As an aspiring trainee, the most important thing is to secure a Training Contract but it is often overlooked as to how important (if not more important) it is to secure a Training Contract within the right firm.
It is a common misconception that all firms are mostly the same and the only thing that separates them is a) whether they are magic circle or regional and b) their work.
Whilst these factors are definitely something to consider when choosing the right firms to apply too, there are so many other characteristics which should not be overlooked and should be carefully considered.
For me, whenever I read about ‘culture’ on trainee blogs or brochures, all firms obviously say they have a great culture and working environment. However, it is not until you actually go to insight days, meet HR, meet senior solicitors, go on vacation schemes or actually speak with trainees within a variety of firms that you actually understand that there is such a huge difference within firm culture.
When I began making my (first draft) list of firms I was interested in, the ones at the top of the list were quickly crossed off after I had actually experienced the culture. I quickly realised that the people you work with every day and the atmosphere within the office will massively impact your experience within a firm.
I have heard first hand from friends that are trainees within other firms that their training contract wasn’t what they had expected, not because of the work or their seats, but because of the culture. The reason they had misjudged it was because they hadn’t really got to know the firm or experienced it before they started. A good starting point is to see how the partners treat the junior staff. Finding the perfect law firm is more than just the legal work, but about the environment you will work in every day.
2. Practice Areas
Practice areas are really key. It goes without saying to apply to firms that have departments in the areas of law you have a interest in and enjoyed studying. However, remember there is a big difference between studying law and practising it.
It’s probably best to apply to firms that not only work in the area of law that interests you but also have departments in a variety of practice areas. This will allow you to have a varied training contract, exposing you to areas that you potentially never considered practicing in before and allowing you to develop a larger and diversified skill set.
3. Training Programme
Traditionally, trainees complete four six-month seats in different departments, although this structure can vary between firms. Some firms offer more seats with less time, and others offer double or mandatory seats. It is important to find out exactly what is expected of trainees within the firms you are applying to and check that it matches what you are looking for in your training experience.
As well as the structure of your training contract, you may also want to consider if the firms offer any optional extras such as secondments, pro bro work or offer a seat in their other offices.
Some firms encourages their trainees to get involved in activities such as internal and external social events, clubs or future trainee recruitment. Make sure you check what is available to you, as this not only will strengthen your relationships with your colleagues but also enable you to make connections externally.
For me, it was important to train with a firm that gets involved with the wider community, which not only promotes the firm but also promotes its staff. Make sure you check online or even better, ask a member of HR what you could get involved in as a trainee. Getting involved, outside of work, will definitely enhance your training experience within a firm.
The only way you are going to choose the right firm to train with is to do your research properly and not just look online. It is key to experience the firm first hand if possible and speak with current trainees.
It is easy to just think you want to train with a particular firm, simply because of its prestige or the type of work they do.
Make a list of what you want from your training contract and make sure you apply to the firms that match that criteria.
Visit our Trainee Opportunities page for more information.