How do students get a training contract place at a leading commercial law firm? Here two current trainees at Mayer Brown think back to when they were applying. They reveal the steps they took and give their advice for students who want to follow in their footsteps.
Mayer Brown is a global law firm with a strong presence in the City and offices across Europe, Asia and the Americas. It's highly regarded in all the key areas of commercial law, including corporate, finance, dispute resolution and real estate, and its clients include investment banks, leading corporates and public sector organisations.
The firm takes on around 20 graduates yearly in London for its two-year rotational training contract programme.
Thomas Bamford studied politics and economics at the University of Bath and then obtained his Graduate Diploma in Law at the College of Law and an LLB at Kaplan Law School. He spent his first six months at Mayer Brown in Commercial Dispute Resolution and is now in Finance.
A career at a commercial law firm was always in my mind at university. I think it was because of what I found out about the attitude of the people in the industry - I liked the idea of a culture of working hard together to achieve something, which I've found to be very strong at Mayer Brown.
Before I decided what firms to apply to I did quite a lot of research, trying to get a feel for what they were really like through as many different sources as possible - I used everything from the legal press to Google newsfeeds to lighthearted websites like Roll On Friday, which even gives firms biscuit ratings!
I heard about Mayer Brown through a housemate, then looked into the firm. I liked how it advertised itself and then went on an open day to find out more, which confirmed to me that it was the kind of employer I wanted: a large commercial law firm that worked on big deals for top clients, but that also had friendly lawyers and an open atmosphere.
Work experience is a good start
I'd done some legal work experience while I was at school, which helped me decide to consider law as a career.
Once I'd decided that being a commercial lawyer was what I wanted to do, I found out that doing a vacation scheme would be the good way for me to get in, as you're often assessed for a training contract as part of the programme. So I applied for and got a place on Mayer Brown's vacation scheme.
As well as getting you on the training contract track, doing a vacation scheme also gives you a good feel for what's going on in the legal industry.
You can read legal publications, but it's very interesting to come into a firm and hear directly from people in the profession - at Mayer Brown, we even had the senior partner speak to us!
Match yourself to the firm
Whether you're applying for a vacation scheme or a training contract, people in graduate recruitment at law firms put a lot of weight on what you say about yourself in your application, so I think that's where the most time needs to be spent at this stage.
It's really important to tailor your application to the firm you're applying to. Think about why a particular firm is where you want to be, both in terms of what they say about themselves and also what you're going to want from the firm in the future.
If you think there's going to be a fit, try to write about how the firm's strengths match up with yours.
Knowledge and confidence
There were three parts to the training contract assessment process that was part of the vacation scheme - a business task, feedback from the lawyers who were your vacation scheme supervisors, and an interview with two partners.
Having a good grasp of commercial considerations and being able to work with other people were key.
In terms of the interview, it's definitely worth putting in as much preparation time as possible. If you do so, then you not only have the knowledge you need, but you'll also come across as confident about yourself and your abilities.
Now I'm a trainee here, I've been to a couple of law fairs as a Mayer Brown representative and it's really interesting to meet students at these events.
A law fair is a great chance to have a chat - it doesn't have to be an in-depth legal conversation. You can ask trainees what it's like to work at a firm, or find out from graduate recruitment how the application process works.
The students I find most impressive at law fairs are not necessarily the ones who know most about Mayer Brown, but the ones that show they really want to learn about us - they're making the most of an opportunity to take things forward.
Charlotte Sperrink studied law and management at the University of Leeds and then took the Legal Practice Course at Kaplan Law School. She's now in her first seat of her training contract at Mayer Brown, in Corporate.
At university I was always interested in a legal career, and doing business modules as part of my degree made me realise I wanted to work in commercial law.
When I first heard about Mayer Brown, the description of the firm and the training contract here really caught my attention.
Choose your firm carefully
I chose to apply to Mayer Brown because I wanted a corporate-focused firm that was big enough so that I'd get to experience exciting deals as a trainee, but small enough so that I wouldn't be just a number.
I also liked the fact that all trainees at Mayer Brown do a secondment - we get to either go abroad or go to a client for six months, which appealed to me because I think the wider perspectives you can get from these kinds of experiences are really useful in a legal career.
Get your application perfect
My application probably took me two to three weeks. Once I'd written it, I went over and over it, making sure that every part made a useful point and that the whole thing made sense.
I think it really benefitted from me coming back to it with fresh eyes a few times. It took me a while to get it just right, but by the time I had finished I was happy with every sentence.
We were told at university and at law fairs to apply to about five firms and I think I applied to eight. I think if you've got the time to perfect each application, then it can be worth doing this many.
But you shouldn't do many more than this - forcing yourself to narrow down the number of firms that you want to apply to means you don't waste time on applications for firms you're not that bothered about.
Prepare carefully for the assessment day - and bring the right attitude
I discovered that we'd have to do a written exercise, a fact-finding exercise, an interview and a group exercise on the assessment day.
To prepare for the written exercises, I researched everything I could think of that might come up and made sure my general commercial knowledge was up to date.
With interviews, you can guess some of the questions they're going to ask, so for these I planned out the main things I wanted to say in bullet point form and I made sure I had these in my mind on the day.
For group exercises, there's less preparation you can do, but I think it's important to keep in mind the approach you're going to take - you've got to be a team player but at the same time make sure you're heard.
Before the assessment day I also worked on ways to stay as calm as possible, because if you're not careful nerves can overtake you.
The other people on my assessment day were really nice people and we all seemed to be on the same wavelength. So I think we all actually supported each other, particularly on the group exercise.
The interview with the partners was tough intellectually, but I liked their interview style - I felt comfortable and that I was able to get my personality across.
I think in interviews and similar situations you've got to try to just be yourself, even though it's hard because you're going to be nervous, as that's what they're looking for.
I came out of the assessment day thinking that it had gone well. I think the reason it did is because the firm was right for me.
When you start the application process you need to really get a feel for different firms and think about yourself and where you want to work. Mayer Brown was the firm where I thought I'd fit in best, and it's where I was successful.
My advice to applicants would be: persevere! It can be really demoralising when you're not getting any offers or even any constructive feedback, but be patient because if you're right for commercial law, then you'll find the right firm eventually.
Some surprising application tips
*Charlotte: *"Get your family to interview you"
"I got my family to do practice interviews with me for hours!
It's a great way to pick up on nervous habits - I used to say "you know" all the time. Your parents or siblings will tell you about something like that and then you can really concentrate on not doing it."
*Tom: *"Know your CV by heart"
"One of the most important aspects of an application is being able to expand on everything in your CV.
I had a shocking interview once where I went blank on my own history - if you can't talk about something you've done, you might as well not have done it."