With training contract application season being in full swing, many may wonder how to effectively deal with a large number of firms that offer such positions. With the number of training contracts closing in on the 6000 figure and the number of firms offering trainee roles being also considerably large, one might wonder how to ever sort out a reasonable list of firms which one should be applying for.

Whether we’re talking about vacation schemes or training contracts, the following principles are great for sorting out which firms interest you the most and are the most compatible with, in my experience. Of course, some might have other methods and may disagree with my proposals, but that’s the beauty and advantage of there being multiple opinions and methods, ultimately the applicants benefitting the most.

Firstly, in order to narrow down a large number of firms, you have to take a structured approach. The best way to organise the information you gather through research is a table. This table, preferably in an electronic format as this can be much more easily added to, deleted from or generally edited, should contain all the research you have on the firms you’re planning to apply to. Once all this information is collected one can make a reasonably informed decision as to which firms fit their preferences best , therefore, be applying to.

The table is easy to build:

1)   On the left-hand side, one would enumerate the firms one’s seen offer vacation schemes or training contracts.

2)   Up top, list the most important attributes you want from a firm and – then check each box if the firm reaches that requirement you’ve made and at the end see which have the most checks.

I would advise the best indicators to guide yourself when making this assessment be:

  • date and time of assessment centre (evidently you have to be available);
  • number of places offered;
  • location;
  • application deadline;
  • duration;
  • whether it is assessed for a TC or not (for vacation schemes);
  • whether it is paid or not (for vacation schemes);
  • whether any reasonable travel expenses are covered or not,
  • what practice areas will the VS cover (if you can find out),
  • size of the firm,
  • type of practice,
  • percentage of TC recruitment from VS students, etc.

That’s a structured way of seeing which firms fit you the most. Are you interested in more commercially-oriented work or do would you rather prefer a firm focused on personal legal services? Would you rather work at London’s famous international firms or are you more fit for a national or regional practice? Would you be happy to be one of 100 trainees the firm takes on or one of say 8? All these questions can be answered with the help of this table.

Another advice I would give you in this direction is not to reduce your number of applications. Indeed, having fewer applications, up to 5 or 10 let’s say, gives you more time to focus on each one. However, given the huge level of applications, I think that intentionally restricting the number of firms you apply to is wrong, because it reduces your chances of success. Of course, you could strike gold and be shortlisted for interview on your first application, but you may as well have to submit in excess of 20 and not get any success. Apply to as many as possible, while of course submitting well-researched and structured applications. You will 100% not be called for an interview if you do not submit an application.

Here’s an example of the table below. Please note these are fictitious statistics only purposed to showcase how the table would look like.

Location Type of Work Trainee Intake Trainee Retention Size of Firm Culture
Firm 1 London Commercial 80 89% International O.K.
Firm 2 Birmingham Commercial 15 96.5% National O.K.
Firm 3 London Commercial 35 64% National Great!
Firm 4 Manchester All-round 8 100% Regional Don’t know.

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