10 steps to getting into a top law firm

What can you do to build a successful application while you're at university?

1. Find out about the profession

Start off by learning as much about the legal profession - in the City and outside it - as you can. You'll find plenty of resources in the law section of The Gateway every two weeks. Also check out industry weeklies The Lawyer, Legal Week and, for a taste of the big time, kick back with partners' favourite Legal Business. The legal sections of The Times and The Guardian also come highly recommended. If you want a bit more breadth, or some more light-hearted looks at the legal world. It's also worth getting some work experience - don't worry about City firms just yet, but see if you can spend a week with a high street solicitor or at your local magistrates court.

2. Commercial awareness

Think that City law might be for you? Right, time to read up on business and finance. Start with The Gateway every two weeks, of course, but try dipping into the business section of a national newspaper, the Financial Times or the Economist. For Londoners, City A.M. is worth flicking through on the Tube. Look out for business programmes on TV and on the radio - you'll learn a few things from The Apprentice and Dragon's Den, but why not also try Business Nightmares or finance and economics-related editions of Panorama? Meanwhile on the radio, there's In Business, The Bottom Line and Today's daily business news and famous Friday "Boss" slot. You'll be building up your body of knowledge for application forms and interviews in the future - commercial awareness cannot be achieved in a weekend - and also working out whether this is a world in which you want to make a career.

3. Use your degree

You'll be studying hard at university, that's for sure. But see if you can make that work double up as career preparation too. If you're doing a law degree, think about what subjects you enjoy most, and why, and tailor your studies towards possible future career paths. If you're not, try to link what you're studying with law. Those on business or social science courses may find some options that will allow them to dip into law, while scientists and arts students should also start thinking about links between law and their subject - history might give you a perspective on how legal systems are shaped, while scientists might find out about how research and inventions are protected through intellectual property law. Good interview fodder!

4. Join clubs and societies

Extra-curricular activities are not just great stressbusters and lots of fun, but will also be essential for getting into a City firm. Exactly what you do doesn't matter - whether it's scuba diving abroad or running a homeless shelter, go with your enthusiasms! But make sure you get properly involved, work with others, set some targets and do your best to achieve them. And there's one society that you need to join. Your Law Society. They'll keep you updated with recruitment news, provide you with advice and keep you informed about the legal world. And, especially if you're not studying law, they'll be a big help in making your first contacts in the profession.

5. Get a job

Before you start thinking about a role in the City, how about one stacking shelves, making drinks or cleaning toilets? It may be hard work and not always glamourous, but then so is working at a law firm. Our contacts in the business have told us they like to meet applicants who have shown they can get stuck in, get a job done and who have some commercial experience in the real world.

6. Mooting and pro bono

You what? A moot is a kind of mock trial - where you'll be given a legal question to research in advance and then will argue against others before a "judge". Sounds tough, but taking part will improve your legal knowledge and research skills and give you bags of confidence. Pro bono translates as "for the public good" and means getting involved in giving legal advice for free to those who would not otherwise be able to afford it - which could mean helping out at a law clinic or working with a human rights charity. It's a great first taste of the legal profession - and you're doing some good too. What's not to like? For both activities, your Law Society is a great place to find out what's available along these lines at your university.

7. Go to law fairs

Your university will hold one, and attending is a great way to find out more about the firms you're interested in, and to ask that question that you've never found the answer to on a website. Our top tip: think of meeting people from the firms you're interested in as mini-interviews, and do some preparation in advance to make the most of the experience.

8. Vacation schemes

This is the big one. It's pretty much essential for you to do a vacation scheme at a City law firm if you're hoping to get a training contract at one. Law firms want you to do them to show you're committed to the career path and so they can get a good look at how you work before they consider offering you a training contract. You want to do one to see what a City law firm does at first hand, make some contacts and work out if City lawyering really is the career for you. There are a multiplicity of vacation schemes, open days and workshops out there to suit everyone from keen first years, to late starters, to non-lawyers who want to get up to speed. To find out what our seven featured firms have on offer for your year group.

As you do any kind of scheme, make sure you keep a record of the tasks you're given to do - you'll find this useful for filling in application forms. Also try to make a good impression and stay in touch with the people that you meet, who'll be great sources of advice and may well be able to put in a good word for you as a training contract candidate. For more advice on how to complete a vacation scheme successfully, check out Issue 39.

9. Connect

So you've taken all our advice, are just about ready to start sending in those training contract applications, and are wondering what else we have to say. All we'd add is continue to build those connections. Keep chatting to anyone you got on well with on your vacation scheme. Tell those nice people you met at the law fair that your application is coming in soon. If you have any questions about a firm, phone up graduate recruitment for a chat - they'll be happy that you're keen to know more! And if you're doing a law degree, don't forget your tutors - they may well have some contacts at law firms for you, or will at least offer some sage advice and a reference.

10. Be yourself!

Finally, don't forget to keep doing the things you enjoy! Go travelling, read novels, collect stamps, or whatever else does it for you. City law firms want people with personality and pizazz because there're better at winning and keeping clients, and more engaging to have around than corporate clones. And you'll learn something useful for your legal career from just about every experience you have.

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