Going to university is a scary but exciting time, particularly for law students as they start to wonder about the future because often it doesn’t feel that far away! As law firms start to recruit students very early on, sometimes up to 2 years before commencing a training contract, it is important to start thinking about how you can give your career the best head-start.
During my first year studying law I applied for quite a lot of first year schemes run by the big commercial law firms: these are becoming more and more common as particularly the top London firms realise that first year students want to start thinking about the future and what sort of firms they want to apply for in second year. These schemes tend to be insight/open days, although some firms such as Allen and Overy and Linklaters run schemes which last for up to four days for first year students.
The majority of these schemes ask at least some of the very similar generic application form questions, such as “why do you want to be a commercial solicitor?” or “why should we consider you for a place on our scheme?” and for these I offer one simple piece of advice – you answer must be adapted from firm to firm. Although most of the big commercial law firms try to distinguish themselves from each other, they operate in broadly the same practice areas, in almost the same geographical locations both nationally and globally, and therefore it is the subtleties that you must try and bring forward in your answers. These, I would argue, can sometimes be found on a firm’s website or in a brochure, but often it is only by talking to partners, associates and trainees that you can really grasp what makes a firm unique.
One of the easiest ways to access these people is by attending evening presentations run by law firms at many universities up and down the country, for example I attended around five such presentations during the first month and a half I spent at Exeter, on top of going along to the law fair in November. Although most of the students attending events like presentations and law fairs will be second year students and above, and I often find myself mitigating my level of study with the side-note “I’m just very keen!”.
I would argue that these events are one of the only ways you can really get to the heart of what makes a firm different. For example, by speaking to trainees at the Travers Smith stand at the law fair I really came to appreciate their collegiate atmosphere and the lack of hierarchy, which I could then mention on an application form. That can be the difference between the graduate recruitment team thinking that you’ve really done your research, or that actually you haven’t really made an effort on your application form.
In addition, make sure you make lots of applications – I think I did around eighteen applications over the course of the academic year so far, with most firms opening applications in October but some opening in January and a couple more in March. Although this sounds like a huge amount, I felt that by doing so many this really helped me know what to write on an application form, and this helped me refine some of my examples, as when you’re asked when you’ve worked in a team, or shown leadership, you need to be able to backup your statements with examples.
The application process also aided me in finding out what skills and attributes I needed to gain evidence for; by completing these forms in first year, I still had time during the rest of the year to build up my CV. By making a lot of applications, this increases your chances of being accepted onto more than one scheme: if, by the time of making vacation scheme applications, you’ve already done work experience at a couple of big law firms, then this does really add to your CV as not all applicants will have done such experience.
So, if you are in your first year or are preparing to start university in the next academic year seriously consider this as an option to help kick start your career hunt!