There can be exceptions e.g. BSB changes the date of the pupillage portal, and as far as I’m aware unless you’re signed up to receive their emails or you read legal cheek, you would not know about this until September. Then again, you wouldn’t be hugely disadvantaged by the news – there’s not much you can do in 6 weeks to revolutionize your application anyway. This TC issue is not the same thing – in most cases, failure to understand how the system works is called not doing your homework.



What would probably be helpful is just a list of law firms which recruit on a rolling basis and those that do not.

Those that do not should, at least in theory, not adhere to this rule and it should be fine to apply at a later date.



You asked for a list, and you shall receive on. Here it is:

ALL OF THEM (in practice)



Harsh but it makes sense!


barney law

Play the Lotto better chance



Thnkz 4 dat dere kidney stone of wizdom blud


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