Getting a training contract with RPC: advanced questions and the interview

Once you understand the basics, and you can use your interests to your advantage, it’s time to start discussing your knowledge of corporate law and commercial awareness.
There are a variety of exercises designed to help us choose the best candidates and, while they might be hard work, they're also a lot of fun.

If you need help with application form questions and promoting your achievements, check out our advice on getting a training contract with RPC: basics for the application form

RPC training contract application question: please provide details of any positions of responsibility you have held recently, including details of your contributions

Good teamworking skills are an essential attribute for any solicitor. You may not have been president of the law society, but every member of a team has responsibilities. Whether you’ve managed money or designed leaflets, you have taken responsibility and made a contribution. Explain how your responsibilities affected other people, how you worked in a team and how they reacted to your actions in the role. For example, did you get ahead of deadlines to make someone else’s life easier? Or did you negotiate deals to get positive publicity?

Don’t underestimate the power of part-time work. Handling money, food safety and face-to-face customer skills are all responsibilities. If you can show RPC that you can manoeuvre a disgruntled customer into making another purchase, you’re also indicating that you’ll be just as good with their clients.

RPC training contract application question: what does the role of a commercial lawyer in business mean to you?

You will be asked in the application form, and RPC might follow up in an interview, how you understand the job of a commercial lawyer. It’s good to keep in mind that you are talking to RPC (a firm that practises 50% commercial and 50% insurance law) and then refer to the core values on its website.

Think about how RPC differs from a high street firm and use the values on its website to guide your answer. For example, the firm puts an emphasis on lawyers being proactive and having the necessary business knowledge to talk to clients on the same level and spending time inside the client’s company.

Use your past experience or research to find out what a commercial lawyer at RPC does every day, his or her interaction with the business and the ethics they use. Don’t forget – it’s possible that interactions, businesses and roles will differ for a partner, associate and trainee. Follow RPC’s Twitter feed @lifeinaLawFirm to find out what life at the firm is like for its lawyers.

Ultimately, your own research will direct how YOU see a commercial lawyer, but if it matches with the firm’s view, you’re on to a winner.

RPC training contract application question: identify a current commercial issue which has attracted your attention recently. Please explain why you have identified this issue and why you consider it to be significant to the stakeholders involved.

You may apply for a training contract at RPC well in advance of an interview, which means you need to think carefully about any discussion topics or issues you pick to demonstrate your commercial awareness. It does not look good if the issue is out of date or you have forgotten the topic. RPC mentions on its website that commercial (knowledge) is imperative, and you’ll need to keep up to date with clients.

Read a newspaper every day – this is the only way you can really achieve a sense of commercial awareness. In this age of banking scandals and collapsing retailers, it shouldn’t be hard to pick a topic with a long shelf life to use throughout the hiring process. For example, looking at past events:

The troubled Network Rail company is an example, with its profits halving, negative press over reliability, and reported £38 billion five-year plan going ‘way off track’. Another example is the privatisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland after years in and out of debt, as the government sells its 80% stake at a £7.2 billion loss. In both cases you can look at the positive and negative impacts the issue would have on lawyers, legal teams and the clients involved. Who would lawyers be taking instructions from? What would be a boon for a firm involved with the companies? And what would the negatives be (perhaps an image or ethical problem, for example)?

Look for a current commercial issue that will still be valid in the future.

Advice from RPC on its training contract interview process

RPC representatives have attended a few TARGETjobs Law How To Get Hired events and were kind enough to offer some words of wisdom for aspiring trainees.

‘The RPC Recruitment Days are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your strengths; they give us an all-important insight into your personal qualities, and how you might fit in at RPC,’ says Ellinor Davey, graduate resourcing officer at RPC. ‘We recruit people with personality so want to see the real you during the day. There are a variety of exercises designed to help us choose the best candidates and, while they might be hard work, they're also a lot of fun.’

RPC runs interviews as part of an assessment centre. It brings small batches of training contract candidates together, and tests their skills and competencies before narrowing down the group.

‘At RPC we’re looking for some very special qualities. You'll need courage as well as intelligence. You'll need to be confident, ambitious and dynamic,’ adds Ellinor. ‘And we'll expect you to be an excellent communicator, and to demonstrate natural leadership skills and an inherent awareness of the commercial world.’

Preparing for your RPC interview – quick tips

  • Thoroughly research the firm – scour the RPC website for all the information about the firm you can get your hands on, memorise the RPC ‘manifesto’ and explore some of its past cases and successes in detail.
  • One first-year trainee on Inside Buzz recommends making use of the firm’s Twitter pages, @RPCLaw and @LifeinaLawFirm, and trainee blogs, such as the ‘Smarter Law, Business Insights’ blog, or the ‘RPC Financial Services’ blog to gather useful information for your interview.
  • Work out why you want to work at RPC over other firms. What makes it different? What makes it stand out for you? Once you’ve done this, prepare answers in advance for the ‘why RPC?’ questions.
  • One first-year RPC trainee highlighted via Inside Buzz the importance of finding out what cases the firm is involved in at the moment, and which awards it has won.
  • Stay up to date – read publications such as the Financial Times, The Economist and Legalweek up until the interview and make sure you’ve seen a newspaper on the day. Absorb the information and make sure that you can talk about the latest issues if asked.
  • Dress for success – wear a suit or smart clothing and give yourself plenty of time to get there unrumpled.
  • ‘Come to the office with a positive attitude and talk to as many people as possible,’ advises a second-year RPC trainee on Inside Buzz.
  • Ask questions – not just for yourself, but also to show the recruiters that you’re interested. Pay attention to their answers and ask relevant follow-ups to demonstrate your passion for the firm.

RPC trainees give their insight into training contract interviews via Inside Buzz

  • ‘Most of the interview questions will be competency based. For example, “describe a challenge you have faced and how you overcame it”, or “where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?”’ – first-year trainee, London.
  • ‘You will likely be asked about your educational background, interests outside of studies or work, and some situational judgement questions’ – first-year trainee, London.
  • ‘Use examples that are genuine rather than impressive – they reveal much more about your personality and that is what the interviewers are trying to get information about’ – first-year trainee, London.

To find out more about the best way to answer training contract interview questions and to see more examples of the types of question you’re likely to be asked, check out the TARGETjobs Law article on preparing for vacation schemes and interview questions.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.