If you are applying for a training contract or vacation scheme with a large law firm, chances are you’ll need to answer a question on the online application form about your motivation to work in commercial law. Firms need to check that you have thought about the differences between working in commercial law and, say, family or criminal law. Graduate recruiters will use this answer – among others – to assess your commitment to the type of work they do and sift your application accordingly.
Expect this training contract application question to be phrased differently across firms’ application forms. Examples may include:
- Why are you interested in pursuing a career in international commercial law? (Please limit your answer to 250 words only)
- Why are you interested in a career in corporate law?
- What makes you think that you would be particularly suited to a long-term career at a commercial law firm such as X firm?’ (max 1,500 characters)
Put yourself in the shoes of the graduate recruiter. Why is the law firm asking this question? Only craft your answer once you’re happy you’ve understood the question and the motivation behind it. You might decide that the purpose of the question is to:
- assess your self-awareness and motivation: what have you done up to this point that makes you want a career in commercial law rather than in, say, family law or another profession? Some honest self-appraisal and soul searching is needed here
- test your grasp of the role of a commercial lawyer: what will you do day to day? Who will your clients be?
- assess your skills and potential as a solicitor and future partner of the firm, including your ability to communicate effectively, concisely and within a word count
- test your experience – have you had any insights into life in a commercial law firm?
Even though many of the commercial law motivation questions don’t explicitly ask why you want to work at that firm, good answers should give the impression that you want to work at that particular firm above all others. The first six tips below will help you to do this because they all rely on you doing your research into the firm before completing your application form. You won’t be able to convince recruiters that you want to work in commercial law at their firm until you’ve put the hours into your research. This special research feature will help: it gives you a checklist to go through when researching law firms to make sure you’re covering the firm’s culture and appeal, training contract structure and offering, and background.
Once you’ve drafted your answer, try this test: if you can replace the name of the law firm with that of another commercial law firm and the answer still makes sense, you’ve been too generic. Do some more research and tailor your answer further to that firm.
Application form tip #1: research what commercial law means
If you’re not sure how a commercial law firm differs from any other, go back and do more research. Countless applicants fall down through not understanding how the commercial firm makes its money. Our overview in commercial law – by Emma Matebalavu, a partner at Clifford Chance – will help you. Emma explains the hours, skills needed, and the type of work and clients in commercial law.
Note that some firms refer to ‘corporate’ law rather than ‘commercial’ law in their application question. Although closely aligned and both grounded in contract law, corporate law is specific to a client’s ownership of its business, eg mergers and acquisitions (M&A) work, whereas commercial law is a much broader area, covering everything a City law firm advises on. Chances are that if a firm has specified ‘corporate law’ in its application form question then it is strong in M&A and capital markets work, and wants to see that you are considering those areas. If a firm refers to ‘commercial’, it wants to see that you are looking to work with businesses and government rather than advising individuals in a high street firm.
Application form tip #2: use personal, rather than generic, examples
Don’t give a generic answer about how you find law interesting; you need to give specific examples of your relevant experience (legal or non-legal) and skills so recruiters can judge you properly. How do the skills you have developed so far match those sought by the firm? Don’t just list these skills: give the firm specific evidence of what you’ve done to develop those skills.
How do your character and career goals fit the international commercial career pathway ahead of any other. Is it in the kind of clients or transactions you will have exposure to, the size of the teams you’ll work in, or perhaps you have something that would be more valuable to an international, rather than national, market, such as fluency in a second language or experience of living in a country where the firm operates?
When discussing the firm, stay away from generic terminology, such as referring to its ‘global reputation’. No doubt the firm has already informed you that it is an international commercial law firm, so you would just be stating the obvious or repeating words from the website, possibly written by the person reading your form! Instead, focus on the opportunities for career development that such a firm offers – things that regional firms may not be able to give you.
If you are applying to a commercial law firm with offices in your hometown, you might want to write about that. A current trainee at Eversheds Sutherland told TARGETjobs Inside Buzz: ‘I am an ambitious person, but I have a very strong link to South Wales. Eversheds Sutherland is the only international law firm based in Cardiff and therefore I felt that it would be the best place for me to train.’
Application form tip #3: show your research about the firm’s legal practice areas
Think about the specific areas of practice that the firm works in. Write about which areas appeal to you in particular, for example property or construction, and explain why you would like to work in these areas. Don’t focus too much on one particular area though; you’ll need to show your enthusiasm for the firm as a whole.
The purpose of a training contract is to expose you to different practice areas to help you choose your specialism on qualification; the trick for your application is to show you’re knowledgeable about the firm’s practice areas while remaining open about the area of law you’d like to qualify into. If you come across as rigid in your ambition to be an employment lawyer, for example, the firm may shy away from giving you a training contract if it can’t predict an opening in the employment team in a few years’ time.
Application form tip #4: show your research about recent commercial deals and cases (particularly the firm’s)
Demonstrate that you’ve researched the commercial law sector; mention any cases that have grabbed your attention recently, particularly ones related to seats that trainees at the firm work in. You will be able to find out on the firm’s graduate recruitment website which departments trainees are guaranteed to work in. For example, two of your seats as a Hogan Lovells trainee will be in its corporate and finance groups, and another in one of its litigation teams; all trainee solicitors at Bristows are guaranteed a seat in its intellectual property department.
Explain why the cases interest you and why you would be suited to working on such a case.
Application form tip #5: match the firm’s required competencies to your own skills
Think about the competencies sought by the firm (check its website) and demonstrate that you have these. For example, many commercial firms place a heavy emphasis on client focus; show that you’re good with people and are able to form new professional relationships by highlighting any occasions or jobs where you’ve had to provide a service or deal with customers. Don’t just cite these – give examples of how you excelled in these situations: have you been promoted in your part-time retail job after showing excellent customer service? Have you had to use your diplomacy skills when handling difficult clients in your bar job?
Application form tip #6: match your ambitions to the firm
Some of these application questions ask why you’d be suited to a ‘long-term career’ at the firm – describe a few of your goals here. Highlight the ways in which you want to develop and explain why you think that firm in particular will aid your progress; for example, you may want to cite the firm’s top tier clients in a certain practice area or its reputation for training and mentoring. Again, research is everything here. Find genuine reasons why you want your long-term career to be at the firm – they may come from having read the website thoroughly, conversations you’ve had at a campus law fair or presentation from the firm, or from the time you spent there at a vacation scheme or during an open day.
As with all answers to application questions, be prepared to expand on your answer at interview or in an assessment centre.
Bonus application form tip: show your attention to detail
Proofread your answer for accuracy and grammar – and then ask a friend or family member to proofread your answers. A second pair of eyes is invaluable. Law recruiters tell TARGETjobs Law that many applicants are rejected because of careless mistakes, such as the name of a law firm spelled incorrectly (eg Slaughter & May rather than Slaughter and May; Shearman & Stirling instead of Shearman & Sterling).