The key thing is to find a firm that genuinely cares about your development.
RPC’s application form for its training contract asks why you are applying to the firm and you can be confident that the question will pop up during your interview, too. What this feature is not going to do is give you a ‘standard’ answer to this question to copy. For one thing, it won’t actually get you a training contract. RPC seeks candidates who genuinely want to work for them, for reasons that are personal to the candidate, and a ‘template’ answer won’t help you.
But why might you want to work for RPC? There is an impressive list of reasons on RPC’s website, of course, but we thought you might find it valuable and inspiring to read what Jani Ihalainen has to say. Jani is a trainee who first worked at the firm as a paralegal. For him, it is the caring but innovative culture that stands out.
‘I honestly think if you don’t apply to RPC, you are making a mistake,’ Jani tells us. ‘The key thing is that everyone at the firm genuinely cares about the people they work with.’
RPC: a firm that is interested in your career
‘I was one of the ones who took what felt like forever to get a training contract,’ says Jani, who completed his masters in law in 2013 and his LPC in 2020. ‘After my masters, I spent some time in Canada and worked as a paralegal at two smaller firms. RPC then approached me to apply for a paralegal position with them. At interview, I knew I wanted to work with them. The interviewers were genuinely interested in my longer-term career ambitions and I was open about wanting to become a solicitor.’
Once hired, RPC were supportive of his career aspirations. ‘Whether you are a trainee or not, your colleagues are truly invested in helping you get to where you want to be, whether that is in terms of skills, career progression or personal targets,’ Jani says. ‘In my case, the head of my practice group took a genuine interest in my development, giving me tasks that might have gone to a trainee to stretch me,’ he recalls. ‘Then, he encouraged me to apply for the training contract.’
Jani's first seat on his training contract is in commercial and financial disputes. Find out more about his experiences in litigation.
RPC: an unstuffy firm that isn’t afraid of change
‘At my initial interview for RPC, it struck me – and I was proved right – as an unstuffy firm; one that did things differently. There’s not an atmosphere of “Well, we’ve done this since the 1700s so we need to keep doing it this way until the 2200s”,’ he says. 'You can see that with how it is really promoting an inclusive culture and recruiting from a more diverse pool.’
RPC: a firm where you are not a nameless trainee
‘I think, partly because we are a smaller intake of trainees, you never feel like a nameless trainee,’ says Jani. ‘There’s never a case of a partner wondering which trainee did which task and who they need to feedback to. Everyone knows who you are and everyone is super-nice. There is always a bit of fun and banter – you can have a joke with a partner (which might seem terrifying as a trainee) – but everyone is also willing to help you out and explain what a legal point means or how to do things if you are ever unsure about a task.’
RPC: a firm that encourages you to shape your own opportunities
As well as informal support from your department, there are formal channels. ‘I have a trainee buddy who is a year above me, and you can discuss anything with your mentor. Mine is an associate who qualified a couple of years ago,’ says Jani.
Building a relationship over video chat rather than face to face can seem a little odd, but people have adjusted well. ‘The great thing about your relationship with a mentor is that it is very personal and you can help shape it to make it work for both of you,’ says Jani. ‘For example, some trainees use the relationship as a sounding board, but I am less likely to ask work-related questions because I’ve worked here before. Instead, I focus on how I can move my personal development forward and work towards my own aspirations.’
And how do you move your development forwards? There are lots of ways for trainees to get involved in the firm and wider community, from joining one of the internal diversity and inclusion networks to CSR work, including pro bono.
RPC: a firm that invests in your training
Throughout various lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, RPC has ensured that trainees have received a high level of training: there is the formal training that comprises the Professional Skills Course; informal training on more niche topics; and on-the-job learning and individual feedback.
‘We have had both external and internal training sessions with exceptional speakers. Some have been on specific skills, such as drafting, and others have been on interesting points of law from upcoming cases,’ Jani says. However, the thing that he has appreciated most is the individual feedback on current work. ‘You can discuss tasks before you start or ask questions as you go,’ he says. ‘But afterwards you discuss how you can do better, how you have improved since the last task and what went well. To make the most of feedback, don’t be shy of pushing for more – partners and associates will always give you specific feedback if you ask for it and are always very willing to discuss things with you.’
Jani had to do the final part of his LPC remotely, so working from home and learning over Zoom and MS Teams wasn’t new to him. ‘There are some advantages – you do have recordings of sessions and access to slides, and if you aren’t that comfortable with public speaking it is easier over video and you get a bit more breathing room,’ he says. ‘However, from talking to more experienced lawyers, the downside is that you don’t get as much informal learning – where, for example, you might be taken to join a phone call either to take a note or just to observe and be talked through how it went afterwards. But colleagues are now proactive on including you formally on conference calls where possible and making time to feed back to you.’
The key thing is to find a firm that genuinely cares about your development and will overcome obstacles to ensure you have the best experience possible. Jani has found his: ‘Even if I received an offer from a magic circle firm, I would have taken the RPC offer,’ he says. ‘They genuinely care about you both as a trainee and as an individual.’
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