Firm Insider 1

Firm Insider 1

My Journey to a Training Contract with an Elite US Law Firm: An In-Depth Guide

My journey to a Training Contract began during my first year of university when I decided to take a chance and apply for a Spring Scheme at an US law firm. As a Black aspiring lawyer, the thought of entering an environment with little representation of people who looked like me intimidated and concerned me. On the contrary, the thought of working at such a prestigious firm and potentially becoming the first lawyer in my family was exhilerating and motivated me to pursue my ambitions. Alongside this Spring Scheme, I’d applied to four other first year schemes, all of which rejected me. This particular firm was actually the last one to get back to me, and so come my first and second pieces of advice.

First, you simply cannot let rejection demotivate you, that is a waste of your time and energy. Rejection is an unavoidable part of life, and in an industry as competitive as commercial law, it is virtually a statistical certainty. Ready yourself for it, and learn from your mistakes when it happens but it’s essential that you do not allow it to throw you off-course. Secondly, don’t let impostor syndrome consume you. When I received the congratulatory email informing me I’d been accepted onto the Spring Scheme, after several rejections I was certain it was a mistake. I wasn’t meant to get an offer, surely it was luck. All of these thoughts flooded into my mind uncontrollably, convincing me that I wasn’t meant for commercial law. Don’t do that. Law firms have recruitment committees with lawyers that are far more experienced than you, who know exactly what it takes to be a great lawyer. If they’ve offered you a place, it’s for a reason, they see potential in you. Remember that. Also remember that in securing a place you’ve just beat out potentially thousands of other applicants, an incredible feat. It only takes one firm to take a chance on you, so when one does, let the insecurity caused by all the rejection go. Interestingly though, I do actually believe that a sliver of impostor syndrome might be a good thing – it certainly served as a motivating factor to me, keeping me on my toes and reminding me of the importance of hard work.

During the Spring Scheme, I was exposed to the fast-paced world of commercial law and got a taste of the challenges that lay ahead. I saw experienced lawyers deliver a series of fascinating presentations on various practice areas, ranging from Corporate M&A to International Arbitration. It was a whirlwind experience, but one that fuelled my determination. Following the Spring Scheme, I was invited to return to the firm to do a Vacation Scheme later that year, with the potential of converting it to a Training Contract.

The Rigorous Assessment Process: An Overview

The path to securing a Training Contract is demanding and designed to identify the most motivated candidates. Each stage is meant to evaluate various skills and competencies, ranging from legal knowledge to interpersonal abilities.

The Initial Hurdles: Written Assessment and One-Way Interview

The journey for the Spring Scheme begins right after clearing the written application stage with a written assessment. This test evaluates both legal knowledge and critical thinking skills under timed conditions. I can vividly recall the pressure, exemplified by beads of sweat trickling down my forehead as I typed my final sentence right as the timer hit zero.

Subsequent to this is a unique one-way interview. In this format, questions appear on a screen and you're given about a minute to ponder before recording your answers. I remember how the nerves were audible in my quivering voice; it's not an experience you easily forget.

Meeting the Associates: The First-Year Scheme Interview

If you make it past the initial stages, you're invited for an in-person interview conducted by senior associates. This interview aims to assess more than just your legal prowess; it also tests your interpersonal skills and cultural fit within the firm. The questions often revolve around your experience, competency, and understanding of the firm's ethos.

The Vacation Scheme: Presentation and Partner Interview

For the Vacation Scheme, the stakes are raised further. The first task is to deliver a presentation to two of the firm's partners, focusing on your ability to articulate commercial concepts in a clear and persuasive manner. Following this is another interview that puts your quick thinking and confidence to the test. Some questions are unpredictable curveballs, yet these moments often bring out the best and most organic answers.

Immersion and Networking: The Vacation Scheme Experience

The Vacation Scheme itself is no walk in the park. It's a comprehensive boot camp that involves intensive legal research, drafting assignments, and various networking events, including brunches and social drinks. One of the most invaluable experiences is the chance to meet and engage with some of the most accomplished lawyers globally. Remarkably, the partners are incredibly approachable, willing to discuss everything from academics and politics to life at the firm.

The Final Stage: The Top-Floor Interview

The scheme culminates in a concluding interview held on the top-floor of the offices, conducted by two partners. At this point, the atmosphere is less intimidating than you might expect. You're no longer a stranger to the firm's culture and practices, making this the perfect opportunity to showcase everything you've absorbed. I found myself asking the partners more questions than they asked me, signaling the growth and comfort that had developed over the scheme.

Navigating this rigorous assessment process has been an unforgettable journey, enriching me with insights about life as a commercial lawyer and equipping me with an invaluable set of skills and experiences.

Lessons from a Rigorous Journey: An Introduction

Throughout this arduous journey, I learned some incredible lessons that shaped not just my career but also my character. Along the way, I also picked up a number of dos and don'ts. These invaluable insights spanned multiple areas, from resilience to uniqueness.

The Power of Resilience: Facing and Overcoming Rejection

The first and most important lesson was the need for resilience and the ability to overcome rejection. It's natural to face setbacks, but it's crucial to view them as opportunities for growth rather than stumbling blocks. As mentioned, commercial law is arguably the most competitive industry in the world to break into. Some firms literally have acceptance rates of 1-2%. You are inevitably going to face rejection at some point. Most of the trainees and associates I met, extremely accomplished and intelligent people, had faced rejection at some point. It's essential to stay on track, remind yourself of your goals, and keep going. In fact, I met quite a few lawyers who hadn’t actually started their training contract until a few years after graduating university. Remember, you’ve got plenty of time, and rejection will often teach you much more than your successes.

Standing Out in a Competitive Field: Initiative and Entrepreneurship

Another essential lesson was the importance of standing out in a competitive field. To be memorable, it was essential to showcase not only my legal acumen but also my initiative, entrepreneurial capabilities, and resourcefulness. Firms are on the lookout for individuals who could bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. This was most apparent during my vacation scheme, where my supervisor commented positively on my resourcefulness and proactive attitude. Furthermore, founding a society at my university became a consistent talking point in every single interview with the firm. This gave me the opportunity to highlight my entrepreneurial spirit, covering aspects such as recruiting members, negotiating sponsorships, and building relationships. I found that this entrepreneurial approach was particularly valued by US firms, where taking the initiative is highly encouraged.

The Importance of Authenticity: Being True to Yourself

However, the most profound lesson was the significance of being authentic and letting my personality shine through. It's easy to get caught up in trying to fit a perceived mold of the ideal candidate, but firms truly value individuals who are genuine. During the training contract interviews, being authentic was a game-changer. I noticed that some candidates on the Spring and Vacation schemes weren't offered contracts, perhaps because they didn't stand out as individuals. It's critical to ask questions that genuinely interest you, rather than throwing around technical jargon. Remember, experienced lawyers can spot genuineness and appreciate it for what it is: authenticity.

Concluding Thoughts: The Journey to a Training Contract

My journey to securing a Training Contract with an elite US law firm was a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges. It took resilience, initiative, and authenticity to successfully navigate the rigorous selection process and excel during the Vacation Scheme.

Final Words of Advice for Aspiring Lawyers

Aspiring lawyers should remember that firms want to see them for who they are, not a contrived version tailored to fit expectations. Embrace your uniqueness, harness your determination, and let your genuine self shine through. By staying true to who you are, you'll be well on your path to achieving your dreams in the legal profession.