Posted on 14th May 2021 — Rebecca Longe

Paying it forward

What I Wish I Knew Before Applying

Hi! My name is Rebecca and I am a first seat Trainee Solicitor in the Corporate Finance department at Baker McKenzie. As is the case for many people, my journey to becoming a Trainee Solicitor at Baker McKenzie involved many memorable moments and some challenges along the way. Applying for training contracts in general involved a steep learning curve but the shared knowledge of peers and mentors helped me get there. The experiences and advice of Lawyers ahead of me was critical to my progression, so I am keen to pass on my insights in hopes that they help someone who is in the position that I was in not too long ago. Here are a few things which I learnt in my years of applying for training contracts, that I wish I had known from day one in my first year of university.

Each law firm is unique. Find the one that suits you best.

The competitive nature of the legal market can lead people to apply to every and any firm without thinking it through. Equally, it can lead people to apply to too many firms at once at the expense of creating good quality applications. It is a very common mistake – one which I certainly made in my first application round – to apply to a multitude of firms without having good reason to apply to those firms in particular. Often, this becomes evident by the quality of application you submit. If you are not convinced that a firm is right for you based on certain reasons, you’ll struggle to convince a recruitment team of the same. It’s important to identify which features of a training contract and legal career are important to you, understand why those features are important to you, and seek out firms who’s strengths are aligned to them.

I think it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly which features are important to you as a first year student but your ideas around this will continue to develop the more you research. By way of a short example, if you are interested in transactions that involve multiple jurisdictions, focus on applying to firms that handle such transactions. Don’t spend time applying to law firms that solely handle national deals.

A few characteristics that you can look out for to gain an understanding of a firm’s uniqueness include, practice area focus (this is about the firm’s departments), sector focus (this deals with the industries that the firm serves), key clients, global reach and firm culture. You can gather information about law firms in a variety of ways to help you gain better perspective on these characteristics. Look at the firm’s website(s), read their Chambers Student Guide profile, follow them on social media platforms and speak to people within the law firms.

Go to events and don’t be shy.

That brings me onto my next point; go to events and don’t be shy! Once you have filtered down which firms you want to focus on, look for opportunities to interact with them as much as possible and try to give a lasting (and good) first impression. Law fairs, open days and conferences, whether in person or virtual, afford you the chance to speak to people within the firm about their journey, their experience and their law firm. Outside of such events, it may be difficult to hear from Lawyers and the recruitment teams at the firms of your interest, so maximise the opportunity. Further, events are vital in building a rapport with a law firm prior to joining. In an interview, for instance, being able to speak about meaningful interactions that you have had which led you to apply for that law firm will illustrate your interest.

So, attend events and be your authentic self. If you’re a shy person and you have to give yourself a pep talk before each event, then do just that. Be engaged and show enthusiasm for the firm you are interacting with, their work and culture. A good way to do this is to be prepared with genuine questions that you have about working at that firm. After you have done your research and identified things that stand out to you about the firm, note down any questions that come to mind. Additionally, feel free to get to know the attendees as individuals. Don’t be afraid to talk about hobbies and interests outside of law.

You don’t have to explain all the facets of cryptocurrency in order to demonstrate your commercial awareness.

“Commercial awareness is essential for Lawyers” is a phrase I’m sure you’re familiar with. Whilst I don’t dispute this at all, I think it’s important to clarify what commercial awareness is and how best to develop that skill. I think of commercial awareness in two categories: industry knowledge and current affairs.

Taking the first category, industry knowledge includes general business acumen and an appreciation of the different practice areas in corporate law which together allow you to appreciate what it is that law firms do for their clients. So for instance, strong industry knowledge means that you’ll be able to envisage the range of ways in which a law firm can assist a client during a merger such as realising corporation changes, dealing with real estate issues, employment issues and a whole host of other issues that will arise.

The second category, being current affairs, addresses what most students tend to focus on which is keeping up with business news. This also encompasses the ways in which political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental developments are influencing business. This of course presents a vast amount of news to keep up with which means that you can be selective of the stories that you follow, and they can be topics that genuinely interest you. This will make it much easier for you to understand and discuss these topics avoiding the nervousness that often accompanies the idea of commercial awareness.

Rebecca Longe, third-seat Trainee Solicitor at Baker McKenzie.