Securing a training contract is the hardest step in your journey to qualify as a solicitor. It can also be a difficult and frustrating process. In such a highly competitive profession and no shortage of well-qualified rivals competing for a shrinking number of training contracts, anything that you can do to strengthen your CV and differentiate yourself from other applicants, is well worth doing.
Here are seven suggestions of practical things that you can do during your time off to boost your chances.
Employers are increasingly looking for well-rounded worldly individuals and travel is a great way to pick up new skills and stand out from the crowd. Of course it’s important to do the right kind of travelling. If you spent two weeks lapping up the sun in Miami or on a pub crawl in Bavaria, it might be best left unmentioned! Environmental and conservation projects, teaching abroad or simply exploring new cultures are all useful ways of showing initiative, an interest in the world, communication and decision-making skills. How you financed your trip can also demonstrate key qualities that employers look for.
Work experience and vacation schemes
There are many ways to enhance the legal side of things on your CV, be it through traditional vacation schemes or through more non-traditional routes. Many law centres such as CAB look for volunteer legal advisers. Law centres and legal clinics are also often on the lookout for helpers. If you want to brush up on your advocacy skills why not join the Free Representation Unit or look at becoming a trade union representative if you work part-time.
LawCareers provide links to various pro bono initiatives here.
Learn a language
In the global market place having a second language under your belt is no small feat. Make sure to learn a language which can be useful to a prospective firm, such as French, German, Spanish or Mandarin. If you hope for a secondment to a particular foreign office, being able to speak the local language will certainly put you ahead.
Take on a new hobby
If you’ve always wanted to take up rowing on the Thames or learn how to kick-box but never felt you had the time to commit, now could be a good time. Try and pick something with a team element to highlight that you are capable of socialising and being a team player in an informal setting.
Write a great CV and covering letter
Spend some time putting your skills and experience on paper. Focus on communication and relationship building, both of which are vital to a career in law and on demonstrating how you have developed these skills. Employers look for the ‘three E’s’: experience, education and extra-curricular, so highlight those skills using a variety of different examples. If there are skills you are having trouble demonstrating, now would be a good time to think about activities you can take on to hone in on those.
There are lots of ways to get involved in charity work and volunteering both at home and abroad. There are so many initiatives that there is literally something for everyone be it in fundraising, programmes, events management, policy or even working in a soup kitchen or a charity shop. Law firms are increasingly upping their pro bono commitments owing to the recent cuts in legal aid and so volunteering is a great way of demonstrating that you would be open to joining any pro bono initiative that your potential firm has to offer.
Research the firm you want to go to
It comes as no surprise that firms which are about to invest thousands of pounds in their future trainees, want to be ensure that applicants have a thorough understanding of their work, culture, ambitions and objectives. They need to feel that you and the firm will be a good match for one another. So spend some time researching the firms you want to join and ask yourself why. Understand how the firm sees themselves, their ‘language’ and how they distinguish themselves from other law firms. Think about how the firm’s ethos matches with your own skills, future development and career path.