The emphasis of the online application for a training contract or vacation scheme at Ashurst is on a 1,000-word covering letter and three 250-word application form questions:
- ‘How is Ashurst different to the other firms you have applied to?’
- ‘How is the legal landscape changing and what are the challenges facing Ashurst?’
- ‘What qualities does a successful lawyer of the future require?’
Although there are set boxes for candidates to list details of their work experience and academic results, it is the covering letter and these questions that will allow you to stand out from other candidates, who will likely also have stellar academics and work experience.
The firm is assessing how you write, how you structure your reasons for applying, why you’d be an outstanding trainee and whether you genuinely want to work at Ashurst in particular.
Make sure you meet Ashurst’s expectations in your application and covering letter
You can find application hints and tips in the students and graduates section of Ashurst’s website – they are there for a reason, so ask yourself whether you have paid attention to each piece of advice before you submit your application.
One of the tips tells you that the covering letter format tests whether you can ‘explain yourself in simple and clear terms, with the use of evidence’. The firm’s recruiters also advise you to ‘strike the right tone’ in your application. You want to write concisely and clearly, without being either overly casual or overly formal. Why is this important to the firm? From your early days as a trainee solicitor, you will be expected to communicate clearly and professionally with other lawyers and, crucially, with clients. They want to see evidence in your covering letter that you have the potential to write succinctly and achieve the right professional tone. Communicating concisely is particularly important for the other questions as you’ll only have 250 words to put forward each of your answers.
You are told who to address the covering letter to, so stay clear of ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ – this just shows that you haven’t paid attention to the instructions on the application form. Addressing the recruitment partner by their first name is also probably overly familiar. For more help on the tone and structure of covering letters, read our law covering letter advice article.
Get to know the firm
One of the firm’s hints and tips is to ‘get to know us – study our website and talk to people who work here’. As well as providing details to include in the ‘work experience’ section, a vacation scheme is useful for getting to know a firm – as are open days, campus events and presentations, and any interaction with firm’s representatives at law fairs or careers service workshops. If it is not possible for these events to go ahead in a face-to-face environment in 2021, you may be able to attend them virtually. Impressive candidates will remember the names of the recruiters or trainees that they spoke to at a law fair or workshop, and can mention this in their application.
If you have carried out a vac scheme with the firm, what was it that made you want to build your career there? Are you attracted to the practice areas? The culture? The clients? If you've carried out vacation placements at other firms, what was it about those experiences that made you decide that you’re better suited to this firm?
Discussing your reasons for why you want to start your career at Ashurst should be a key part of your covering letter, but you should remember that you also have some space in the ‘How is Ashurst different to the other firms you have applied to?’ question. Be careful to spread out your reasons between the different questions and be sure to support your reasons with specific examples. Alternatively, you may choose to mention points in your covering letter and then expand on them further in the application questions. Whichever you choose, make sure not to repeat yourself.
Think ahead to the interview with the firm
The firm’s hints and tips on its website remind you that ‘it’s likely you’ll be asked about the things you’ve listed in your application. Work out what details you want to add during the interview to the information you gave in your application.’ Ashurst's recruiters will have studied your application before an interview so make sure you are comfortable being quizzed on anything you put into the covering letter; feel confident that those examples will continue to show your skills and knowledge in the best light at interview.
Choose the best examples of work experience
Ashurst’s website specifically advises that: ‘It doesn’t matter whether your experience is in a legal or a non-legal role. Put it in and tell us what you’ve learned from it.’ In the application form, you are given four ‘slots’ to fill with details of work experience and an additional 1,000 words to include details of ‘Other experience’. It’s probably sensible to initially prioritise law-related experiences (such as vac schemes) in the first four work experience sections, and then expand on the more general pieces of experience where you have more space in the ‘Other experience’ section.
If the best example of your teamworking skill is from a part-time job or from a committee role at a university society, rather than from a vacation scheme or law-related experience, don’t be afraid to mention this in your covering letter and/or application form questions. Be prepared to expand on these examples when it comes to interview. You have 1,000 words in this section so be sure to provide details of your actions and the skills you developed. You can use the STAR method to structure your answers – focusing on the Situation, Task, Action and Result for each example.
As with the covering letter, you want to keep in mind that recruiters will also be paying attention to your answer to see examples of your written communication skills. Pay attention to the structure of your answer and ensure that your answer is clear and written in an appropriate time.
Make the most of the firm’s additional online help before completing your application
The graduate recruitment team have previously let us know that they use the firm’s Facebook page to post additional advice on applications, as well as insights into their practice areas, so make sure you monitor their social media pages to improve your application chances.