Advice

10 tips for getting a training contract or pupillage

By on
68

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.

Comments on this article are now closed.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub

68 Comments

Anonymous

I LOVE how they said ‘experienced legal officers’. Never forget, none of them have ever passed a TC or pupillage.

(4)(9)

Anonymous

‘Over 26,000 people apply to study law degrees, just under 6,000 gain training contracts and even ‘less’ secure pupillage … reassurance that they will all become lawyers if they keep putting the effort in’.

Only if they have zero grasp of the most basic arithmetic.

(2)(1)

LAW STUDENT

Failing to see why Legal Cheek even published this, or allowed the authors to cover this topic. One went to a second rate University, and secured a TC at backstreet firm in Leeds, whilst the other doesn’t even have pupillage and attends a second rate BPTC provider.

In future it would be useful to hear from people who actually have prospects of succeeding in law, and/or have obtained TC/pupillage at decent firms/sets. Thanks.

(8)(4)

I’ve worked for FRU

I’ve worked for FRU, and I’ve found it to be a fantastic organisation which achieves remarkable things for desperate people, despite having minimal resources.

If anyone reading this has any doubt about FRU’s worth, I’d suggest: (a) read widely, and note the vast array of senior lawyers who started their careers by volunteering for FRU, and who continue to support its work to this day; and (b) pop into the office and look at the array of thank you cards from grateful clients who FRU has been able to assist.

From what I can infer from the two people who have been posting anti-FRU comments, it seems that they didn’t get on with other FRU volunteers. That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t justify smearing the organisation itself. Also, they appear to have failed to make it as lawyers. It’s perhaps inevitable (and human nature) that a small minority of people who fail in their careers will seek to blame their failure on others, but posting non-specific, anonymous innuendo on a website suggests that they probably weren’t cut out to be lawyers anyway.

(30)(61)

Me Too

The charity has sadly spend money on mediation when volunteers were sexually harassed. That is a fact. We are happy to share evidence of the mediation sessions.

We exist to support vulnerable volunteers going through the same. Childish comments like this show the complete lack of empathy and respect in which victims have been treated.

You are denying reality to say that harassment could not possibly happen there, simply because the charity prepares harassment tribunal cases.

Your positivite experiences of volunteering should never be used silence and victimise those who who have actually been bullied and sexually harassed.

Most volunteers there will not gain pupillage, simply as there aren’t enough nationally to go around for the 600+ that sign up. Those that undertake the BPTC away from London are also not disadvantaged if they can’t afford to travel to London to prepare 20 cases.

If FRU were a sure-fire way to get pupillage, every staff member there would be a practising barrister. That is plainly not the case.

Glad you had fun. But we’re here for those who have nowhere else to go when things go wrong and who deserve to be listened to with respect. Email metooatfru@gmail.com .

Thank you so much to those who have shared their experiences already, even those that happened a long time ago. We feel so proud to do what no one else can be bothered.

(31)(0)

Me too

Looks like the fru bullies are out in full force by tapping likes on comments in favour of themselves. Just because someone tells the truth it’s pitiful they’re immediately attacked and assumptions are made that they ‘ didn’t get along with fru workers or were not cut out to be lawyers…and this is smear campaign ‘.

In time the truth will come out. The seniors only keep the people they ‘like’… and because it all happens under the veil of a charity, it’s hidden. It’s shameful… don’t shame the victims .. address the issue.

(10)(0)

Me Too

YES – over and over, there are some pretty vile and horrible people within that office.

No matter how much we speak up, we are proved right because these people always show themselves to be the nasty individuals they really are deep down.

100% lack of empathy for the victims. Frightening stuff.

(21)(0)

Me too

Thank you for your comment, victims need support to come forward. Hopefully the truth will come out.

Me Too

With genuine empathy, strength of character, kindness and a sincere concern for the welfare of others, we are the better people.

And I can assure you that they aren’t at all happy about that…

Comments are closed.

Related Stories