Advice

‘How many training contracts should I apply for?’

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In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring solicitor wants to know how many training contracts they should apply for.

“Hello Legal Cheek. I am in the process of applying for training contracts at commercial law firms in London and I want to know what approach other people are taking, specifically how many they’re applying for. I hear people stressing the importance of quality over quantity but I wondered if there is any harm in applying for as many as possible!”

Join us this Thursday (19 January) for a virtual training contract application masterclass with lawyers and graduate recruitment specialists from Hogan Lovells, Shoosmiths, Charles Russell Speechlys and The University of Law. Apply to attend.

36 Comments

Havers

I did around 10 which I spent a good chunk of time on and then fired off a few extras just before the deadline

Bimbala Bombolo M’bimbo Bim Bam

Who did you apply to?

.

Silly question

David

It’s an odds game — as many as possible provided you don’t sacrifice on quality

Ice Spice

This is the correct answer. All that ‘just do 3-5’ is nonsense. It is a numbers game. if 3-5 is all you can do without sacrificing quality then fair enough. If you can do more then definitely go for that.

Kirkland NQ

Steps I followed and recommend:

1. Visit local Lambo dealer, acquire latest brochure.

2. Peruse said brochure and pick out Lambo, and desired options.

3. Complete application for the ‘land, casually dropping in reference to said Lambo.

4. Await TC offer.

5. Accept TC offer.

6. Purchase Lambo.

Greta of Thunberg

Small d*ck energy

Kirkland NQ

Ask your mum 😉

Greta Manchester

My mum confirms that is was very small and that what there was was put to very poor use.

FRESHER KLAXON

Small d*ck fresher energy even.

MC Associate

As many as possible… I applied to probably 20 vac schemes/TCs and got 4 vac scheme offers and 3 TC offers at the end of this (and this was years ago so its probably become even more competitive since then).

The odds of you landing any given TC are low even if you are a good candidate as there are just so many applicants per spot, and inevitably you might have a bad day on an assessment test on some of your applications, or some random HR person might arbitrarily decide they don’t like you answer to one of the application questions even if it is perfectly good or something like that. So you need to spread your bets.

If you save your answers to application questions/statements and get practice in on the assessment tests there are also economies of scale to doing lots of applications. Obviously you should tailor each application a bit, but your answer to “why do you want to work here?” will be virtually the same for Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Freshfields and A&O, something along the lines of “I want to work with the best clients. I want exposure to a wide range of practice areas in a firm that is at the top of the market for all of them. I’m driven and want to be around the best. I want to work in a firm with an international focus and opportunities for secondment abroad. I want structured training etc. etc.”, and then maybe for Freshfields you emphasise their reputation for litigation a bit more and for Linklaters you focus on M&A a bit more or you call out some notable deals/cases they’ve been involved in as something that particularly interested you. Similarly, you could probably apply to about 10-15 US firms answering the same question with something along the lines of “I am very hard working and driven. I love learning on the job and being thrown in at the deep end, being given responsibility early on. I am very interested in funds/PE/M&A work so want to train at somewhere in the top of the market on those. I like working in smaller, leaner teams/offices. I hate sleeping and my family and friends so would rather never seen them (jk) etc. etc.”. And then for the assessment tests obviously the more practice you get doing them the better you will get.

Virtuous US associate

I wouldn’t go to a MC firm TBH. MC firms are overrated and why would you want to be paid 50% less on qualification?

Kirkland NQ

Yeah, sure. Let every one of the 10,000 odd applicants every year apply to an American firm. 50% less on qualification assumes everyone stays. Have you seen the number of TCs on offer at US firms. Get over your head fresher – you probably have an exam to do.

Anon

Quality over quantity. Therefore, as many quality applications you can muster.

Rival TC applicant

Just do one bro, you’ll be golden.

Hm?

For what it is worth, I made 3 applications and received 2 offers.

I had a year of paralegal work experience (cladding-focused construction litigation post-Grenfell Tower) and applied internally (first offer) and to two other firms of similar standing (second offer and final round rejection – I refused to give a dishonest answer to “if we called you and offered you the training contract tomorrow would you accept it?” (TL:DR I said I was waiting on the outcome of other offers and they didn’t like that).

I spent tens of hours researching, drafting, redrafting etc. before I was happy to submit. Each application was bespoke, well thought through and gave me sufficient time to be able to really answer the dreaded “Why [insert firm name of choice]?” – sadly, “because you pay better than Y firm” isn’t going to get you anywhere (unless you’re the Kirkland NQ).

I also practiced the Watson Glaser like it was going out of fashion.

I know some people who made 10’s of applications in each cycle and came up short each time. The answer really, “how long is a piece of string?”… There is no magic number.

Just ask yourself – if I’m going to properly put together an application, do I have the time to apply to 10+?

Good luck .

Hm?

*other applications, not offers.

Anon

Good for you.

topkek

Why all the downvotes? This website is totally jammed up with weak-sauce, incel goons I swear.

Depends

Depends on what your CV is like. With an Oxbridge 1st, a targeted half dozen will do. If you have a 2.1 outside the Russell Group then you’ll need maybe 150-200 applications and a lot of prayers.

oxbridge 1st

we’re collecting rejections in oxford like they’re going out of style, no one i know (who actually stands a chance) is doing less than 8

interestingly none of us seem to be able to get in a select few firms without a three-page sob story of mitigating circumstances (hsf, a&o, cc) whereas other firms (s&m, ff, L&W, Skadden) seem to eat us up

Sherlock

I suspect you didn’t get an Oxbridge first, given your lack of capitalisation and your use of “less” when it should have been “fewer”.

Calum

One true king Stannis Baratheon commented above.

oxbridge 1st

sorry, grammar wasn’t on the FHS spec when i sat them

i didn’t realise it was a prerequisite now

Sherlock

Yes, dear. We believe you.

Nit enthusiast

Somewhere between 0 and 100.

Hope this helps!

Ta

US 3PQE

Ultimately you will get rejected at the first sift for c.80% of the places you apply to, even if you are a great candidate (e.g. 1st from Oxbridge plus experience etc), so apply to as many as possible while maintaining a high quality of application.

As others have mentioned, there are economies of scale: if you are applying to one MC firm, you might as well apply to all five with a broadly similar application, tailored slightly for each one. Likewise with big US ones etc.

As much as commercial lawyers like to think they’re *the shit* and top-notch/brainy/insert good adjective and got where they did solely through their hard work etc etc, getting a TC offer involves a significant amount of luck given the number of qualified applicants vs places available, so again, play the numbers game and apply to lots without the applications being crap.

Tbh if you manage to get onto 1 or 2 vac schemes and you’re a good candidate then you’ll likely be fine because 50% of the people on the scheme will be idiots, 30% will struggle to communicate in a professional manner/behave like an actual lawyer which leaves (hopefully) you in the remaining top 20%!

The Hon. Sir Clifford, Baron of Chance

Just get daddy to ask one of his Eton pals to open the back door at Freshfields for you

Flashback

Exactly this. I was non-RG 2:1 with a decent amount of relevant work experience. I think I was just over 100 applications (that’s for both TCs and Vac Schemes) over a 2-3 year period. Plus a few mental breakdowns. One finally said yes and I’m a solicitor at one of popular City firms on this site. But it was a slog. I’d say at least 3/4 people I finished my LLB with were never successful in qualifying/securing a TC, and we’re getting on close to a decade ago.

One of my TC cohort was a LLB with a first from LSE and applied to 4 firms, and got offers from three.

7 years PQE

This is the sad reality that freshers just aren’t told – of the many many people I know who graduated with an LLB/GDL, the vast majority of them either ended up in paralegal purgatory or just switched careers after several years of chasing the proverbial carrot.

MC Trainee

On the more extreme side, I took applying to vacation schemes and training contracts and treated them like another module. So, I managed to make around 30-35 applications. I got three assessment centres and converted one. I always thought it was a numbers game and some get arbitrarily rejected, so I cast a wide net and hoped to secure one. Remember you only need one!

Which way to Harvard please?

“Converted one”. Love the football analogy and the approach to applications. Well done!

Anon

It’s also worth remembering that lots and lots of people do multiple vac schemes (I’ve heard of people shoehorning in 4 schemes in one year), but they’ll only ever need one job at the end of the day – so the TC odds work quite differently to the vac scheme ones.

Kirkland NQ

Yeah, sure. Let every one of the 10,000 odd applicants every year apply to an American firm. 50% less on qualification assumes everyone stays. Have you seen the number of TCs on offer at US firms. Get over your head fresher – you probably have an exam to do.

MC 7PQE

I put 7 applications in, was invited to interview at 4, got 2 vacation schemes and 1 TC offer.

As others have said, even really good candidates will often get sifted pre-assessment centre simply because of volume, and those that do get to interview are still competing for limited places against a lot of other good people.

There’s a real balance to draw between having a manageable number of firms to do your research into and invest the time preparing for but at the same time hedging your bets to improve your odds. Prospective applicants have much more choice now than in my day as well, so many US firms took either no or 1-2 trainees that now take considerably more.

US firm future trainee

US future trainee here! 2.1 from Oxbridge (doing a very irrelevant non law degree I must add), 2 other offers from two SC firms (didn’t apply to any MC). I had one application cycle in 3rd year and I did 15 applications, 5 assessment centres, 3 vac scheme offers.

I would say try to aim for 1-2 vac scheme offers each year, otherwise you might not get a TC from one of the firms (happens a lot at US firms bc they take lots of vac schemers and only give TCs to 4-5 in each scheme).

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