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Four Online Sources To Make A Good Training Contract Application Great

Applying to law firms can be a competitive process. After all, there are thousands of promising candidates out there. Further, many of these individuals will possess exceptional grades, hold impressive positions of responsibility within their university and will have undertaken inspiring extra-curricular feats.

Elsewhere, the student may have attended multiple Shearman & Sterling (‘Shearman’) events. Probably, they binge-watched every Whiteboard Wednesday. Also, the applicant knows the firm’s primary practice areas like the back of their hand.

But here is the harsh reality of graduate recruitment. Unfortunately, lots of applicants undersell their abilities when it comes to the paper application stage. The application form does not accurately demonstrate their drive, commercial awareness or their potential aptitude for a future trainee role.

Sure, the application is good, but it is not memorable.

For this reason, I wanted to identify a few online sources that may help to enhance a candidate’s application to the top law firms. In short, four easy ways to make a good application truly great.


Inside Sherpa is a free, online internship provider. The platform is still quite novel, but it is gathering a lot of attention with students due to its perceived quality.

Leading brands across multiple business verticals officially provide work experience opportunities. For example, you can complete internships in law, technology, finance, accounting, human resources, marketing and consulting.

Indeed, leading organisations such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Boston Consulting Group, General Electric, Citigroup, Deloitte and KPMG all have endorsed work experience offerings on Inside Sherpa.

Furthermore, legal experience is available across a range of US, city, international and Magic Circle law firms. Interestingly, these law internships cover numerous practice areas including M&A, capital markets, real estate, litigation, human rights and even criminal defence. Moreover, some internships have an Australian or US law focus for additional variety.

Why then am I so enamoured with Inside Sherpa?

Well, I contend that the platform can help time-pressured candidates to gain genuine, high-quality work experience. In addition, the platform enables students to broaden their commercial knowledge, gain an understanding of international legal work, and prove their desire for a career specifically in corporate law.

For instance, typically Inside Sherpa schemes are only seven to ten hours long. Also, the projects can be completed at your own pace. Hence, candidates can expand their legal work experience by finishing two or three internships in a weekend.

Realistically, graduate recruiters pay as much attention to the work experience section of your application form as to your question responses. Thus, a student with comparable and relevant online work experience in US and Magic Circle law firms will be recognised.

Additionally, undertaking these online internships will enrich your answers to traditional law firm application questions.

By way of illustration, an applicant who has undertaken Inside Sherpa experience in consulting and investment banking can easily differentiate work across various professional services. Thus, through effective comparison, it may be easier for that candidate to explain ‘why law?’ at an interview, than say a student who has only ever performed legal work?

Similarly, given Shearman & Sterling’s M&A expertise, a candidate who has enjoyed several M&A orientated legal internships can effortlessly demonstrate a preference for the firm’s work. From other Inside Sherpa schemes, the individual will also know the tasks that trainees commonly perform in litigation and capital markets roles.

Likewise, Shearman & Sterling works with the most prestigious financial sector entities and energy sector companies. Akin to a trainee solicitor on secondment, obtaining work experience in these clients will permit you to understand better the client’s requirements. Consequently, your application answers will likely be more tailored and nuanced than unfamiliar candidates.


Finimize is an excellent product for commercial awareness.

The app contains a daily brief, as well as a series of ‘packs’ that deep-dive into specific financial and commercial themes. The packs’ audio explanations humorously and cogently clarify even the most complicated jargon – making reading the FT a breeze afterwards.

At the time of writing, there are over 110 packs on the app, each around ten minutes in length. Thus, Finimize provides an opportunity to get a holistic understanding of the commercial world in a single source.

Also, Finimize content is especially relevant for future Shearman lawyers.

For example, Finimize has packs focused upon investment funds, M&A, corporate bonds, commodities, futures & options, oil & gas and using leverage. After just a few minutes of listening, you will know your upstream, midstream and downstream energy sector financial issues. And, you will be able to talk derivatives and junk bonds with ease.

Put simply, a deeper understanding of these financial instruments and corresponding sectors will help you to appreciate the significance of the complex, intricate work that Shearman lawyers perform.

Notably, the app is targeted at aspiring investors. As such, you will begin to see commercial issues from a client’s perspective. This viewpoint is beneficial. Solicitors are continually trying to be their client’s trusted advisor, so having this empathy and commercial awareness is a positive start.

Also, the Finimize team produce a daily email update concerning business-related issues. Plus, there is a WhatsApp group. These regular updates can help you to stay informed commercially.

Finally, another positive of Finimize is the events that the company’s delegates put on – with many events now solely on Zoom. With attendees spanning a range of professions and seniority, these lectures can increase your insight and show a possible aptitude for business development that US firms’ desire. Further, you can gain in-person client insight. Perhaps, even better, organising a Finimize event yourself could showcase a unique entrepreneurial flair?


A major problem with news sources for commercial awareness is that students tend to build up their knowledge on corporate issues, without understanding the underlying core economic themes.

By way of example, you may be aware that a company is distressed and in urgent need of an investor.

  • But, which investors will look to buy such an undesirable company?
  • Why would the financially burdened entity issue high-yield bonds or be suitable for a leveraged loan?
  • What is meant by debt restructuring?
  • What financial instruments might the investor use to hedge any interest rate or exchange rate risk?
  • Why would anyone acquire a company rather than sit on cash at this uncertain time?

To get an understanding of the fundamentals of finance, I recommend subscribing to the Great Courses Plus. Like many subscription e-learning platforms, the first month is free, and video lectures are downloadable to your mobile device.

In my personal opinion, the lectures are phenomenally well taught. Additionally, with the Great Courses Plus, you effectively get the critical lessons of an economics/finance degree for free (minus the problematic mathematics!).

Vitally, the lectures can also be sped up, meaning that you can get a significantly enriched business knowledge in a few days! Truthfully, after completing a course, you will look at commercial issues in a completely innovative way.

For a starting point, the following courses are easily digestible and should be on your radar:

  • Financial Literacy: Finding Your Way in the Financial Markets, by Professor Fullenkamp
  • Understanding Investments, by Professor Fullenkamp
  • Money and Banking: What Everyone Should Know, by Professor Salemi
  • How the Stock Market Works, by Professor Degennaro
  • The Art of Investing: Lessons from History’s Greatest Traders, by Professor Longo
  • Crashes and Crises: Lessons from a History of Financial Disasters, by Professor Fullenkamp

An understanding of essential financial themes will divert your attention towards important news stories that are little acknowledged by your fellow candidates. By taking a unique or informed contrarian position on these topics, your application is more likely to be noted by recruiters.


Shearman is transparent with candidates – one typo and your application is in the bin. This meticulous attention to detail is crucial for lawyers, but it is challenging to achieve. Thus, any technology that can assist you with proofreading is a godsend.

Grammarly is one such product. Often, Grammarly recognises the spelling errors that Word’s spellcheck does not. Additionally, the product picks up upon instances when a word may be used out of context. This particular error is easily made when you are editing large passages as the deadline approaches.

Also, Grammarly is tremendously effective at improving your formal writing style, and unsurprisingly refining your grammar.

For example, green alerts will notify you if you have used a particular word too frequently, and thus your text needs more variation to keep the reader engaged.

Alternatively, if you have been bombarding the recruiters with Latin and legalese, notifications will tell you to calm down. Further, the product will make suggestions to improve your vocabulary. Eg. Was the work experience interesting, or was it exciting, enjoyable, enthralling, intriguing, engaging, remarkable, etc.?

Another key selling point of Grammarly is that the software will inform you when you are using the passive, rather than the active voice in your communication.

The active voice is often seen as being more assertive and persuasive. This viewpoint is because the object of the sentence performs the action, rather than having the action performed upon it.

Eg. “The dog chased the ball” = active voice. “The ball was chased by the dog” = passive voice.

From a reader’s perspective, greater use of the active voice creates the impression of a more confident author. Additionally, in an application form, the active voice means that you are more central to the positive attributes that you are describing. This connection can only be a beneficial association for aspiring lawyers.

Also, Grammarly will pick up upon your grammatical errors and provide a solution to the problem. This aspect offers two benefits.

Firstly, you will hopefully avoid such mistakes elsewhere in your application. Secondly, you will learn about ‘unclear antecedents’, ‘split infinitives’, ‘prepositions at the end of the sentence’ and ‘dangling modifiers’. Consequently, you can spot these errors from a mile away, making you analyse documents closer, and write far more elegantly than before.

Ultimately, an application form that is error-free, easily readable and that depicts exceptional written communication will stand out. Using Grammarly can only help.


There is no magic answer that guarantees a successful application. Nonetheless, the sources above will differentiate you from other candidates in a positive way.

Use of these online platforms will portray an entrepreneurial applicant who is prepared to go the extra mile. Multiple Inside Sherpa insights will indicate a student with a broad commercial awareness, but with a focused idea of the work that an elite US law firm performs.

Likewise, graduate recruiters will acknowledge an individual that can adroitly write, connect and discuss technical financial topics. Additionally, using Grammarly and extensive research platforms will demonstrate that the applicant appreciates the close attention to detail that Shearman demands.

Finally, I suspect that after evaluating 1500 application forms, a candidate that engages a recruiter with something new will always be warmly received!

Applications to Shearman & Sterling are now open. I wish you all the very best of luck.

by Matthew Dow, Future Trainee