Hiring in legal: What will a ‘star’ trainee look like in 2021?

Hiring in legal: What will a ‘star’ trainee look like in 2021?


The day-to-day landscape changed for the education sector in 2020; and if you add the legal industry developments into the equation, which is undergoing permanent online client meetings, homeworking, the digitisation of the courts and virtual arbitration – the phrase ‘unprecedented times’, feels firmly understated.

For the first time this summer, students and academic practitioners were confronted with calculated grades, studying in a global pandemic, with the outbreak broaching all areas of traditional ‘student life’ – from results, to future assessments, to the traditional delivery and education system they have known for many years.

Undoubtedly, there is a knock-on effect on how a student will now approach the job market, and in learning how to transition well from postgraduate study to the working world. From this point onwards, recruitment is arguably a new ball game altogether.

So, how can graduates demonstrate their best selves to employers? What criteria do recruiters really value in trainees, and how can you get yourself noticed when you may not meet your potential employers face-to-face?

We spoke with Wendy Anderson, who has over 20 years’ experience working in organisational and people development, having more recently worked in Operation HR, hiring legal trainees at a medium-sized law firm.

“My real interest is enabling and managing talent to support flexible and futureproof businesses.”

Wendy Anderson, Recruitment and HR at a medium-sized law firm. 


Could you tell us about the application process for legal trainees?


“We thought about how and why our clients buy our services, and what qualities set us apart. What was our voice and our message? And how do we find people to match this?

We were looking for those who reflected our culture and did not feel we were seeking the scientific approaches of psychometrics, but rather wanted to ‘see’ the personality of the candidate. We needed a forum where they could show us, not just tell us, and of course, in a limited time, whether they had the qualities and ability to gain our interest and trust.

The first stage required candidates to write an essay on a topical subject. We were looking for: interesting interpretation, good research (not the same Google and Wikipedia quotes coming through), style, flair and personality. The idea being to reduce the number of candidates invited for interview and increase significantly the time we gave to each for interview. We found that we had less applicants, but a far a greater insight into the person behind the application, and the chance at bringing in diversity. These candidates showed their views, how well they could present them, and their ability to substantiate them – key qualities for the role ahead.”

Tip: Write about a topic that inspires you – this will help you research it thoroughly, bring across your personality and present confidently at interview stage.  


Could you give some insight around what a first-round interview might entail?


“When invited to the initial interview the candidates were asked to arrive 15 minutes early. On arrival, they were asked to select a paper from a box, on which one word was written. They were then given 15 minutes – while sitting in reception – to prepare a one-minute presentation on the word they had been allocated. On entering the interview room, they were asked to begin with this as an icebreaker.”

“We also asked our experienced reception staff for their feedback on the reactions and behaviours demonstrated when the candidates were presented with the task. Again, a clear insight into personality and disposition, and these rarely varied from perceptions the panel had reached.”

Tip: The interview starts as soon as you walk in the door and accept the invitation to interview, so be mindful how you might come across at every stage!


In essence, what do you think you were looking for in a candidate?


“Openness; humour; humility, and engagement were high on the list. They needed the potential to shine.

Some used their phones immediately; others did not use a phone at all. Some practiced; some panicked – and said so! These reactions were not deal breakers; they were used to weigh with further observations the panel made. What they were keen to see though, was friendliness and manners.

The words most often used would be “I liked them”. Simple. A sense that their style would fit, but also bring colour to the mix. We wanted people who could reasonably disrupt the status quo.”

Tip: It is important to connect with the panel and demonstrate active listening.


When selecting candidates for potential permanent positions, what kind of aspects did you score candidates on?


“The selection was based on objective and subjective criteria that allowed us to discuss fairly where we saw potential. The intern had a mentor and the mentor was charged with feedback against three main areas:

Managing the task – how they approached the task/s; gaining understanding of the task; ensuring it was understood; how they planned to complete it and dealt with the unforeseen.

Managing themselves – conduct was both professional and sociable. Attempted to be part of the team and show good levels of enthusiasm.

Managing Others – using the network around them practically; preparing ahead of asking for someone’s time/support; asking appropriate relevant questions; knowing when it is important to involve others and ensuring they know what help is required before asking.

Other skills we looked for included: technology, marketing, business and commercial awareness, business development leadership.”

Tip: If you think you might be interested in a permanent position following the internship, consider asking your superiors how you will be assessed, and ask for ongoing feedback on those areas to put you in the best position.


What are your thoughts on technology and applying to traineeships online, and in the current climate?


“Being able to adapt to this will be another necessary life skill required of the profession. Asking for applications to be supported by a WhatsApp presentation is a neat way to take advantage of the current situation and allow another insight into the candidates.

Going forward, it is much more likely that client contact will be done on remote platforms, and confidence, credibility and trust will need to be evident. In addition, the next generation of lawyers and clients will also be far more tech savvy and dependent and their desire and ability to engage with these will be crucial.

Tip: Combat typical pitfalls of interviewing online with simple steps highlighted in these articlesWIRED: How to Ace an Online Job Interview and Indeed: Online interview tips


Mid-pandemic, in June this year, we interviewed LexisNexis’ Director of Transformation, Kate Gaskell, on her thoughts around the future of the legal profession and what she felt were the key skills for lawyers of today. Her advice to younger lawyers was:

‘You have to do what makes you happy, and what lights you up. That doesn’t mean every day is going to be a brilliant day - but your career will absorb a really sizeable chunk of your waking hours, so the best thing you can do is choose something that energises you more than it depletes you. That means something that makes good use of your skills, and that you feel you are a good fit for - and that you enjoy doing, basically! Life is short, and you never know what’s coming - as these last eight weeks have shown us!’

The same can be applied to interview processes, choosing the right firm or company, and role for you and your skillset. Do your research on cultures, what employees and applicants say about the firm, and focus on the types of work that will be right for you. Read the full articles here:

What advice would you give to young lawyers today? Interview with Kate Gaskell, LexisNexis’ Director of Transformation

The future of the legal sector: Interview with Kate Gaskell, LexisNexis’ Director of Transformation


Preparing students for practice – How LexisNexis can help


This interview addresses key challenges that arise when universities and academics are preparing students for the working world. An understanding of LexisNexis’ work in the legal industry, and how our tools support lawyers in their work, can help students to graduate ‘career ready’ from university. 

Click here to read a case study of our work with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN): UCLAN Case Study: Preparing for practice with LexisPSL


Further reading



4 key skills for successful lawyers in 2020

LegalEdCon tech insights: What key skills should law firms be hiring for?

Junior lawyer's skillset: The art of good negotiation

Junior lawyer’s skillset: 5 tips for presenting with style

Junior lawyer’s skillset: Effective communication

Business development and networking tips every lawyer should know


Industry trends

Bellwether Insights 2020: Has the crisis created permanent change to legal business operations?

Bellwether Insights 2020: Could small firms be weathering the crisis?

The future of work 2025: AI, automation and the legal profession

The future of work 2025: Mobility, culture and the flexi-lawyer

Legal tech, lawtech, let’s call the whole thing off



General Counsels share their top tips for career success

Career development: How to advance your career in uncertain times


Related Articles:
Latest Articles:
About the author:

Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved writing content and research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"