HOW TO APPLY TO A LAW FIRM: TIPS FROM CLIFFORD CHANCE, HEWITSONS, AND SHEARMAN & STERLING LLP FUTURE
Updated: May 2, 2019
Ladies, application season is upon us! The months of blood, sweat, and tears churning out essays, sitting through long lectures, and burying your head in your books have led up to this moment. We at WCAN understand how daunting the process can be, so we reached out to 3 incredible women who have been through the application process and have been successful (securing training contracts with the likes of Cliifford Chance LLP, Hewitsons LLP, and Shearman & Sterling LLP) to give you some advice on how to apply to a Law firm!
Our first interviewee is Raifa Rafiq, who graduated with an English degree from Queen Mary University, and took the GDL route to Law. Although she studied English at university, Raifa found herself interested in Law, and from her first year at university she set about finding opportunities to draw her closer to her goal of becoming a Solicitor.
From her first year of university, she ensured she planned the steps she was going to take to reach her goal. Her first point of action, attending different open days held by law firms, including Clifford Chance and BLP.
Raifa explains that at these open days, she took the time to network, and make herself likeable to future colleagues, “By attending networking events, you make yourself visible to the firm, for example, Clifford Chance keeps a record of students who’ve attended their networking events through the email sign-up." At each event, she signed up to the mailing list. This meant that when looking at her application, the company can see she’s frequently engaged with them, presenting her as an eager and favourable candidate.
Before securing a training contract from Clifford Chance LLP, she managed to get on to MacFarlane's Vacation Scheme, a brief 4-day scheme at Clifford Chance, and their winter vacation scheme for non-Law students (which, unfortunately, no longer exists). To boost her CV, seeing as she wasn’t from a law background, she engaged in several extra-curricular activities.
When asked about her top tips for securing a training contract, Raifa explained:
- Learn how they hire. Learn firm competencies, on which their applications are based, and structure your interview answers based on these competencies.
- Be tactful. You cannot approach these firms with the typical “I’ve always been interested in Law” attitude. You must find your niche.
- Practice, consistently! Especially for online assessments, if you know they are your weakness. “I bought the MyAssessment Day pack, and practiced at least 3 times a day before applying.”
- Do a lot of mock interviews and increase your commercial awareness. "I kept a diary of all the major headlines. I chose one news area and gained a deep understanding of it. I also learned to weave that knowledge into questions during interviews. For example, when asked about an area of interest in the news, I talked about East Africa and foreign investors, as it was an area I’d studied well.”
If you would like further tips from Raifa, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.
We caught up with Motunrayo Adeeyo, a Law Graduate from the University of Warwick. Motunrayo had always pursued a career in Law, as a Barrister, however she changed her mind in her final year, wanting to become a Solicitor. In her first year of university, she secured a vacation scheme with Hewitsons LLP, a 1-Day shadowing experience at the Criminal Justice Centre, and a mini pupillage at the Senate House Chambers.
During her second year, she secured more summer work experiences. She was offered 4 mini pupillages, and decided to do 3 (Senate House Chambers, St Mary’s Chambers, and St John’s Chambers). To boost her CV, she engaged in extra-curricular activities, for example, becoming a university Campus Ambassador, and the BPP Campus Ambassador.
At the end of her pupillages, she decided she wanted to be a Solicitor, so she applied to different Law firms. In her final year, she was offered a training contract at Hewitsons LLP, an offer she deemed lucky to have had, given much of her experience had been mini pupillages.
When asked about her top tips for securing a training contract, Motunrayo explained:
- Get as much work experience as possible, and do your research!When applying, be open minded and be realistic to other firms. “Don’t focus on just Magic Circle firms! If you know the firm only takes Oxbridge students, and you’re not one, look elsewhere.”
- Attend networking events hosted by law firms, and talk to trainees. “Although the HR route is popular for building network, trainees are the best people to let you know if you’re suitable for the firm.” They can help you understand application process, and what you can do to boost your CV.When doing interviews, be honest, prepared, and know your CV.
- Be clear and concise on WHY you want to do this. Be great at selling yourself. Think of your cover letter as a personal statement. Write a section on why you chose the firm, and what makes you stand out.If you would like further tips from Motunrayo, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.
Lastly, we interviewed Jeniz White, a law Graduate from the University of Leicester.
Jeniz had always pursued a career in Law, as a Solicitor, and strongly believes networking and work experience are key to a successful application. Having obtained a breadth of work experiences (seriously, check out her CV), Jeniz secured a training contract with Shearman & Sterling LLP in her final year of university.
Much like our previous interviewees, Jeniz stresses the importance of securing vacations schemes and how reputable it makes a candidate look to a Law firm. Firms like MishCon de Reya LLP offer 100% of their training contracts through their vac schemes, other firms, around 80-90%.
When asked about her top tips for securing a training contract, Jeniz explained:
- Get as much help as you can, and don’t be shy about it.Get in touch with Diversity programs such as Aspiring Solicitors and the BLD Foundation. The former offer mock interviews, and the latter targets BAME students who want to pursue a Law career. “They provided me with a mentor, which led to amazing work opportunities.” BLD also host a Commercial Awareness Competition where the lucky winner is awarded 5 vacation schemes without applying!
- Get a mentor, in Law if possible. This you can do through networking events, and diversity programs like those mentioned above. Mentors can be trainees or partners, and they can provide you with opportunities you wouldn’t have discovered yourself. They are a library of knowledge, so take advantage of their expertise.
- Even if you are unable to secure Law specific work experiences, get other business experiences. This will help inform your understanding of the corporate world, and the general working world.Get involved in extra-curricular activities. For example, you can volunteer to be a Campus Ambassador for Diversity organisations, take on a leadership or supportive role in a university society.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses, use them to your advantage! For example, Clifford Chance do essay competitions for vacation schemes. If you know writing is your strength, take advantage of schemes such as these.
- Network as much as possible!Don’t give up at the first hurdle, and don’t worry about failure! You may not get an offer from every law firm you apply to, but don’t give up. Law is extremely competitive, remember this. Be excellent in everything you do.
- Finally; Practice! Practice! Practice!
Teju Soyinka. Teju is a Psychology Graduate from the University of Warwick, and currently works as a Consultant at Ernst & Young.