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How to stand out in training contract applications

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‘You don’t need the same qualities as the next aspiring solicitor’, says Hill Dickinson partner, training principal, and panellist at this afternoon’s virtual event, Richard Capper

Richard Capper

It may come as a surprise to readers that Richard Capper, now head of banking at Hill Dickinson in London, Liverpool and Manchester, and the firm’s training principal, achieved a 2.2 in his law degree from the University of Leicester.

Reflecting on this, Capper tells me when we speak that even with the minor recession in the early nineties, it was “relatively straightforward” to enter the legal profession when he did. It is not quite the same now, Capper explains, but as an expert in trainee development he encourages students looking to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts to be bright and enthusiastic, curious about topics that interest them, and eager to contribute as part of a team.

At the same time, he assures aspiring solicitors that there is “no such thing as a perfect person”. In fact, firms need people with diverse attributes who bring their own style and approach to the firm. Some lawyers are naturally deep thinkers, he says, with an innate ability to solve complex issues, whilst others “can sell anything to anyone”. Ultimately, if a student can articulate why they want to join a particular firm, in Capper’s view, “they will be winning”. Expanding on this, he says: “There are many pillars to partnership and you don’t need to exhibit them all.”

In prospective Hill Dickinson applicants, Capper says he looks for those with a true interest in the areas of law in which the firm specialises. One of these areas being the firm’s corporate practice which is where Capper works. To give readers an overview on what a typical day might look like in this department, Capper explains that he is often involved in “a healthy mix of Zoom calls, seeing clients to discuss ongoing work and going through legal issues with more junior members of the team”.

As his routine begins to return to its pre-pandemic norm, Capper says there is “not yet quite the same buzz” in the office as there used to be. It is getting there, but the investment in technology and infrastructure has made working in an agile fashion far easier and as restrictions relax more, the firm is seeing more people returning to their offices and that buzz starting to return.

The application deadline for Hill Dickinson's Summer Insight Scheme is 31 January 2022

Capper made the decision to move back to his Liverpudlian roots five years post-qualification after qualifying and working in London. He explains that being a lawyer in different UK cities is “in some respects no different” — the work in the North West of England is the same as the North East and West Midlands, which is in turn “pretty similar” to London. Further reflecting on this, Capper indicates that the hubbub of London is a bit like marmite –“you either like it or you don’t” — and in regional offices there is a greater emphasis on a work-life balance. With this in mind, it is important for students to think about what they value most in a potential employer ahead of getting applications in.

Expanding on this advice, Capper reminds students that it is crucial to “buy into the culture at a firm”, spending time to discover somewhere that matches your career ambitions and personality. If you have your heart set on qualifying into a particular area of law or taking a specific combination of seats, then look to find a firm that will help you make that happen. At Hill Dickinson, the firm’s relatively small trainee intake (recruiting roughly 20 trainees a year) means that the career development team spends time with each trainee, matching them with the best supervisor for them.

Being passionate about the law is also a must, Capper says. He reminds students that law firms too are businesses, meaning their purpose is to make money for the firm and their clients. It is therefore crucial for students to spend some time getting to grips with the services a law firm provides and what makes them tick.

Linked to this is spending time trying to understand the current opportunities and threats for a law firm’s clients. At the moment, Capper says that adapting to the impact of Covid is a key consideration for many companies. He gives examples of investors in office accommodation having to adjust to businesses using reduced space, and retailers re-evaluating their offerings with less footfall into the cities. Looking forward, he points out that “anything ethical” or environmentally-focussed is quite considerably “top of the agenda” for companies, which is not something he sees changing any time soon.

Richard Capper will be speaking alongside other Hill Dickinson lawyers at ‘What next for global law firms — with Hill Dickinson’, a virtual student event taking place today, on Tuesday 9 November. You can apply for one of the final few (and free) places to attend the event.

The application deadline for Hill Dickinson's 2024 Training Contract is 31 January 2022

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