As Shrek said, I am like an onion. I have many different layers. This is how I think about my motivation.
At the very centre of me, there is a tiny bit of onion. It was there long before the rest of the layers were added. This is my first bit of motivation towards my chosen career. This little unimpressive bit of smushy onion is: “I just think a career in law will make me happy.”
But that isn’t going to get anyone a job.
So I had to add another layer. This is my motivation for a career as a solicitor, rather than a barrister. How did I add this layer? I researched the professions and had a good guess. But that’s not really enough, so I talked my way into shadowing a barrister for a day.
But even that is not enough, because there are (according to the SRA, October 2017) 10,420 solicitor firms in the UK. So I had to decide what sort of law interested me. I talked to trainees, engaged with my university’s alumni mentoring scheme and completed some work experience in a small firm in York.
But knowing you want to be a commercial solicitor only gets you so far. You need to come up with some criteria to help you choose which firms to apply to. My criteria were: an excellent diversity initiative (demonstrated by a relatively good number of female Partners), a large international reach and based in London. Yours may be similar, or completely different. It doesn’t matter, so long as you have criteria.
The next layer is your motivation for one particular firm. This is the bit where I think a lot of people fall down. Not because they wouldn’t love a job at firm X, but because they have not adequately communicated this motivation in their application form.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two key boxes you need to tick:
Firstly, you need to talk to someone who currently works at the firm. Trainee, associate or partner; it does not matter. But you need to find out what they do on a day-to-day basis and the type of clients they work with. (Apply for open days, and contact Aspiring Solicitors’ Professional Ambassadors). Find out what you will actually be doing. Then remember to slot this information in your applications.
(Fun fact: I recently went to two Aspiring Solicitors Springboard events, and only one person could offer me any information on what a Trainee solicitor does. If you can’t tell me at least 5 things a Trainee does, you are applying for a job and you do not know what the job is. And that is mad. Also, while we’re on this tangent, you should 100% apply to attend the next Springboards; they are amazing and free. It will change your career.)
Secondly, you need to research the firm. Try to find information on the following points:
- Does it have a 5/10 year plan?
- What is the firm’s unique selling point?
- What sort of clients does it attract – big American (blue chip), medium UK (FTSE 350) ect.
- Which areas is it expanding? Is it branching out anywhere new? Why?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea of whether the firm is right for you. For example, if you’re not at all interested in banking, then you don’t want to apply to Allen & Overy, as you’ll be working largely with financial institutions. Similarly, if diversity is important to do, you don’t want to apply to a firm that has zero female partners (or LBGT, BME, disabled ect ect).
When demonstrating this research, you need to have data. Statistics, percentages and amounts will make your application stand out. But it needs to be relevant. Don’t just blast the recruiter with facts. If you’re really interested in M&A in the UK after a workshop you went to, tell them! Then link this to your research– ‘Firm X is the leading provider of M&A in the UK, advising 100 companies in the FTSE 250; more than any other firm. The London M&A department has expanded over the last 5 years, and in 2015 this department billed £7 million; this is a 20% increase from 2012.’ See how much more impressive that is than ‘I am interested in M&A because I went to a workshop on it, and I am applying because Firm X is a leading M&A firm.’
If you think about each layer of your motivation, not only will it come through in your application, but you will be able to confidently answer the inevitable interview questions ‘why law?’ and ‘why this firm?’