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  • Nathalie

How to Really Stand Out from the Crowd - Training Contract Applications

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

What makes your application stand out against hundreds of other applications? Its the piece of advice aspiring solicitors are always given but what does it really mean?

Photo by Min An from Pexels

When your applying to a firm or in-house legal department, it's important to understand what you are looking for, how you prefer to work, and what kind of environment you thrive in. If you are not sure then you need to think how your personality fits best into different firms and organisations and where you would feel happiest.

Figuring out what it is that you really want out of your career in law is more important, the perception of what a lawyer does is changing and there are lots of different roles now available for lawyers.

So if you are not doing a training contract in the City, for example, it won't necessarily hinder success in your career. Everything you do leads to other doors being opened so you have to look at opportunities that come your way with open eyes and a willingness to learn those all important transferable skills.

Coming from an in-house background, I didn't take the traditional route into qualifying and that is because I didn't enjoy private practice. I knew that I wanted to develop my career in-house but at the time this was a fairly new concept and not many people had undertaken an in-house training contract. Most lawyers moved in-house many years after working in private practice but by understanding what I like and do not like I was able to develop my career into one that I enjoy.

To help you with your research, I have put together the differences between in-house and private practice training contracts:

In-house Training Contract

With an in-house training contract, you work within an organisation and your clients are the different departments within that organisation. That may include marketing, sales, customer services, finance and many more. It is unlikely that it will be as structured as private practice with different seats but you will still get the same areas of law if not more on an ongoing basis throughout the training contract.

The scope of work is much broader and the level of responsibility that you are given is higher because usually in-house legal departments lack the same resources that private practice firms have. They don't usually have secretaries and lots of teams of people with specialist knowledge. So it's important to have people skills, deliver your advice appropriate to your audience and be able to use tools available to you to find answers such as online research tools.

It can be very hands on and fast paced and involve a huge breadth of areas of law such as data protection, regulatory, commercial, corporate and many more depending on the organisations' sector.

With that in mind, this leaves you with option to work in different sectors; financial services, aviation, publishing, or charities. There really is no limit so whilst choosing to develop a career in-house offers you more responsibility, it can also allow you to choose a sector that you find the most interesting.

Unless you do a secondment, you will probably work with the same people for the entire 2 years which for some people is comforting as it means you will really develop strong relationships with your team members and have consistency in your learning process.

Private Practice

Private practice firms can be small, medium, or large. A private practice training contract is structured and trainees work in different seats usually every 6 months working with a different team and training principal each time you move seats. Private practice offers you the chance to develop specialist knowledge in a particular area and for those that dream of making partner one day then this is the route for you.


Typically high street firms that will advise clients in areas such as probate, family, divorce, personal injury and real estate. These could be very close-knit teams with lots of exposure to working directly with clients giving you client contact early on however, if you are more interested in working with commercial clients then perhaps a medium sized or large firm is for you.


These firms will likely offer a range of services to private and commercial clients and offers the chance to get a more varied experience. Most medium sized firms will have a base in the City so if you are looking to get the London experience but not with such a large firm all the while still getting to work with prestigious clients.

Large, International

The large international firms offer a very different experience, a career that opens lots of doors in similar firms, potentially international experience too if that is what you are looking for and are usually paid a lot higher. They do require longer working hours and therefore could be quite demanding. The large firms also usually have a longer and more specific recruitment process.

They work with top clients, have some of the best lawyers so the chance to work with experts in the legal sector is on offer. They will also have a lot more resources and in terms of soft skills training will have likely already implemented this for trainees compared with other firms and in-house where it is very much down to you to choose where and when to develop these soft skills by taking advantage of events and seminars outside of work.

Will my training contract dictate where my career takes me?

The other question I get asked a lot is if I train in an area that I don't want to specialise in, once I'm qualified will I be stuck in that area of law - in most cases I would say no. Once you are an NQ the world is your oyster, you are a fresh new lawyer ready and waiting for someone to take you on and help develop your skills and doing something you enjoy at that time will help ensure the longevity of your career and how you perform. After a two year training contract you will have an understanding of where you want to work and which areas you feel you fit into best. Even if you don't this won't stop you from switching to another area later down the line. It does help though to be flexible and open minded when considering which practice area.

Standing out from the crowd is really all about understanding what it is you want and from there the jobs you are looking for will start coming your way as you'll be able to identify them better. Your motivation for working there will really stand out in your applications as you will find it easier to highlight the skills and experience that they are looking for in a trainee.


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