How I secured my UK training contract as an international student

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By Divyansh Sharma on

Legal Cheek events coordinator and future City trainee Divyansh Sharma offers up his top five tips

The journey to securing a training contract in the UK is far from easy. It is arguably even more difficult for international students who have the added pressure of competing with students with UK degrees and English as their first language. There is, of course, also the additional challenge of finding a law firm that is willing to sponsor the necessary working visa.

My application journey for training contracts started last year during my final year of law school in India. Starting out, I remember worrying that I was applying for a role in a completely unfamiliar market on the other side of the world. But with the right guidance and consistent effort, I was fortunate enough to secure a training contract at the London office of a leading global law firm earlier this year.

In a bid to help other international students with aspirations of securing a training contract in the UK, below I offer my top five tips for success.

Make the most of virtual opportunities

You will no doubt be aware that graduate recruitment teams at big law firms receive hundreds of applications for very limited training contract spaces. If you are applying from overseas, you have an added burden to demonstrate a strong interest in the UK legal market and the firm you’re applying to. Attending virtual open days and Legal Cheek events helped me establish this commitment in my applications.

When at these events, I’d advise students to be engaged and proactive! It’s always a good idea to prepare some questions about the international opportunities available at the firm if that is of interest to you. Firms appreciate when you take the time to talk to them and find out more about their culture.

Another thing to keep in mind during virtual events is taking detailed notes. I would then reflect on these when making an application to that firm. In these applications, feel free to talk about anything that resonated with you during these events and even name-drop individual members of the firm you spoke with on the day.

Use LinkedIn to your advantage

If you’re applying from overseas, it is quite likely that you won’t many UK contacts to turn to for advice. I was in a similar position. Fortunately, increased focus on virtual working means there is plenty of advice available on platforms like LinkedIn. This might sound over-the-top but I quite like to think LinkedIn helped me secure my training contract. I say this for several reasons.

Once I decided which firms to apply to, I would go to LinkedIn and connect with lawyers or future trainees at those firms. I would ask them about their experience with the firm and things such as internationality, culture, USPs, etc. It was only through these conversations that I was able to genuinely gauge which firms fit best with my interests. I’d also follow the firms’ LinkedIn pages that have the latest on their deals which in turn helped boost my commercial awareness.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Fun fact: I also found my mentor on LinkedIn, who was an international student in the UK and was my soundboard for all things applications!

Find the right firm for you

Finding an accommodating firm is crucial as an international student, especially if you require support in your transition to the UK. There are logistical issues that you might want to consider too, for example, the mode of interviewing. While most assessment centres have been virtual over the past year or so due to Covid, many firms are now shifting to a hybrid approach on a permanent basis. Should you be overseas, it might be helpful to enquire beforehand whether a firm would be able to run the process virtually for you or help you fly to the UK if required. It’s also worth asking about what expenses they’re willing to cover when doing so!

Personally, I always made sure to apply to firms that I knew to be international, both in terms of their work and where their lawyers came from. A resource that helped me understand the internationality of firms was The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2023, where I would filter firms by criteria such as ‘Most countries’. This would then feed into my decision of what firms to send applications to.

Decide whether to apply for a vacation scheme or a training contract

It is important to consider whether you want to apply for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract. For starters, it is worth noting that a large number of big firms recruit trainees predominantly from their vacation schemes. But there are exceptions of course.

As a starting point, I’d suggest having a good sweep of the graduate recruitment website and any FAQ pages to understand where a firm recruits from. A potential stumbling block to consider with respect to applying for vacation schemes from abroad is work visa sponsorship. It is worth shooting an email to the firms’ graduate recruitment teams about whether the same would be made available to you, should a place be offered. In case you’ve prior legal work experience, in the UK or abroad, a direct training contract application might be the best option.

Embrace your background

I often come across candidates who think their international background holds them back. Having been in a similar boat, I can now speak with conviction that this is not the case! I have realised quite the opposite: being true to my experiences and background made me a stronger candidate.

Let’s break it down. Writing good applications goes way beyond firm research. Firms like to know who YOU are and where YOUR interests lie. When writing applications, I’d never shy away from talking about the skills I bring to the table as an international candidate. Think languages, global mindset, and the like. The global nature of work at big law firms means that these experiences would most likely be viewed as an asset!

Divyansh Sharma is a virtual events coordinator at Legal Cheek and future trainee solicitor.

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