If at first you don’t succeed…

What can newly qualified lawyers do if they don’t get their specialism of choice? By Stephen Hockey

The newly qualified (NQ) recruitment market is booming, with most London law firms having decided how many of their trainees will be kept on. A significant number of trainees, though, will have received offers in specialisms other than their preferred choice.

The most popular areas of specialism for NQs are IP and commercial litigation. But many NQs have been offered positions in corporate or finance and would rather leave their current firm to find a position in their area of choice rather than practise in an area in which they have no interest.

Most London firms will not, however, recruit an NQ unless they have been kept on by their current firm. NQs who turn down an offer from their current firm because they do not receive their specialism of choice risk making their job search more difficult. It is far better to accept an offer from your current firm in your second or third choice area and continue to look for a job elsewhere in your chosen specialism.

When choosing a new firm, consider whether that firm can offer exactly what you want. Look at things such as training, level of responsibility, salary and any particular specialisms that the firm is particularly well known for.

Smaller firms

Do not be put off from applying to smaller firms if they have the specialist vacancy you desire. You will gain more deal exposure and be given more responsibility as a junior lawyer at a smaller firm. By the time you gain two years’ post-qualification experience, you will be that much more experienced and in a better position to move to the private practice job of your choice.

Also, consider the firm you are currently working for and ask yourself if you like the people you are working with and whether you feel respected and appreciated. It could be that there is a firm out there where you will be much happier and which offers you quality work, so do not be afraid to look elsewhere even if you have been offered a job in your preferred specialism.

Detail matters

The first thing to concentrate on is your CV. Unless your CV reflects accurately the level of experience you have gained, you are unlikely to secure the position you desire. Your CV should contain sufficient detail of the matters you have worked on and exactly how you assisted. Do not believe the myth that you should keep your CV to less than a page. It needs to be succinct, but it should also contain sufficient detail to show exactly what you have achieved.

Try to keep your other interests and non-legal experience as brief as possible. While partners like to know you are a well-rounded individual, it is not necessary to go into detail.

The interview process

Speak to a recruitment consultant before your interview to develop an accurate understanding of interview questions and the types of answers you should give, and to run you through a ‘mock interview’ session.

Make sure you have a good understanding of the firm and the types of matters they work on. It is common for candidates to fail at interview because they did not show enthusiasm or an in-depth knowledge of the firm.

It may sound obvious, but know your CV properly and be able to speak coherently about any aspect of your experience that you have put down. Law firms will not expect you to be the finished product, but they will expect you to be clear, precise and articulate.

Stephen Hockey is managing director at consultancy Michael Page Legal