Kirsty Lang is a solicitor at Lyons Davidson and a graduate of the 2008 recession. In this piece she offers her tips for students on seeking a traineeship in difficult times.
1. Network, network, network!
Open a LinkedIn account and add your peers, lecturers and any other legal connections you have then reach out to people in their networks that specialise in areas of law in which you wish to practise. Attend free networking events such as university law fairs and the Lawscot Student Roadshow. Attend further training seminars run by the Law Society and other organisations such as the Royal Faculty of Procurators. Join organisations for prospective lawyers such as TANQ. If you come from an ethnic minority background, you should also consider joining SEMLA. It is important to expand your network since this will increase your chances of meeting people who can advance your career. After all, it only takes one person to see your potential for you to achieve that all-important traineeship.
2. Apply for (virtual) summer placements and internships
If you are currently a student, applying for summer placements and internships is a good way to test your CV, get interview experience and if you are successful, you will have the benefit of first- hand practical experience of a law firm. In addition, firms will often select people for traineeships from those programmes. Moreover, many firms are now offering these virtually. Don’t be put off applying if you are a recent graduate. A potential traineeship offer for 2022 or 2023 is better than no traineeship at all and I have seen many graduates rewarded with future traineeships for persisting with such applications after graduation.
Both law clinics and the Citizens Advice Bureau rely on volunteers to provide legal advice to those who could not otherwise afford it. Volunteering is a chance not only to bulk up the experience in your CV but also to give back to those in need. A win-win for all parties involved and the chance to be exposed to a number of different areas of law.
4. Work as a paralegal
There is overlap between the work of paralegals and solicitors (particularly in relation to pre-litigation work) so it will give you invaluable transferrable skills and great on the job experience. Moreover, it will get your foot in the door of a law firm. For example, I have worked at firms where all of the trainees were previously paralegals with the firm. You will also get paid to develop your skills and experience. Another win-win.
5. Tailor your CV
If you are applying for traineeships in multiple areas of law, have a CV for every area in which you wish to apply. Then tailor it to every firm to which you apply. To stand out from the crowd, your CV and covering letter needs to show not only that you would be good at a specific area of law but also that you would be a good fit for that specific firm. This is particularly true for firms that have specific application forms instead of CVs and covering letters. Read the firm’s website thoroughly and any news articles or Legal 500 entries involving the firm. You need to know what their firm’s core values are, their recent achievements and future goals. And please don’t forget to contact your university’s career service for advice on your CV. Leave no potential resource untapped.
6. Practise your interview technique
This means working on everything from your answers to standard questions (such as “why this area of law?” and “what attracted you to this firm?”) to your body language. Learn to sell yourself. Use the STAR method for competency-based questions. Ask questions about the firm that show you really know the firm. Underline the skills you’ve developed and how they are relevant to the position to which you are applying rather than just describing what you did when discussing prior experience. Ask for feedback after interviews. Reflect on how you could improve.
7. Get yourself a mentor
The Law Society offers a mentoring scheme whereby someone already in the profession will give you advice on how to progress your career. This mentor may also have contacts that can help you navigate your options. If you cannot find a mentor in your desired area of law via the scheme, reach out to your network and see if they know someone who could help. For example, there are plenty of experienced solicitors on LinkedIn who are more than happy to look over CVs and give advice to students and graduates.
8. Get your name out there
People need to be able to see you and what you have achieved in order to hire you. The Scottish Legal News run a feature each issue called “Lawyers of Tomorrow” and, if you are chosen, they will basically run a free advert for you highlighting your achievements and experience.
9. Be flexible with opportunities
Apply for a wide range of firms. Don’t make assumptions about your training experience based purely on the size of firm. The size of firm doesn’t necessarily dictate your experience. Smaller firms can still expose you to a number of interesting areas of law and an overall hands-on working environment. Moreover, starting at one size of firm doesn’t preclude you from moving to a different type or size of firm after qualification if you so wish. Qualification is just the start of your career and there are always opportunities for those who not only work hard but are flexible.
10. Be persistent
Anything worth having is worth fighting for and obtaining a traineeship is a numbers game. This has been especially true this year. You cannot control what happen next with the virus or the economy. All you can control is how proactive and persistent you are to the challenge in front of you. So hold your head high, follow these tips and hopefully 2021 will turn out to be your year! Good luck!