Q&A

Networking, teamwork, voluntary work…There’s more to becoming a successful lawyer than passing lots of exams. But fear not, Lawyer 2B’s careers agony aunt Kay Pearson is here to help.

Being a team player features highly in the recruitment blurbs for lots of the firms. How do they assess candidates on this? Does it just mean being ‘one of them’?

Teamwork skills are highly valued, particularly by the larger firms, where you are more likely to be one of several lawyers working on a large case or deal. Rather than being ‘one of them’, you will need to show that you can get along with others. This involves being adaptable and accepting that, during your training contract at least, you will be a small cog in a big wheel. Working in a team also involves delivering work on time and using others’ strengths rather than doing everything for yourself.

The larger firms tend to assess teamwork skills through group exercises. This may involve a group discussion on a specified topic, a decision-making or negotiation exercise, or a practical task. During the exercise try to show that you can listen to others as well as contribute yourself, spot good ideas and be ready to build on others’ ideas and manage time.

I have decided to be an in-house lawyer. Is it possible to train in-house? If so, how do I go about it?

While it is possible to train in-house (around 70 training contracts are offered by commercial and industrial organisations each year), opportunities are limited. However, it is estimated that more than 220 organisations are authorised to take on trainees, although many legal departments don’t take trainees every year, preferring to recruit ‘as and when’. Coupled with a tendency for in-house contracts not to be advertised, this can be a tricky sector to enter.

If you’re still keen to apply, you can start to build a ‘hit list’ of possible recruiters by consulting the Law Society’s Directory of Solicitors & Barristers. This contains an index of employed solicitors listed alphabetically by name of organisation. Phone and postal details are provided, together with the names of all qualified legal staff. In some cases, there may be details of an email address and the organisation’s main website.

Similar information is available online at www.solicitors-online.com, the Law Society’s ‘Find a Solicitor’ service, although you will need a solicitor or organisation name to search under. You will then need to check with the Law Society whether the organisations you have identified are authorised to take trainees. Call 020 7242 1222 and ask for the training contracts department, or email info.services@lawsociety.org.uk. If the organisation is authorised, contact the organisation by phone or email to see whether it is recruiting.

I have just applied to study the LPC from September 2006 but still have no training contract. Do many people start the course without a training contract? How likely am I to gain one during the LPC itself?

Although it might not appear ideal, in my experience a significant number of students start the LPC without a training contract. There are several reasons for this. Many students make a late decision to enter law and therefore haven’t had the time to look for a training contract. Some may have looked but haven’t yet found one, often because they haven’t targeted their applications appropriately. And finally, not all legal employers recruit two years in advance like the large commercial and corporate firms and the larger sets of chambers. Many recruit one or two years ahead, or even less in the case of small firms. The benefit of the latter is that these firms can be clearer about their recruitment needs rather than making decisions two or three years in advance of when trainees start at the firm.

The likelihood that you will gain a training contract during your LPC depends on three factors: the general health of the legal market; what you can offer – academics, experience, life skills, tangible skills such as languages, IT and driving; and how you go about your job search during your LPC.

The key to finding a training contract while you are studying is to know what you want and to target your applications appropriately. If you’re realistic from the start, you will save time and energy by avoiding wasted applications. This will help maintain self-esteem and make your choice of LPC pathway and electives easier. For example, if you have a 2ii, research shows that small firms, legal aid work, mixed practices, the public sector and less well-known commercial firms stand out as better prospects. You will also need to present yourself well on paper, especially any academic blips. Gaining experience or adding to it is probably the best way of strengthening your application. This can include voluntary work and pro bono activities. Finally, don’t forget about networking and mentoring. Personal contact with a practitioner or recruiter may be the ‘chink in the armour’ that you need. Contacts can provide an insight into a specific practice area, give feedback on your CV or application and give guidance on how to approach employers.

Kay Pearson is careers consultant at the College of Law. Letters to Kay should be sent to Lawyer 2Bs editor Husnara Begum by email (husnara.begum@thelawyer.com). We regret that no correspondence can be entered into.