Training to be a solicitor: how to write a successful application

Coleen Mensa
Photograph: ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy

When I first applied for training contracts to be a solicitor, I was woefully underprepared. My applications were scattergun, the pressure to meet deadlines was immense, and I learned it’s all too easy to underestimate the amount of work involved. The start of winter typically marks the opening of training contract and pupillage application cycles – so here are some tips to boost your chances of success.

Create a shortlist

Make some time to decide on the firms you would like to develop your career with, and read their websites and brochures. Doing this before applications open saves lots of time. My shortlist included around 20 firms I’d ranked in order of preference.

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Apply early

Firms often read applications on a rolling basis. To make sure they read yours, get it in early – the opening and closing dates are often published well in advance. Make a spreadsheet with the following details: the name of the firm, the application opening date, the dates of completion for your first and second draft, and your application submission date. Sticking to these deadlines will ease the pressure.

Contact firms in advance

This is an easy tip that will pay off in the long run. One of the best ways to make your application stand out is by being known to the firm already. Distinguish yourself by communicating with firms you are interested in before the application cycles open. If you can’t connect in person, try social media – many firms have a presence on Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I had already established a relationship online with many of the firms I made successful applications to. For example, I took part in Q&As with firms on Facebook and messaged regularly on Twitter.

Prepare your answers

Certain stock questions will always come up during the application process. These are often the ones that need the most consideration and research, so it’s best to draft your answers during the quiet period before applications open. Then it’s only a case of tweaking your answers to hit the word limit. Ramnish Sharma, who recently finished his training and is now a solicitor at Mander Cruickshank, agrees: “When I was applying, I prepared answers beforehand. It allowed me to do myself justice and showcase my knowledge and experience.”

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Examples of questions might include:

  • Why do you want to become a lawyer?

  • Why are you applying to this firm?

  • What are the top three qualities that make a good solicitor/advocate, and how have you demonstrated them in the past?

  • Tell us about a time you worked as part of a team?

  • Tell us about a recent story in the news that interests you?