Q: How should I structure my covering letter when applying for a vacation scheme or a training contract?
A: You will need to have a feel for the culture of the firm, you may have already visited there, in which case you want to begin by confirming how your personality and the firm’s culture appeal to you. Always mention who you spoke to, if possible, or you can generalise by talking about the trainees or partners you met, aiming to confirm something they spoke about that enhanced your reasons to apply. Firms like you to personalise your reasons for applying specifically to them.
It is not necessary to know what area of law you wish to ultimately quality in at this stage. However, if you genuinely have an interest in an area of law, then try to tie this in with a deal that the firm you are applying to are involved in. Ensure that you research this deal as thoroughly as possible, if you end up attending a partner interview you may well be asked some complex questions on this topic.
If you did not study law then it is important to indicate your reasons for choosing law as a career – try to think of genuine and convincing reasons other than you watched ‘Suits’ and that you ‘always wanted to be a lawyer’ from the age of 6!
Remember that someone will be reading your application in addition to a large number of other applications so try to keep the cover letter interesting, relevant, succinct and to the point.
Lastly, ensure you ask someone who will be brutally honest before you decide your covering letter is finalised. Also make sure you do a spell check as this will also highlight any grammar or commas that may need amending. Also check the company name is spelt correctly!
Q: What can I expect from a partner-led interview?
A: If you are asked to attend an interview with a partner from the firm – note the following:
If possible get some interview practice – your university should be able to offer some assistance with this. Alternatively look online to find interview tips so you can have some understanding of what to expect. You should also ask your fellow students who have been through the process to try and learn what you can from their experiences.
Do not turn up too early, turn up 5 minutes prior and no sooner, the interviewers calendars will likely run to a tight schedule so turning up early is not helpful.
If you are running late, do not panic but do contact the person who set up your interview in the first instance, alternatively, ask someone at Reception to pass on the message.
When you are discussing various topics, you may be asked about what you would do in a particular scenario. The best advice for this is not to launch in immediately, allow yourself some time to digest the question - it is acceptable to ask for a moment to think before responding.
If the partner disagrees with you on a point then do not agree out of politeness – this is the moment when you are being tested on how you put your point across. Remember there is no correct answer during a discussion, but your point of view is being asked and assessed for how it would stand up.
Try to relax into the interview and allow some of your personality to come through as firms usually like to see the lighter side.
At the end of the interview you can finish by thanking them for their time but do not ask when they are likely to make a decision or when you might hear back. You may feel tempted to send them a message, when you leave and are heading back on the train home, but it is not advisable to email the partner directly.
If you are unsuccessful and would like feedback, again, it is preferable not to email the partner but to ask the Graduate Recruitment department to organise the feedback.
Q: Should I request feedback after an unsuccessful interview?
A: If you were not successful at an interview you attended then you should definitely ask for feedback – it is never easy to take criticism, however, there may be a pattern to feedback received in which case you know you need to work on certain areas of your performance.
Contact the person who set up your interview and never email the partner directly.
If the feedback received is not as helpful as you had hoped then do email back to ask for more clarification.
If the feedback was useful then ask that information to be passed on to the partner in question.
Q: I have a vacation scheme – how should I prepare and what should I expect?
Once you have been offered a place on vacation scheme you will be given plenty of opportunities to display your skills and work ethic. If you make the effort to be involved with everything that is offered to you, work and social wise then you stand a very good chance of being offered a training contract. You will be assessed very thoroughly during the scheme and you will be tested on any work or workshops you are involved in.
Usually you will be asked what departments you would like to sit in over the two weeks, once these have been confirmed, you can find out more about them and any current deals via the firm’s website.
The most important thing to remember is to allow your personality to show through as ultimately, you want to feel you can be you in the firm where you choose to train and work.
Q: I am on a Student Tier 4 visa – how does the visa situation work when I start a training contract?
A: Ideally you will commence your GDL or LPC the same year that you graduate. If this is the case then you have nothing to worry about as your education will be continuous and there will be no ‘break’ with your visa. The firm who have offered you a training contract will know that you require a work permit from when you applied and will have progressed you knowing that they are in a position to transfer your visa to a Tier 2. The SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) list all the law firms that are a sponsor of the Tier 2 visa so you can always check this in advance of making any applications, but the majority of firms will be sponsors.
Q: I will not be commencing the LPC until next year in order to start my training contract the following year, so I have an unintentional gap year – what are my options?
In this situation you have to make sure that you obtain work or stay in education so that your visa does not run out as the Tier 4 visa can only be transferred over to the Tier 2 visa whilst it is still valid. Once you graduate your Tier 4 visa will expire after 4 months. It is not advisable to leave the country at this stage as you may struggle to obtain a new visa from outside the UK.
It is advisable to start the GDL or LPC and leave the ‘gap year’ just prior to starting your training contract as you may be able to start your training contract earlier or alternatively make sure you ask about the availability of paralegal work until you start the training contract (the most ideal scenario if you cannot commence a year earlier).
If you have completed one or both of these and still have a ‘gap year’ you could consider doing a Masters to fill in that year, however, it is an unnecessary expense and it is advisable to aim for paralegal work or obtain some further experience.
If you are in this situation you should check your options, as the visa rules change from time to time, so visit the Home Office website for clarification.
Q: How shall I prepare for commercial awareness questions?
Ideally you should have already been keeping on top of the news, and understanding what is happening and thinking about the impact. At the interview, try to explain why you find a particular news story interesting by thinking about impact it’s had or will have and expressing why that story interests you: this may be because of the practice area, or the topic itself, or the company may be one you’ve been following, or the industry may be something you have a lot of knowledge of.
Q: What if I have extenuating circumstances?
Most firms have an option to disclose any extenuating circumstances that you feel have had an impact on your education. Try to summarise your circumstances briefly and concisely and explain what the impact has been on your studies/educational achievement. Do avoid writing emotive paragraphs at this stage as you still need to remain professional as this forms part of your application.