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6 lessons to secure a training contract


Hi, everyone. I’m Jaysen. I’m the founder of The Corporate Law Academy, which is otherwise known as TCLA. In this Whiteboard Wednesday video, I’m going to share my six best lessons to securing a training contract.

So, Lesson 1.

The point I want to make here is that this training contract process is about developing skills over time. And I speak to many candidates who often self-select themselves out of the process at an early stage. So, they sometimes look at the confidence and the abilities of people who are much further along in the process, and naturally, that’s going to feel very overwhelming and intimidating.

Now the way I’d encourage you to think about this is like learning a new language or learning a new instrument, you are going to start by struggling with each part of this process. And that’s understandable because this is the first time you’re learning how to write good applications, or the first time you’re in an interview with a partner being asked challenging questions. And so, this is the point that I would focus on incremental improvements, i.e., pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone each week.

And then I have full confidence that if you do that over a long enough time horizon, you will surprise yourself in how skilled you can become at different parts of this training contract process. Second point is to set your top goal. And this is actually something we apply in running TCLA. The danger, I think, at the moment, even on our platform, is there is so much information out there.

There are so many different platforms that talk about training contract advice. Everyone has advice to give. The problem with that is the danger is you can spend so much of your time consuming information, and often that isn’t the best use of your time to get you closer to securing a training contract. So the point I would make here, or the question to ask yourself is, “What is one thing I can do this week that would get me closest to securing a training contract?”

And quite often what that means in practice is either writing another application, it could be practicing a mock interview, it could be reaching out to someone at a firm to meet with them. Often these are things that are practical. They’re usually something that you are probably avoiding because it’s quite scary. But I very much would consider how to spend your time wisely that’s going to get you closest to that training contract rather than spending too much time consuming more information.

The third point I would make is learning to sell, and I’ve put authentically here. So, this is something that I used to struggle with myself and I still… It’s difficult for me to do. And I think so many people I speak to, it can be difficult to talk about yourself in a way that is confident, in a way that’s specific and proud of what you’ve achieved.

And I think many people, they often downplay their achievements when they’re writing in an application or performing in an interview. The problem with that is a recruiter won’t know how good you are unless you’re explicit about it. And the way I would see this is if you’ve worked really hard to achieve something or compete in a competition, delivered a presentation, it makes sense to be very specific and be very proud of what you’ve done.

And the reason for that is it’s going to be much more noticeable to think about why do you stand out as a candidate. If I give an example of delivering this presentation right now, so on one hand, I could say I was invited and I delivered a presentation about securing a training contract. Now, in an application, that doesn’t sound that interesting, to be honest. It sounds like what many other people have done in their applications.

If I was more specific and said, “I was invited by a law firm to deliver a presentation on training contracts. I spent X amount of hours brainstorming the ideas in order to give the best advice for applicants. As a result, this presentation was watched by, say, 800 people online.” That’s just a very quick in-the-moment example to show that being very specific goes a long way to showing how impressive your achievements are.

The last point I would also make here is self-belief is contagious. Many people…so they go into an interview, the partners have read for your application and they have really impressive achievements, and one of the worst things that can happen is they go to an interview and they just downplay everything. It’s quite clear that they don’t believe in themselves. And what I would say here is it’s very difficult for someone to believe in you if you’re very obviously downplaying everything you’ve done.

So, I’d really encourage this, that if you’re proud of what you’ve achieved, you’ve worked hard to get there, if you do come to an interview confident, believing that you deserve to be there, that is contagious and that will spread to partners and interviewers who can clearly see, “Okay, this person should be here and understands why they deserve this training contract.”

So, the next point is to ask for what you want. Now, I would say this sounds obvious on the face of it. And I would say that this took me a long time to learn this properly, which is, on one hand, yes, there is a clear structure to securing training contracts, you know, you build your applications, you apply for vacation schemes, you get training contracts.

Ideally, that’s the default path you take. You’d be surprised at how many opportunities that can come from just asking for what you want in the process. And so what I mean by that is, you know, whether it’s building a relationship with people who are delivering a presentation at law firm, if there’s someone that you admire, having the confidence to ask for help and support from the people around you, that really goes a long way.

And you’d be surprised at how many opportunities will come from that. The second point, a slightly unusual one here, which is to remove the pedestal. I think when applicants at the start of their journey are often talking to people that are more senior to them, often it’s very one-dimensional, and they will flatter a lot. And the problem with that is it can be quite difficult to build a rapport with someone more senior to you.

What I would just keep in mind is these people also started somewhere. No doubt they’ve been on a difficult journey. They are often still working things out as they go. Be respectful, but treat them on a similar level. Be open with them.

Ask the questions you want to ask and often that can go a long way to making that relationship more long-lasting. And then the last point to make here is learning how to write a cold email. So, there’s definitely a skill in this, and increasingly, it’s becoming important where you can reach out to so many people outside of your closed network if you know how to write a better cold email or use social media to reach out to someone you don’t necessarily know.

Now there’s a few quick tips I can mention here. I would say that most people want to help. They are just very busy. And so often, it is learning how to write a message that’s short, concise, very specific to the point, have a reason for reaching out to someone that’s based on not just the same email you’re sending to everyone, but you should have some kind of connection there and have a specific ask, so a specific thing that you’re looking for that makes it easy for the person on the other side to give you assistance and support.

Now, the fifth point is related to being in situations like on a vacation scheme or being in a workplace setting, and this comes down to being a safe pair of hands. So, on a vacation scheme…and when I think about what makes you stand out in that process, especially when it comes to the work you deliver, A, what I would think about here is having high standards.

And it’s often the very small things that add up over time that stand you out. So, this could include examples like being early to meetings, being a very good communicator in the sense of you will probably struggle with some of the tasks you’re facing but be willing to go back to the person whenever you’re struggling with informed questions to ask.

Be proactive if you notice there’s an issue where you’re not going to meet the deadline, making strict notes when you’re taking information from someone, and being willing to follow through if you’ve promised to deliver something. So, these are often small things that you might not realize. They really add up over time.

And this comes down to this point of being a good operator, which means someone that can be trusted to deliver something on time reliably every time, and it takes practice. I would say most people are consistent for a little bit of time. If you can be someone that can be taken at their word and follow through consistently, that really does get noticed in the workplace.

And this comes down to good organization and communication skills. I’ve spoken to people recently that don’t consider themselves to be organized persons…oh, sorry, organized people. And what I would say to that is just see organization as something, again, that you can get better at over time. So often, it is building a system in place that will help you to be organized.

So that’s having a to-do list, writing things down as you need to, being attuned to the deadlines. You can get better at so many of these things if you don’t just cross yourself as not an organized person. But you see it as something you can improve that over time. And then this last point.

So writing things down, which is, again, slightly more of an unconventional one. It’s something that we’re really big on at TCLA. And the point to make here is when you’re going through the application stage, you’ll be thinking a lot about, “How can I improve my application or interview answers? How can I clearly communicate my motivations?” And there will be times in the day where you would probably come to a conclusion about something.

So maybe you’ve improved your answer in your head, you’ve had a great experience at the networking event, and there’s a lot for you to personally take away in terms of how that’s improved your motivations for becoming a commercial lawyer. I would suggest getting into the habit of writing things down in the moment. What that means then is if you do this consistently over a period of time, when you get to the interview, you’re not trying to come up with your answers for the first time, but you’ve built this habit of you’ve already got notes as to areas that you liked within commercial law, events that have really changed your thought process, fantastic experiences that you’ve done that you can add to your application.

And so all this often takes is having a system in place where you can easily log information, any articles, useful documents you come across. And if you have a system for that, it just makes it so much easier when you are under pressure or in an interview to be able to perform. So that’s the six tips that I have for securing a training contract.

Thank you so much for listening.