Going beyond the call of duty: what Baker & McKenzie look for in a training contract application
Before you start
- Review Baker & McKenzie’s required competencies.
- Make sure you understand the structure and nature of the firm’s training programme.
- Make sure you have a couple of free hours; Baker & McKenzie only accept around 30 graduate trainees each year out of almost 2,000 applications, so a rushed application could put you at the bottom of a long list.
Key thing to remember
The number one thing to remember when writing your application is that Baker & McKenzie is a commercial law firm. The form asks specifically about your interest in commercial areas of practice, so keep things as relevant as possible. It’s okay to have an interest in non-commercial areas of law, such as family law, but don’t let it seem like you’d prefer to work in practice areas usually covered by smaller firms. Baker & McKenzie’s website makes it very clear that the firm is well informed about the global economy, so you need to show that you are too.
Filling in the Baker & McKenzie application form
‘Covering letter: In your covering letter, please explain your reasons for wishing to pursue a career in commercial law. Please also explain your motivation for applying to Baker & McKenzie. You should also use the covering letter as an opportunity to include any additional information that is relevant to your application but is not covered in the form. (750 words max)’
Point of the question: assesses what drives you, your knowledge about the sector and role, understanding of the firm and training programme, self-awareness, and your ability to communicate concisely and focus on the most relevant points.
- Push the point that you want to work at Baker & McKenzie because it’s an ‘international law firm’. Not only are most of its competitors also international, but the firm has a ‘local lawyers’ policy: if you’re mostly after an overseas experience, there are other firms that might be better for you.
- Talk about your interest in law in general – the word ‘commercial’ is there for a reason.
- Say that you’ve been following the Eurozone crisis if you’ve only been reading about it at a superficial level; being aware of it isn’t enough, you need to have carefully considered the implications for the legal profession and, particularly, for Baker & McKenzie and its clients. You’ll probably have to elaborate on your opinions at interview.
- Talk about all of your interests, activities and responsibilities here – this is the next section of the form.
- Stick to the word limit (750 words maximum). Baker & McKenzie want to see that you can follow instructions and write concisely.
- Think about Baker & McKenzie’s culture and values and how they relate to you. For example, the firm makes a point of conducting pro bono work on a regular basis; is this something you’ve done and want to continue doing? (But be aware that all law firms exist to make a profit, so pro bono should come across as just one aspect of your interest in the firm).
- Consider what you want from your working environment and think about how Baker & McKenzie could provide this. For example, Christine Lagarde, the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is a former chairman of Baker & McKenzie’s global executive committee, and has been listed as one of the ‘Most Powerful Women in the World’. A candidate who considers diversity to be a priority may wish to talk about this.
- Talk about the nature of the training programme and which aspects of this appeal to you and why. For example, how will the seat rotation scheme affect your development? How would a seat in dispute resolution benefit you?
- Emphasise any experience you’ve had in a law or commercial environment – work experience, a part-time job or open days for example.
- Have a thorough look at Baker & McKenzie’s website – there is a Eurozone client briefing paper on there ('The Euro: Its Possible Demise') that gives a good overview of the sort of advice a lawyer at the firm might have to give. Think about why this sort of work appeals to you.
- Talk about any particular commercial law cases or developments (particularly involving Baker & McKenzie) that have caught your attention recently and explain specifically why they interest you. Don’t mention anything you don’t feel comfortable discussing and explaining in-depth, though.
‘Activities, interests and positions of responsibility’
Point of the question: assesses experience, self-awareness, commitment to law and commercial law, ability to communicate well, and whether you’re a good fit for the firm in general.
- Repeat too much of what you said in the covering letter.
- Choose vague examples that could be true of any graduate – instead, emphasise the things that make you stand out. For example, many aspiring lawyers will have an interest in debating, so if you do put this as an interest pick out something about it that makes you stand out; highlight if you’ve won any mooting competitions or been president of a debating society.
- Try to find an example that can be related to each of Baker & McKenzie’s desired competencies. For example, the firm wants to see that you’re able to build relationships with clients. Have you had a part-time job or role where you had to provide a service? Have you taken part in an extracurricular team activity? Talk about your duties in the role, and a bit about what you learned.
- Show that you’ve done something with your interests. A lot of candidates may write that they’re a member of a sports club, but a candidate will only stand out if they can demonstrate that they did something productive with this – such as organising specific tournaments or recruiting good quality members.
- Include interests that aren’t specifically related to law – the employer wants to see that you’re an interesting all-rounder.
- Think about the firm’s culture and values and try to show that your activities and interests fit in with these. For example, Baker & McKenzie have won awards for their corporate social responsibility programme; if you’ve been a RAG officer for your student union, helped improve your building’s recycling rates, or done volunteer work, this may give you an edge at the firm.
- Mention any part-time jobs you’ve taken on to help fund your studies – you might not think they’re impressive, but this shows commercial awareness and responsibility.
- Baker & McKenzie are looking for intellect and initiative – highlight any occasions when you have gone beyond the call of duty; did you successfully overhaul your student paper or introduce a new policy to your student committee, for example?