Reaching the finish line: how extracurricular experience can make the difference in training contract applications

Reaching the finish line: how extracurricular experience can make the difference in training contract applications

Applying for training contracts can be an overwhelming and exhausting experience and students often feel disheartened by their lack of legal work experience. No matter what stage you are at, all experience is relevant experience and it can be used to write glowing standout applications.

On your marks, get set…

When I arrived at university to study law it seemed like everyone else had a career-focused mindset. Other first-year students were applying for and getting onto various schemes and opportunities, but I didn’t know where to start. I hadn't really thought much about my future career and it felt like everybody else was racing ahead of me and I was getting left behind. 

It was easy to get lost in the sea of fresh law student faces and at times I often felt overwhelmed by the competitive atmosphere. At the time I was busy with university societies alongside my studies and didn’t have much time to start planning my life after graduation.

Throughout my degree my involvement in extra-curriculars increased while I struggled to get onto legal work placements. I still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, and it was frustrating applying for vacation schemes because I was unable to back up my applications with legal work experience. The rejection was hard and seemed circular; I didn’t understand how I could get experience without firstly having experience. Regardless of my good grades, I started to feel that I wasn’t a worthwhile candidate because I hadn’t been on the ball from day one as many of my peers had. 

The light-bulb moment 

I went on to study law further at master’s level straight after completing my undergraduate degree. That year at the Law Fair, I spoke to a friend who had become a trainee at a prestigious US firm. We had both spent a lot of time with the musical theatre society and she explained that she used this experience as a selling point in her applications. Not only did it reinforce her capabilities as a future lawyer, it added colour and an edge that made her applications stand out from the crowd.

At this point I suddenly realised that getting a training contract isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. I wasn’t lagging behind anybody else at all. I had been unknowingly building and developing my skills throughout my time at university by engaging in clubs and societies. Despite my lack of legal work experience, I learned that I could still showcase these essential skills in my applications.

Reaching the finish line

It felt like I had unlocked the secret and all of a sudden, my applications were successful. I stopped focusing on what I didn’t have and instead looked at the wealth of experience I already had. My gymnastics career illustrated that I am hard-working, dedicated and have great teamwork experience. Similarly, I could show that my time as an actor had given me significant listening and communication skills. By giving examples of my extra-curricular endeavours, I was able to present myself as a well-rounded, interesting and capable future lawyer. 

By including other ‘soft skills’ I had developed from non-legal work, I found that I had a comprehensive set of transferrable skills. At interviews, the panel frequently asked about them and they were a great way to sell myself and reinforce my transferrable strengths. It was clear that firms valued and respected these attributes and would encourage me to continue doing the things that I love outside of work.

Take your place on the podium

Once I had stopped comparing myself to my peers, I realised that there was significant value in what I personally had to offer, and I brought something different to the table. It became easier to focus on myself and figure out what I wanted and how to get there. I realised that there is no hard and fast way to prepare for getting training contracts and it’s important to believe in yourself and be confident in your journey.

Our interests help to shape us into interesting, relatable and employable individuals. By exploring new opportunities to develop yourself whether inside or outside of university, you’re taking positive steps towards your future career even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance. 


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About the author:
Tom is a future trainee solicitor at CMS due to start training in February 2021. He worked as a Student Associate for LexisNexis at the University of Bristol alongside studying an LLM in Banking and Finance Law.