What it takes to get a training contract and succeed at a City law firm

Hogan Lovells graduate recruitment partner Lawson Caisley on how to get a training contract, complete it successfully, and continue to progress

Hogan Lovells graduate recruitment partner Lawson Caisley on what it takes to get a training contract at a top City and global law firm like Hogan Lovells, to succeed as a trainee, and to progress further in the legal profession.

When you apply

You need to able to work at a certain academic standard.

We'll always look carefully at applicants' grades. In terms of legal knowledge, we don't expect in-depth knowledge of the law as it is used in practice, but if you've done a law degree, we look for a solid understanding of general legal principles.

We also need to see evidence that you can apply your intelligence in a logical and sensible way.

Our recruitment process at Hogan Lovells includes a critical thinking test to establish this.

Show you understand what the career path involves

We like people we meet at interview to have done thorough research and to be able to explain exactly what aspects of being a lawyer appeal to them, and why a big City firm appeals to them in particular.

We want trainees to be commercially aware.

But we don't expect candidates to spend weeks on library research and to provide detailed analysis of deals.

What we do expect is for a potential trainee to be able to talk with clarity and in a sensible way about a few topical business issues. To prepare, students should read a quality newspaper regularly, and perhaps watch the odd current affairs programme.

We also look for good communication skills

The ability to get along with people is a key part of being a lawyer because you need to be able to inspire confidence in clients.

Finally, we want candidates who are good at dealing with a wide range of people and situations, which they could demonstrate through involvement with clubs and societies, or by working in a supermarket or bar. We want you to show us that you are a well-rounded person who is interested in life, rather than a very clever person who shuts themselves up in libraries.

Once you're a trainee

The best thing you can do is to work with as many people as possible.

You'll learn something different from all of them - you should analyse the working styles you encounter and cherry-pick the best ones.

The senior lawyers you work with should give you the level of responsibility and the type of tasks you feel comfortable with, but the work they give you should also allow you to progress - which may well mean that you find it difficult. Your firm should make sure that you always share an office with a senior person from whom you can learn, and who will support you if needed.

Build up and consolidate your knowledge of the practice area in which you want to specialise.

Your firm will help you - at Hogan Lovells we run very detailed and specific training courses. You should also make sure that you do a wide range of work as a trainee and for the first few years after you qualify - and the people who allocate work in your department should help you to do so. You need to get a good grounding in all the issues you might face in a particular practice area. Once you've been qualified for three or four years, you should start thinking about where to focus.

If you're offered the opportunity to go on a client or international secondment, you should always take it.

You need to recognise that City law firms are now international businesses. If you only want to sit in your firm's London office, you'll be limiting yourself. There are so many opportunities in this job, and City law firms are looking for people who are excited by them.

It's important to take a real interest in your clients.

You need to spend time reading around the issues facing not just a particular client, but also their whole industry.

Clients don't want us to sit there and tell them what the law is. They want us to be their trusted business advisors who can give them commercial options which take account of not only the law, but also of what they want to achieve.

Junior lawyers need to be thinking in this way at an early stage of their career, and putting themselves in a position to deliver that kind of advice.

Be aware of how your firm decides whether or not to retain trainees on qualification.

At Hogan Lovells, there are two criteria.

The first is how well you've done during your training contract, and the second, which is equally important, is the needs of the business.

We sometimes get trainees who have fallen in love with a particular practice area, but if that area doesn't have an opening for a newly qualified lawyer, we can't offer them a job there.

But we'll always try to elsewhere at the firm, provided they've performed well while training.

Once you qualify

If you're a good junior associate you'll be given opportunities to take on responsibility.

But, however able you are, it sometimes may not be appropriate for you to be the main lawyer working on a matter if you don't have enough relevant experience - and remember that in the legal profession experience is part of ability. What we'd normally do in that situation is to ask a slightly more senior lawyer with expertise in the area to oversee your work.

Number of years' experience is where we start when determining salaries, but we do also look at ability.

There's a lot of flexibility built into our system to make sure that high performance is recognised. All our lawyers are also eligible to earn a bonus awarded on the basis of the number of hours worked over a certain threshold, and overall achievement.

Becoming a partner

If you want to be a partner, being a legal expert is not enough.

You need to be able to apply your knowledge in a very commercial way and we'll look for evidence that you have the ability to establish and maintain client relationships. It's also important that you can bring out the best in more junior people.

You need to be interested in the firm as a business.

You need to show that you have an understanding of the firm as a commercial entity and that you're contributing to its commercial success - you need to appreciate what drives the business, and help it to grow.