Law firm intentions?

Paul Harris from All About Law, tells you how to make an outstanding training contract application

Paul Harris of legal careers website All About Law tells you how to make an outstanding training contract application.

We all know the stereotypes: the power suit, the big salary, the huge deals and the responsibilities that come with it. For be under no illusions, it will be immensely hard work, but being a City lawyer will place you at the epicentre of UK business and many of the world's largest transactions. The UK economy is driven by its professional services, and law is one of its brightest lights.

Taking the shine off

Each year, law firms attract many extremely high-calibre graduate applicants. However, a large proportion of these are unsuccessful in spite of their glittering grades. As with any other profession that people aspire to work in, a huge number of people are after the same job. Every year, literally tens of thousands of students apply for just over 5000 training contracts and the top 60 law firms usually attract between 20 and 30 applications per place. However, I'm not here to scaremonger - the media has already managed to do a good enough job of that. One thing they always fail to mention though is how difficult graduate recruiters find it to attract first-class talent.

Applicants with top grades and nice sounding universities on their CVs are standard now; law firms can find plenty of these. For example, if a firm were to reduce the total number of received applications to only people from a top 20 university with a 2:1 and 360 UCAS points, they would still be swimming in CVs. But even though glowing academic records alone are no longer an effective way to identify them, law firms are still desperate for those outstanding candidates who have the skills and attitude to make a significant contribution to their teams as junior and mid-level lawyers and perhaps even to become partners in the future. If you can convince a law firm that you are one of these candidates, you're sure of a warm welcome for your application form and at interview.

Keeping things simple

So what makes the best applicants to law firms stand out? A common pitfall is to over-apply. Many people approach lots of firms to "spread the risk". They hear advice about concentrating on a few to really focus on each application, but most dismiss this route as foolhardy. They are often convinced most recruiters won't give their answers due attention, but I can assure you that all law firm graduate recruiters read every single application! Remember also that you'll usually be asked at interview about which other firms you've applied to and why - if you've fired off lots of application forms to a wide range of firms, you'll find it hard to persuade a law firm that you really want to work for them.

And law firms expect more than just the information on your form. Most people know they need to keep up-to-date with the firms they have applied to and what work they are involved in currently. But not many people actually do it - I know I didn't! And it becomes impossible to do effectively once the number of firms to which you've applied goes into double figures. Let's view it this way. You're a law firm that has a particularly notable track record in banking and has had a selection of big transactions of late. Two candidates of equal intellectual ability are interviewed. One has an extremely limited knowledge of you as a firm (bar quick revision of the graduate recruitment site) and the other is able to discuss the deals the firm has recently been involved in, the future intentions of the business and how the structure of the firm itself functions to deliver its services. Pretty simple choice.

If you meet a law firm's entry requirements and are competent, often the only difference between a successful and unsuccessful candidate is as follows: one was bright enough to spend a decent amount of time on their application form and took 30 minutes each day to read up on the firm before interview - and the other didn't. Academic ability isn't necessarily the defining factor the application is.