September 03, 2015
Surf Bum to City Slicker
I asked our very own Sean Hooker, future Trainee Solicitor at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co, for an insight into how he went from working in a surf shop in Cornwall to securing a training contract at an international law firm. Here are his top 5 tips.
1. More than a free coffee mug
Open days are what you make of them. On one end of the scale, you could come away with a sack full of freebies, a jaded sense of different law firms, and a ringing in your ears. On the other end of the scale, you could bag work experience and some invaluable contacts. Planning ahead, asking insightful questions and building a rapport with a firm’s recruiters and trainees can pay dividends. Writing on your application that you attended X law fair, spoke to Y and learnt about Z shows that you’ve taken a genuine interest in that firm. It will also help you to stand out amongst the 1000s of applications that firm receives. You’d be surprised at what firms remember from open days too. A graduate recruitment manager I was speaking to remembered me telling her 4 months previously at a law fair about a trip to Malaysia that I’d been planning. This approach will certainly improve your chances of getting past the application stage. It may even lead further: I was offered a place on a firm’s insight day on the strength of our conversation at a law fair.
2. Beggars should be choosers
In your future career, do you see yourself closing billion-pound deals at a giant city firm or doing conveyancing at a high street firm? Deciding what type of firm/work appeals is vital and will ensure you produce more targeted applications. Know your Bird & Bird from your Bird & Co. On this note, carefully consider any training contract offers that do come your way. The firm you train at can set the tone for the rest of your career.
3. I like reading, socialising and films
Everyone likes the above so talk about your wider interests in your application. They show that you’re well rounded, help you to stand out and give you and your potential interviewer some good talking points. That being said, bear in mind the stereotypes that some interests carry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a Norwegian black metal enthusiast or an avid train spotter but think about the impression that these might leave on a firm's recruitment team. I surf and spent half my training contract interview defending the fact that I wasn’t a lazy surf bum who would be too free-thinking to listen to partners. It helps if you’ve developed your hobby too. If being into football means you watch Soccer Saturday with an accumulator, that’s one thing. If being into football means you play for a university team, took a position on its committee and help to coach kids, that’s another thing.
4. Vacation Vacation Vacation Scheme
Vacation schemes are fantastic. They improve your understanding of a firm and its work, and enable you to see if the culture of the firm is right for you. Such experience gives you something to talk about during the inevitable ‘why law?’ question that cements itself in 99% of application forms and interviews. Furthermore, vacation schemes show your commitment to the profession infinitely more than saying you want to be a solicitor because you’re doing an LLB and watch Suits. Importantly, don’t fret if you’re unsuccessful in securing a vacation scheme. Firms also have more ad hoc work experience/insight days that are open to all. Research each firm’s website to see when these are. For example, some firms offer insight days which are a great opportunity to meet people from the firm. Smaller firms may also offer work experience on receipt of a well-crafted CV and cover letter. The key here is to tailor each application to that firm and, if possible, address it to a person rather than ‘Sir/Madam’.
5. Be a super superficial networker
As a prospective trainee, networking might seem superficial. However, talking to as many lawyers as possible will open doors. A quick chat at a firm’s open day could lead to an email exchange which could lead to the offer of work experience and so on. As mentioned in point 1, it will give you more to talk about in your application form. There are many ways to make contact with current solicitors. Aspiring Solicitors has almost 180 ‘Professional Ambassadors’ that you can message for advice. They also organise regular insight days at firms. Your university may have a database of solicitor alumni that can be contacted. The Student Room is also a good way of hearing from other candidates about the recruitment processes at different firms.
It can be daunting approaching lawyers for the first time. However, remember the cliché that they were once in your shoes. Additionally, arm yourself with stock questions that you can break the ice with or use to recover any awkward silences. They could include: “why did you decide to work at X?”; “what was your career up to this point – did you train at X?”; or “what do you enjoy about X practice area?”. While generic questions, they will garner quite personal (often lengthy) responses that will give you the chance to ease into the conversation. A firm handshake and good introduction also go a long way. However, don’t be too brash: shoving a business card in someone’s face in the first 5 seconds won’t go down well.