The dos and don'ts of applying for a training contract with Shearman & Sterling

You can talk about other commercial or corporate law cases that have interested you; just be sure that you would be comfortable talking in-depth about anything you write down here at an interview.

The key thing to remember when applying to Shearman & Sterling

Remember that Shearman & Sterling deals with cross-border and multi-jurisdiction transactions; they are looking for someone who is capable of working with a wide range of people and who can adapt to different working environments and methods. This is one case in which you can emphasise a desire to work internationally – not all law firms want their trainees to go overseas, but in this case an international frame of thought is valuable.

How to answer the Shearman & Sterling training contract application form questions

As one of only a handful of elite, international law firms, how do you think Shearman & Sterling LLP maintains its competitive advantage? (250 words)


  • Only refer to Shearman & Sterling among other US firms. They have used the word international for a reason.
  • Assume you can get the answer with a quick glance at the Financial Times.
  • Use an old example. A competitive edge is not a one-time purchase; it needs constant maintenance.


  • Look for any deals or clients that Shearman & Sterling has managed to sweep from under the noses of other major firms and how. This will show you have researched current affairs and the competition.
  • Keep up to date with changes in the firm. In particular, look at expansions or acquisitions of practices from other firms, changes in trainee intake or retention and lateral hires. Make sure you understand why these changes are significant.
  • Try to spot any ‘firsts’ that Shearman & Sterling has been involved in. For example, in July 2014 the firm represented Yukos Oil Company shareholders and won the largest award for arbitration on record. Think how you would use this information if you were operating on the behalf of the firm and seeking to leverage it against competition in the market.
  • Use your initiative. A major part of this question is testing your working knowledge of commercial awareness about the firm and the world at large.

Please use this space to explain your interest in pursuing a legal career at a city law firm, and your interest in Shearman & Sterling LLP (250 words)

Point of the question: assesses motivations, your knowledge of the legal sector and your research around the firm, articulacy, whether you would fit in at the firm.


  • Write generally about your interest in law; in particular, don’t talk too much about your interest in areas of law not practised by Shearman & Sterling. Their reputation is for finance and transactions and the employer will want to know that you would be happy and motivated working in this field.
  • Misspell the name of the firm; it can happen to anyone, and Shearman & Sterling’s recruiters have told TARGETjobs Law on more than one occasion that this is a common problem with training contract applications. Remember it’s Shearman not Sherman and Sterling not Stirling.


  • Highlight any legal experience you have and explain how that’s influenced your decision; in particular, mention any experience in a commercial or corporate law environment. If your experience has mainly been in another area you will need to explain why you have chosen not to pursue a career in that field, but still try to say why the skills you learned are useful to Shearman & Sterling.
  • Mention any particular deals of Shearman & Sterling’s that have interested you and explain why you would want to work on such transactions. Do some research and mention client names, dates, deals and any awards the firm has gained. For example, the firm has a long relationship advising Nokia; including over its buyout of Siemens’ stake in a joint venture. What sort of work would this involve and how would your experiences and skills make you suitable for this? You can talk about other commercial or corporate law cases that have interested you; just be sure that you would be comfortable talking in-depth about anything you write down here at an interview.
  • Think about what you want from your working environment and write about how Shearman & Sterling could deliver – for example, you may want to mention the firm’s strong reputation for LGBT equality or its promotion of women in law.
  • Specifically state why you would be interested in, and suited to, working in European corporate, global finance, or project development and finance; you will have to undertake seats in two of these as part of your training.

‘Please include details of activities, interests and positions of responsibility, whether at school, university or otherwise’ (250 words).

Point of the question: assesses experience, self-awareness, motivations, communication skills, ability to pick out relevant information, your time-management skills, how well-rounded you are and whether you would be a good fit at the firm.


  • Choose examples from more than a few years ago. Shearman & Sterling want focused, committed and proactive individuals, so if your best work isn’t also your most recent you may have a problem.
  • Completely discount experience outside of law. When TARGETjobs Law spoke to one recruiter at Shearman & Sterling they said: ‘As applicants (on a law degree, at least) tend to apply in the second year of their degree, they are only just getting positions of responsibility at university so it’s fine to use part-time jobs in retail or bar work to demonstrate your skills.’ The recruiter added that it’s also important that trainees can talk about matters other than work, particularly when attending client dinners etc.


  • Demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to work at Shearman & Sterling. For example, the firm are looking for someone who is proactive – when have you gone beyond the call of duty to ensure success? This can be an example from any area of life but you need to show that your actions had clear results – for example, if you were captain of a football team and recruited new team members, did your results improve? If they didn’t improve, it’s best to choose a different example.
  • Highlight any language skills or significant travel experiences – Shearman & Sterling deals with cross-border and multi-jurisdictional transactions and trainees typically do an overseas seat, so worldliness is valuable here.
  • Mention any part-time jobs you took on to help fund your studies; this shows commercial awareness, common sense and initiative, and all of these are required competencies at Shearman & Sterling.
  • Include examples that aren’t directly related to law – Shearman & Sterling wants all-rounders. Leadership prowess is always good to demonstrate, but make sure you’ve got solid examples of the basic interpersonal and decision making skills first.
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