Answering common questions for training contract applications: why law, why that firm, why you?

Virtually every law firm’s training contract application surrounds the following questions: why law, why that firm, and, importantly, why you? Everyone who applies to a particular law firm have similar answers to these questions. And that is fine. One can differentiate oneself not just in what one writes but HOW one writes it. This article sets out a framework for answering these questions in a genuine and well-structured manner to set you apart. 

1. Why law? 

The age-old question. Common answers include intellectual complexity, working in a cosmopolitan environment, and making a difference in communities. I would caution against making the answer to this question overly narrative, moralistic, and complex. Afterall, it makes sense that the motivations for why commercial law are similar for most applicants. 

What is needed is a clear concise statement of your motivations. Depending on the length of the prompt, you may not even need to use “examples” or “evidence” to justify this question. In my opinion, this is merely the appetizer. Sound sincere, don’t waffle, and you will be fine. 

2. Why that firm?

Now we come to the heart of the application where there is a continuum of answers. An applicant can differentiate his application by in-depth research into the firm. Typically, I adopt the following structure: work, training, and culture. 

First, the work. Chambers & Partners is my first port-of-call because it tells me which practice areas are the firm’s strength. I would also search “revenue-per-lawyer” to have a rough sense of the kind of work the firm does: upper-market or mid-market? US law firms with high revenue-per-lawyer figures tend to be global coordinating counsels for large-cap deals. Their practices then are more generalist than siloed. Conversely, firms with lower revenue-per-lawyer figures may have more specialized practices and are more cost-efficient. 

Having now developed a good frame of reference, I would go to the “insights/news” page on the firm’s site to look for noteworthy deals. Then, I will perform a general Google search on the deal to find relevant information. Including a deal in your application is only as useful as HOW you write it. When choosing deals, I focus on these three elements: whether there is a connection to the London office; why is that deal (apart from its quantum) significant to YOU; and what the deal suggests about the law firm.

Second, the training regime. What I look out for is whether the training regime is more structured or hands-on. A structured training regime is suitable for those who enjoy working in larger teams and adopt a systematic approach to learning. A hands-on approach is for those who are more independent and want to hit the ground running. This is a question of suitability.

Last, the culture. Firm culture is a nebulous matter and is more similar than different. Don’t be worried that your answer sounds similar when you say that the firm is “friendly, inclusive, meritocratic, ambitious…”. Choose three adjectives that resonate well with you and justify your assertion of the firm’s culture. That is what sets you apart. Two points are worth considering: (a) what specific examples of the firm demonstrate a particular value; (b) why that value is important to you? 

This section will be a good place to discuss any D&I points, should you wish to raise any. It would be wise to focus on the meritocratic underpinnings of D&I when writing your answers. After all, law firms hire an applicant because the applicant is good notwithstanding his minority characteristics. 

3. Why you? 

The elevator pitch. Contrary to popular belief, the most impactful answers are short, concise, and to the point. Understandably, there might be some concern that a short answer may not fully ventilate your redeeming qualities. Let’s address that. 

Put yourself in the shoes of Grad Rec. You are tasked to read hundreds of applications. Consider the following questions. How much time can you realistically spend on each application? Given that most applicants claim to possess roughly the same attributes, would you prefer to read a long and laborious response or a concise and succinct one? In drafting an elevator pitch, less is more. 

A good response can be drafted as such, “I am confident that I will be a positive addition to the firm because I am meticulous, reliable, and good with people. My achievements demonstrate just that: straight A’s in GCSC and A Levels, a former infantry reconnaissance soldier, and award recipient in high-profile international mooting and negotiation competitions. Hence, I am sure that I am a natural fit for firm X, considering its meritocratic and entrepreneurial spirit.”

A concise response conveys confidence. The “why you” question is viewed in the context of other questions such as your work experience and achievements. There is no need to repeat the examples mentioned except in headline form. Focus on three attributes that would allow you to contribute positively to the firm. Don’t waffle. 

The writer, Leon, is a First Class LLM graduate from King's College London and a future trainee solicitor at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher UK LLP. 

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