Many law students are now facing the harsh reality that there are simply not enough training contracts to go round. Having sent numerous applications into countless law firms since the second year of their degrees, they have now resigned themselves to taking a year off and trying again in 1996.
Most would like us to believe academic standards and choice of university are secondary in a firm's decisions about who to interview. These firms are proud to tell us they are modern and forward thinking. They also stress an ability to communicate with colleagues and clients is paramount in reaching a decision.
However, when faced with hundreds of applications, the ones from non-red-brick establishments are usually the first to be filed in the bin. Just getting an interview these days appears to be an impossible task.
So, what are they looking for? Having been told on more than one occasion they are looking for something different, I went to a law fair in the north of England where I had applied to every single firm at some time or other. Armed with a new suit and nothing to lose, I set out to question a few unsuspecting lawyers.
My first target was a firm who had interviewed me a year before. Without revealing my identity, I asked them what they were looking for in a trainee. "Something different," was the predictable reply. I politely requested elaboration. "Well," they replied, "we get so many applications that if one arrived on lime green notepaper, we would be forced to read it." As a poor student who has spent a sum equivalent to Bolivia's national debt on quality writing paper, this depressed me immensely. I could have saved my money and used 'Post-its' for my applications, and possibly had more success.
I said that most firms were more conservative. How were we meant to know which firms had a laid back attitude and which thought Charles Dickens was a young upstart?
Undaunted I moved on. The same question was asked, and "something different" was the reply. But, this firm had gone one stage further. Their example of a good candidate was someone who went bungee jumping. This, they said, showed the candidate had a 'bit of go' about them. They forgot to mention it also showed suicidal tendencies.
I said they were asking a lot of today's students. Not only did we have to have no life for a few years, no money for several, and continuous assessments to pass, but we also had to be willing to throw ourselves off bridges for a hobby.
Finally, numb with amazement, I spent 15 minutes listening to a partner from a well-known Northern firm proudly tell me his firm wasn't bothered what class degree a candidate had. The most important quality to them was previous legal experience. After soaking this up, I informed him I had a total of 15 months experience with three different firms, but hadn't won an interview with his firm. "Oh," he replied, "your application must have slipped through."
So, what is the right course of action to take? Conservative firms want something different. Different firms want colourful applications, and colourful firms want Evel Knievel. The only thing to do is to keep trying. As a last resort, you could always start bungee jumping.
Richard Stone is an LPC student at the College of Law, York. He now has a training contract.