You may be beginning your final
year of University but you are about to find out that concentrating
on studying for your finals is going to be put on hold as you begin
the time consuming process of applying for a legal traineeship in a
Scottish law firm. While the traineeship will not start until the autumn
after you have completed the Diploma in Legal Practice, many firms begin
their recruitment two years beforehand.
There are no set rules and there
is certainly no time limit for applying for legal traineeships. There
will be the initial burst of application deadlines during October and
November but some of the large firms and many of the medium size ones
recruit in the summer months of the following year and even later. There
is consequently no point in panicking if you still don't have a traineeship
by the time you start the Diploma in Legal Practice. Despite this advice,
you must be very wary of complacency.
A work experience placement in
the summer does not guarantee you a job with that firm and sadly, in
many cases, does not even guarantee you an interview. At the same time,
excellent grades at University do not guarantee you a job although they
do help and poor grades do not mean automatic rejection. Most employers
nowadays, if not all, focus on your extra curricular activities and
these will help to garnish an otherwise dull CV. In short, during the
whole application process, don't panic, get organised, get your head
down and get on with it.
Contained below is a guide to
applying for a traineeship based on the experiences of students who
have been through this process in recent years. The guide is not intended
to be all encompassing nor is it to be taken as the only way to apply.
It is simply extra help and advice which you may find useful when applying,
but then again you may not so don't worry if you haven't followed it
to the letter or even at all, just use it if you want to.
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The whole process of applying
for a traineeship begins in September of your fourth year at University.
It doesn't matter how early you begin as nothing really desperately
needs to be done until the beginning of October. It is though, better
to be prepared. To start off with, you should find out information.
Finding Out Information
Much of your time during September
and the beginning of October should be spent collecting information
about law firms, making decisions on which ones to apply to, collecting
application forms either by writing to the firms themselves and enquiring
about their application process, by phoning them or by visiting their
websites. A list of web addresses for firms can be found on the Scottish Law Firm Page
on the Scottish Law Firm Directory. Many of the firms
will send application forms and information on applying to the Universities.
These are normally found in your law library and information is usually
posted on notice boards. These should be checked on a very regular basis
as the information can change quickly and can be very important.
In order to organise yourself
for the application process, you should begin by finding out information
about legal jobs in Scotland. Traineeships are available in law firms,
the local council, and in many other areas of the legal community. While
this guide will concentrate upon firms, do not overlook these other
areas if they appeal to you.
In September each year both the
Herald and the Scotsman newspapers publish a supplement which examines
in depth the Scottish legal Community. The supplements rank the firms
by fee earners and by practice area so that readers can see which firms
performed best in which practice areas over the course of the previous
year. Each supplement is full of information about the firms, interviews
with solicitors and clues to which direction the firms are heading in.
It is advisable to try and get the supplements from both the newspapers
as they can prove to be invaluable in applying to firms and when getting
information for the interview process.
A lot of information contained
in the supplements stems from the Legal 500 which is one of the most
useful sources of information on law firms available. The legal 500
is available on the web here and is normally available
in the Universities and can be used to find law firms by areas of practice
and also get hold of their addresses. Another useful source is the Law Society of Scotland which has a database of
solicitors in Scotland which can be useful if looking for addresses
of law firms in your area. Also, Chambers is a good starting point too. For English firms, RollonFriday has an excellent guide on its Inside Info page.
The most important thing before
you get started is to get organised. Take a note of who you have written
to, how you apply to them, when their invitation evening is and when
the deadline for applying is. This way you can avoid missing out on
any opportunities. As an example and in order to assist you, an MS Excel
Spreadsheet with a list of firms and information you need to find out
is available on the Student Zone here. Do use this spreadsheet and customise it to suit your
own individual preferences.
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Invitation evenings are held
either at the firm's offices, at the University or in a hotel somewhere.
Some firms require you to write to them to confirm you will attend and
to bring along the things which you need in order to apply. If this
is required and you are attending, try and do this and if you are not
then write and apologise for your absence enclosing the information
which you would have been required to bring. Either way of applying
should be acceptable.
The evenings, which are usually
advertised in the law faculties, traditionally take place during October
and can be a very good introduction to the application process. They
can also be a welcome source of free drink and food but whatever you
do, don't get drunk and insult the partners! The purpose of the invitation
evenings differs depending on which viewpoint you take. For the law
firms, it is a chance to sell themselves to you and quash any rumours
about the firm which you may have heard (e.g. the trainees are overworked).
From the applicant's point of view, it is a chance to find out more
about the firm itself, meet the trainees and the practitioners and learn
more about what they are looking for in prospective trainees.
You don't have to attend all
the evenings nor do you have to attend any at all so don't worry if
you are unable to do so.
Are the firms taking notes
on those who attend the evenings?
In truth, I don't know. It does
appear though that some of the firms do, however at the same time they
can't possibly base their recruitment on this and it is not something
to be terribly concerned about.
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Some of the firms require a CV
and a covering letter but many require you to complete an application
form. You will find out how to apply by getting information from the
firm either on the web, at University or by writing to them. A list
of some things which could be in your CV are contained here.
Some firms put
their application forms on the web in addition to making paper copies
available in the traditional ways, most commonly by sending them to
the Universities. When you send in the application you should have a
brief covering letter, an example of which is contained here and will often be
required to send in a passport photo for their records.
Completing the application
A little hint for when you collect
the application forms is to get a couple of copies so that when you
make a mistake (note: not if - when!) you are able to start again on
a new form.
Aside from asking questions about
your grades both at school and University, as well as your previous
employment history, more general questions will be asked about your
hobbies, what you see as being an important area of law in the future
and why, which areas of law you are interested in and so on. Because
you are not submitting your CV, it is a good idea to have it beside
you when completing the form so that you may use it as a checklist in
order to ensure that you add the most relevant information.
There are no right or wrong answers
at this stage and while there may be silly answers and sensible answers
you will know yourself whether what you have written is okay. A statement
like, for example, "I like people" just sounds plain weird
and doesn't convey much useful information whereas if you were to say
something along the lines of "I enjoy working with people in a
group or as part of a team and also find it easy to get on with more
individual oriented tasks" then you will recognise that this looks
a little better. Try not to waffle as you write things like this as
it is very easy to become consumed by the need to put down buzzwords
like "group skills" and "communication skills".
Afterall, we all have communication skills!
Alternative methods of applying
This section could also be referred
to as the "What a load of crap" section because it is this
expression which most law students will use several times during the
application process to describe the use of 'psychometric testing'. I
am led to believe that law firms find the information gathered from
such testing very useful and I would be very interested to learn how.
Some applicants when applying go to websites and do similar tests online
in order to practice but it is difficult to tell if this helps at all.
Psychometric testing seems to involve answering questions relating to
your personality and how you work and is used to discover your true
personality. There is very little point in trying to cheat this test
and when you see it you'll realise that you probably can't so you may
as well enjoy the experience. Fortunately, very few firms use this form
of testing so it shouldn't trouble you too much.
Some of the deadlines are actually
quite soon and each year they seem to get earlier and earlier. At the
moment it seems that the deadlines range from the second week of October
to the end of November and later. Do not miss a deadline for a firm
you wish to apply to. You can be sure that late applications are not
looked on as favourably as ones which arrive on time and may even be
ignored. Allow yourself at least 2-7 days before the deadline in which
to post your completed application and avoid any postal delays.
Waiting for a response can take
anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. The deadlines are usually
sufficiently spread out that when you have finished one batch of applications,
another set is due to be done. If you do have some free time, you might
consider doing some studying. Remember, although it may no longer seem
like it, you are still at University!
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Some interviews will last for
15 minutes, others for up to an hour and a half. Some firms require
simply one interview, others two or three and others still, an entire
day of activities at their offices with group tasks and individual assignments.
There is no way to know exactly how to prepare for an interview but
there are some useful pointers which are contained below. Remember that
each firm varies in its approach and there is no guarantee that any
of the advice below will be relevant in every situation.
Preparing for the interview.
Predicting the questions you
will be asked in an interview is not an easy task and it may be more
advisable to be prepared for all eventualities. By speaking to people
who have had interviews before you, it may be possible to work out commonly
asked questions however, this is never a guarantee that they will come
up again. The type of questions will often vary significantly, from
general questions about yourself to more specific questions about what
you know about the firm or about the legal side of recent current affairs.
The first interview will normally
be a more simple, pleasant and relaxed affair. The interview will often
involve a run through your CV or your application form asking questions
about what you have written so that you may elaborate further on your
previous answers. There is a guide to this type of Interview contained
on the Work Experience section of the Student Zone here which you should
read. Be warned, interviews do not follow a set formula and you may
find some firms have only one interview which uses a combination of
both types. Asking questions at the invitation evening and finding out
the experiences of others in your class will help you discover how each
Frequently asked questions
There are some common questions
which frequently come up in interviews and these are:
What areas of law interest you?
Areas often covered in the
In the second interviews and
sometimes in the first ones you may come across questions about current
legal and commercial issues. As a guide, here are examples of some of
the issues which interviewees were quizzed upon in the rounds which
took place last year, in Autumn 1999.
Bank of Scotland/Royal Bank of
Scotland fight for NatWest and the potential benefits of a successful
Vodaphone/Mannesmann merger and
more generally on the telecoms industry.
Scottish Parliament and devolution.
Scotland Act and Human Rights.
This year, some topical areas
may be the future of the London Stock Exchange, the Euro, Human Rights,
law firms in the 21st Century and so on.
How to prepare for the second
type of questioning
Buy or read on the internet the
FT and the Scotsman or Herald which both have
excellent business sections towards the centre of the newspaper which
will keep you up-to-date with Scottish business and legal news. As mentioned
above, the supplements from the Herald and Scotsman in September about
the Scottish legal community will also be useful.
It is a good idea not to prepare
specific answers because in reality specific answers only answer specific
questions and you will rarely get asked the same question which you
have prepared for. Think in general terms about the answers you would
give to questions on the areas which you have chosen. Remember most
importantly to relax, smile, be polite, courteous and punctual.
Travelling to interviews can
be quite costly and only some of the firms will refund your travel expenses.
This is a bit unfortunate as students in Aberdeen will invariably pay
significantly more than those in the other cities for the privilege
of attending the same interview.
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Rejection letters can, unfortunately,
be a bit like buses. While you're waiting to hear something positive
from a firm you could receive many rejection letters gradually or all
on the same day. When they do arrive, don't despair. It is not an attack
on your personality nor an attack on your ability. There are too many
variables at work in the application process to begin to pinpoint exactly
what went wrong. Some firms will give you feedback if asked but most
won't be too happy if they receive 300 phone calls from unhappy applicants.
A couple of other things you could do are apply to some more firms and
check your CV. Rack your brain for more things that should be in your
CV, which you can then add to application forms, and get prepared for
any interviews which you may have.
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If you are lucky enough to receive
an offer for a job, remember, you don't have to accept it straight away
and you don't have to accept the first job offer you get. On the otherhand
you don't want to risk getting no jobs at all by turning one down and
not receiving any more. Some firms will put enormous pressure on you
to accept their offer quickly by phoning you up at home or by giving
you a limited length of time in which to accept the job. So what can
you do if this firm is not your first choice or if you can get better
opportunities at another firm? Your options vary depending upon which
stage you are at with the other firm or firms. Try not to tell the firm
which has offered you the job that it is not your first choice but simply
tell them that you need more time in which to make your decision. Then
contact the firm which you would prefer to work for and then explain
the situation without putting too much pressure on them to reach a decision
but at the same time emphasising the urgent nature of your situation.
If they can't give you a definite answer, then this is where you will
have to make a very difficult decision. Do you gamble or do you play
safe? Stick or twist? It is a hard decision to make with unpleasant
consequences if it backfires and unfortunately this situation is not
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Kevin Crombie, 2000
Sorry for the grammatical errors
and spelling mistakes! I started off writing in the third person but
seem to have drifted into first person quite quickly. I blame http://www.selfpromotion.com
for this as I spent an entire day using the site which is written in
the first person and couldn't get back into third. Hope to have a new
version of relevance to this year's Traineeship Applicants shortly.
If any law firms would like to add anything or comment then please do
so by e-mailing me or simply leave it on the bulletin board.