What’s your career backstory?

You (like any decent protagonist) need to have a backstory. It has to be genuine and interesting. Why? Because you’re going to need it to illustrate your motivation for law. You’re going to use it in all of your cover letters, and every time someone asks you ‘why law?’

So it has to be good.

Do I just make it up?

No. It has to be based on things you have done and motivations you have. But it needs to be polished. Think of it like this: your life is a complicated and messy book. Catch-22 meets Ulysses. What we’re doing is creating a trailer for the film based on that book. It’s going to miss huge chunks out, it’s going to gloss over the slightly rubbish bits and it’s going to be much simpler and much shorter. But it’s going to engage people. It’s going to be interesting and easy to understand.

Here is my trailer:

Whilst volunteering in Borneo I saw the effects of deforestation. I realised this was occurring because on the other side of the world businesses were meeting customers’ demands for products containing palm oil. Ever since I have been fascinated with the international commercial sector. I pursued this interest by completing a Mandarin and Business course in one of China’s top three universities….blah blah blah.

That paragraph was at the beginning of every cover letter I wrote, and was always used in one form or another in my question-based applications. It tells a nice story about me, highlighting some cool stuff I did and puts a big fat tick in the recruiter’s ‘motivation’ box.

Now, if you read my previous post on motivation, you’ll know that loads of things helped me decide I wanted a career in commercial law. But I looked at all of these experiences (workshops, jobs, volunteering) and I picked the bits I thought would be the most interesting. And voila. My motivation trailer was born.

But how do you write one?

You need to think, really think, about why you want to do whatever it is you want to do. What got you here? What initially sparked your interest? Don’t, for the love of chocolate, say you have ‘always been passionate about working in the commercial legal sector.’ That is rubbish.  You haven’t. You weren’t interested in it when you were 10. But if you were interested in it when you were 10- prove it! Write about what sparked your 10-year-old interest.

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How I look when people say they have always had an interest in international commercial law

Your aim is to show what initially piqued your interest in that area of law or law in general, and then how you built upon it. So you realised business is actually quite interesting, how did you explore this interest? What super-cool thing did you do that made you say ‘YES. This is for me!’?

Now, thinking tactically. Is there anything that helped shape your career ambitions that makes you stand out? You have 5 seconds to grab the recruiter’s interest before they decide they are bored and don’t like you (not on a personal level, of course). I could have written about all the chats I’ve had with my career mentor, but that would be really dull to read about. Instead, I thought they’d be more impressed by my international business course and volunteering.

But what if I haven’t studied business in China!?

That is totally fine! We all have different experiences. It is less about what you have done and more about how you pitch it. (Obviously, if you haven’t done anything in the last few years other than  watch Netflix and get a 3rd in your degree we’re going to have some problems). But so long as it is relevant to your career ambitions, interesting and eloquently put- it doesn’t matter if you talk about being the director of a company or working weekends in a pub. If you can write about it in an attention-grabbing way and it is genuine to you, it’ll be great.

What to avoid

I once heard a guy say he wanted to be a commercial solicitor because his great great great grandad had represented the Earle Of Somewhere in court sometime. I don’t know, I wasn’t really listening. But I wasn’t impressed. Firstly, I was jealous that not all of his ancestors had been drunken peasants (unlike mine). Secondly, standing up in court has only a fleeting relevance to commercial law. And finally, what does your ancestor’s motivation have anything to do with you? You can’t inherit a motivation for something (otherwise I’d have drinking too much and being a general scoundrel in my genes). So while I must begrudgingly accept that his story is sort of impressive, it doesn’t really explain his motivation for a career in commercial law.**

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An artistic representation of my genetics

So to summarise, we’re looking for a short paragraph that:

  • Grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Clearly sets out how you developed your interest in a specific type of law or law in general.
  • Is genuine.
  • Highlights some of your most impressive achievements and/or your most interesting experiences which contributed to your decision to be a solicitor.
  • Is written flawlessly and eloquently.

Good luck! You got dis.


**If this was you, I’m sorry for using your story as an example. You actually seemed like a really nice guy and I genuinely wish you all the best with your career.

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