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What To Do If Your Training Contract Applications Are Rejected – Whiteboard Wednesday

SUMMARY – What To Do If Your Training Contract Applications Are Rejected

Hello, and welcome to Whiteboard Wednesday.

Today, I’m going to be talking about what you can do if you find your training contract or vacation scheme application is rejected.

If you’ve recently applied for training contracts or vacation schemes and your applications have been rejected, I’m going to try and give you some advice and some tips in terms of how you might be able to identify what the issues are and how you can submit better applications in the future.

Were any of your applications successful?

If you got past the application stage (so you were invited for an interview, or some online screening) then I can tell you, your application will be good.

You might not have got a 100% success rate, but if you are being invited to an interview or getting past that first stage, there is something good about your application, so you’re on the right tracks.

Although you may not have secured a training contract in this round, getting past the application stage is often the hardest part, so actually you are doing well if some of your applications are successful.

Were all your applications rejected?

If all of your applications have been rejected then there’s something fundamentally wrong with your application, so I think you need to go back and do a bit of a back-to-basics review and have a look at your application.

Now, there some tried and tested things you can do which will absolutely help candidates who are in either situation.

1. Improve your grades.

If you are currently a university student, the difference between your predictive grades looking like a 2.2 and a 2.1 or 2.1 to a first will be enormous. if you’re in the 2.2 section, it’s going to be really difficult.

If you’re in the 2.1 section, and that’s where most candidates are, you’re absolutely in with a shot. If you move from a 2.1 to a first, then you’re going to be a sought-after candidate.

If you’ve already graduated and doing the GDL or the LPC, as much as law firms don’t say these qualifications are part of the minimum entry criteria, they will still notice the grades.

A candidate is scoring 80% or 90% on the GDL and LPC, looks better than a candidate scoring 50% or 60%.

2.Work Experience

Getting more work experience will always strengthen your application. This can be law work experience, or professional services experience or something in an industry which is related to the law firms that you’re applying to – financial services, for example.

Any application will be strengthened by improved grades and more work experience. So if you’re looking to apply in the next application round, then you might have 6, 9, 12 months to work on this. Those are probably the two critical things you can do.

Did you genuinely show commitment in the application form?

I often find that candidates haven’t done anything other than study. It’s difficult for a candidate to show that they’re committed to a career in law when they haven’t done the basics which many candidates have, for example attending law firm open days.

Law firms will usually ask you to apply for an open day, but it’s definitely not as rigorous as securing a training contract or a vacation scheme. If you apply, you will eventually get an open day spot, and once you’ve got an open day at one firm, it then becomes easier to get an open day at another firm.

Even things like campus events are important. Most law firms will let you turn up to campus events. If you’re at university, there’s really no excuse not to go to these.

Open Text Questions

And then let’s think about the open-text questions as well, because law firms will generally be looking at your academics, your work experience and the answers to the questions on the application form.

These are a very big part of how we evaluate candidates.

Attention to Detail

Absolutely double-check your application forms for attention to detail issues.


Review your answers to see if you researched a law firm or simply repeated what was on the website.

I see candidates do this quite often. As an example, stating a firm has 22 offices and 850 lawyers isn’t research – it’s just repetition.

That kind of information is just wasted, and good candidates don’t tend to include that information on the application form. If you review your applications form and identify repetition of what’s on a website, cut that out and start again.


Have you been honest in your application form? I see a lot of candidates who think there’s a convention to writing application forms.

So, if one of the questions is, “Why do you want to be a commercial lawyer or a commercial solicitor?” saying things like, “For the intellectual challenge” doesn’t give us much when we’re reading the application form. Intellectual challenge doesn’t tell us why you want to be a commercial solicitor.

Equally, I often get candidates who say things like, “I’m interested in becoming a commercial solicitor because I like international transactions.

Again, just saying something like that doesn’t really give us any insight.

Why is the intellectual challenge important? You can work in hundreds of different professions and be challenged intellectually, so why commercial law?

Have you really answered the question?

Candidates often think that they need to talk about certain things in an application form.

But the question is the question, and if you haven’t answered it, it’s not going to be a good answer.

As an example, one of the questions that we ask is, “As one of a handful of elite commercial law firms, how do you think Shearman & Sterling maintains its competitive advantage?”

Often candidates don’t really answer the question. They talk about the things that they think everyone should be talking about, like artificial intelligence, or Brexit.

But if it doesn’t answer the question, it’s not going to be a good answer.

So those are the tips.

So I hope you found that useful. If you’ve got any comments, just type them below, and we’ll see you next time on “Whiteboard Wednesday.” Thank you.

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