What if you don’t get a training contract first time around?

Getting a training contract is competitive at the best of times, yet alone during a global pandemic. Here are some ideas for what to do if you don’t get a training contract on your first try.

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If you have something to focus on, it will also make you happier.

‘I was one of the ones who took what felt like forever to get a training contract,’ says Jani Ihalainen, who became a trainee at RPC in 2020. He’d graduated with a law degree from the University of Derby in 2012 and completed a masters in law from the University of Queensland, Australia, in 2013. ‘I know how difficult it is to stay positive and hopeful when you feel you are getting nowhere. I had to push myself to stick with it – but it is incredibly rewarding when you do gain a training contract offer.’

Jani's journey to a training contract

Before starting his LPC, Jani spent some time in Canada and undertook legal internships and paralegal jobs. In fact, he started out at RPC as a paralegal. ‘RPC approached me to apply for a paralegal role,’ he recalls. ‘I remember the interviewers being incredibly nice. They were genuinely interested in me and my longer-term career ambitions and I was open about wanting a training contract during my interview.’ He got the job and senior colleagues kept an eye on his progression, giving him similar tasks to trainees in order to develop his skills to trainee level. They then suggested he apply for the RPC training contract, which has turned out to be the right fit for him.

‘What I learned from this experience is that I am more resilient than I thought I am – an offer didn’t just fall into my lap. I had to work at it and stay positive,’ he reflects.

If you aren’t successful straight away with your training contract applications, Jani’s tips on how to power through – laid out below – might be useful.

The benefits of doing paralegal work

‘I chose to apply for paralegal jobs because I wanted to get into law in whatever way I could,’ Jani tells us. ‘It is also better to gain real experience rather than just sitting at home and applying for training contracts. You are learning what the practise of law is actually like, whether you enjoy the work, and whether you are well suited to a career in the law. This cannot help but improve your training contract applications, especially as paralegals often do similar tasks to trainees. Seeking paralegal opportunities is well worth your time, although during a pandemic it can be challenging.’

And, of course, if you do impress the firm, they may encourage you to apply for their training contract, as RPC did with Jani.

Jani’s tips for gaining a training contract

Have a plan. ‘This is essential because it gives you some semblance of control in the process and makes you feel less helpless,' Jani says. 'Work out what you need to do to get to where you want to be and then work towards it.’ This may be filling knowledge gaps, gaining more experience (for example, by volunteering with Citizens Advice, the Free Representation Unit or similar, or applying for paralegal jobs) or acquiring more evidence of your interest in law (for example, by watching webinars). ‘If you have something to focus on, it will also make you happier and feel like you are progressing,’ he adds.

Apply to the right number of firms. ‘You shouldn’t apply to a low number, such as five, but you shouldn’t apply to everywhere either,’ says Jani. ‘You need to be able to give really good reasons for wanting to apply to a given firm and you can’t do that if you are just blanket applying. Have a list of the firms you genuinely want to work for and work down that list so you guarantee you apply to the ones that really interest you.’

Network to learn about the business of law. ‘One thing I did as a paralegal, and still do now as a trainee, is contact people I find interesting – for example, the general counsel of an AI company – to ask them more about the law in their field and their day-to-day work,’ he says. ‘It’s not about asking whether they can give you a training contract; it’s just about finding out more about the law and what people are actually doing. It is helpful for interviews and just staying informed.’ ’

Try not to obsess about what went wrong. ‘The worst thing you can do is ruminate on why you haven’t got a training contract, as that will demotivate you,’ says Jani. Instead, he stresses the importance of concentrating on what you can do to put yourself in the best position in the future. ‘Access all the tools you have – for example, your network, careers advisers, or lawyers you might know already – and don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance. People are always more willing to help than you think they might be.’

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