How to successfully apply for a job at a leading law firm

job hunting


For many young professionals embarking on a legal career, their ultimate goal will be to eventually secure a role at one of the top legal firms in the country. Whether it is one of the prestigious “Magic Circle” firms based in London or any of the industry’s other well-known names, roles within these organisations are seen as extremely desirable, offering the opportunity to work with high-profile clients and command top salary rates.

Because of this, the elite nature of these firms is also reflected in their hiring criteria. Competition for roles at one of the UK’s top law firms has always been fierce, making it essential for prospective applicants to do all they can to ensure that they are able to make a strong enough impression to secure an interview.

Here, we will explore some of the recommended steps you can take in your career to ensure you can put yourself in the best possible position to land your ideal role with one of the industry’s most prestigious employers.

Get your training contract with the right law firm

For solicitors who are just starting their careers, the first major step they will take will be to secure a training contract with a practising law firm, allowing them to step up into an NQ role once they have qualified as a trainee. Training contracts can be hard to get, so many professionals will simply choose to work with any firm that is willing to take them in order to secure this qualification.

However, they should be aware that training with a smaller and less well-known firm has the potential to limit future career options. Because the very best law firms have a wide range of candidates to choose from, they will favour those who already have relevant experience and qualifications. As such, they are much more likely to hire a solicitor who has trained with a reputable law firm that deals with high-value clients and cases, rather than someone whose only experience comes from lower-level work with a high street law firm.

The reasons for this are clear, as working at a smaller high street firm will inevitably provide you with very different experiences than you would expect from working at a Magic Circle firm in the capital. As such, if you are aspiring to one day work for one of these organisations, you should carefully consider how your choice of training contract will shape your later career, and whether the firm you choose will make it harder to jump from to a top-ranked firm later on.

Gain as much additional experience and exposure as possible

Gaining experience as a top-level solicitor is about more than simply completing your training and caseloads - the very best legal firms will expect their solicitors to show initiative and gather additional professional experience beyond their regular working hours. This may be through involvement in legal committees or attending professional networking and development events.

For the most part, these events and opportunities do not cost anything to participate in, but can be an excellent opportunity for professionals to expand their knowledge and expertise, as well as giving themselves the chance to make personal connections that can be greatly beneficial to their overall careers. If you are able to introduce yourself to a partner or high-level solicitor at one of the firms you aspire to work for, this can provide an opportunity to make a positive impression, get inside information about the organisation, and ensure that you are remembered when you are eventually ready to apply for a role.

In this regard, such events and seminars can serve multiple purposes - as a learning opportunity, as a chance to burnish your CV, and as an informal initial introduction to potential future employers, allowing you to show how keen you are to work with them, and how willing you are to take the initiative in your self-development.

Make the best use of your CV and cover letter

Getting your CV right is an essential aspect of any job application, but if you are applying for a role at a leading law firm as a newly-qualified solicitor, it is particularly important to make sure your CV is as detailed and meticulous as possible.

As a trainee, your only real-world professional experience will be your two years of training, so it is vital to include as much detail as possible to provide a full account of your skills and credentials. This should include specific examples of cases you have worked on and business development experience you have had, as well as the additional work you have done outside of your regular hours to enhance your expertise.

Anything that shows you would be a skilled, knowledgeable and profitable addition to the team should be highlighted. For example, some trainee solicitors are assigned a fee-earning target during their training period in the same manner as a fully qualified solicitor. If this was the case for your traineeship, it should be highlighted to show that you are already experienced in working towards commercial goals and targets. Additionally, if the firm you trained with was keen to offer you an NQ position at the end of your traineeship, this is an endorsement of your skills and promise as a solicitor, and this should also be emphasised.

Additionally, it is crucially important to make sure your CV is well laid-out and properly copy-checked. This is true of any job application, but when applying for a top-level legal position - in which you will be expected to deal with contracts and precise legal language - any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors will likely result in a negative impression and your application being rejected.

Unlike CVs, cover letters are not always included with every job application, but they can nevertheless be very advantageous. These documents are most useful when used to cover aspects of your application that are not included in the CV. For example, they can help you convey your sincere enthusiasm and personal interest in working for the employer in question, allowing you to communicate a level of dedication that flatters the firm and makes them feel that the role is sincerely wanted. This can make a big difference in some cases, and so the value of a good covering letter should never be underestimated.

Take a smart approach if you lack experience

If you are already a few years into your career, it may be the case that you do not currently have the ideal training background or work history to apply for a Magic Circle role. However, by taking an intelligent approach to your application, you may still find options and opportunities enabling you to work your way into a better position to apply.

Even if you have not taken a conventional route in your career to date, you may still be able to create a strong CV based on your years of work experience and proven skills. It is never too late to get involved with legal committees or take up opportunities to broaden your professional horizons through seminars and networking events, all of which can help to fill out potential gaps in your expertise.

Personality, work ethic and cultural fit can also be factors that might play in your favour, while some roles will inevitably have less competition than others. It is important to remember that rejection by one firm does not necessarily mean the end of your journey, as different firms will have different preferences and priorities when it comes to hiring. By building the best possible CV and being prepared to tailor your application for each specific employer, you will have the best chance of making a good impression.

Work with a specialist recruiter

One of the best ways to secure a role with a leading law firm is to call upon the services of a specialist recruiter with expertise in this field. Many of these organisations will have direct experience of helping the firms you wish to work for with their hiring activity, and will therefore be able to provide you with unparalleled insight into their recruitment processes.

By speaking to a recruiter, you can get information on the exact questions that are likely to come up during an interview and the areas they will want to focus on, as well as the key words and phrases they may be looking to hear in your responses. For example, some firms may be seeking a driven and overtly ambitious personality, while others may prefer someone who is down to earth, with good people skills. Others may take great pride in their firm’s awards and accomplishments, and will expect applicants to be well educated on this topic.

Gaining advice from a recruiter can be particularly helpful for those who feel their CV requires additional development and targeting in order to make a successful application, but in truth every prospective candidate can potentially benefit from the tailored guidance that recruitment consultants can provide.

Ultimately, the elite nature of the top law firms means that successfully securing a job with them is always going to be a challenge. By taking the right advice and properly cultivating your credentials and CV, you will give yourself the best opportunity to secure a role that fulfils all of your personal and professional aspirations.