10 tips for getting a training contract or pupillage

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Find your unique selling point

A student recently wrote to me asking what my top tips for getting a training contract were and I wanted to share them with a wider audience. However, I also know many aspiring barristers who may also benefit from these pointers in their efforts to secure pupillage.

Suffice to say that the statistics are against us, over 26,000 people apply to study law degrees, just under 6,000 gain training contracts and even less secure pupillage. I hope these 10 tips are useful and will hopefully give each student reading them the reassurance that they will all become lawyers if they keep putting the effort in.

1. Choose a city

Limit your search to a particular city. This will prevent you being ‘spoilt for choice’ in regard to which chambers or firms you want to apply to. Each city has its own legal market, its own atmosphere and ultimately, its own clients and legal specialities. So, in deciding which city to practice, ask these questions:

Do I want to work in London? London is undoubtedly the legal centre of the UK. It is best to decide early if this is the right place for you.

Where would I like to be based? Consider personal factors such as family and support networks. A career in the legal world is stressful, it may be a necessity for some to have their family close by.

Is this city right for me? Visit the cities you’re considering! Try to get work experience in some of the local firms or chambers.

Can I see myself here? Everyone is different. Make sure that you can see yourself in that city for the two years of training (at the very least!).

Is this the best option for me? Working in smaller cities may put you at a disadvantage later down the line, so consider your career progression.

2. Pick five firms or chambers

It is tempting to simply put out as many applications as possible and hope that one of them is successful. Speaking from experience, this is not the right way to go. You may get through to the interview stage with this method, but you will be instantly put at a disadvantage due to the limited research you will have conducted about the firm or chambers.

If you choose five, you can spend far longer researching and doing the application form. This increases the likelihood of an interview and it will be an interview that you’re ready for! In selecting your five, think about the type of firm that suits you (it really is a two-way street). In doing this, ask these questions:

Global, regional or high street? Do you see yourself at an international giant or a friendly neighbourhood law firm?

Do the firms specialise in areas of law you are interested in? Ensure that the law firm has areas that you find interesting. This is where work experience will come in handy!

Do you like the firm’s culture? No two firms are exactly the same. The joy that comes out of working somewhere is usually the kind of people you work with.

Does the firm have room for progression? Make sure you can see yourself having a career at the firms you’re applying for.

3. Create a research method

When you’re doing applications, have a method. I always went to Legal 500, Chambers & Partners and Legal Cheek’s Most Lists first, putting the key information on a word document. I then went on the firm’s website, researching their culture, finding testimonials and ascertaining what clients the firm has whilst also catching up on the firm’s current affairs.

The 2019 Firms Most List

Only once I had a real grasp on the firm’s values did I begin the application form. In each question, including work experience, I tried to word the application form in a manner that showed how I demonstrated the firm’s values. I know this will be told to you by every career guidance service, but do not simply use a standardised application and change the name of the firm, it is easily spotted.

4. Personal development

Continuously develop your skill base. Attend seminars, join your local Law Society. If you can’t secure a training contract or pupillage this year, apply for paralegal roles in firms where you know there is room for progression (some firms only offer TCs to their paralegals!). Aim for a distinction on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or outstanding on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to give you a little advantage. Try to get an article published or start a legal blog. To use an age-old expression ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’.

5. Career service

Book regular appointments with your careers service. Get your CV and applications checked by the careers service. If the application progresses, book in for mock interviews. Continuously utilise this service which is provided for by most universities. One grammatical error can see the application you spent months perfecting gone to waste. The careers service could have spotted it.

6. Enthusiasm

The reason I finally got a training contract is because I decided to only apply to five firms and those five were carefully selected and I researched the hell out of them, I took months on my applications. This got me in the door at my firm. Once in the door, the key ingredient is enthusiasm. If you manage to get a vacation scheme, work experience or mini-pupillage, show up early, take an interest and put your all into it. Opportunities are rare in such a competitive market, take them with both hands. Remember, legal knowledge is presumed, it is personality that makes you stand out.

7. Paralegal roles/work experience

Any experience you have on your CV will be essential in communicating in an interview that you have the ability and necessary skills to be a trainee solicitor or pupil. Experience can include anything. For example, working in McDonalds demonstrates that you can speak to customers, work under pressure and work within a team. These are all skills used as a pupil or trainee solicitor.

8. Networking

Whilst the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is no longer an absolute truth in the legal profession, building a professional network is still an absolute must. Lawyers must bring in clients. Clients are found through networking. Therefore, firms and chambers both look for individuals who can network successfully, as their business depends upon it. If you haven’t already, create a LinkedIn account. Attend legal events and for every person you meet, ask to add them on LinkedIn. Once you have added them, try to maintain that connection without harassing them.

9. Volunteering

Volunteer work is valued greatly by chambers and firms. The reason it is valued is that volunteer work demonstrates your personality. It shows that you are willing to throw yourself into activities and help others. Additionally, most chambers and firms are well established within local charities. It may be worthwhile researching which charities the firms and chambers work for and offer pro bono support to. This will show initiative and allows networking whilst raising money for a good cause!

10. Unique selling point

The most important tip is to develop your unique selling point (USP). What separates you from the thousands of other law graduates? What have you done that sets you apart? How will you add value to the firm or chambers? How do you stand out?

The legal market is extremely competitive and to stand out you must develop your USP. For example, if you have put on an application that you have ‘excellent communication skills’, this forms part of your USP. However, you need to demonstrate this, such as participating in mooting or joining a debating society. Every single person has a USP, the trick is being able to demonstrate it.

Good luck and I hope that you prove the statistics wrong, you all have what it takes!

Joseph Williams studied law at Edge Hill University and is a future trainee solicitor at a law firm in Leeds. Sophie Hill, who contributed to this article, is currently studying the Bar Professional Training Course at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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I wouldn’t limit yourself to 5 firms – 12 is a better balance between quality and quantity.



Yeah, can attest to this. I did 5/5/3 from international, big national and then regions.

Ended up being lucky enough to get an offer from my first choice, but I’d rather be thrown to the lions than have to go through the TC application and assessment process again. Do it right and you’ll hopefully only have to do it once.

Five just isn’t enough.



Are you saying that someone who went to somewhere called “Edge Hill” university gives poor advice?



Don’t be daft, he’s a future trainee solicitor at “a law firm in Leeds”; must know what he’s on about!



This is the worst advice I’ve ever seen.

You went international, AND national, AND regional? Do you go shoe shopping and just say you want something in brown? No, because not everything’s truly appropriate to you.

You clearly have no idea what you want out of your career.

Everyone else – between 5 and 7 applications during a degree is achievable. Less and you’re limiting yourself, more and you’re submitting sub-par applications or sacrificing too much elsewhere. Good applications take around 12 hours.


Queen Mary Second Year

Greenberg Glusker is the only firm for me. One application is all I need.



This isn’t funny, or good banter, FYI.



Top top firm.



What about Shook Hardy & Bacon? Are they a top firm?



Getting wildly boring, I agree.


Me Too

In English law, volunteers do not have the option of going before a tribunal or court if they have been sexually harassed in an office. It would be pretty awful if a volunteer preparing a harassment tribunal case were harassed themselves.

A volunteer can be kicked out for making a harrassment complaint and have no option of ‘access to justice’.



Are you saying that people shouldn’t volunteer for this reason?


Me Too

I personally wouldn’t want to volunteer somewhere if my only option were mediation if another volunteer harassed me. I think mediation would also be a massive, sad waste of a charity’s tight finances.

Life’s too short for toxic environments. Harassment is simply not worth putting up with because you ‘need’ the work to better your career. How many times do people want to deny the reality of harassment in both the private/third sector and silence those who have lived through it?


Me Too

There really are some awful, sexist people working in law aren’t there?


#Me Also

The person who recommended FRU needs to realise if your face doesn’t fit and the seniors don’t like the look of You, you are shown the door.

It’s a sad reality, and continues to be so, all because the repercussions of reporting these people are even worse for your career.

I spent weeks at the office and they only bother with people they ‘ like and fit in ‘ . It’s a shame as people who need representation lose out. The seniors have their own agendas.


Me Too

Thank you so much for speaking out. Many won’t because they are students with astronomical levels of debt to pay for their legal courses.

I am so sorry you experienced poor treatment. You deserved better and you are certainly not alone in what you saw. I firmly hold the opinion too that innocent people are going without the chance for representation because good volunteers are being shown the door.

We’re on social media. Drop a line – I care and would love to hear more about your experiences.


Me Also

Where may we contact you on social media, as I’m sure there’s lots of people who would like to report or mention what happened ?

Me Too

Flying birds, following each other going behind the gown. My harasser once grabbed my wrist and screamed at me inches from my ear, so please forgive the caution. I am of the opinion that he could one day do much worse to me.

I lost my career after speaking up. But the business/extensive travel/wonderfulness that came after is not anything I would ever swap for pupillage. You are not in the wrong. You have done nothing to deserve this and you are never, ever alone. Go to your Inn of Court. Message me. I’ve seen things. I believe you and will ALWAYS be willing to listen.

Me Too

E-mail in strictest confidence. You do not need to tell me your name or send anything. I have no connection with the organisation.

I would love to hear about what happened. Once again, I am truly sorry for what you went through.


You are an amazing and very brave person – will get in touch. Thank you.

Me Too

Comments are being deleted. Looks like a cover up and once again victims are silenced and hounded.

So sorry you are experiencing poor treatment. You do not deserve that. Your concerns should be listened to and you should be treated with respect, since you have no option to have this looked at independently at a tribunal.

Email in strict confidence. Happy to listen and support. We have no connection to either them or the law. Pass it on to others. Thank you again for speaking out.


JD Partner

Why do you think we don’t pay our vacs schemers…?



Volunteers there also have no option to attend an independent court or tribunal if they experience racial, anti-Semitic or sex-based abuse from another volunteer. In the legal world, I’ve personally found racism and the current vitriol against refugees to be all too prevalent when people let their guard down.

When you think about it, it’s quite shocking how vulnerable volunteers really are.



7. Don’t paralegal. It’s depressing, uninteresting, and generic. You won’t stand out from the crowd of hundreds of other paralegal applicants. There are plenty of other jobs that are more interesting and still have relevant transferrable skills.

10. “USP” is good, but what it really means is ‘show your personality on your form’. As in, your actual personality not whatever you think that firm/chambers will deem to be the ideal personality. People are memorable; endless lists of identical achievements and activities are not.



You can make phat dolla if you get in with a top firm though



“Visit the city’s you’re considering”




Jesus wept.



Great editing job there Alex.



This goes straight to the response I give every time I am asked for advice – proofread!



Love the silent amendment to cover up this horrific typo.



10 tips is a good number to really get ahead at a firm. Try and get a mix of partners, associates and trainees.

Don’t forget to swallow.


City Trainee

Work hard in university, from your first year to your last – i.e. secure a strong 2.1/1st. Get to know Grad Recruitment at law fairs. It is really as uncomplicated as that!

TIP: Pick ‘commercial modules’ in university rather than ‘Criminal Evidence or Ethics’) they might be easier to secure higher marks in but Grad Recruitment will see right through that! Remember, you’re up against thousands of other law students and thousands of other non-law students.



The only tip you need:




*Notes the ad for LawCare’s hotline at the top of the webpage*



How can I join a top firm like Dechart?



you are fake news



Walk into their reception and ask for a job.



ok, ill try that tomorrow. any other tips?



That depends – is your dad on the board?



No, he’s on your mum.


Only applying to 5 Chambers?

Good luck with the 5 rejections.



“Joseph is a future trainee solicitor at a law firm in Leeds. Sophie is currently studying the BPTC.”

I know it’s a league above getting pupillage tips from Alex and Tommy and training contract tips from Katie, but it’s still two or three tiers below the people to whom you should be listening…



“just under 6,000 gain training contracts and even LESS secure pupillage” should read “even FEWER secure pupillage”



Edge Hill University? I thought Edge Hill was a civil war battle field. Why did they build a uni on it?


LC Sponsor

It’s a Top University actually.



Top top top, just like Greenberg Glusker.



It’s a bit like Lancaster uni I think. Officially good but in reality not much cop.



What the f is a Greenberg Glusker



Top titan firm, mega dolla


A considerable amount of luck is involved so my best advice is to know when to give up (or at the very least put on hold) the ‘dream’.

Please don’t work as a legal assistant on £18k for 8 years before living off bread and water while you self-fund the GDL and LPC. Apply for other jobs / non-law graduate schemes and try to make the most of your twenties.

For all that’s said about gaining legal work experience, lots of firms are just as appreciative of candidates who have worked in sectors in which they have (or desire) key clients. With such work you might find it easier to think of interesting examples for applications and interviews, or even find your work and colleagues sufficiently stimulating to reconsider law. Law is one of many, office-based ways to make money to buy things before you die.



I’ve pooped all over my coop, can somebody bring me toilet paper?



Fladgate FTWWWWW



Shame about this article – these students were given the opportunity to reach a wide audience yet most of these points go under “basic” advice, many of which are also not that relevant for those seeking pupillage. Sigh.



Speaking from experience from the pupillage side, 5 sets is certainly not enough – you will be limiting your chances far too much.



Yes, this is terrible advice. I would say do 10 really solid applications. It is better to do 10 well prepared applications than 20 rushed ones. But 5 is ridiculous – it is partly a numbers game.



Solicitors are just glorified admin assistants



How on earth are the authors qualified to be giving advice? One is a student with a training contract at some non-firm in Leeds and the other is currently applying for pupillage.





Future City Trainee

Easiest route to ‘bag’ at training contract.

1) Attend a RG University

2) Preferably study law, if not avoid dross subjects like Politics or Photography or Economics or Drama

3) Get a first – at the very, very, least 65%.

4) Have work experience outside law. E.g. Call center, admin assistant (preferably something office based)

5) Have some work experience in law. E.g. Traditional vac scheme, if not ad hoc internship to show commitment.

6) Apply for a minimum of 15 firms. Not all MC, SC, US – some regional and west end.

TIP: When making you application tailored to the firm, do not just go onto Legal 500 / Chambers and point out a project that looked interesting. Point out what the project (not the legal advice component) did for the economy and society – and why you want to contribute in this area. E.g. firm advised on an infrastructure development, do not recite the intricacies of construction law – say why the particular development worked on was important and interesting. E.g. ‘this project provided law carbon electricity to x number of homes, climate change if rarely far from the news, the opportunity to contribute in this sector is exciting.’

7) Prepare heavily for interviews, watson glasers etc. It is a real opportunity – buy the programs, take days off work to research.

8) Upon arrival at interview / assessment center be authentic. When everyone is leaning forward at a table, lean back. Stay engaged. Agree with other candidates in group exercises if they are correct, equally tell them they are wrong when they are not. BE POLITE TO EVERYONE.

Bonus: do some weird shit. Caving, coaching, the tough mudder, poetry. Anything that separates you on some level from the crowd and makes the eyebrows of a recruitment officer raise. Do not do weird shit that is harmful to your application – common sense here.


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