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Getting a Legal Traineeship in Scotland

Contents

              Introduction

              Beginning the Process

              Invitation Evenings

              Applying to Firms

              The Interview

              The Rejection Letter

              The Job Offer

 


Introduction

You may be beginning your final year of University but you are about to find out that concentrating on studying for your finals is going to be put on hold as you begin the time consuming process of applying for a legal traineeship in a Scottish law firm. While the traineeship will not start until the autumn after you have completed the Diploma in Legal Practice, many firms begin their recruitment two years beforehand.

There are no set rules and there is certainly no time limit for applying for legal traineeships. There will be the initial burst of application deadlines during October and November but some of the large firms and many of the medium size ones recruit in the summer months of the following year and even later. There is consequently no point in panicking if you still don't have a traineeship by the time you start the Diploma in Legal Practice. Despite this advice, you must be very wary of complacency.

A work experience placement in the summer does not guarantee you a job with that firm and sadly, in many cases, does not even guarantee you an interview. At the same time, excellent grades at University do not guarantee you a job although they do help and poor grades do not mean automatic rejection. Most employers nowadays, if not all, focus on your extra curricular activities and these will help to garnish an otherwise dull CV. In short, during the whole application process, don't panic, get organised, get your head down and get on with it.

Contained below is a guide to applying for a traineeship based on the experiences of students who have been through this process in recent years. The guide is not intended to be all encompassing nor is it to be taken as the only way to apply. It is simply extra help and advice which you may find useful when applying, but then again you may not so don't worry if you haven't followed it to the letter or even at all, just use it if you want to.

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Beginning the Process

The whole process of applying for a traineeship begins in September of your fourth year at University. It doesn't matter how early you begin as nothing really desperately needs to be done until the beginning of October. It is though, better to be prepared. To start off with, you should find out information.

Finding Out Information

Much of your time during September and the beginning of October should be spent collecting information about law firms, making decisions on which ones to apply to, collecting application forms either by writing to the firms themselves and enquiring about their application process, by phoning them or by visiting their websites. A list of web addresses for firms can be found on the Scottish Law Firm Page on the Scottish Law Firm Directory. Many of the firms will send application forms and information on applying to the Universities. These are normally found in your law library and information is usually posted on notice boards. These should be checked on a very regular basis as the information can change quickly and can be very important.

In order to organise yourself for the application process, you should begin by finding out information about legal jobs in Scotland. Traineeships are available in law firms, the local council, and in many other areas of the legal community. While this guide will concentrate upon firms, do not overlook these other areas if they appeal to you.

In September each year both the Herald and the Scotsman newspapers publish a supplement which examines in depth the Scottish legal Community. The supplements rank the firms by fee earners and by practice area so that readers can see which firms performed best in which practice areas over the course of the previous year. Each supplement is full of information about the firms, interviews with solicitors and clues to which direction the firms are heading in. It is advisable to try and get the supplements from both the newspapers as they can prove to be invaluable in applying to firms and when getting information for the interview process.

A lot of information contained in the supplements stems from the Legal 500 which is one of the most useful sources of information on law firms available. The legal 500 is available on the web here and is normally available in the Universities and can be used to find law firms by areas of practice and also get hold of their addresses. Another useful source is the Law Society of Scotland which has a database of solicitors in Scotland which can be useful if looking for addresses of law firms in your area. Also, Chambers is a good starting point too. For English firms, RollonFriday has an excellent guide on its Inside Info page.

The most important thing before you get started is to get organised. Take a note of who you have written to, how you apply to them, when their invitation evening is and when the deadline for applying is. This way you can avoid missing out on any opportunities. As an example and in order to assist you, an MS Excel Spreadsheet with a list of firms and information you need to find out is available on the Student Zone here. Do use this spreadsheet and customise it to suit your own individual preferences.

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Invitation Evenings

Invitation evenings are held either at the firm's offices, at the University or in a hotel somewhere. Some firms require you to write to them to confirm you will attend and to bring along the things which you need in order to apply. If this is required and you are attending, try and do this and if you are not then write and apologise for your absence enclosing the information which you would have been required to bring. Either way of applying should be acceptable.

The evenings, which are usually advertised in the law faculties, traditionally take place during October and can be a very good introduction to the application process. They can also be a welcome source of free drink and food but whatever you do, don't get drunk and insult the partners! The purpose of the invitation evenings differs depending on which viewpoint you take. For the law firms, it is a chance to sell themselves to you and quash any rumours about the firm which you may have heard (e.g. the trainees are overworked). From the applicant's point of view, it is a chance to find out more about the firm itself, meet the trainees and the practitioners and learn more about what they are looking for in prospective trainees.

You don't have to attend all the evenings nor do you have to attend any at all so don't worry if you are unable to do so.

Are the firms taking notes on those who attend the evenings?

In truth, I don't know. It does appear though that some of the firms do, however at the same time they can't possibly base their recruitment on this and it is not something to be terribly concerned about.

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Applying to Firms

Some of the firms require a CV and a covering letter but many require you to complete an application form. You will find out how to apply by getting information from the firm either on the web, at University or by writing to them. A list of some things which could be in your CV are contained here.

Some firms put their application forms on the web in addition to making paper copies available in the traditional ways, most commonly by sending them to the Universities. When you send in the application you should have a brief covering letter, an example of which is contained here and will often be required to send in a passport photo for their records.

Completing the application form

A little hint for when you collect the application forms is to get a couple of copies so that when you make a mistake (note: not if - when!) you are able to start again on a new form.

Aside from asking questions about your grades both at school and University, as well as your previous employment history, more general questions will be asked about your hobbies, what you see as being an important area of law in the future and why, which areas of law you are interested in and so on. Because you are not submitting your CV, it is a good idea to have it beside you when completing the form so that you may use it as a checklist in order to ensure that you add the most relevant information.

There are no right or wrong answers at this stage and while there may be silly answers and sensible answers you will know yourself whether what you have written is okay. A statement like, for example, "I like people" just sounds plain weird and doesn't convey much useful information whereas if you were to say something along the lines of "I enjoy working with people in a group or as part of a team and also find it easy to get on with more individual oriented tasks" then you will recognise that this looks a little better. Try not to waffle as you write things like this as it is very easy to become consumed by the need to put down buzzwords like "group skills" and "communication skills". Afterall, we all have communication skills!

Alternative methods of applying (Psychometric Testing)

This section could also be referred to as the "What a load of crap" section because it is this expression which most law students will use several times during the application process to describe the use of 'psychometric testing'. I am led to believe that law firms find the information gathered from such testing very useful and I would be very interested to learn how. Some applicants when applying go to websites and do similar tests online in order to practice but it is difficult to tell if this helps at all. Psychometric testing seems to involve answering questions relating to your personality and how you work and is used to discover your true personality. There is very little point in trying to cheat this test and when you see it you'll realise that you probably can't so you may as well enjoy the experience. Fortunately, very few firms use this form of testing so it shouldn't trouble you too much.

Deadlines

Some of the deadlines are actually quite soon and each year they seem to get earlier and earlier. At the moment it seems that the deadlines range from the second week of October to the end of November and later. Do not miss a deadline for a firm you wish to apply to. You can be sure that late applications are not looked on as favourably as ones which arrive on time and may even be ignored. Allow yourself at least 2-7 days before the deadline in which to post your completed application and avoid any postal delays.

Waiting

Waiting for a response can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. The deadlines are usually sufficiently spread out that when you have finished one batch of applications, another set is due to be done. If you do have some free time, you might consider doing some studying. Remember, although it may no longer seem like it, you are still at University!

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The Interview

Some interviews will last for 15 minutes, others for up to an hour and a half. Some firms require simply one interview, others two or three and others still, an entire day of activities at their offices with group tasks and individual assignments. There is no way to know exactly how to prepare for an interview but there are some useful pointers which are contained below. Remember that each firm varies in its approach and there is no guarantee that any of the advice below will be relevant in every situation.

Preparing for the interview.

Predicting the questions you will be asked in an interview is not an easy task and it may be more advisable to be prepared for all eventualities. By speaking to people who have had interviews before you, it may be possible to work out commonly asked questions however, this is never a guarantee that they will come up again. The type of questions will often vary significantly, from general questions about yourself to more specific questions about what you know about the firm or about the legal side of recent current affairs.

The first interview will normally be a more simple, pleasant and relaxed affair. The interview will often involve a run through your CV or your application form asking questions about what you have written so that you may elaborate further on your previous answers. There is a guide to this type of Interview contained on the Work Experience section of the Student Zone here which you should read. Be warned, interviews do not follow a set formula and you may find some firms have only one interview which uses a combination of both types. Asking questions at the invitation evening and finding out the experiences of others in your class will help you discover how each firm interviews.

Frequently asked questions

There are some common questions which frequently come up in interviews and these are:

Why law?

Why Glasgow/Edinburgh/Aberdeen/Dundee/Strathclyde?

What areas of law interest you?

Areas often covered in the second interview

In the second interviews and sometimes in the first ones you may come across questions about current legal and commercial issues. As a guide, here are examples of some of the issues which interviewees were quizzed upon in the rounds which took place last year, in Autumn 1999.

Bank of Scotland/Royal Bank of Scotland fight for NatWest and the potential benefits of a successful bid.

Vodaphone/Mannesmann merger and more generally on the telecoms industry.

Feudal Reform.

Scottish Parliament and devolution.

Scotland Act and Human Rights.

This year, some topical areas may be the future of the London Stock Exchange, the Euro, Human Rights, law firms in the 21st Century and so on.

How to prepare for the second type of questioning

Buy or read on the internet the FT and the Scotsman or Herald which both have excellent business sections towards the centre of the newspaper which will keep you up-to-date with Scottish business and legal news. As mentioned above, the supplements from the Herald and Scotsman in September about the Scottish legal community will also be useful.

It is a good idea not to prepare specific answers because in reality specific answers only answer specific questions and you will rarely get asked the same question which you have prepared for. Think in general terms about the answers you would give to questions on the areas which you have chosen. Remember most importantly to relax, smile, be polite, courteous and punctual.

Travelling

Travelling to interviews can be quite costly and only some of the firms will refund your travel expenses. This is a bit unfortunate as students in Aberdeen will invariably pay significantly more than those in the other cities for the privilege of attending the same interview.

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The Rejection Letter

Rejection letters can, unfortunately, be a bit like buses. While you're waiting to hear something positive from a firm you could receive many rejection letters gradually or all on the same day. When they do arrive, don't despair. It is not an attack on your personality nor an attack on your ability. There are too many variables at work in the application process to begin to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Some firms will give you feedback if asked but most won't be too happy if they receive 300 phone calls from unhappy applicants. A couple of other things you could do are apply to some more firms and check your CV. Rack your brain for more things that should be in your CV, which you can then add to application forms, and get prepared for any interviews which you may have.

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The Job Offer

If you are lucky enough to receive an offer for a job, remember, you don't have to accept it straight away and you don't have to accept the first job offer you get. On the otherhand you don't want to risk getting no jobs at all by turning one down and not receiving any more. Some firms will put enormous pressure on you to accept their offer quickly by phoning you up at home or by giving you a limited length of time in which to accept the job. So what can you do if this firm is not your first choice or if you can get better opportunities at another firm? Your options vary depending upon which stage you are at with the other firm or firms. Try not to tell the firm which has offered you the job that it is not your first choice but simply tell them that you need more time in which to make your decision. Then contact the firm which you would prefer to work for and then explain the situation without putting too much pressure on them to reach a decision but at the same time emphasising the urgent nature of your situation. If they can't give you a definite answer, then this is where you will have to make a very difficult decision. Do you gamble or do you play safe? Stick or twist? It is a hard decision to make with unpleasant consequences if it backfires and unfortunately this situation is not uncommon.

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Good Luck!

Kevin Crombie, 2000

Sorry for the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes! I started off writing in the third person but seem to have drifted into first person quite quickly. I blame http://www.selfpromotion.com for this as I spent an entire day using the site which is written in the first person and couldn't get back into third. Hope to have a new version of relevance to this year's Traineeship Applicants shortly. If any law firms would like to add anything or comment then please do so by e-mailing me or simply leave it on the bulletin board.


 

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