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6 things we learned from our Insta Live with a law firm graduate recruitment expert

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By The Careers Team on

Shoosmiths’ early talent adviser Laura Hartigan offers up her advice ahead of the firm’s training contract deadline this month

Mastering training contract applications can be a tricky feat. That’s why Legal Cheek’s Erin Williams recently went live on Instagram with Shoosmiths’ early talent adviser, Laura Hartigan, to uncover the essential dos and don’ts.

Below, we’ve condensed the Live into six neat takeaways, with signposts on how to find out more on the @shoosmithsgrads Instagram account.

1. The Shoosmiths’ application process

“The application process differs depending on what you’re applying for,” Laura begins. With the firm’s brand-new DISCOVER Programme aimed at widening access to the legal industry, the application process looks a little different.

“There’s an initial application form to complete which includes competency-based questions, and upon submission, applicants will be directed to an online strengths-based assessment,” she says. Noting that the online assessment will take applicants around an hour, she reassures that applicants will not be timed, and will be given around five days to complete the assessment. “If you’re successful you’ll be invited to the DISCOVER Programme placement, and in opposition to the training contract application process, there will be no assessment centre for the DISCOVER Programme,” she explains.

“If you’re successful on the placement and you achieve recommendations from your supervisors,” she tells Legal Cheek, “you’ll then be invited to go to an in-person assessment centre and loop back into the direct training contract applicant cohort.”

Turning to the Shoosmiths training contract application process, Laura advises that it follows a similar structure. “The online application form is followed with the same strengths-based assessment as for the DISCOVER Programme. But, of course, the TC application is followed by an in-person assessment centre.”

The Shoosmiths training contract application deadline is 31st March — Apply Now

The Shoosmiths training contract application deadline to start in 2026 in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and London is 31st March.

Head to the @shoosmithsgrads Insta page for a goldmine of related content, including reels on a day-in-the-life of a trainee, a trainee solicitor Q&A and everything you need to know about applying for a training contract.

2. The ‘Key Skills’ that Shoosmiths looks for

Starting applications for TCs can be a daunting task for any hopeful, but understanding what the firm is looking for in a great candidate is a great way to focus any application questions. For Shoosmiths, a successful application is all about strengths.

“You will hear me say “strengths-based” a lot,” says Laura, chuckling. “This is our approach to the application form, the online test and the assessment centre,” she says. “There’s eight strengths that will be assessed at Shoosmiths, which are all strengths which can be developed in many work experiences, including those which are non-legal,” she advises.

Helpfully, she lists the eight key strengths that will be assessed:

  • “Being a critical thinker,
  • Being adaptable,
  • Having a growth mindset,
  • Taking responsibility,
  • Being detail-orientated,
  • Being an effective communicator,
  • Being a relationship builder and
  • Being trustworthy and credible.”

“When you’re submitting an application,” Laura advises, “it’s useful to have these strengths in the back of your mind.”

The Shoosmiths training contract application deadline is 31st March — Apply Now

Head to this handy Insta post on @shoosmithgrads about understanding and preparing for a strengths-based assessment centre: (please refresh page if posts do not load)

For more application tips, the @shoosmithsgrads highlight ‘Applying info’ provides all the insider info on applying to Shoosmiths, including interviews with Emerging Talent and details on the application process.

3. How to tackle the all-important question: ‘Why Shoosmiths?’

The age-old “why this firm?” question is one that almost always catches out some TC hopefuls. But, on the Shoosmiths Instagram Live, Legal Cheek gets the lowdown.

“My initial advice is to be as specific as possible,” says Laura. “If you can easily replace “Shoosmiths” with another firm’s name, and the answer would still be applicable, you need to get more specific.”

But how can candidates best tailor their applications? “My biggest piece of advice for applicants is to go back to the basics; go back to the values of the firm, and think about how can you show these values in your application,” she explains. “Develop your answers on these values, research the work we’re doing, the practice areas we’re operating in, and look into our cases and insights on our website — build off this research. I would advise applicants to stay away from grabbing some statistics on the website and throwing this into the answer,” she says. “Rather, get more specific about how you approach the question and be very honest and authentic about your motivations.”

Take to Insta to get exclusive tours of the office at @shoosmithsgrads.

4. The culture at Shoosmiths

Firm culture is a key aspect for TC hunters when it comes to deciding on target firms. Legal Cheek asks Laura for the inside scoop on the office culture at Shoosmiths.

“I think if I had to sum it up; it’s collaborative,” she states. “One of the biggest attractions of the firm is how collaborative the feel is here. All our teams across the firm’s offices work closely together, and even the physical spaces in the office are collaborative,” Laura reveals.

“Being relatively new at the firm myself, it strikes me how open everybody is to giving feedback and ideas; no idea is silly and every idea is listened to and appreciated.” She emphasises, “the people are fantastic at Shoosmiths, and that goes back to our key values as a firm.”

Get to know Shoosmiths from the inside using their Insta highlight ‘People’, featuring interviews with the head of recruitment and lawyers, as well as trainee Q&As.

5. How to demonstrate commercial awareness

‘Commercial awareness’ — that elusive commodity; everyone has heard of it, but nobody really knows what it is. When it comes to TC applications, how can candidates build commercial awareness, and how can they demonstrate it on their applications? Laura gives us her tips.

“It can be very daunting because commercial awareness is thrown at you and you’re expected to know what it means,” she levels. “Some students can get quite nervous about commercial awareness, but it’s not something you can learn in a day. Rather,” she advises, “it’s a practice you need to build into your daily routine. Firstly,” she says, “find what genuinely interests you and develop knowledge in that specific area. You can then begin applying this insight to the firm you’re applying to.”

She gives an example of a hypothetical applicant who is naturally interested in AI, advising the candidate to “have a look at the Shoosmiths website, see how we are adapting to AI, and research into how we are introducing this tech into the way we operates.” She says, “this way, it doesn’t feel as much of a chore to develop commercial awareness, because it can be seeded through your natural interests.”

The Shoosmiths training contract application deadline is 31st March — Apply Now

When it comes to the application, Laura advises that, “if there’s a particular practice area that you’re interested in and you’ve spent time researching it, then tell us about it! Tell us why you’re interested in what we’re doing in that area.”

Get some more hot tips on how to increase your commercial awareness on the @shoosmithsgrads TikTok.

@shoosmithsgrads Six ways to use the summer to increase your commercial awareness 🤓 #commercialawareness #businessandlaw #summerrevision #shoosmiths #shoosmithsgrads #shoosmithsllp #lawfirm #trainingcontract #lawstudent #lawgraduate #traineesolicitor #solicitor #lawyer #howtobealawyer #howtobeasolicitor #ratemyplacement #lawfirmresearch #lawfirmapplications #uklawfirm #lawfirmsocial #lawfirmjobs #studentlawyer #lawstudentlife #studentsummer ♬ original sound – Shoosmiths

6. Advice for trainee hopefuls

In terms of general advice to those seeking training contracts, Laura closes the Insta Live with some classic advice: “Be yourself and be authentic.”

She says, “the toughest element of approaching an application is trying to second-guess what the firm wants from you. Instead,” she explains, “at Shoosmiths, we want to get to know you: your strengths, your interests, what motivates you, and your passion for the legal industry. We can only get that from your application if you’re being genuine.”

More practically, she advises applicants that no experience is unimportant just because it’s not in the legal industry, and that candidates should always make the most of the wordcount available. She says, “it’s there for a reason, so use it to your advantage.”

Watch the full Instagram Live below:


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