- Who Am I?
- Introduction to Commercial Law
- Law Firms
- Researching Firms
- Work Experience
- Writing Applications
- Psychometric Testing
- Commercial Awareness
- Assessment Centres
- Vacation Schemes
- External Resources
- Bank of Interview Questions
- Assessment Centre M&A Case Study
- Example Applications
1. Who am I?
Hi! I’m Jess Burton. I’ve recently graduated from the University of Birmingham with a First class degree in Law. As of the time of writing, I’m about to go travelling around the world for a year but, after that, I’ll be starting the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), and then my Training Contract, with Linklaters LLP.
Since accepting my training contract offer, I’ve tried my best to help as many other people as possible with their own journeys into commercial law, using my own experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt (for there are many, many lessons!). In the summer of 2022, I decided to write down everything I’d learnt into a 16 page document, The Road to a Training Contract, which I posted on LinkedIn so that it was freely accessible to anyone who might find it useful. I was utterly overwhelmed with the amazing responses I received and am so glad that document has been able to help so many people. In summer 2023, I released an updated version on LinkedIn again to enthusiastic response. And now, I’ve partnered with Lawprof to publish the Road to a Training Contract in web format.
Disclaimer: Everything in this booklet is from personal experience and most is personal opinion. It is not to be followed line-by-line but is simply a collection of my own musings throughout my journey and can be taken with a pinch of salt. Furthermore, I am not yet a lawyer and, if in doubt, ask a law firm!
2. Introduction to Commercial Law
What is commercial law?
At its most basic, commercial law is advising companies on the law that affects them. This can range from advising on the acquisition of another company to advising a company on its employment contracts. It’s a very broad area of law and many firms are divided into departments which focus on areas within commercial law (e.g. finance, corporate, capital markets, tax, employment, real estate, dispute resolution etc.).
Which area of law should you go to?
Some people know from a young age what area of law they want to go into (family law, criminal law, commercial law etc) – perhaps you have a parent or family friend in that area. Some have no idea for a long time. Here are some tips for figuring it out:
- If you do law at university, have a think about which modules you’ve liked (though keep in mind that actually practicing an area of law can be quite different to studying it!).
- Talk to people in the industry. I appreciate this can be rather difficult if you don’t know anyone but many universities offer mentoring schemes or you could try reaching out to people on LinkedIn (and check out the section below on mentoring!).
- Attend events on different areas. These are often run by firms, law societies, law-for-non-law societies and university careers services.
- Brainstorm! I’m a big fan of just putting all my thoughts on a page. Have a think about your interests outside of your degree/work or previous work experience you’ve had. Do the dynamics of big businesses interest you? What sort of problems do you enjoy solving? Have you ever met anyone who inspired you?
- Do work experience in different areas! I’ll go more into work experience later but one way to do this is through Forage, which is a website that partners with law firms and other companies to create open-access online work experience. I found doing a few internships on Forage quite useful at the beginning of my journey (some are only 6 hours long) to help me further explore different career paths.
TCs, VCs, Schemes, Opens Days and more
It is easy to be quite confused when you first start exploring careers within commercial law (what on earth is a training contract?!). Let’s start from the top down:
A Training Contract (TC; and sometimes called your ‘qualifying work experience’) is the aim of most aspiring commercial lawyers. This is a period of 2 years working in a firm and by the end of it (presuming you pass all SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) requirements), you’ll be a qualified lawyer. The exact details of a TC differ firm to firm: in most firms, you’ll spend 4 x 6 month periods in different ‘seats’ (departments) but in some, you may spend 8 x 3 month periods and in others, you may not have specific seats at all! You may have the opportunity to spend one of your seats (often the 4th/final seat) on secondment (either with a client or in one of the firm’s international offices).
Before doing the TC, you have to do the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which is a series of assessments. If you get a TC before doing the SQE, some firms will sponsor you through (pay for) the SQE.
Often you need to at least be in your 2nd year of a 3 year law degree, or 3rd year of a 4 year law degree or non-law degree to apply.
A Vacation Scheme is a 1-4 week internship at a firm where you will work for them and may attend presentations and events. Throughout the scheme, you’ll be assessed for a TC and may have extra tasks/interviews to do throughout.
Often you need to at least be in your 2nd year of a 3 year law degree, or 3rd year of a 4 year law degree or non-law degree to apply.
Side note: you can also apply to training contracts straight (by which I mean you don’t have to do a vacation scheme). Some firms only offer straight training contracts but for firms that do offer vacation schemes, many people choose to apply to vacation schemes to gain legal work experience and experience the firm first hand.
Disclaimer: There are other routes to qualify as a lawyer with the recent introduction of the SQE and I’d recommend researching further if you’re interested. I haven’t included them here as I chose the TC route.
First Year Scheme
First Year Schemes can vary quite a lot but in a way, they are somewhere between open days and vacation schemes, available to 1st year law students or 2nd year non-law students. Most often, they are between 2 days and a week and involve sessions on the firm and/or shadowing a trainee lawyer or associate (qualified lawyer). Some first year schemes may fast-track you to an assessment centre for a vacation scheme with the firm, while some are just an opportunity to experience a firm.
Open days are exactly as they sound – events ranging from a few hours to a whole day where the firm will put on sessions about the firm and commercial law (and perhaps a networking event). These are less competitive to get on than first year schemes, vacation schemes and training contracts and often involve shorter applications. Some are even open access or open to students from specific universities (I attended a few open days aimed specifically at Midlands universities and found these to be really helpful!). These are a great opportunity to get to know a firm and ask any questions you might have.
Campus Ambassadors are students who represent firms at their universities. Only some firms offer these positions and the application process often involves a written application, psychometric testing and an interview. These are a brilliant way to learn more about a firm and get to know them as you’ll be working alongside their graduate recruitment team to roll out their recruitment strategy. I loved being a campus ambassador as it gave me a unique insight into a firm and the industry, and the knowledge and experience gained definitely equipped me well when I applied to vacation schemes and training contracts. You may also get paid, making these ideal part time jobs alongside your degree.
There are some companies/charities established specifically to help those from minority demographics or lower socioeconomic backgrounds get a training contract. These often involve coaching sessions, mentorship schemes, application reviews and mock interviews, and may be partnered with firms.
Examples: Aspiring Solicitors, SEO London, Black Solicitors Network, City Solicitors Horizons.
LawCareers.Net has helpfully collated a list of such schemes (https://www.lawcareers.net/MoreLaw/DiversityAccessSchemes)
It might feel a bit odd that I’ve stuck this section about mentoring quite early on but mentoring can be a vital aid in obtaining a TC, right from the start of your road to a training contract. On my journey, I was lucky enough to have a mentor in sixth firm who inspired me to enter the world of commercial law, while various mentors later on taught me about the different types of law firms, how to research firms, how to write applications, etc. It is, of course, possible to get a TC without a mentor, but they tend to be fountains of knowledge and may be able to give you answers to your questions that you won’t find elsewhere.
In this situation, a mentor is someone who has experience in commercial law or in applying to training contracts who can share their wisdom and help you in your journey. They might be a seasoned lawyer or simply a friend who has gained a training contract who offers to chat with you about the application process.
There is really no limit to the number of ways that a mentor can help but here are a few…
- Explaining the application process or legal industry to you
- Reviewing applications and giving advice on how you can improve
- Telling you about their job and experience
- Doing practice interviews with you
- Connecting you to others in the industry
Time with your mentor can vary from a coffee shop catch-up to a full-blown practice interview. Some mentors may only have time for short catch-ups, while others may have more time to help.
Stacking the odds in your favour
Bernie Rivard, Trainee at Travers Smith
The single best way to build quality relationships is to be a ‘giver’ rather than a ‘taker’. In-person, that means providing your undivided attention and letting the other person talk about themselves and their interests. Online, it can be sending someone a relevant article/opportunity, engaging with their content, or simply connecting them with someone else. Crucially, it means being an empathic listener, aiming only to provide genuine value to others (even if that’s just time and attention), without expecting anything in return.
In other words, “dig your well before you’re thirsty”. The more quality relationships you develop, the more value opportunities you’ll attract. Eventually, don’t forget that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. But right now, put yourself out there and create/leverage opportunities for connection: the upside is huge.
How to get a mentor
In my mind, there are three broad ways to seek a mentor:
This could be a family friend or a friend of a friend from university. You might reach out to them specifically to discuss the application process or you might naturally form a mentoring relationship over time.
Not everyone is lucky enough to know lawyers through family or friends which is why mentoring schemes are so useful! These may be run through your university or organisations online and will connect you with legal professionals who are willing to sacrifice some time to help you in your journey. There are many different schemes such as GROW Mentoring and The Mentors Collective.
Reaching out to someone (e.g. over LinkedIn)
One question I’ve heard a lot this year is how to reach out to someone over LinkedIn. The best advice I’ve received is to identify a personal link, whether that is the same university or previous job (you can filter searches on LinkedIn by company and university!). I’ve then sent a short connection message introducing myself, identifying the link and either asking a question or asking if they would be willing to have a short call at some point. This can feel a bit terrifying but worst case scenario, they don’t reply!
Mentoring isn’t one-sided, but it can be hard to find ways to give back to your mentor for the help they provide. Re-read Bernie’s advice above on how to work on this and, if in doubt, buy your mentor a coffee! Sometimes it can be hard to see what you provide in a mentoring relationship but I’ve found that, for example, when talking to partners from law firms, they are equally as interested to learn how I view the application process and their firm, as I am to learn from them! Also, keep in mind that your mentor may be very busy so make it as easy as possible for them by suggesting specific dates/locations, or creating a Zoom invitation.
4. Law Firms
There is no perfect number of firms to apply to and it will also depend on how much free time you have to spend on applications (most applicants find that applications can take a good chunk of time!). I’ve heard many stories of people doing 30+ applications and several application cycles and not getting anywhere, as well as people doing 2 applications and getting a training contract first time around. There is no perfect formula.
The best advice I ever received was to focus on quality over quantity while also playing the ‘numbers game’. Commercial law is a competitive industry to get into so statistically you want to do several applications to increase your chances. However, whilst doing 30 applications may play the ‘numbers game’, your chances will be diminished if none are of a good quality. 5-10 applications is a common number floating around but have a think about how much time you have (and want!) to give up, and go from there.
Also, only apply to firms you actually want to go to; don’t waste time writing applications for firms you couldn’t see yourself at! Speaking of…
Types of firms
Commercial law firms can be divided roughly as follows (many people will view them differently and there is considerable overlap)…
Magic Circle Firms
The Magic Circle is the traditional informal name given to 5 UK-headquartered law firms (Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields and Slaughter and May). There is some debate over which firms belong in the Magic Circle (see this Wikipedia article for a good summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Circle_(law_firms)) but this is the group most commonly used.
Silver Circle Firms
The Silver Circle is the traditional informal name given to a group of UK-headquartered firms which tends to consist of Herbert Smith Freehills, Travers Smith, Macfarlanes, Ashurst and BCLP. Again, there is some debate over which firms belong in the Silver Circle but this is the group most commonly used.
Other UK Firms
These are UK-headquartered firms which aren’t part of the magic or silver circle. A small selection includes Simmons & Simmons, Eversheds Sutherland and Irwin Mitchell. Some may be international or some may be regional with a focus just on the UK.
These are US-headquartered firms; their UK presence may be large or small e.g. White & Case, Kirkland & Ellis, Vinson & Elkins.
These are firms which don’t have a specific headquarters but have an international presence e.g. Latham & Watkins, Baker McKenzie.
These are firms with a big presence in both UK and US markets and are often formed as a result of a merger. These include Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright.
These are firms which specialise only in a specific area of commercial law e.g. patent law.
In-House Legal Departments
Most companies have their own legal department in-house and will then hire law firms on top of this. It is possible to train in-house at some companies.
*To repeat: there is considerable overlap and the exact categorisation is just based on personal experience.
How do you decide which firms to apply to? It can be really hard to narrow down from the many commercial law firms as there are a lot and many will do similar work. A method I found useful was brainstorming everything I want in a firm/future place of work and reflecting on past jobs and what I did/didn’t like. I considered some of the following questions:
- Am I happy working long hours or do I want a 9-5 job?
- What type/quality/variety of work do I want?
- Am I looking for anything specific in the training contract structure e.g. number of seats?
- What do I want the culture to be like?
- What focus on diversity and inclusion do I want a firm to have?
- Where do I want my future firm to be located?
- Do I want a lot of structured training/support or do I prefer to learn on the job?
- Do I want the opportunity to go abroad?
- How important are good parental leave policies to me?
- What have I liked/not liked in previous jobs?
- Is there anything else I’m looking for in a future job?
I then used websites like Legal Cheek (https://www.legalcheek.com/) and Chambers Student (https:// www.chambersstudent.co.uk/), as well as firms’ websites, to narrow down my search. Try and let your brainstorming guide you and try not to get swayed by the big name law firms if that’s not what you want. Yes, the money associated with US and Magic Circle Law firms is high and enticing but if you rank your work/life balance above money, stick to that and you’ll be happier in the end – you don’t want to end up in a firm that doesn’t align with your priorities.
VC or straight TC?
Some firms simply don’t offer vacation schemes (in that case you can apply straight to a TC) but many do. So should you apply to a vacation scheme and hope to get a training contract through it, or should you apply straight to a TC? There’s no magic answer, unfortunately (this seems to be a recurring pattern!). You should, however, consider whether you have any legal work experience or non-law transferable work experience before applying straight to a TC. One point of a vacation scheme is for you to make sure you do want to go into the industry but if you’ve worked as a paralegal already, for example, you might already be secure in that knowledge and decide to apply to a straight TC. No route is the one best route for everyone!
What if I’m a non-law student?
Ivan Panton, IGNITE Trainee at Clifford Chance:
Many non-law students struggle with imposter syndrome, so remember to acknowledge that what you’re doing is, in fact, more common than it used to be. Many of the largest law firms have 50:50 splits in their intakes of law vs non-law undergraduates. What you bring, regardless of your undergraduate degree, is a unique skillset and set of experiences – personal and professional. Furthermore, imposter syndrome is not unique to aspiring lawyers and a healthy amount of self-reflection is normal. Keep going with the journey, and remember to keep authentic to who you are, and what that means for you as a lawyer.
When should I apply to law firms?
Each firm will have their own timeline for when you can apply so make sure to keep on top of these. Make sure to look out for firms that have rolling deadlines as this means they fill interview places as applications come in so they may close applications early.
Also, keep in mind that there’s no one correct route to a training contract; there’s no specific timeline. You’re on your journey and everyone’s journey moves at different rates and at different times (the average age of a qualified lawyer is nearly 30 I believe!).
Should I apply just to law firms?
Completely up to you! If you’re 100% set on becoming a commercial solicitor, then maybe you’ll choose to apply solely to law firms, but if you’re not 100%, you may choose to apply to different industries and careers to help you figure it out. Here’s an example…
In my first year, I was pretty set on going into commercial law but I chose to apply to an internship in finance, just to experience a different potential career path. I really enjoyed the internship but it helped me realise that though I loved the work I was doing (working on the financial side of deals), I wanted to do it from a legal perspective instead. In my mind, this wasn’t a waste of time in the slightest because, aside from being good fun, it strengthened my resolve to go into commercial law. I’ve since brought this up several times in interviews to add to my argument of why commercial law and show the interviewers that I’ve thought and reflected deeply on my decision.
Either way, there’s no harm in applying to internships and jobs beyond law if you fancy and have the time!
5. Researching Firms
So you’ve figured out what firms you’re going to apply to and whether you’re going to apply for a vacation scheme or training contract, now where to go from there? I should admit that, in my first year of applications, I didn’t see the value in properly researching firms and thought I could write roughly the same application for most firms give or take a few minor details. I apologise to anyone who had to read any of my applications from then!
A piece of advice I got told a lot is that you shouldn’t write an application which still makes sense if you replace the firm’s name with any other firm. ‘Okay cool,’ I thought, ‘but I’ve narrowed down the firms I want to apply to according to my criteria and they all seem pretty similar?’ Here’s where research comes in. You should spend the bulk of your time on an application researching.
(This is, of course, mostly relevant if the application form is a cover letter or asks you a question such as ‘Why this firm?’ which many of them do. If there are no questions relating to the firm or there are no questions at all, you may choose to do less research at this stage but it will still come in handy at the interview stage!).
How to research a firm
I think there are three main ways to research a firm…
There is so much information on the Internet about firms and it is a great place to start! I love using websites like Legal Cheek, Chambers Student, Roll on Friday, Legal 500, Chambers and law.com, before delving into a firm’s graduate recruitment website if they have one (this is often a treasure trove of summarised information) to get an overarching view of a firm.
I then look at a firm’s main website which might seem a bit intimidating as it contains a lot of information so I like to head over to the ‘About Us’ section and start scrolling through, noting down anything or open tabs to anything that strikes my interest. You can then use your list of interesting points to help you search the rest of the website.
I might also look in the News tab of Google to see if that firm has been involved with anything recently that catches my eye, as well as any other websites that come up in the first page of Google when I search the firm.
Events are a brilliant way to go beyond a firm’s website and show that you’ve properly researched and thought about it. Firms may run their own, they may sponsor one of your law society’s events or be part of a panel for an event run by companies such as Legal Cheek. If you can, ask any questions you have based off your internet research!
You can also learn a lot by speaking to people at the firm. You don’t necessarily have to talk to partners; some of the most interesting things I’ve learnt have come from future trainees, non-fee earners and people who used to work at the firm. Again, I appreciate this can be rather difficult if you don’t know anyone with the industry but many universities offer mentoring schemes (or check out GROW mentoring which matches mentees with mentors within commercial law) or try reaching out to people on LinkedIn – I’ve found that people either don’t reply, which is absolutely fine, or they are incredibly helpful.
What should you look out for?
I tend to look for anything that interests me – literally anything that grabs me! Has that firm consistently grown its revenue? Are they doing something in the legal tech sphere that I like the sound of? Is there a client name I recognise? Keep in mind the question of ‘Why this firm?’ and keep a record of anything that draws you to that firm. If you want to, you could divide your notes into sections e.g. training contract, clients, culture, awards, leadership, geography.
How to balance applying to firms and university/work
Applying to firms can feel like a part-time job on top of your degree, another job you might have, socialising, societies, exercising etc. Unfortunately there isn’t a short cut when doing applications that will help you do them in record time, and I’ve been asked several times this year how I balanced applications and everything else.
It’s probably important to premise this by saying that in my first year, I overloaded myself with doing nearly 30 applications for first year schemes, working really hard on my degree and partying a lot (it was first year after all!). But this resulted in me burning out at the end of the year, because I hadn’t given myself a break, nor had I created any form of work life balance (my first year was during the COVID-19 pandemic so we couldn’t go onto campus which didn’t help). As a result, I completely switched this around in 2nd year to focus on me and avoid burn out.
Here’s what I’ve learnt…
- Regarding managing time, my motto was ‘me first’, then my degree and then applications. My mental and physical health was the most important thing for me, followed by my grades, as I knew I only had one chance to get as good a degree as possible, opposed to applications where I could apply every year if I needed. I knew I would be really busy juggling my degree, applications, jobs, going out, etc. so I figured out how I could maintain being busy without burning out (as I did in first year!). For me, this mainly revolved around keeping physically fit and healthy, but you might have other mechanisms that help you stay happy and enable you to keep busy, while maintaining a healthy mindset.
- I treated applications as procrastination from my degree. So, if I was bored with my degree work, I’d switch to researching a firm or writing an application which tricked my brain into thinking that I was procrastinating my degree, but in a positive and productive way.
- I listed the firms I wanted to apply to in order of priority so that if I didn’t get round to applying to my, say, 6th firm on the list, it wasn’t a huge deal because I’d applied to my top 5.
- Keep a track of the progress of each application! Whether this is in a spreadsheet or in a list, make sure you have a way to quickly view how far through you are with each application. I’m a huge fan of Notion so I had a big table on Notion with each firm, what stage I was at (e.g. researching the firm, writing the application, applied), the deadline for applications, whether I’d heard back yet and any other notes or comments. This way I could quickly check where I was and dive back into applications when I needed.
6. Work Experience
Firstly, let’s start with saying that all work experience is good work experience. Often students worry that because their experience isn’t legal experience, it’s not relevant or worth putting on the form. Don’t fall into this trap! The skills you’ll have gained through any job, volunteering or position of responsibility will be transferable to being a lawyer. Let’s have a look at some examples…
- Have you worked in the hospitality industry? Perfect! Those communication skills you built up talking to customers will aid you when talking to clients in the future.
- Have you been part of a university society’s committee? Excellent! Those teamwork skills will come in handy working with your future colleagues.
- Have you balanced a job alongside your studies? Nice! Balancing multiple tasks at once and keeping organised are handy skills in any industry!
I was once asked to tell the interviewer about a time I’d made a mistake at work and they seemed to really like my answer about when I accidentally spilled hot gravy on a customer while working in a pub! What was important wasn’t the type of work experience (hospitality), but how I demonstrated through my answer that I can cope with making mistakes, I can fix my mistakes and I can learn from them.
How to get legal work experience
Often, when it comes to legal work experience, you have to go through a firm’s set-up channel of applications and interviews. However, local high street law firms might not have an organised work experience scheme so why not email them, call them up or even walk in with your CV! It is by no means guaranteed that they’ll offer you any experience but why not try? Worst they can do is say no or not reply.
I’d also recommend checking out Forage, as I mentioned above. Forage is a website which partners with law firms and other companies to create free online work experience. The experience consists of several practice tasks which imitate tasks you might complete on an internship or when working at that company. It’s completely open access meaning that anyone can complete a Forage internship and you can put this on your CV and applications, as evidence that you understand the type of work you might do at that firm.
How to use your work experience in interviews
I’m getting a little ahead of myself as I’ll go further into interviews later, but competency questions in interviews are where talking about your work experience comes into play the most. These might be questions like, ‘Can you tell me about a time that you’ve worked in a team?’ or ‘Have you ever made a mistake at work and how did you rectify it?’. The best skill for these questions is to know your work experience inside out.
When I prepped for interviews, I took the time to reflect on each of my jobs, volunteer roles or positions of responsibility and identified any skills I’d learnt from each and any memorable moments or things that I’d done. I also researched the top skills recommended for lawyers and made sure I had an example (or two) for each skill. Some people like to do this in a table, some in bullet points but whatever works for you, have a short reflection and know your work experience well. For example, this is how I would have analysed my job as a waitress…
TAKEAWAY: All work experience is good work experience!
7. Writing Applications
Graduate recruitment will read hundreds, if not thousands, of applications per year and it is likely that many of these applications will be quite similar. So, how can you stand out in just a few hundred words?
Be personal (but not too personal!)
By personal, I mean that someone should be able to read your application, with no prior knowledge of you, and get a sense of your personality, what drives you and what makes you unique (but of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t overshare in an application!). To find this balance, I reflected on me: my work experience history, what drives me, what makes me unique, what in my life has shaped me. In essence, I considered what I brought to the table. By reflecting and brainstorming (as you can tell, I love a good brainstorm!), I had content I could bring in when answering questions in order to give the reader an idea of who I was. I thought about my applications as telling my story.
Don’t write what you think they want to read
A firm doesn’t want to know what a generic applicant brings to the table, or why the average person wants to work in their firm. They want to know about you, and your motivations so write truthfully and don’t write what you think they want to hear.
Catch the reader’s eye with a strong opening! Make it punchy, impressive and to the point. This sets the tone for the rest of your application and will keep the reader’s attention.
Cut cut cut
Make every sentence worth it. I would often write over the word limit and then cut any phrase or sentence that didn’t add something strong to my application, or show me off to the best of my abilities. You’ll often only have a limited number of words too, so by cutting any waffle you can provide as much detail as possible in a small space.
Spelling and grammar
It’s repeated a lot for a reason. Spelling mistakes look sloppy and suggest you don’t care so make sure you check before sending it off.
Get someone to review it
If you can’t, always leave it a night and come back to your final draft the next day for a last review – you’ll almost always have missed something.
Stay ahead of rolling deadlines
If a firm has a rolling deadline, try and get your application in early to increase your chances.
Structure and flow
By ensuring your answer flows, and therefore reads well, the reader can focus on what you’re trying to say instead of trying to navigate a hard-to-read answer. Make sure the sentences link together, follow each other naturally and that the order of your answer makes sense. By ensuring your answer is well structured and flows, the reader can easily digest what you’ve written while being wowed at your writing style – structure and flow go a long way to convincing someone!
Include events you’ve attended with the firm and people you’ve talked to
This shows interest and commitment to a firm. Just make sure you don’t drop these in for the sake of it ensure it contributes to your answer by saying what you’ve learnt and why this is important. My aim before sending off an application was to have some sort of personal interaction with the firm, whether this was an open day, a first year scheme or a chat with someone at the firm (name drop and be specific). Through these personal interactions, I felt I gained knowledge about the firm that others wouldn’t get from normal forms of research (e.g. the internet) and, by dropping these into my applications, I felt that I showed the effort I put in and the commitment I had to get a training contract with that specific firm. I also found this so useful to help me figure out whether a firm was for me or not!
Often people shy away from using words such as ‘passion’, ‘adore’ and ‘spark’ because they’re often overused with no evidence to back them up. Use them if you want, but make sure to show where that ‘passion’ has come from and don’t use them as a substitute for a strong, evidence-based answer.
Why the firm?
Remember when I said that I recommend brainstorming what you want in a firm back when you’re choosing firms to apply to? Well, when combined with your research, you’ve basically got your answer for this question already! Plus, you’ve thought about what you want in a firm so you can make your answer personal to you. I also tended to identify some overarching themes that I liked about a firm and then I would review my research to find little pieces of evidence that fitted in with these themes. By doing this, I had several layers to my answer: a few major reasons backed up with evidence from my research (and by attending events and talking to people my evidence stood out from those who just used a firm’s website) and I could link these reasons to me to show why they mattered to me and aligned with my interests/values/history.
REASON + EVIDENCE + PERSONAL LINK
There are many variations on this question from asking you to write a personal statement about your achievements, to questioning how your skill set will contribute to the firm.
Again, show what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and how it has shaped you. Have you grown up in several countries? Have you tried lots of different sports? What matters to you? What are you most proud of?
Think about your structure here: you want to make sure every point is backed up by evidence and detail while remaining concise. If you mention an experience you’ve had or a job you’ve worked, include what you did, what you learnt (including any skills e.g. collaboration, resilience, attention to detail, communication?), what the result was and why this will be beneficial as a lawyer. And, if the questions asks you to, don’t forget to link it back to the firm using your research!
Love them or hate them, many firms use cover letters instead of questions. If you need to write one, see it as an opportunity – you’re being given free reign to write anything you want! The same general tips apply but if you do want a structure, think (1) why you, (2) why the firm and (3) why commercial law. The best cover letters will intertwine these to create links between you and the firm to convince the reader that it is a match made in heaven!
Also, don’t forget formalities e.g. addressing your cover letter, signing off correctly etc.
Cover letters are for depth, CVs are for breadth. Someone should be able to skim read your CV in 10 seconds and get a sense of your work history. Make sure to structure your CV with clear headings such as ‘education’, ‘work experience’ (you could divide this into legal and non-legal if you wanted to) and ‘hobbies/interests’. Most CVs are 2 pages maximum but don’t try and squish lots of detail into 2 pages – identify the most important things you achieved in each role and keep it concise. Use a professional font and font size.
Work Experience Section
Most application forms have a section to input your work experience with the dates, job title and your role and responsibilities at that job. Here are some common questions regarding the work experience section…
To bullet point or not to bullet point?
I tended to write in prose because the majority of graduate recruitment I spoke to preferred this but I know some firms who have said openly they’re fine with bullet points. If in doubt, ask graduate recruitment!
What should you include?
Often the form will specify if you should only input paid jobs or if they want to hear about volunteering, positions of responsibilities and societies. Again, if in doubt, ask!
What should you write for ‘responsibilities’?
It’s up to you what you write here but a good place to start is including what you did within your role, what skills you learnt and what you achieved within that role/what impact did you have (use statistics and evidence here as much as possible – did you run an event for X amount of people? Did you get a promotion?). Include as much relevant detail as possible within the word limit. You could even link it to how the skills you learnt will be useful for you as a trainee lawyer.
If you achieved lower than expected grades due to circumstances out of your control, make sure to include this! Often forms have a mitigating circumstances section or, if in doubt, email them! Similarly, if you need any reasonable adjustments, email the firm – I’ve never known a firm not to be accommodating.
REFLECTION + RESEARCH
My equation for writing applications and ensuring I stood out was ‘REFLECTION + RESEARCH’. I’ve mentioned these steps a few times already but I can’t emphasise them enough.
Firstly, take time to reflect at every stage of the application process from reflecting on the industry/area of law you want to go into, to what you really want in a firm, to what you learnt in previous jobs, to what makes you great. It helps to know these things before you write applications and it also makes it much harder to catch you out in interviews.
I’ve talked a lot about researching firms already but make sure you also research the industry. Do you know who the key law firms are? Do you know the focus areas for your target law firms (e.g. geographic areas, clients, areas of law)? Do you know any key trends in the legal industry (e.g. new qualified solicitors salary war)? Keep your reflections in mind while you research and make links between them (e.g. how does X firm line up with what you want in a firm?), which will help you keep your researched organised and focused.
I found that reflecting and researching before I wrote my applications made the actual writing part much shorter as I already knew what I wanted to say. I also found it far easier to answer interview questions as I’d already reflected plenty and knew myself, my experience and my reasons for applying inside out.
Rejection after application?
Unfortunately, rejection is a natural part of applying to commercial law firms. Thousands of people apply every year to training contracts and there are only a limited number to go round. Rejection happens but it’s not the be all and end all.
I was rejected seventeen times when I applied to first year schemes but two of those rejections were from firms that I was offered training contracts with a year later. Getting rejected hurt a lot but it didn’t prevent me from applying and succeeding a year later.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get written feedback on your applications because so many people apply but you can make your own feedback! Take some time away from your application and then go back to it after a couple of weeks or months and (I’m getting predictable now) reflect! Read your application as if someone else wrote it and identify what could have been stronger, where you rambled and what was good about it. This will ensure that your next application is even better! Later on, I’ve dissected one of my own unsuccessful applications if that may be of help.
Also, why not follow-up to a rejection email? This isn’t guaranteed to work, by any stretch, but there’s no harm in sending a reply that thanks the firm for its time and notes that if any spare spaces come up at interview, you’d still be interested. A friend of mine has done this and ended up being invited to interview as a result and later gaining a training contract. It won’t always work but who knows!
8. Psychometric Testing
Psychometric tests are essentially online tests which firms use to assess candidates and they often accompany a written application. Many firms use the same test such as the Watson Glaser test, while others design their own (e.g. behavioural tests, personality tests and scenario tests). Many (myself included!) struggle with psychometric testing so my main advice would be to practise! There are lots of free Watson Glaser practice tests online and firms will often have a practice test on their website if they use a personalised tests.
I’ve found discussing objective tests, such as the Watson Glaser, with others to be really useful so we can correct each other on practice tests and see how each other approach it (tests such as scenario-based or behavioural tests are less suited to discussion given their subjective nature). There are also numerous YouTube videos discussing the Watson Glaser which helped me get to grips with the nuances between questions.
Finally, for scenario-based tests, have a look at a firm’s website and graduate recruitment website to gauge an idea of their values and what they expect from trainees (e.g. if it’s a firm that works long hours, answering that you’d leave work at 5pm to go to a party despite having urgent work to do might not be the best idea!).
9. Commercial Awareness
In my mind, I tend to divide commercial awareness into two categories:
- knowing what’s going on in the world, and
- understanding how businesses function.
They can both seem incredibly broad (and a little terrifying!) at first but they don’t need to be.
What’s going on in the world
I think this one can seem very daunting but you really don’t need to read the Financial Times everyday to build up a good awareness (though if you do, well done!). To understand what’s going on in the world, think about how you can best take in the news and process it. Are you a reader? A listener?
For me, I loved listening to the Financial Times News Briefing or the World in Brief From the Economist podcast, because it meant I could get a summary of the news while going to the gym or walking to campus. I also highly favour Watson’s Daily for excellent discussion of stories (I also learnt how to better discuss news stories in interviews by listening to this!). Listening to these regularly meant that, before long, I’d built
up a good knowledge of what was going on. I also enjoyed discussing interesting stories with friends to develop my opinions and viewpoints.
However, there are many more options than podcasts such as reading the newspaper, using a news app, signing up to a news and/or commercial awareness email newsletter or setting up notifications for news stories in your areas of interest (having the notifications on for the BBC News and FT means I keep up to date even when I don’t have time to listen to a podcast!).
What should you be reading about?
The answer is pretty much anything that might impact businesses or is to do with businesses. This could be something political or economic or legal or just what a particular company is doing at the moment (is it closing stores? Is it acquiring another company?) or what’s happening in a particular sector. Pick something that interests you and go from there. You don’t have to pick something complicated, unless you really enjoy understanding complicated news stories. Speaking from personal experience, it is easy to get confused trying to unpick something you don’t understand and can make it stressful. Also, try to read about a story over time in order to understand trends (demonstrating you understand how things have changed over time and their impact is an impressive skill in interviews!) – you can also link it with other stories. See the following example…
One story I enjoyed reading about during my TC application round, was IKEA taking over the old Topshop store on Oxford Street in London. Why did I pick this? Well, in all honesty, I’ve been in that Topshop store (it’s absolutely huge!), I love shopping and I like wandering round IKEA and looking at their mock-up rooms. ‘I love shopping’ was pretty much the reason I started reading about it. Yet by reading a Financial Times article on the sale, I learnt…
- … the store might not be a typical IKEA store given that it is in the middle of a city (IKEA stores are usually in the suburbs). Instead, they might use virtual reality to enable people to ‘build’ their ideal kitchens or rooms. In my mind, I was thinking how this story relates to the transformation of the high street we’ve seen since the COVID-19 pandemic. Is the future of the high street more experience related than shopping related? Does this signal a new way to shop?
- … that this sale was part of IKEA’s investment in the UK and London post-Brexit. The article even had a quote from the head of IKEA’s retail arm expressing their faith in the UK. Again, in my mind I was linking this to the general uncertainty we’ve seen surrounding the UK post-Brexit; the fact that the world’s biggest furniture producer believes in the UK is hopefully a good signifier of the future.
- … that, despite an increase in IKEA’s online revenue during the pandemic, they still believe in actual physical shops people can attend in person. Again, this links to the future of the high street and how hopefully the high street will survive.
By starting with a story I was interested in mainly because ‘I love shopping’, I ended up learning plenty about the current and potential future state of the economy which I utilised in interviews when asked about a news story I’ve read recently.
Tools for Your Arsenal
If you’re still struggling to analyse a news story, try using PESTLE or if you’re looking into a specific company, doing a SWOT analysis.
- PESTLE: consider the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors of a story.
- SWOT: consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats a company is facing or might face.
How Businesses Function
I think this part of commercial awareness can often get left behind but it’s vital for case study-based interviews and written exercises, as well as your general understanding.
Think about how a business functions… what motivates it? Case studies in interviews commonly involve one company taking over another (an acquisition) so brainstorm what motivates a company to do this? Why would it take over another company? If it has decided to acquire another company, what does it care
about? The price of the other company is certainly a major factor, but what else will it consider? What does the party selling the other company care about? Again, price is a major factor, but will the selling party care about anything else? Or what if you’re the bank financing the deal? How will you make sure you’ll get your money back? What if the company you’re lending money to goes bust?
I found that the best way to gain this knowledge was mentally putting myself in the shoes of the different parties and brainstorming. What would be important to me if I was each party? Though, again, it is by no means necessary, I found reading books on large companies an easier-to-process way to understand the motivations behind a business.
The law firm
There are many more parties in a deal than just buyer, seller and bank (e.g. accountants, consultants, specialists, public relations, regulators etc.) including law firms on either sides. Have a think about where a law firm might come in? What departments would be useful to advise on the deal?
Don’t forget to consider that a law firm itself is a business! Perhaps consider how a law firm makes money and what might affect how much money it makes.
These are all just prompts to start the thinking process, there are endless questions you could ask!
A resource I found very useful to understand how deals work is The Anatomy of a Deal by Allen & Overy. It’s only 7 minutes long but contains a treasure trove of info.
10. Assessment Centres
General Preparation for Interviews
What preparation can you do for an assessment centre? The balance is between being prepared so you feel confident and come across well, but not having prepared answers for every question that you reel off by rote. Do your research and know it well as you can adapt to answer any question that comes up about the firm, and perhaps do a mock interview. University careers services often offer them but if not, ask a friend or family member if they can interview you. If they’re not sure what to ask, have a look at the bank of interview questions below! Also, no matter what type of question you’re answering, make sure to take a breath before, so you answer calmly and have a clear structure – don’t be afraid to signpost (e.g. ‘I hope to demonstrate my motivation for this firm through the following 3 points’).
Another form of assessment you might have before an assessment centre if a recorded video interview. There often involve an online system where you’re given a question and 1-2 minutes to plan your answer before a camera records your answering for another 1-2 minutes. The best advice is to stay calm and use the preparation time well.
Now, onto specific types of questions (these are sometimes separate interviews or combined depending on the firm)…
These are often questions like ‘Tell me about a time when you demonstrated X’ (X being a skill such as teamwork, resilience, communication etc.) or ‘How do you manage your time?’ or ‘What is your biggest strength and your biggest weakness?’. They’re essentially asking about your skills and attributes.
To prepare for questions asking about specific skills, I found it useful to list out all my work experience and consider which was the strongest example for each skill e.g. which experience best shows my ability to manage time or work in a team or be a leader? Again, look at the bank of interview questions below for example questions or simply look up ‘skills necessary for lawyers’ to guide this.
Tools for Your Arsenal
A common structure for answering competency questions is STARR: situation, task, action, result, reflection. Essentially, explain the situation, the task you had to do, what action you took to complete the task, the result and any reflection you have on this experience such as any specific things you learnt or if there’s anything you’d do differently next time.
These are questions relating to your motivation for law generally, commercial law and the specific firm. These may also include questions which test your knowledge of the firm such as ‘What clients do we have?’, ‘Where do you think we should open a new office?’ and ‘How do we stand out from our competitors?’. You might have already answered ‘Why this firm?’ in your application form but in an interview you have time to go deeper into your answer. Have a clear idea of your motivations and keep your research in mind!
Answering ‘Why Law?’ or ‘Why Commercial Law?’
Through these questions, an interviewer is hoping to see that your motivation is genuine and well- founded. You might be sick of brainstorming by now, but it can be a good idea to start by writing down everything about commercial law that attracts you. You can also think back to previous work experiences and what you’ve liked/not liked to help guide your thoughts. For example, in previous jobs, I’ve loved working with customers/clients because I enjoying meeting new people so the client-focused aspect of commercial law appeals, but I’ve struggled with repetitive jobs so the 4 seat TC and wide client base greatly appeals. As usual, structure your answer clearly, back up every point with evidence, and be personal by bringing it back to you and showing how your values/interests align with this career.
These are often structured as ‘if X happened, what would you do?’ and may have follow up questions which change details within the original scenario or continue it. There’s not a huge amount you can do to prepare for these apart from practice but as with psychometric testing, you could have a look at a firm’s website and graduate recruitment website to gage an idea of their values and what they expect from trainees. Also, rather than just listing what you’d do, make sure to explain why you would choose to do this so you can show your thought process.
Commercial Awareness Questions
The most common commercial awareness question is ‘Tell me about a news story you’ve read recently’. See my above example in the commercial awareness section but here are some tips for answering this question:
- Choose something that interests you and you know a bit about.
- Don’t go for something you’ve never heard of that you’re trying to understand as you may struggle with follow-up questions and there’s a chance you might be interviewed by someone who’s speciality is in that area.
- If relevant, demonstrate your knowledge of the development of that story over time or any trends that relate to it and how they’ve changed over time. You could always explain what you think could happen in the near future as a result of those trends.
- Structure your answer well e.g. introductory sentence, explanation of the story, why it interests you and why it’s relevant to the firm.
The term technical (or case study-based) interview encompasses a wide range of possibilities. Often you’ll be given some sort of file or collection of files before the interview and you’ll have a limited time to read them before getting discussing them in the interview. You may have a written exercise to do within the reading time (see below) or you may have to prepare a short verbal presentation or answers to questions for the interview.
There are several skills being tested here such as time management, ability to work well under pressure, technical understanding, communication, ability to construct an argument and justify your opinion, and commercial awareness (more of the ‘how businesses function’ but you could always bring in your knowledge of what’s happening in the world if relevant).
As usual, there’s no magic formula for these interviews as they’re entirely led by the interviewer so you could be taken down any line of questioning they choose. However, here are some tips I’ve found useful:
- Stay strong in your line of arguing (often an interviewer will probe your answer a lot to see how you back it up and if you stick to it) but if you realise you might be wrong, don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong and change your argument. Admitting you got something wrong takes a lot of self-awareness and bravery.
- Refer back to the files provided if you need – there’s no shame in this!
- If you don’t understand a technical word used, you can ask for confirmation.
- If you’re confused about something, you can always ask for guidance but perhaps explain your interpretation first.
Asking questions in an interview
Interviewers will often leave room at the end of an interview for you to ask questions and you may be judged on what questions you ask! This is an opportunity for you to ask any burning questions. Remember to tailor your questions to the person asking (e.g. partner, associate, graduate recruitment) and try to ask something that you couldn’t find out through looking at a firm’s website.
Making an interview like a conversation
A common piece of advice I see again and again for how to succeed in interviews is to make the interview like a conversation. But, how?
Granted, sometimes it is impossible to turn an interview into a conversation – the interviewer may be set on a question and answer structure. But often interviewers would prefer to have a proper conversation just as much as you would. So how can you step away from a Q&A structure?
Firstly, start the interview off by simply asking how the interviewers are. Many people can struggle to engage in small talk (and that’s okay!) but asking “How are you?” will break the ice and open the doors to a more fluid interview.
Next, think of the interview as a conversation. An interview is for the firm to get to know you AND you to get to know the firm. You’ll probably have some time at the end of an interview to ask questions, but if something comes up in the interview that sparks your interest, ask about it! This is particular useful if you have a case study to talk about; you could ask about what the interviewer would do in that situation or if they find this problem comes up often in their practice area. This shows interest and makes the interview more enjoyable for both sides.
Be genuine about your motivations for law (or whichever industry you’re entering) and your experiences because this leaves room open for the interviewer to ask specific questions about you if they want, rather than just asking the typical questions. For example, I’m honest about not considering Law as a degree until a month before the UCAS deadline. From this, I could be (and have been) asked about if this was stressful and how I deal with stress, what I’ve learnt from the experience, if I think I made the right decision, and what advice I’d give to my younger self at that time.
Finally, try and relax. If you’ve got to the interview stage, know that you’re good enough for the job; it just depends on whether you’re right for the firm and they’re right for you. So relax, try to remain calm and think through your answers before you speak, and the interview will feel much more relaxed and you’ll be able to treat it like a conversation.
As with all parts of an assessment centre, written exercises take many forms but they tend to be under time pressure and often involve writing a letter of advice or a summary to a client. Whatever the exact task, remember…
- Keep an eye on the time.
- Leave some time to check your spelling and grammar.
- Use a clear structure.
- Remember formalities e.g. addressing and signing off an email/letter properly.
Again, group assessments span a variety of tasks but here are some general tips:
- Keep an eye on the time (you could offer to be the time keeper).
- Keep a record of group discussions (you could offer to be the scribe).
- If someone else finds it hard to get their say in, you can support them by asking their opinion and bringing them into the conversation.
- The person who speaks the most isn’t necessarily going to get the job if they speak over everyone else and don’t listen.
- Listen to others and be prepared that your ideas might not be the ones the group chooses.
Assessment Centres as Non-Law
Ivan Panton, IGNITE Trainee at Clifford Chance:
My first legal assessment centre was with a large international firm, and like those I had previously been to for tech roles, it was comprehensive and multifaceted. I’ve found that one key to success is recognising that, similarly to other industries’ processes, law firms are seeking to assess a set of competencies.
Consider what the firm is seeking to assess, and prepare accordingly. Perhaps your interest in law was sparked in a bid for a new software engineering project, or maybe you have great analytical skills. Coming from a non-law background can often be more advantageous than a barrier to entry. Recognising the transferability and value you bring will overcome the initial hurdle.
The focus of legal assessment centres has already been described in detail, so if you’re still unsure, have a look back at those aspects of this guide. I found it helpful to review mock assessment centre case study bundles, with friends in my university’s law society. Understanding the different approaches was helpful, and enabled me to succeed in this respect.
11. Vacation Schemes
So you’ve got the vacation scheme, congratulations! But now you have a week or more in which you’ll be assessed for a training contract. Trust me, they’re not as scary as they sound; it goes without saying that they’re hard work but you’ll also meet some incredible people, work within your future industry, get some insider insights you simply can’t get any other way and have a lot of fun.
I’ve heard applicants asking how they can prepare for their upcoming vacation schemes numerous times and I wondered the same before mine. Firstly, it’s important to know that you’re not expected to know everything about the practice area you’ll sit in before you get there. Vacation schemes are for learning and you’ll be surrounded by experts who will be able to impart a lot of knowledge. If you want to research a bit about your practice area before, however, feel free! Keeping up with news might also help you feel a bit more confident but again this is just guidance!
The main thing I’d recommend doing before a vacation scheme (apart from sorting out your accommodation and travel of course) is taking 10 minutes and brainstorming (yes, more brainstorming!) what you want to find out on the vacation scheme to help you decide if it’s the firm for you. Vacation schemes (and the whole application process) are a two way street; they are for a firm to figure out if you’re right for them and for you to figure out if a firm is right for you. You may do a vacation scheme at one firm and love it and do a vacation scheme at another and not. Spend a small amount of time before the scheme thinking about what questions you want to ask and if there’s anyone in particular practice areas, networks or roles that you’d like to talk to.
Getting the TC
As for how to actually get the TC through a vacation scheme, here are some tips:
- Be polite to everyone and helpful by offering to do work for not only the lawyer you sit with, but others in your practice area if you have time.
- Ask questions and organise coffee chats with people who might be able to help you answer those questions you brainstormed before.
- Do every task to the best of your ability.
- Manage your time well. You might be juggling working for the firm, sessions on the firm, events, networking, coffee chats and extra assessed work so make sure you keep an eye on your calendar!
- Get to know your cohort. This might not necessarily help you get a TC but it will make the scheme a lot more fun and expand your network. The people you work with on the vacation scheme might be your future colleagues!
Keep in mind that at some firms, they just don’t have places for everyone on the vacation scheme to get a TC so don’t be too disheartened if you don’t get the TC. You’ll have learnt a lot that you can take forward into future applications and work.
12. External Resources
Here are a variety of resources you may find useful during the application process.
- Legal Cheek (https://www.legalcheek.com/)
- Chambers Student (https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/)
- Chambers (https://chambers.com/)
- Legal 500 (https://www.legal500.com/)
- Roll on Friday (https://www.rollonfriday.com/)
- The Commercial Law Academy (https://www.commerciallaw.academy/)
- The Corporate Law Academy (https://www.thecorporatelawacademy.com/)
- AllAboutLaw (https://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/)
- 260+ Interview Questions, The Corporate Law Academy (https://www.thecorporatelawacademy.com/175-training-contract-interview-questions-2/)
- Financial Times News Briefing (https://open.spotify.com/show/1410RabA4XOqO6IV8p0gYF?si=8d69cdbfc38b4405)
- Watson’s Daily (https://open.spotify.com/show/4qiYYppfLsALLNmLm4Sfem?si=02b10434525b4d9c)
- World in Brief From the Economist (https://open.spotify.com/show/5zDCsEAvMp61OZOt0CaPS8?si=b5dbdedb26ad4948)
- Thinking Commercially by Bright Network (https://open.spotify.com/show/1NgCJARpAyEH7obiu2fUSc?si=e8b62ae11c464fa3)
- Legally Speaking Podcast (https://open.spotify.com/show/5o1YnZWaZPvS1PK1cSGoas?si=e40e667d08ac422e)
- Commercial Awareness Handbook by Jake Schogger
- All You Need to Know About the City by Christopher Stoakes
- GROW Mentoring
- Aspiring Solicitors
- SEO London
- Black Solicitors Network
- City Solicitors Horizons
- The Anatomy of a Deal by Allen & Overy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UTzk6UsLA8)
- The Mentor Collective
13. Bank of Interview Questions
Since my first year, I’ve collated a list of common commercial law interview questions which have come from my own experience, my friends’ experiences and online resources.
- Why this Firm?
- Why Vacation Scheme at this Firm?
- How do you understand the role of a trainee?
- How do you understand the role of a commercial solicitor?
- How can you contribute to the Firm?
- How can this Firm stand out from our competitors?
- Where should this Firm open a new office?
- Where should this Firm close a current office?
- Can you name some of the Firm’s clients?
- What do clients look for in a firm?
- What challenges is this Firm facing right now?
- Which areas are you most interested in?
- What recent case at our Firm has interested you and why?
- What do you think about our international strategy?
- If you were CEO for a day, what 3 issues in this Firm would you address?
- How would you make this Firm more client friendly?
- Have you applied to other firms? If yes, why them?
- What new areas could this Firm focus on in the future?
- Tell us about yourself
- Tell us about a time you pushed yourself
- How do you manage time?
- What difficulties have you faced working in a team?
- What difficulties have you faced as a leader?
- Tell us about a time you had to deal with a difficult client/customer?
- Tell me about a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline.
- Tell me about a time you negotiated.
- What is the biggest mistake you have made and how did you deal with it?
- What would you do if you had to take on a case that went against your values?
- What is your biggest strength?
- What is your biggest weakness and how are you working on improving it?
- What adjective(s) would your friends use to describe you?
- Which literary character do you most resemble?
- Tell me about a time you have demonstrated resilience.
- What values do you expect this Firm’s employees to have?
- What values for you live by?
- When have your values been tested?
- When have you demonstrated flexibility?
- Which leader in the media do you admire?
- Tell us about a time you employed analytical skills.
- Tell me about a time you’ve shown innovative spirit.
- Tell me about a time you went above and beyond.
- What is your greatest professional accomplishment and your greatest personal accomplishment?
- Give an example of a time when you were not in agreement with the rest of the team. How did you react?
- Have you ever missed a deadline?
- How do you deal with failure?
- Why should our Firm pick you?
- What motivates you?
- Which 3 people would you invite to a dinner party?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What do you do for fun?
- Tell me about something that interests you?
- What threats do our clients face at the moment and how can they be better placed to face them?
- What is commercial awareness, why is it important and when have you demonstrated it?
- What are the three main attributes for a successful commercial lawyer?
- What do you see as the main challenges facing the legal profession in the next few years?
- How could a law firm best attract new clients?
- What is a recent news story you have been following and how is it relevant to our Firm?
- How does it affect our Firm?
- Tell us about a change in the legal world.
- Tell us about a business you admire (incl. opportunities and risks for the business).
- What opportunities are there for law firms right now and what one opportunity could this Firm take advantage of?
- Can you talk us through a current issue affecting law firms?
- Why did the financial crisis happen?
- What impact do you think AI will have on the legal industry?
- How do you see the future of the profession developing?
- When is an IPO a good idea?
- Why law?
- Why commercial law?
- Where does your interest stem from?
- How did you explore that interest?
- How did you take this interest further?
- What is the billable hour?
- Why solicitor?
- How do you build trust with a client?
- What would you do if a client asked you to do something that was legal but morally questionable?
- Why are you going into law and not investment banking or consulting?
- What are the best and worst aspects of commercial law?
- How do you feel about long hours?
- On your first week, how would you build good connections with fellow trainees, associates, partners and clients?
- How would you deal with a colleague who is not pulling their weight?
- How would you make yourself stand out as a trainee?
- Why do you think you’d be a good commercial lawyer?
- It is 6pm and you are leaving the office, you have a party but there is an urgent task that needs doing, what do you do?
- Why do you want to work in the City?
- What would you do if you knew you couldn’t meet a deadline?
- In a client meeting your supervisor gives incorrect advice. What do you do?
- How would you keep clients informed about the status of their cases?
- How do you hope to serve your clients and the community?
- How would you demonstrate to a client that you are commercially aware of their business and needs?
- If you could create a new law, what would it be?
- How would you persuade a potential client to bring their business to this Firm?
- How are law firms structured?
- How can the legal system improve to make sure all people get a fair trial?
- What do you think determines progress in a good law firm?
- What do you think are key qualities a company must have in order to be successful?
- What is the difference between contentious and non-contentious?
14. Assessment Centre M&A Case Study
Credit to Future Trainee at Clifford Chance, Tee Adedoyin, for contribution to this case study.
Company A is a large online clothing retailer, headquartered in the UK. It is the second largest business in the UK clothing retail market with a market share of 35%. Two years ago, they experienced a dawn raid by the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) but nothing was found, and no further action was taken. Company A is looking to grow and expand their business and they think that acquiring the Target will do this. Company A is publicly listed. They have recently acquired another medium-sized fashion retailer and they have a few questions on how they could finance another acquisition.
Company B (the Target) is a high-street clothing retailer with 8 stores in the UK, Italy and France. 4 of those stores are across the UK on different high streets. 10 years ago, 75% of their sales came from their stores. Now, 60% of their sales are online and only 40% come from their stores. For 3 of the UK stores, their leases are coming to an end.
Company B currently has 200 workers in total. However, Stephanie, a former employee, is considering bringing a claim against Company B. Stephanie believes that she was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against based on her age. They met last month, and they still have not reached an agreement through mediation or through arbitration.
A private equity company owns 100% of the company, after buying it in 2018. The founder and current CEO of Company B is John Smith. He is the public face of the company and has a large following on social media. However, he is unhappy about ‘his’ company being acquired. Company A believes him to be vital to the continued success of Company B because he is considered the face of the brand.
Company A have contacted your law firm for advice on:
- How they might finance the acquisition
- Any potential issues with Company B that need to be looked at
Questions we considered when analysing this:
- Why might Company A be wanting to expand?
- Are there any issues when expanding through acquisition?
- What other parties might be useful to engage in an acquisition?
- How could the acquisition be financed?
- Are there competition risks with this acquisition?
- If Company A is publicly listed, how might this affect its actions and decisions?
- Are there any recent events or trends in the news, that may impact this acquisition?
- What options does Company A have when it comes to Stephanie’s discrimination claim?
- What departments of your law firm might be involved?
15. Example Applications
I’ve included here two examples of cover letters I sent to the same firm, one for their 1st Year Open Day and the other, a year later, for their Vacation Scheme. I was very quickly rejected from the 1st Year Open Day but I was lucky enough to be invited to interview for the Vacation Scheme. I’ve included comments demonstrating how I feel that I improved from the former to the latter as perhaps it might be of use to see one application that clearly needed improvement, and one that I’m quite proud of. A lot of the comments relate back to my earlier advice on how to write a good application so make sure to check that out too!