The above example (‘What are your main interests, activities and pastimes? Please describe any related positions of responsibility you have held.’) was taken from Norton Rose Fulbright’s application form but many law firms ask this question. A similar example is: ‘Please describe your involvement in any extracurricular activities, including any positions of responsibility held. Please also tell us about any academic awards you have received (if applicable).’
Although the coronavirus pandemic might have prevented you from taking part in some of your favourite activities, remember that you can include participation in clubs and societies that continued virtually. Even better if you were directly involved with organising the shift to online events, overcoming the challenges this brought and exploiting the potential positives.
Tips on how to approach the extracurriculars question in a law application form
Don’t give generic answers such as ‘I like reading and listening to music’. Global law firms typically receive up to 2,000 applications for training contracts or vacation schemes each year, so you need to stand out from the crowd.
You will need to research the law firm you are applying to well to be able to tailor your answers to the firm’s values and the type of work it does. Follow our tips below.
Focus on relevant examples to that particular law firm
You may not have enough space to cover all your extracurricular activities in the word count the law firm has given, so focus only on the examples that are most relevant to that firm and the work you would be doing there. Research which departments the firm places its trainee solicitors in as a matter of course. For example, will you be required to complete seats in banking and corporate law? If so, choose examples that demonstrate your commercial awareness, such as part-time jobs at big organisations such as Tesco, Co-op or WHSmith. Keep in mind that many of that firm’s corporate clients are likely to be high-street brands. Don’t be afraid to include any part-time jobs, even if they are seemingly unrelated to law – working with customers at a business is useful experience for any client-facing job.
Use your answer to demonstrate your commitment to a career in law
If you have any experience that demonstrates your enthusiasm for law, include it here. Examples could include taking cases for the Free Representation Unit (FRU), mooting (arguing a case in a mock trial), or having a role on your university law society committee. Don’t use unimpressive examples just because they’re related to law, though – saying that you signed up for the law society is not as impressive as achieving a promotion in a part-time job, for example. You need to show that you’re proactive and motivated: examples where you only played a passive role are not helpful to your application.
Show how you have developed your communication skills
A career in law is about explaining legal concepts in comprehensible terms. If you've done pro bono work at a walk-in centre or evening shifts at Citizens Advice, you've already helped real clients solve real dilemmas. Focus on any presentation, drafting, research, teamwork or diplomacy skills that you may have developed during these experiences and others. Try to include examples outside of your university work: most candidates will have given a presentation as part of their degree, but if you’ve done public speaking in a different kind of context, you’ll stand out.
Match your experience to the skills the firm seeks
If the firm is well known for its restructuring work, for example, as a solicitor there you would likely advise on renegotiating labour contracts in order to reduce overheads for your client – have you held a position of responsibility or enjoyed a pastime that involves a lot of negotiation? As a social secretary for a student committee, for example, you might have regularly negotiated drinks deals and venue hire for guests – an example like this will also show business acumen. Take a look at the vacation scheme tasks or assessment centre tasks at that firm to give you further ideas about the skills the firm is looking for. One task might be an in-tray or e-tray exercise where you are asked to rank workload in order of importance – have you ever been in a role where you regularly prioritised workloads?
Does the firm send its trainees on an international secondment? If so, show your enthusiasm for other cultures and your global mindset. Do you practise a martial art regularly? Have you taken it upon yourself to improve your language skills – over and above lessons at school?
Which examples of positions of responsibility can you give?
By asking specifically for positions of responsibility, the firm is looking for evidence of leadership, time management and decision-making skills. Don’t just list your positions of responsibility; describe what, for example, captaining the university netball team involves: arranging fixtures, organising teams or boosting morale. Have you taken your team further up the rankings? Have you avoided relegation?
When writing about your positions of responsibility don’t just include jobs or official leadership roles, but any roles in which you have had an obligation to meet a certain objective. For example, you might have been a reporter for your student newspaper. When describing the role, don’t just say ‘The role required organisational and communication skills’. Instead, go into detail about what you specifically did, such as ‘I sourced photographers and liaised with them in order to arrange their attendance at events I would be reporting on’. You don’t need to explicitly state the skills used in order for them to be clear to the recruiter.
How can you write about your academic prizes or awards in your application form?
Some firms ask about academic prizes or awards in their extracurricular application questions. If you’ve received any prizes for coming top of your cohort in, say, your first-year exams, then now’s the time to shout about them. Any academic awards you list here will help showcase the consistently strong academic record all global law firms seek.
How do you answer the extracurricular question if you feel you don’t have hobbies and interests?
If you feel you are lacking activities and interests to add in here, don’t be tempted to embellish to make yourself sound more interesting – be prepared to be able to talk about anything you put in your application form at interview. Commonplace activities are OK, as long as you write about them in an interesting way. See our advice on writing about personal interests here.
Tips to make sure you stay within the word count on law application forms
Most law firms will give a maximum word count of between 200 and 300 words as part of the question; don’t go over the word count in your answers. Remember that following instructions and communicating succinctly are both important skills in successful lawyers. You are being tested here so make sure you demonstrate how you can answer your application questions concisely.
- Write a long version with all the information you could possibly give for that question, stand back from it and prioritise the most compelling or relevant points.
- Once you’ve written your first version, take a break and then edit it down with a fresh pair of eyes – that’s where giving yourself some extra time before the deadline helps.
- Use bullet points to organise your answer or use subheads to break the text up.
- To keep your responses concise, use the STAR approach where you describe briefly the Situation, the Tasks you had to do, the Actions you took and the final Results.
- Get straight to the point: use everyday, plain English and avoid flowery language. ‘There’s nothing worse than somebody trying to sound like a lawyer,’ says Stephen Vullo QC, barrister at 2 Bedford Row. ‘When in court the finest advocates never say a word that is difficult. They never say a word that you wouldn’t readily understand or that my eight-year-old son wouldn’t instantly understand. Only people trying to sound like advocates use long words, Latin and other things. It’s totally unnecessary.’ Keep asking yourself whether each word is necessary – is there a simpler way of saying that? Have you used five words when two will do?
- Use active verbs. ‘I presented a talk’ is more powerful and uses fewer words than ‘I was responsible for presenting a talk’.
- Ask a friend or relative to edit out any unnecessary words or to spot if you’ve repeated yourself.
- Have you used information that you could use to answer a question in another part of the form, where you may be under the word count? You might want to cover volunteering at a legal clinic, for example, in the work experience section if you haven’t done a vacation scheme or mini-pupillage.