Advice

Studying at Cambridge and plenty of work experience — but are my A-levels holding me back?

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I have been unsuccessful in every round for open days, vacation schemes and training contracts applications

Image credit: Steve Cadman via Wikipedia

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring solicitor wants to get to the bottom of her training contract failure.

I am an LLB graduate and aspiring corporate solicitor hoping to qualify in London. I was hoping to get some perspective/advice on my situation.

I moved from France aged 16 and started my A-levels in the UK. Because of the difficulties that come with studying in a new language I attained grades ACC, which was disappointing as my grades had always been good while in France.

These grades meant I had to go through clearing and ended up studying at an ex-poly ranked roughly 50th in the league tables. I graduated in the summer with a first. While at university I managed to do plenty of work experience at the pro bono clinic, at several high street firms, and in a small family-run commercial firm. I did a mini-pupillage too. I am now fluent in English and next year I will be doing a masters in world history at Cambridge, which has always been an interest of mine.

My problem is that I have been unsuccessful in every round for open days, vacation schemes, and training contracts applications in the City. I put many hours into these applications and have specifically applied to commercial firms that do not set a minimum A-level requirement. However I don’t get past the online application.

Is it my A-level grades holding me back? If so, should I try to re-take them? Or should I stop applying to the City and try to secure a TC at a high street firm instead? And if I were to secure one, how difficult would it be moving to a smaller commercial/mid-sized commercial set as an NQ?

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

54 Comments

Anonymous

Retake them if they are troubling you that much. But worth checking whether firms will accept what are effectively resists…

Anonymous

Won’t necessarily help – many firms will only consider A-levels on the first sitting if they have such a strict filter on application

The Voice of Reason

1. Suggesting that a Masters graduate to retake their A-Levels is fucking stupid.

2. Spell ‘resits’ properly.

Anonymous

Who are you to resist?

Jojo

Misleading headline….

Corporate big dawg money lyfeeeeeee

Yeah, no point carrying on with those A-levels. Give up. City clearly isn’t for you – off you pop to Doncaster’s finest.

Anonymous

Hey buddy , how about try and be supportive rather than have that horrible attitude

Anonymous

twat.

Anonymous

BELL-END

Corporate big dawg money lyfeeeeeee

How about you jobsworths realise that this is a click-bait article and this ‘person’ does not exist.

Geez.

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

Really?

Careerconundrumshite

More bollox. Give it up. These articles are a plague.

And btw retake your A-levels.

Anonymous

Is Alex the aspiring solicitor in this piece?

Anonymous

Doubt Alex got even one A

Anonymous

Jesus Christ. Cambridge and law – this is the definition of privilege. All jokes aside, your math or social studies skills from high school do not matter at all. Especially with the career/education you have. I seriously doubt law firms even bother to look at them. Certainly not if there are no minimums or if you have extensive work experience. That is precisely why experience is listed from most recent to least recent. I know most of the time they certainly don’t bother reading through a million 250 word essays on “leadership,” either. Please don’t bother to retake such trivial exams. This is not a viable solution, and I will tell you why.

Look forward, not ahead. You have no evidence that your A levels are the thing holding you back, it’s an assumption you’ve made entirely out of a lack of evidence, based on feelings you have about your past. If anything, your experience internationally is a huge asset. You speak multiple languages. If it’s not your A-levels, what else could it be? Try different tactics in your applications, be creative, do something different, be novel…you’ll get to where you want to go. Get as much feedback as you can from your applications. Can you ask anyone in your old legal faculty for advice? Don’t eliminate a possibility by forgoing applications in a specific sector altogether. Again, work based on your evidence. Push them for feedback as much as possible, especially when you don’t get a response in your application at all.

My advice is to meet people personally in the firm you are interested in, network through your friends, try to get an in. Be focused. Be bold in what you say and how you apply. Hell, if you have to, mail them a packet of gummy bears with a note on how interested you are and how you can be an asset to them. Just operate based on what you know, not what you don’t.

Companies, firms and the like have no accountability towards applicants. There is a good chance the find who they like in the first 25 applications and don’t bother to sift through the rest. Keep in mind there is only so much you can do from your place as an applicant.

Anonymous

Why don’t you consider a career as a turtle breeder?

I like toitles?

Mr Charles

Your A-levels aren’t the problem. You are applying for City TC’s when you have no City work experience. Get City experience This hardly qualifies as a conundrum.

Anonymous

It’s the usual Legal Cheek non-story, non-issue, content free, space filling guff

Anonymous

Are people actually suggesting to retake A levels after she has done her degree and masters? LOL

Careerconundrumshite

Are people actually taking that sarcastic suggestion … to retake A levels after she has done her degree and masters … seriously? LOL

Anonymous

Fuck off twat

Anonymous

To be honest Legal Cheek, the comments here are really unhelpful for people asking serious questions. 80% are people messing around.

Anonymous

Hello Earnest McEarnest

Anonymous

Why is she reading for a Master’s in World History at Cambridge if she wants to be a lawyer?

Curious passer-by

Because he/she likely couldn’t get into the LLM course at Cambridge, but wants Oxbridge on the CV. Firms don’t care about your masters. They care about your A-Levels, degree result and University. If you are lacking in these areas, then you can grind it out on the paralegal circuit and wait (hope?) for a tc. The fact you are at Cambridge is irrelevant here and firms are not stupid to place you in the same boat as an undergrad at Cambridge studying history with enough A grades in their A-levels to skew the stats of a failing comprehensive school by themselves. I say this as someone who got AAAB and a 2.1 from a decent redbrick in law (i.e. not Durham, UCL or LSE) and significant (read national) sporting achievements.

Anonymous

Minimum entry requirement for the Cambridge LLM is a first, so he/she could have easily applied

Curious passer-by

Application does not equal acceptance. Do keep up joker.

Anonymous

I just don’t find it so hard to believe they might have a genuine interest outside of law. Specially considering he/she will probably do an LLM with the LPC anyways.

Anonymous

You sound like a sour Oxbridge reject (both undergrad and postgrad – with your 2.1, I’m not sure you even meet the bare minimum entry requirements to any decent programmes at Oxbridge). Plus you went to a redbrick that’s not UCL or Durham, which sounds like you went to Sheffield or Liverpool….bravo?

Not sure what qualifies you to say law firms don’t care at all about masters degrees. Are you on the grad recruitment team or something?

I don’t think law firms are naive enough to assume doing a postgrad degree at Oxbridge puts an applicant at the same level as an Oxbridge undergrad. But an Oxbridge degree (at whatever level) isn’t going to hurt and can (not necessarily “will”) be used to reflect your academic/intellectual ability.

I don’t have an Oxbridge undergrad degree but I did do an MPhil at Cambridge in a subject completely unrelated to law. I did it cause I’m genuinely interested in the field and if anything, I think it helped me in my TC applications.

Curious passer-by

Well done mate. Liverpool not impressive, Sheffield is a very good uni. Law at Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Newcastle etc. all in the mix and not to be sniffed at. Don’t think solid A-levels and a 2.1 from one of these places, and a City firm tc is a poor show. Bagging a first from an ex-poly and then studying for an MPhil in criminology or international studies is not fooling anyone. Better to take your first, smash the LPC if you can fund it (instead of the naval gazing masters) and then paralegal until someone throws you a bone. There is hope, but don’t tell me you are studying for an MSc in African Studies at Oxford after a first in Anthropology from Goldsmiths and expect City firms to be jumping at you. You’ve got Oxbridge grads who can’t get a tc for years buddy.

Anonymous

The “the naval gazing masters” – that’s no way to refer to a respectable course like the Southampton LL.M in maritime law.

Anonymous

“Sheffield is a very good uni.”

I’m sure everyone at Slaughters or any wall street firm agrees…

Anonymous

If you had to study law to become a lawyer the GDL wouldn’t exist, firms like candidates with different interests

Juan Carr QC

You could always try porn. Your motivation will surely be noted.

Anonymous

scumbag

Anonymous

I’m afraid we are unable to comment on your career prospects unless you confirm your ethnicity, sexual orientation and your families’ financial background.

Anonymous

This comment is so fucking cancerous.

Anonymous

If I was ever having a ‘career conundrum’ LC’s comment section is the last place I would seek advice from. This leads me to believe that these types of articles aren’t real and are just more ways to fill alex’s pockets.

Anonymous

Yep – totally agree with this. LC are so click baity these days

Anonymous

I’d change you Masters to reflective your interest in law as currently it doesn’t look like your interested?Also, paralegal jobs are great ways into the legal profession.

Anonymous

I know this is a fake story but just in case anyone is reading this and taking the article and comments seriously:

It is often too easy to blame poor A-levels as they are the more obvious piece of evidence on an application form.

From the limited information presented, there could easily be other holes in your application. Your work experience doesn’t seem to suggest “city” law, there is no mention of any extra curricular activities or part-time jobs, the pupillage could make it seem like you are settling to be a lawyer but really want to be barrister, the world history Masters may also suggest you want to take a different career path. We also don’t know how consistent your academic grades are during your degree – many people can end up with a first but flunk first year and scrape a 2.1 in the second.

And we don’t know anything about how you describe your motivations for the career, job or firm, let alone whether your written English is up to scratch (where most applications actually fall down).

Most firms will look past A-levels, especially where there are some atypical circumstances like not being fluent in the language when taking the qualification. But poorer results coupled with flaws elsewhere are going to all of sudden be more of a concern. And I suspect in this (fake) situation there are potentially much bigger flaws elsewhere

Anonymous

You know it’s a fake story – then you give a few paras of advice. Weird

Anonymous

Yes – as stressed, for those who see their own story when reading it.

Anonymous

Ok – agree with you on the fake story point

A concerned turtle breeder

Silly comments about turtle breeding aside (although it is an enviable profession), here is my honest advice:

1) Have you sat down with a professional lawyer or graduate recruiter and gone through an application? You may have a systematic error (it can even be a spelling error but more likely a general style or format) that is killing your applications before conception. I would do this ASAP, as it has the potential to make the biggest difference.

2) Have you considered other legal sectors or jobs that you previously ignored? An example would be family law, but it could also be a paralegalling job at a City firm.

3) As for the A-Levels, I don’t think you should retake them. It’s too much stalling for what could be a meaningless pay-off.

Anonymous

turtle. toitle. treitel.

Anonymous

Review your applications, there’s a likelihood you’re missing the trick with applications.

Firms need to see you’ve done your research on why you want to practice at their firm (you’ve got to convince them) whilst maintaining excellent attention to detail which lets a huge number of applicants down.

Anonymous

Fake story be faking.

Anonymous

Legal Cheek never has and never will be a good forum for career advice. All of the LC staff failed to get training contracts / pupillages, so they are not best placed to dish out any job tips.

Anonymous

That’s not completely fair. I think Legal Cheek probably offers the most candid platform for feedback from trainees and junior lawyers. It also has great connections with law firms – my MC firm encouraged us to participate in the Legal Cheek trainee survey. This comment thread notwithstanding, I think some of the suggestions in other posts are reasonably helpful to give prospective trainees another perspective. I think attacking the LC staff on personal grounds is not helpful. In any case, I think building something as engaging and addictive as Legal Cheek is a far greater accomplishment than getting a TC.

Anonymous

Don’t be too disheartened. Yes A-levels are important to city law firms, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.

In this highly competitive climate, firms are generally more concerned about what connection you have to their firm. Why are you applying to their firm in particular? If you’ve not been to any of their open days, or if your work experience isn’t a vacation scheme at that firm, then you don’t really have any evidence to show that you’re genuinely interested in working there.

Of course, this is somewhat speculative, as I don’t know where you’ve applied to or what you said on your application forms, but you can compensate for unsatisfactory A-levels by demonstrating that you have a genuine connection to the firm you’re applying to.

Not a Cambridge Graduate

1) Misleading headline Legal Cheek – sort it out
2) Yes work experience, A Levels and the prestige of the University you attended are important but they are not the deciding factor of whether you get a TC. Law firms want business minded people (e.g that is why there is so much focus on commercial awareness …!) have you demonstrated this? Do you know why is it so crucially important? What about your other skills? Team work etc. You need experience to be able to demonstrate those e.g waitressing. I once heard a partner say interpersonal skills are extremely important because they can teach you the law but they cannot teach you those. On that note, I suggest a little bit of self reflection and research 🙂

Anonymous

Has anyone on here actually resat A-Levels (after university) to meet the criteria?

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