The do's and don'ts of applying to Macfarlanes

Convey your understanding of what the training involves and why it appeals to you.

Whether you’re applying for a training contract or vacation scheme placement, there are certain common themes you need to consider, and certain attributes you need to demonstrate, in order to be in with a chance of working at this mid-sized City firm.

  • DO be informed about the nature of Macfarlane’s work and practice areas. High-end corporate work, including private equity, is the order of the day: it’s compulsory for trainees to complete seats in both corporate M&A and a more specialised corporate seat, although the firm is equally proud of its large private client team, which won Private Client Team of the Year in The Legal 500 UK Awards 2014. What interests you about working in both of these areas?

    Be aware of Macfarlanes’ smaller but prestigious specialisms, such as employment law and commercial real estate, which brings in some very important deals – the firm has advised on the redevelopment of the BBC’s former site in White City. It has also seen success in the niche areas of brand management and intellectual property: the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s book, Logos and No Gos, was written by Macfarlanes partner Geoff Steward. You can also convey your commercial awareness by showing your understanding of how the firm has adapted to the vagaries of the markets – for example, Macfarlanes expanded its transactional, advisory and dispute work in a period when M&A deals were slowing down. Can you understand and explain why the firm did this?

    Deals and recent developments are announced on the firm’s Twitter accounts (a main account and specialist accounts for tax and employment law), which also name some of the clients the firm is working with. Make a note of the ones that interest you.

  • DO acknowledge the training programme if you’re applying for a training contract. Macfarlanes places a huge emphasis on its dedication to its trainees’ professional development and you’ll find that training is more intense and hands-on here than at other firms. If you like the sound of that, great, but be sure to convey your understanding of what the training will involve and why it appeals to you. For example, you’ll have an allocated partner or associate as a mentor, internal training seminars, and long and detailed reviews during your training contract.
  • DO be hands-on – you need to present yourself as someone who likes to get stuck in and who is capable of being thrown in at the deep end and given real legal work. Expect no gentle tasks or work-shadowing on Macfarlanes’ vacation scheme: letter-drafting, research and being taken to meetings with clients or barristers is the norm. Think about the skills you’ll need to provide evidence of – attention to detail, a meticulous, conscientious approach to work and good presentation skills (essential if you’re going to meet clients and counsel).

    Likewise, prospective trainees should emphasise their ability to take on responsibility – given the firm’s relatively small size there is nowhere to hide and trainees are rarely given straightforward admin work. You also need to demonstrate your capacity to be very organised: trainees are often relied upon to coordinate and keep track of all the paperwork and documentation pertaining to a deal.

  • DON’T emphasise your quirks in an attempt to convey your ‘personality’. This is not a firm that appreciates idiosyncrasies – which is not to say that it’s dour but, in interviews, recruiters will be looking for conscientious types who are serious about the path they’ve chosen. If you want to enthuse about a hobby, make sure you explain how it’s contributed to your legal goals. When listing extracurricular activities, think quality over quantity. ‘Intellectual curiosity’ and a facility for technical work are also prized by recruiting partners. How can you convey this in applications?
  • DON’T enthuse about international travel – although there are opportunities to go on secondments abroad and take business trips overseas, Macfarlanes has strategically chosen to have no overseas offices and uses a referral network instead. But this doesn’t mean that Macfarlanes' work lacks an international element – a quick sweep through their Twitter feed will tell you that.
  • DON’T sound like you’re pining for the magic circle. Think about the advantages of being in a smaller, mid-sized city firm and why this attracts you. Is there more individual responsibility as a vac schemer or trainee? Macfarlanes pride themselves on dealing with all corporate and commercial matters whilst remaining smaller than their competitors. They are vocal about how their size means that their quality of client care is greater than at larger firms. What evidence can you find to support this?
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