I get a lot of emails and messages on social media asking for advice and insights into the job application process for lawyers, in line with what I regularly write and share posts on. On this page, I’ve done my best to give a short answer to the most common questions I get asked. At the bottom of this page, you can find a link to my resource page, which contains a list useful links you can use to learn from home.
RESEARCHING LAW FIRMS
Where can I go to learn more about a law firm?
There are a variety of ways to research firms. In-person events, like Open Days, networking conferences and law fairs, are a great way to get instant, personal responses to your questions. If that’s not your thing, heading online, you can find a bunch of information via social media, annual reports, 3rd party websites and even speaking to members of the firm directly via email/LinkedIn.
What’s the purpose behind my research?
Researching the firms you’re applying to are the critical first step in submitting an application to them. You need to use the information you find to help generate genuine reasons for you wanting to apply there that you can then link back to your experiences and studies to use as evidence for how those interests have developed.
What makes ‘similar’ firms different from each other?
No two firms are the same! There are a lot of differences between two firms that are, say, focused on international commercial work and based in London. Think about smaller nuances – trainee intake size, secondment opportunities, clients, the firm’s mission statement for the future etc.. Whilst such characteristics might be shared by more than one firm, only the firm you’re applying to will have that unique combination of factors (if you get down to enough detail.)
Why did Baker McKenzie appeal to you?
I always wanted to work for a firm that facilitated international opportunity. To me, Bakers were leading in relation to this area, with more than 70% of their work being cross-border and providing both client and international secondment opportunities. In addition, the emphasis on promoting a collaborative, inclusive working culture and focusing on trainee development with a smaller-than-average intake really appealed to me. Finally, the full-service nature of the firm and client base meant that the level of training provided to trainees would be both varied and high-quality.
P.S. Hope that didn’t come across as too hard a sell. 🙂
What is ‘commercial awareness’?
To me, it encompasses two key complementary elements – externally understanding how events will impact clients and firms, as well as internally being able analyse your own role/firm/industry and understand how firms operate and innovate as businesses. I covered this in more detail in my free e-book on commercial awareness, which you can download here.
How do I get it?
In addition to the research resources suggested above, it’s good to build a habit of reading news and business stories from reputable sources and sites. Podcasts (hint hint), books, webinars and work experience are all also great ways to learn more about some of these concepts. It’s useful to think of commercial awareness as a habit, mindset and skill that you need to commit to – again, I cover this in a little more detail in my free e-book. You can read my post on commercial awareness resources here.
Do I need to be a specialist in lots of different topics?
If anything, it’s better to be a jack-of-all trades in your knowledge of commercial issues instead of being a hyper-specialist in a few areas for the purposes of interviews and applications. You don’t know the topics that you’ll be asked to comment on ahead of time and being able to have a broad set of understanding that you can apply to most situations will generally be more favourable than becoming too tunnel-visioned in your approach. Having said that, it is useful to try and go into greater depth with your level of understanding should the firm specialise in, or you profess to want to work in, a certain topic/practice area.
Why do I need it?
Legal advice without a sense of commerciality is of little use to clients. You need to be able to account for your client’s business structure, budget, time window and other mitigating factors when advising on the merits of legal options. You should think of this as a two-part test: legally, are X, Y or Z feasible and then commercially which option makes the most sense/fits the client’s needs best in this situation?
How do I use it?
You’ll often be asked to demonstrate your commercial awareness throughout the application process – either directly via explicit commercial questions, or indirectly when recruiters look for evidence of it in case study or group exercise answers without explicitly asking for it. You’ll also need to continue to apply your commerciality once you begin practice as well, in applying to the two-stage test outlined above.
What should I bear in mind when selecting a ‘recent news story’ to analyse?
‘Tell us about a news story and how it affects our firm/clients.’ One of the most common questions on any application form, this question is explicitly asking you to demonstrate your commercial awareness. When choosing a topic, keep it recent, relevant to the firm’s practice, somewhat significant (i.e. it is at least worthy of some form of discussion/headline) and make sure it is something you are interested in and competent to talk about. When it comes to analysing the story itself, keep clients’ needs squarely in focus and consider how each stakeholder to the story (directly involved or not) might react – SWOT and PESTLE aren’t perfect but make for a good starting point.
What’s your one key piece of advice for writing applications?
Between each of my three application cycles, my level of experience or academics didn’t really change that much. However, what did change was my application approach and strategy. The most important lesson I learnt was to tailor my application thoroughly – you shouldn’t be able to swap out the name of the firm you’re applying to for their competitor and it still make (reasonable) sense. Make sure each sentence you write directly contributes to the recruiter’s question, therefore, with demonstrable evidence for any claim or skill you describe.
Do I need to just rely on any legal experience I have?
Absolutely not! Firms will, for the most post, holistically judge candidates based on their complete package, which legal experience would certainly be a part of. However, it’s in no means the entirety – non-legal work experience (e.g. retail), academics, extra-curricular commitments, positions of responsibility, your motivations for joining the firm, interview performance, test scores and so much more will be part of the final decision making process as to how well you’d fit with the firm as a candidate. Non-legal work experiences are a great way to evidence your transferable skills, so don’t shy away from them in an application!
What’s a common mistake to avoid?
Not answering the recruiter’s question. Consider these two examples: ‘Why do you want to work for this firm’ vs ‘Why might clients choose us over out competitors’. For both of these questions, you’d like be talking about very similar things, namely the firm’s key strengths and USPs (unique selling points). However, the focus between the two is subtly different. In the first question, you’re being asked to answer personally why those points are important and as such you’ll likely link your answer to any relevant experience you may have. However, in the latter question, you’re being asked from a commercial perspective. It’s here where you can utilise your understanding of the legal market and really leverage your commercial awareness.
Any tips for the Watson-Glaser test?
In short – practice, practice, practice. Increasing your familiarity with how the test works will eventually pay off in your final scores. When assessing the truth of claims based on a passage, watch out for words which create ‘if/else’ conditional statements on claims, e.g. ‘depending on’, ‘subject to’, ‘notwithstanding’ etc. I’d recommend assessmentday.co.uk for some free resources you can utilise. I also provided some further advice in this LinkedIn post.
How should I answer competency questions?
The STAR question format offers a great structure for evidencing not just what your responsibilities were in a given situation, but importantly how you wen above and beyond them to achieve the end result. The principle of showing your ability to deliver consistently and exceed expectations (where possible) is something you should bear in mind throughout the entire application.
Any tips for settling interview nerves?
When it came to meeting my interviewer and being walk to ‘the room’, asking small-talk questions about the person (e.g. how was your weekend? What have you been working on today?) will help ‘humanise’ the process in your brain – they’ll start to look lees like the scary recruiter scribbling notes about you on paper and instead the fishing enthusiast, or Liverpool supporter, or avid painter, or whatever they may be.
How should I approach video interviews?
Video interviews can often feel a bit awkward, clumsy and confusing, especially if you’ve never done one before! Like any interview, go over your CV and application thoroughly and make sure you can explain each element of it without notes. You can try to research potential questions ahead of time (beyond the expected ones like ‘why law’ and ‘why this firm’) by checking out student and careers forums – but don’t take these as gospel that they’ll appear in yours! One trick I employed was to create a hyperlinked Google doc with short bullet point refreshers to each of my prepared questions, so that I’d find what I needed quickly to weave into my answer if it came up. More tips on LinkedIn, here.
How should I approach a case study interview?
Case study interviews are a great way to test your ability to think commercially, understand your thought processes when analysing problems and how you convey information/set out options. Keep the briefing of the task squarely in your mind whenever you’re divulging information to the interviewer(s). If need be, qualify how your advice might change based on current unknowns, or predictable changes that might happen in the situation. It goes without saying, but if you have any commercially relevant outside knowledge that has influenced your decision making, now is the time to make the interviewer aware of it!
How should I prepare for an assessment centre?
Brush up on your knowledge of the firm and its recent deals. Revise key commercial topics that have dominated headlines and understand what trends they’re a part of. Know your CV, cover letter and any other prior application steps inside out. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand (or at least as best as you can) and never trust the tube to get you somewhere without a delay (or two). 🙂
Any tips for settling nerves?
Nerves are completely natural. Each person ultimately has their own approach to help themselves stay calm and grounded. For me, I did my best to say hello and introduce myself to other candidates whilst waiting for the interview/assessment centre to start. To get to an assessment centre, you have truly placed yourself in the top pool of the candidates the firm are interested in and they clearly see something in you. Have faith in the fact that your application, video interview and every other step before this one got you to where you were.
How should I approach reviewing documentation and information?
In any given task or interview situation, you might be asked to review a set of (usually fictional) documents, statutory laws and other information like financial statements. You’ll often be given slightly too much information that’s relevant to your task and not slightly too little time to understand and analyse it all comfortably. Scan through documents based on the (expected) questions you’ll be asked and extract the core relevance/importance of whatever it is you’re looking at.
How should I approach a group exercise?
More talking ≠ better performance in a group exercise. Help guide the group collectively toward the task at hand – invite those who are quieter to contribute and try to build on others’ ideas than disagree with them outright without offering an alternative. If it’s a client-based task, keep their needs in focus and apply the two-step test as outlined previously.
NETWORKING & PERSONAL BRANDING
How can I seek out mentors for advice?
Finding a mentor can be a great way to get feedback on a potential application, ask more about a particular firm, or just generally get some guidance. Social media, conferences, word of mouth, open invitations and (appropriately) cold-emailing are all examples of sources for potential mentors.
How can I learn from home?
Thanks to our current digital age, you don’t even have to leave your house to learn new things or network with new people! In fact, when I first founded this blog, nearly all of my new connections and mentoring conversations for the first three months or so were made from my bedroom with a laptop. Explore the options I outlined previously to find new mentors. If you’re looking to learn, check out this handy resource list I made on LinkedIn that’s full of free courses you can take at home. Don’t underestimate the power of a good podcast, too…
Any tips for those who are introverted/get nervous easily?
Taking a friend or someone you know with you to a networking event can be a great way to alleviate nerves and keep a familiar face at hand should you need it. There’s also ample opportunity to meet new people and network digitally through social media and email, where you can compose a response and review it before sending it off to the other side.
What should I write in a cold call or telephone/coffee invitation?
Let’s face it – people are busy. That’s why it’s so important to keep messages short, to the point and clear. Briefly outline your current situation or background, where you came into contact with them/found their profile and what you’re looking for from them. Again, try not to make questions too broad and make sure they’re actually in a position to help with their knowledge!
HAVE I MISSED ANYTHING?
If you’re looking for some further advice and more in-depth tips, head over to my ‘resources’ page. You can also visit my social media hub and follow my accounts there. Finally, if you’re tired of listening to me all the time and what some fresh perspectives, check out the ‘More From Law’ podcast, where I interview experts guests on a variety of topics geared towards aspiring and current lawyers alike. You can find links to all three of these pages at the link below.