Find your Unique Selling Point (USP)
As many aspiring lawyers present similarly sterling CVs, good academic credentials and basic competencies are no longer enough to secure a training position. Try to identify your USP – the qualities that differentiate you from your competition. Our ability to capitalise on our USP is often lost when training contract applicants become so focused on trying to fit in that they forget that they need to stand out.
Consider which skills come naturally to you, what makes you special and how to can sell your experience to get your foot in the door. Whether it’s a solo backpacking trip around the world, playing chess or bungee-jumping, or transferable skills gained during your time working in hospitality, you need to consider which qualities will get you noticed, and how you can link your USP to the role you are applying for. Don’t forget that recruiters try to build teams that bring together different strengths, experiences and capabilities.
Many successful people highlight the fact that they dared to push boundaries as the secret of their success. But you don’t necessarily need to be ground-breaking, as enthusiasm and proactivity can get you noticed – and included. Become a “Yes” person (but make sure you don’t burnout – balance is key here).
Whether it’s offering to take on additional tasks during a vacation scheme, participating in charity initiatives or going out of your way to meet different people, get involved! Of course, you need to do the basics well and make sure your work is completed to the highest possible standard, but that alone is not enough to make you stand out. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Work on the areas that you feel you need to develop (or have been flagged up in feedback), be forthcoming and volunteer.
Network, network, network!
People work with people they like. Business development is a key part of being a lawyer and it is worth spending time on building your network. Law is a people profession and recruiters are interested in a candidate’s ability to build relationships with colleagues and clients alike.
As the first person in my family to attend university, starting with a contact list of zero was a daunting prospect. And while the saying “it’s not about what you know, but who you know” is (thankfully) gradually fading as diversity within the profession increases, it’s still worth getting to know the ‘right people’ to help you get a foot on the ladder and learn new skills. Mentoring schemes are a great opportunity for any future solicitor.
Networking is an investment in your future career. Attend local Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) and Law Society events to connect with other legal professionals. Have a plan, be targeted in your approach, stay up to date with current affairs, and, above all, follow up.
Establish a positive online presence
Your online presence is a key element of your personal brand. Pay attention to your digital footprint and be prepared for recruiters (and others) to check your social media accounts when determining whether you are the right fit for their organisation. Maintaining an active online social presence may sometimes feel like having a second job, but it shows that you have attention to detail and the propensity to go above and beyond.
Create a professional LinkedIn account with enough detail to assert your individuality, but don’t make it too comprehensive. It’s worth holding something back to share during interviews. Pay attention to your privacy settings – think about what a prospective employer can find about you online. At the same time, be careful not to strip your personality away by over-sanitising your social media accounts.
Twitter is a great platform to keep up to date with the legal world and to brush up on your commercial awareness. Try following the JLD on social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram) for ideas on who to follow and how to start building a positive online presence.
Be your best self
Maintain a positive approach to the application process. Rather than focusing on what you cannot do, focus on what you can do. Use all experience (including non-legal experience) to paint yourself in the best possible light and put forward the best version of yourself. We are all constantly evolving, so concentrate on bettering yourself every day rather than focusing on the competition. Take full advantage of every opportunity and learn from your mistakes. The training contract application process is a marathon rather than a sprint, and your perseverance and courage will help you stand out and shine.
Leah Caprani is a JLD Executive Committee Member and Employment Paralegal at Winckworth Sherwood