1 TRAINEE SOLICITORS ATTENDING THE 2011 PPC I SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES OF SEARCHING FOR A TRAINING CONTRACT. Trainee 1: How I found my training contract My undergraduate degree was in law and, like a lot of my class, I realised around the middle of my penultimate year that it might be a good idea to apply for an internship with a law firm. I filled in a couple of online applications and sat back to wait for a response. Unfortunately for me, this was not a good tactic. I really had no idea what employers were looking for, and I hadn't taken the time to find out. Gathering information After feeling sorry for myself for a week or two, I picked myself up and took this experience as a wake up call. I started to talk to people in my class who had managed to secure themselves an internship, or even a training contract. The overwhelming response was that it was essential to find out as much as possible about the firm that you want to work for, and in particular about what they are looking for in a potential trainee. I was advised to go to any talks run by the career service in college, or hosted by one of the law firms in Dublin. I also found it quite helpful to talk to people who had succeeded in obtaining jobs or internships in other industries. They were full of anecdotes and ideas that were a bit different from those that my colleagues from law had come up with. Think about doing an internship After spending a considerable amount of time filling in application forms, I was lucky enough to be offered an internship with one of the big commercial firms. While I do not think that this was essential to later getting a job with the firm, it was a really amazing way to get an absolute ton of inside information. Not only was it a great opportunity to talk to trainees who had made successful applications, I also had a chance to talk to some of the people responsible for hiring new trainees. Preparing your CV and covering letter There are a couple of essential boxes to tick when preparing a CV or a covering letter. First, your spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout should be absolutely perfect. Even after checking it a few times yourself, there is no harm in handing your CV to a friend and asking them to proof read for mistakes. Second, read any directions that you have been given by your potential employer. I have had an application form sent back to me because I have not given enough information about something that I was specifically asked for. If an employer takes the time to ask you a question, you can be sure that they think the answer is important. If you have any queries about the process itself, or any of the application requirements, there is no harm in calling the relevant person at the law firm and asking.
2 Third, if you have never prepared a CV for a "proper" job before, you should get someone with experience to look at what you have drafted. I sent mine to a friend who was a couple of years ahead of me with his career, and who had changed jobs a few times in the last number of years. He ripped my CV to shreds and told me that I was going to have to make it look and sound much more professional if I was ever going to be hired. While this wasn't particularly pleasant at the time, in retrospect I'm really grateful that he was so honest with his advice. Finally, your covering letter is your opportunity to differentiate yourself in your own words and in your own way. Do not be tempted to copy someone else's, or one that you found on the internet. I use mine to let my potential employer know that I have looked at their website and marketing materials, and as a chance to explain how I fit in with their corporate ethos. The interview I was incredibly nervous attending my interviews, but in retrospect all that you need is a bit of professionalism and a lot of common sense. In my experience, no-one is trying to trick you out, they just want to know whether you would be someone that they would like to work with. First, you have to do your homework. Know where your interview is being held and at what time. Know the contents of your CV inside out, and be able to talk about yourself, your life and your achievements. After you have worked all of that out, you will want to do some research on the firm and perhaps even your interviewers, especially as you will want to be able to ask them an intelligent question when the time comes. To be honest though, I have never been asked tricky legal questions or been tripped up by a question about the law firm. Most interviewers want to talk about you and not about themselves. When the day of your interview rolls around, make sure that you are there on time, properly dressed, and with as relaxed an attitude as you can muster. I always try to put myself in the right frame of mind, and to get rid of my nerves, by working really hard at being polite as I possibly can to everyone that I meet in the run up to the big day. In the interview itself, listen to the interviewers questions and answer them honestly. There will usually be a question that you don't like, and the person on the other side of the table probably knows that you would have preferred to talk about something else. Personally I don't like being asked about my extra-curricular activities, as I know it is not something I am particularly strong on. When a question about that inevitably comes up, I don't get defensive and I don't make things up. I just remind myself that nobody is perfect, that I have some really great aspects to my CV, and I answer the question as honestly as I can. If there are two people interviewing you and only one of them is asking questions, don't forget to direct some of your answers towards the second person as they are usually the one taking the notes.
3 Finally, your interview isn't finished until you walk out the front door of the office and around the corner. Don't ruin the perfect impression that you have made by saying something inappropriate on the way to the door. Best of luck with your search Trainee 2: I had quite a long and difficult search for my Traineeship contract as I feel many people are having in this day and age. However after a long and difficult search, I was eventually successful in obtaining my place in Blackhall and have not looked back since. Back in 2008, when I had only began my FE1 exams, and just before the reality of the recession hit, I started applying for Traineeships in all of the top firms due to the fact that you often had to wait a year before you got a place with these firms. I spent hours filling out forms and answering questions as to why I wanted to be a Solicitor and what could I bring to the firm, and needless to say, these questions always put me to a standstill. The suggestions I received from others who have been through the same process always tend to confuse and the advice is endless. So to simplify the advice I feel is the best, here it is; be yourself, ask family and friends what they think are your best qualities and why they think so. You will be surprised how much of what they say about you, you already think but are unsure about how to put it to paper, or simply feel to silly writing it down. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, and no matter how many times I applied, I was unsuccessful in all of my applications. It is difficult knowing that you don't get the opportunity for feedback on your answers or to ask what you could change for next time, but sometimes it has to be accepted that it's just not meant to be, and in my case I can now honestly say that it indeed wasn't meant to be. Signing up to work for these top firms, no matter what the benefits, can bring a lot of negatives, and as disappointed as I was at the time, it's not the end of the world to be constantly rejected, I know it just made me more determined. I continued my FE1's and throughout, continued my search, which had now spread to medium and small size firms. Within the area I live, there is easily up to 30 small to medium firms, one of which I believed had to offer a local girl a chance. However at this stage, not just traineeships, but jobs were scarce and I started looking to Legal Secretary advertisements, to try and get the foot in the door that everyone always talks about. The thoughts of working a job around study for exams was daunting, but I am firmly of the belief that if you want something bad enough, you will find any way to make it work. There was little to no employers willing to take me on and pay me whilst knowing that I would need time for exams, so I began looking at the Fás website and Work Placement Schemes that were offered. These schemes allowed people, unemployed and on benefits, to work with an office for up to 9 months, without pay from the employer but keeping the government benefits. Sounds unappealing I know, but I applied for a few locally out of
4 almost desperation and hoped for the best. After a couple of days I got a call from a very small firm of just a sole practitioner and some part time staff for an interview. It was a very casual discussion and after merely 5 to 10 minutes they had offered me the job. I began immediately and got straight into the nitty gritty of the reality of office life. The nine months were not the easiest I've ever been though but the quality of the experience considerably outweighs the negatives. By the end of my time there, which was the March to December of 2010, I had completed my FE1's and had worked extremely hard wanting to learn as much as I could in my time there. The hard work paid off and in the January of 2011, the firm offered me a training contract for the September 2011 of Blackhall, and not only this, they took me on as a paid employee for the January to August following up to my enrollment in Blackhall. The value of the experience I gained in the 18 months I worked in this small firm have proven to be priceless to me in Blackhall and the difficulty of the few months unpaid are entirely irrelevant to me now. I hope my experience will prove to you that no matter how difficult things are at the moment there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you should not let any opportunity, no matter how hard they seem, go by without giving them the chance. Trainee 3: I began searching for a training contract in 2006 while in the final year of Corporate Law in NUI Galway. I had spoken to a Solicitor from my home town who had given me a list of Commercial Firms that he recommended applying to, which I did. However I had no success in even securing an interview at that stage. Following on from my degree, I undertook the Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B.) during which I also sent out applications to no avail. On completion of the LL.B in May 2007, I secured a work experience position with LK Shields through a contact. I was based in the Company Secretarial Department and greatly enhanced my knowledge of Company Law through this experience. During this time I also had an interview with the firm for a Training Contract, however I was unsuccessful with this. I attribute this to insufficient preparation on my part. After 10 months with LK Shields, during which I passed 6 of my FE1 s, I moved to Dillon Eustace Solicitors as a Trainee Company Secretary. While with them I passed my remaining FE1 s and once again applied to all the major firms, wit which I was once again unsuccessful. At the end of my initial 6 month contract with them Dillon Eustace wished me to go on and qualify as a Company Secretary. Despite this my intention remained to qualify as a solicitor and so I left the firm. That was January 2009 and at that point I carried out a thorough appraisal of myself. I had at that time 16 months work experience, two degrees and all of my FE1 s and yet I had not secured a Training Contract. I realised from having talked to a large number of people who had secured apprenticeships that I needed to improve myself in key areas so that my CV would stand
5 out from the crowd. Many of those I had spoken to had Masters Degrees, significant work experience and a large number of achievements, both academic and otherwise. I decided that I would undertake a Masters Degree and selected the LL.B. in Law, Technology & Governance in NUI Galway. It touched on areas I already had experience in and also dealt with interesting and highly relevant topics. As it was also a new Masters Degree and I thought it would help me to stand out from other applicants. Having applied for that, I set about improving my experience. I did some work with the Legal Aid Board helping them to develop online resources before moving to Galway to begin my Masters. I applied to every solicitor in Galway city for voluntary work experience, which I intended to carry out alongside my studies. I secured work with MacSweeney & Company Solicitors and spent one full day and two mornings each week working there while I was undertaking my Masters from September 2009 until May I was also keenly aware of the need to add extra curricular achievements to my CV. I was awarded an ALIVE Certificate by NUIG for my work as Class Representative for my Masters and for my work on the Student Council representing all Masters Students. I also helped raise money during College Week by undertaking a firewalk across hot coals. Over the course of the academic year I continued to apply to firms and was successful in securing a number of interviews, narrowly missing out on a Training Contract with one firm. Instead of spending the following summer on my thesis, I worked extra hours and submitted it two months early so that I could go travelling for three months around South East Asia and Australia. On my return in September 2010, I spent six weeks working on Risk Management with a small firm in Mayo, Egan Daughter Solicitors. After that I spent five weeks working for Bank of Ireland in their Probate Section. During this time I sat a number of interviews and was offered a Training Contract with Hayes Solicitors in Dublin, which I accepted. I have been working with them since January For me the key factors which eventually led to securing a Training Contract were education, experience and extra achievements. For anyone looking for a Training Contract I would recommend that you talk to everyone you can, fellow prospective Trainees, people who have secured Training Contracts and qualified solicitors. Fellow seekers will alert you to application opportunities, Trainees can help you to see how a Training Contract has been secured and solicitors can help you see what firms are looking for. It is also important to make the most of the resources available to you; if you are in College make contact with the careers department who will be useful in helping you with your CV and preparations for interviews. If you are out of work you have time to spare; volunteer for everything you can. I would also emphasise thorough preparation for interviews; review your application or CV and use every source you have to get all information you can on the firm.
6 The most important thing is to keep trying. You can do everything right and it does not mean it will happen instantly; some things just come down to good timing. However, if you keep doing the right things then it will happen for you. Trainee 4: I began looking for a traineeship when I started doing the FE-1 exams. I sent out my CV and covering letter tailored to the specific firms to numerous practices. I also completed the application forms for the bigger firms as they were released. I did not receive a response from the majority of the firms but this is to be expected due to the large amount of CV s they are inevitably receiving every week. I did receive some positive response and got interviews with numerous firms around Dublin. Although I was receiving positive feedback these applications and interviews were not proving successful. As a result of feedback I received I decided that gaining as much work experience as possible would be beneficial to my CV and my hunt for a training contract. Due to the current economic downturn this was not an easy task. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity of doing an internship with one of the big firms and this proved to be great experience. After this I undertook a few weeks unpaid work experience in a smaller firm. Both of these greatly improved my CV and provided me with a talking point in interviews and an opportunity to give details of legal experience gained. I learned that I was eligible to participate in the FAS Work Placement Program and applied for a legal secretary position in the Law Society that was advertised on their website. I got the position under the Work Placement Program and this then resulted in my obtaining a paid position after just three months. A prospective employer will no doubt find the fact that you have been in paid employment and have experience in a professional workplace very appealing. To get some experience it would be worthwhile to try gain some unpaid work experience and this in turn may lead to other opportunities. Whilst in this position I continued my search for a training contract and continued to do interviews. It was through this position that I learned by word of mouth about the traineeship I eventually secured. There are a lot of firms that do not advertise trainee positions. Contacts and networking are in my opinion one of the most important elements in your search for a training contract. Consider joining LinkedIn and getting your professional profile set up, this could lead to good contacts and opportunities. Seek work experience, ensure your up to date CV is on the law society trainee register and be prepared for interviews. Make sure you have researched the firm in advance and know about their practice areas in the interview. Your CV is your main selling point and I strongly recommend building and adding to it on a continuous basis. The purpose of your CV is to grab the employer s attention and interest them. Illustrate the types of work you have done and provide examples where possible. Persistence is vital and I do not know of anybody who did not eventually secure a traineeship.
7 Good Luck! Trainee 5: Aspiring Training Solicitor seeks training contract anywhere! This is my story of how I found the training contract I believe best suits me. Finding a training contract can be soul destroying at times but you need to know what type of training you want and keep going. People succeed at the interviews for the jobs that they are suited to. I studied Politics and Spanish in UCD and on completion of my degree decided to do a Masters in Human Rights. It was during the course on the Masters my previous inclination to do law was confirmed. I had my heart set on becoming lawyer and helping people, while earning a decent living as well! So I started my FE1 s, the difficult period of life that any trainee solicitor has to get through. Having never studied law before I didn t relish the thought of the FE1 s, but I took the course in Independent Colleges and after many sleepless nights sat and passed my first four FE1 s. I was on my way to becoming a solicitor! Unfortunately I had finally got on my way in late 2008 and all of a sudden the difficulty part of the journey was finding a training contract as opposed to sitting the exams. I kept on plugging away at my FE1 s and did the milk round for the big firms that year. I had no luck with the milk round as I don t believe that anything about me or my CV screams commercial law. It s deflating getting the rejection letters but I tried to keep my head up and just get on with things. I worked for my next set of FE1 s and put the traineeship search on the long finger. On my second round of exams I only passed 2 out of 4, so I knew I wouldn t be starting in Blackhall that September. It was at that point that I sat down and had a good look at my CV. It seemed every job I was looking for or applying to expected me to have an awful lot of experience. Without a degree in law and only having done small amounts of legal secretarial work while studying for my FE1 s I felt I really needed to build my experience and have something that distinguished me from all the other candidates. I got talking to everyone and anyone, about what I could do. One day I got talking to a friend of mine about applying for an internship in the Independent Law Centre: FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres, she had done something similar and thought it was a very constructive way to spend a year. I contacted FLAC with my CV, enquiring if there were any internships available. I was called for an interview the following week and before I knew it I had a year long internship lined up once I finished my FE1 s. FLAC was a wonderful place to gain experience and meet like minded people who could offer sound and constructive advice. I spent a really interesting year there working on the telephone information line offering first hand legal information to callers. I also worked on some of their many campaigns seeking access to justice, looking to reform the law in relation to debt and calling for improvements in the conditions of people seeking asylum in Ireland.
8 During the course of the year in FLAC I applied for a few traineeship positions, but I was beginning to put pressure on myself and give myself time limits within which I thought I should have a traineeship. Nothing much came of these opportunities and in reflection I don t think I was trying very hard. It s amazing when you are looking for something for so long how your energy ebbs and flows and yet you can convince yourself that you are still trying very hard but sometimes you just can t anymore. I finished up my year in FLAC and decided to just take a break from it all and come back to the search refreshed. I went away for a few months and when I got home I had the energy to get creative. Again I talked to everybody, but this time I mean everybody. Any person I meet I told them my story, I told them that I was looking for a traineeship and I asked people if they had any contacts. I would meet people at parties or on nights out and contact them the following day about a lead they had. Everyone I met around that time must have thought I was crazy but I didn t care I had my sights set on a traineeship. I did a few interviews, which I was delighted to be even be called for but things didn t work out and then a friend suggested Linkedin. Aspiring trainee solicitor seeking training contract was sent to every sole practitioner and partner in Ireland. Lots of people had feedback or information but I resigned myself to the fact that I had jumped on the bandwagon too late and it wasn t going to happen for me and then I got an . He was the Principal of a general practice firm in Tallaght and he wanted to meet me. He responded to my s quickly and directly, it seemed like the holy grail of traineeships, a young efficient mentor. I met with him convinced I would mess up my first truly promising opportunity but we got on well and within days he contacted me to offer me the position. I have never been so happy, I had waited so long and worked so hard and finally it had paid off. Point of the story is not that Linkedin will get you a traineeship but getting creative and being determined does eventually pay off. Keep your spirits up and let yourself off the hook when you need to, it will happen. Trainee 6: I finished my primary degree in Applied Psychology in UCC in 2009, and had no real interest in pursuing a career in psychology. Instead, it was in my final year when I undertook electives in Forensic Pscyhology that I was introduced to the world of law, and my interest in a career as a solicitor was sparked. After taking a few months out after graduation I decided to sit the FE-1 s, and passed these over two sittings while working full time in a non law related job. While studying for my second set of Fe-1 s I became very aware of what a vulnerable position I was in. I had no contacts in law and no legal experience. Other than passing the Fe-1 s, I was a complete novice. I decided to solve this by gaining some legal experience in a small general practice in my town. Getting this volunteer experience was hard work, but by sending my C.V.to every practice I could get my hands on and following up with calls, I managed to secure three month s part time work experience with a local general practice firm. My intial experience mainly included going to
9 court with the solicitors, watching brief, preparing briefs for junior counsel, and lots of photocopying. The best things about this position were not just the experience I gained, but the contacts I made through going to court and the fact that later interviewers informed me that this experience really made my c.v. stand out. I knew from the outset that the firm weren t looking for a trainee, so I never set my hopes on training there. Instead I foused on making sure I was meeting other solicitors, going for coffee after court with others etc, as well as trying to make myself as useful as possible to the firm I was with so that I might come to mind if the principal heard of any other training contracts coming up. I managed to get a reasonable handful of interviews with various firms- from local practices I had been introduced to through my time in the office, up to larger practices in Dublin. This I managed by setting aside two weeks to gather information about firms both local and national who were looking for trainees, closing dates, requirements and areas of practice. After this I set out a timetable for myself to complete applications on time, and to send out cold calling letters. I also emphasized in my cover letters not only what I wanted from the firm, but what use I could be for them. At the moment, it doesn t seem like many firms want to take on a trainee, let alone throw away money on someone who won t pull their weight, so in economic terms it seemed important to the firms I was applying to (Especially smaller firms), that I could start contributing straight away, and hit the ground running in the office. After a few near misses with the elusive training contract, I realised that my CV was falling short next to other candidates, many of whom had masters in law and legal undergraduate degrees, as well as extensive travelling experience (well-rounded) which I didn t have. Luckily in one way, I had been let go from my full time job, and decided to spend my free time expanding my CV by going back to the firm I had interned with for 2 months voluntary full time work. I also signed up for a Diploma in Employment Law with the Law Society to keep me tipping over. I can honestly say that I think the combination of these two factors really made a big impact when it came to securing a contract. My next two interviews ended up as offers, and I noticed a big change in the attitudes of interviewers when I mentioned what I was doing with my free time. It was such a surprise and a major relief to discover I would be on PPC the same year! There are a few things I would advise any prospective trainees when looking for a training contract: Be organised. List all of the application closing dates for firms and set yourself time to complete them- you need to cast your net as widely as possible. Get legal experience- whether it s for free, pouring coffee or doing actual legal work, this was my major stepping stone to a contract. Keep up to date with current affairs- reading the economist, newsweek etc- especially the headlines the morning of the interview- really helped me out.
10 Have interests outside of law and be able to chat about them- I found in a few interviews that the interviewers actually had the same hobbies and I was able to connect through this and leave a lasting impression. Be professional but approachable and able to make small talk in the interview- my own master told me that a major decision in offering a contract is whether the candidate would be able to speak to clients and give a good impression. If you can t get legal experience, get some kind of office experience and really focus on the parts which are transferable to a law firm. Really emphasise your practical and relevant work experience over your academics, there s a bigger focus on picking someone who has been in the office before over a fantastic degree. More than anything else, I cant emphasise enough how much you shouldn t listen when people say there are no training contracts out there at the moment. I heard this from everyone I came into contact with inside and outside of the profession- but contracts are there for the taking for people persistent enough to look for them. Trainee 7: I have always been interested in Corporate and Commercial Law and decided that when I finished my degree, that would be the area of law that I would like to secure a training contract in. In order to gain some practical experience in the area during one of the summers in college, I applied for and successfully obtained an internship in the in-house legal department of a large Multinational Corporation. This internship enabled me to see the practical side of the corporate law world and allowed me to obtain valuable experience that I hoped would make me a more attractive candidate to prospective employers. During the course of my internship, I made some very useful contacts with lawyers from a number of the big commercial firms in Dublin as the company I worked for was a client of a number of these firms. In the final year of my undergraduate studies, I attended all the usual 'Milk Round' events and talks and was highly impressed by what was offered in a traineeship in a commercial firm - the nature of the work and the ability to have rotations in four different departments/areas of law during the training contract appealed to me. Therefore, I made it my goal to obtain a training contract with a commercial law firm. I was unsuccesful at even obtaining an interview the first time I applied. In retrospect, I did not put nearly enough effort into the application process as I should have. I made several mistakes that I would later rectify - I filled out the forms in pen rather then typing them online, I didnt get anyone else to proof read them for me for spelling/grammer mistakes and my CV was not well rounded enough. During the next year, I studied for and successfully passed the FE-1 examinations whilst trying to gain as much relevant experience as possible. As I could find no legal jobs that were willing to pay in the recessionary climate, I took a number of volunteer positions - volunteering in a free legal advice clinic several mornings a week for example. I believe
11 this additional experience and the voluntary nature of it helped me stand out when I next came to apply for training positions. When the application deadlines came around the following year, I spent weeks preparing the application forms, getting advice from friends and family regarding the phrasing of answers to the often tricky questions asked. I was succesful in obtaining interviews with four of the big Dublin firms - this shows the importance of really putting alot of effort into the application forms. I had pretty positive experiences of interviewing with all four firms, they were all very nice and none of the interviews were particularly tough. The advice I would give to anyone interviewing with any of these firms is to really make sure you are 'commercially aware'. Try and read the Business section of the Irish Times in the weeks leading up to the interview and be reasonably familiar with the big issues in both the World and Irish economy. Finally, I can definetly say that the job at the end of the often ardous path of searching for a traineeship is definelty worth it - I really enjoy the work and the people that you work with and for. Trainee 8: I studied Law and French and graduated in 2005 with a first class honours. I hadn t expected to do quite so well in my primary degree and felt that surely it would be pretty straight forward to secure a training contract, especially given that in 2005 the big firms were taking on a lot of trainee solicitors each year. In my final year, I applied to all of the top 10 law firms, mainly in Dublin but a few of the more well known ones in Cork. Having sent out approximately 20 CV s and applications (some of which took days), I was lucky to even receive responses from many of the firms. I did succeed in getting two interviews in large firms in Dublin and preparation for these interviews was immense. I read every newspaper article in the run up to the interview, attended the drinks evenings for both firms and was very well researched on the types of work each firm was involved in. Ultimately however I was unsuccessful in securing a contract with either company. In fact I didn t even make it past the first round for both firms. This was very disappointing, especially given that I would have to wait another year before I could apply. It seemed like such a waste of time and I was clueless as to what each firm was looking for. A lot of my classmates received offers from large firms. The natural next step for me would be to complete the FE1 s and re-apply for the following intake of trainees. Instead however, I decided to go travelling and contemplate my options. I knew the FE1 exams were no breeze and so I didn t want to undertake them without being fully committed to pursuing a career as a solicitor. So I headed to Australia in early 2006 and travelled and worked in various administrative jobs for one year. This was a fantastic experience and was the first time I had worked in office environments. When I came back to Ireland in 2007, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the legal profession. I had missed the boat for that years trainee applications so I proceeded to register with an agency to get a job in the legal sector. At that time,
12 jobseekers definitely had the upper hand and I attended approximately 11 interviews for various roles, ranging from paralegal to legal adviser. Ultimately I accepted a position as a contract administrator in a relatively unknown software company as there was great potential to move up the ladder and gain some in-house legal experience. I started in this company in a very junior administrative role and worked my way up to contract negotiator within 18 months. This was a real learning experience as I had no prior experience in this field, other than the basics I had learned in college. However the company I was with had faith in me and gave me a large amount of responsibility in a short space of time. I negotiated contracts with major corporations and for massive events across the world for over three years. I engaged with very experienced solicitors but was never intimidated by them. I travelled all over Europe and the US for work purposes, trained our sales people on the legal ramifications of their work and genuinely loved my job. Ultimately however, the time came when I realized that I would only ever progress so far in this role without a formal legal qualification and I contemplated my next move. The dreaded FE1s were the way to go I felt and I began studying for four exams while working full time. This was a challenge and a time I would rather forget. I took my time to research law firms I would be interested in working for and applied to these while studying for my FE1s. This was 2010 and times had changed in Ireland. I knew that the odds were against me to secure a training contract, especially because I did not have any FE1s under my belt at that time. I ultimately got one interview and decided that the best course of action was to be myself and show them all of the experience I had obtained to date. I wanted them to want to hire me based on my skills and personality and not based on what I thought they wanted to hear. I got called back for a second interview pretty quickly and the partners who interviewed me questioned my dedication to the profession as it had taken me quite a while to decide that this was the career for me. I was honest with them and told them that I had been unsure in the past but ultimately I would not be proceeding with the FE1s while working full time if I was unsure that this was for me. This was one of the most difficult interviews I have ever done but I was proud of myself for coming through it and staying true to myself. The partners offered me the job there and then and I was over the moon. I thought I d have an excruciating few days wait to receive that dreaded PFO. I handed in my notice to work and took the summer off to finish my FE1 s. Looking back I think that I would not have gotten my traineeship without the experience I had obtained and I would advise those now pursuing a training contract to get any legal experience you can. It will help you stand out from the rest of the pack. Best of luck!! Trainee 9: I had been working in the motor industry for a number of years before deciding to undertake a part time IATI course. This mainly concerned accounting but law did feature throughout. As a result of thoroughly enjoying the subject, I began a full time LLB degree in Griffith College Dublin in 2005.
13 After qualifying in 2008 I was lucky enough to secure an internship within a large corporate firm in Manhattan. This was my first experience within an office, legal or otherwise, and it could be said that I was dropped right into the deep end! However, I can say that I enjoyed the experience very much and it gave me a unique insight into how things work in a big firm. Following my return, I started on the first 4 FE-1 exams. I attended the preparation course at Independent Colleges and found their guidance and notes very helpful. When I received all eight exams I began searching for an apprenticeship. I spent quite an amount of time on my CV and chased up any references that would make it stand out. A good CV is an absolute given and everyone should take particular care in ensuring there are no mistakes. Also, although it sounds obvious, you must know it backwards as it is easy to get caught out during an interview when you are nervous. I started by making a list of all firms within a ten mile radius. I then sent CVs to the Dublin firms alphabetically. The law society website is very useful here as it lists all firms in this way, county by county. Extra steps I would recommend taking include sending the CVs by post. I got feed back from some firms saying how nice it was to receive a CV by paper rather than . I would also use better quality paper for the CVs as I think it is something the firms notice. Another tip that should ensure that your CV stands out is to ring the firm in advance and ask for the name of whoever receives CVs. Again, I think the firms appreciate that the CV is specifically addressed and it shows that you have gone to some effort. A well drafted cover letter should also be included with CV running no longer than one page. The cover letter presents an opportunity to tailor your CV to the needs of the firm. My biggest mistake was waiting until I passed all 8 FE-1s before sending out my CVs. It must be remembered that most firms want to hire an apprentice a year before they intend to send you to Blackhall. I found this quite frustrating at the time and even had to turn down interviews because of this policy! So ideally you should begin to send out the CVs in your final year of college. When you get to the stage of sending CVs out, get used to rejection letters. Everyone receives these letters and you will too, so don t let it get you down. When I finally received my offer it made it all worth it. I started in a small practice where the solicitor is great to work for. However, in a final word of warning, I would caution that this process is expensive and very few firms will either pay your fees or pay you while in Blackhall. In conclusion, try as early as possible to secure legal work experience, paid or not. Keep an eye on the Law Society vacancies website, this is the only place where traineeships will actually be advertised. Don t rely on any promises of an apprenticeship and send out as many CVs out as possible. If you have any contacts whatsoever in legal, financial or insurance make sure to chase them up. Best of luck for the future.
14 Trainee 10: I didn t originally do law in college, so I faced a bit of an uphill struggle getting my foot in the door of a firm. In 2007, I got a Legal Exec job in a Dublin commercial firm. I stayed in this job for two years under a general understanding that it would lead to a training contract (although, lawyers being lawyers, no promises were made). In 2009, along with many others, I interviewed with the same firm for a trainee position. The response from this was that they weren t going to take on any trainees...then a month later, the sister of one of the Partners began in the firm as a trainee. After a few months of figuring out my next step, I decided to emigrate to Canada. Having being born in Canada, I had no visa/healthcare issues so I didn t know whether or not it d be a permanent move. I got a job in Toronto as a Clerk in a Civil Litigation firm and after a while, having this on my CV, I got back on the sending training CVs out horse to see what the general uptake was. I was successful to the point of securing a phone interview with a Dublin firm, but bar that, I figured if I wanted to be a solicitor, I had to go back to Ireland. So after a year and a half in Canada, I returned to Ireland. Not long after I passed the 1,000th CV mark, I was asked for an interview for a training position and was successful. The ironic thing was that after the years of trying and the number of CVs that I had sent out, the firm I m in is the very first firm I sent a CV to in and continually sent CVs to since then! I d be quite happy to say a few words on this in when you are holding the Trainee Seminar for prospective Trainees in January, so feel free to drop me a line on the matter. Trainee 11: Well Done! If you are in a position to take up a training contract that means you have been through College and the dreaded Fe1s. You have already achieved so much, give yourself a break and a pat on the back. Now prepare for what may seem like the most challenging part of your journey so far. I began my legal career perhaps later than the majority of my peers. I completed a philosophy degree in UCC and carried on to complete a Masters degree in sociology. Both my dissertation and thesis centered on a discourse of specific legal issues which led me to consider law as a career. Enthusiastic and naive I set about completing my FE1 s through Griffith College Cork. I didn t know a single person studying law or anyone in the profession. My father was a Guard and that is the closest I would have come to having connections. I was significantly unaware of how the recruitment of trainee solicitors was / is conducted.
15 Confident in my academic credentials at that point and prior to actually passing any FE1 s I applied to all the top firms. I spent hours filling out on-line application forms which seemed to require all manner of information from the name of my senior infants teacher to how many times I had seen Oireachtas Report. I had the utmost confidence that I would be asked for at least one interview in five applications. This was of course not the case and I promptly received a plethora of rejection letters. I moved on from this to sending my CV to every law firm in the general area of Munster, particularly Cork where I was living. I walked the city with a bag of Cv s for a fortnight. Again I received a dearth of rejection letters. At this time began sitting at the back of the District and Circuit Court. I learnt the names of various solicitors and judges and people began to recognise me. You will learn so much by sitting and listening. And believe me if you sit in one judge s court room for a whole week he will notice you. No one thinks of this in my experience but it shows a real interest, so put it down on the CV. Also read the newspaper. You need to be able to discuss current legal issues on the spot. You never know when a solicitor may be talking to you and you need to show you are aware of current events affecting the legal profession. This is especially so if you may be called for an interview. One occasion during this time does stick out in my mind. A solicitor I had met asked me to visit his office with my CV. Of course I eagerly obliged and thought that all my ships had come in at once. I marched down to his office and was buzzed in. I sat opposite him where he never asked me for my CV. And instead proceeded to explain the many reason why I would never get a training contract in this country at the present time. His advice was to sit the New York Bar Exam, and afterwards do the Irish conversion exams so I d be qualified here. When I told him I couldn t sit the NYB exams due to my lack of a legal degree he suggested I do an LLB before I left for America. To top it off he told me he was saving a trainee spot for his son. The point of this anecdote is simply to say, do not believe everything you hear. Believe in yourself. Its a cliche but with advice like that floating around you must remain focused. Blackhall is not going to be empty next September, nor the September after that. Training contracts are out there (even for non-law graduates). At this point I was awaiting the results of my final FE1 s. I applied for a voluntary position with a housing charity in desperation of something to do that was quasi-legal. I was accepted and began advising tenants on their rights while letting. This work became invaluable on my CV. It was not only a relevant legal area but also my first exposure to working in an office. I had at this stage also applied to the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) to be an assistant in my area. I was accepted and began attending my local FLAC center as much as possible. These two activities helped immensely in my quest for a training contract. In threshold an opportunity for a paid position came up relatively quickly, I applied for it and got it. I was now a senior advisor and represented clients at Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) Adjudications and Tribunals. I became an expert in this area of law. It was a six month contract and I used this as my absolute deadline for securing a
16 traineeship. At the same time I continued to meet new solicitors every week at FLAC and network. I was able to gain very useful information and contacts through FLAC and I could prove my worth through my expert knowledge of private residential tenancies law. It is through FLAC that I met my current training solicitor. A sole practitioner starting out who needed an extra pair of hands but could not afford a secretary at that time. I bugged him and annoyed him till he gave me an interview. He then took me at 1 day a week for 2 months to see if I was the right fit. The experience I had gained through my voluntary (and later paid) work was critical. Using phones and computers, sending letters and most importantly meeting clients and assessing their problems are vital skills for any trainee. I would have been lost in a law firm without this background. At the end of this time he offered me a training contract and I was able to progress to Blackhall. My advice to any potential trainee is to get out and about in your area. Attend conferences and seminars on legal issues, approach specific voluntary organisation that have a legal aspect and help out. Try to get as much exposure to different areas of expertise as possible. Sell yourself to every solicitor you can find. Be confident in your ability to help this person in their office. Be a good filer, computer whiz or in my case letting law expert. And don t give up! Trainee 12: Introduction I graduated from UCC in 2007 with my BCL and completed the FE-1 exams in May While completing the FE-1 exams, I completed postgraduate studies and gathered as much relevant work experience as I could, however, with the economic downturn hitting hard, the firm I was with in May 2010 was unable to offer me a training contract. Planning My Approach I sat down the day after I got my results and mapped out my plan. My goal was to attend Blackhall Place in September 2010 and being from Limerick, I hoped to find a Traineeship as close to home as possible. Firstly, I updated my CV and posted this on the register of available Trainees on the Law Society Website. I was well aware that the demand for Traineeship positions far exceeded availability, due in large part to the economic downturn, and the challenges posed by this for both employers and potential trainees. From my experience in offices, I was also aware that applications for Traineeships flooded in almost daily by both post and and often, these were simply discarded immediately, without even being read. As I was the first in my family to enter the legal profession, I did not have any contacts in the profession and neither had I met any of the solicitors in my home city of Limerick, so I decided to make my initial approach in person. Doing the Leg-Work I borrowed the most recent Law Directory from the office I was in, printed multiple copies of my up-to-date CV and started in Limerick City. I spent three days walking around Limerick City, visiting each firm in person and asking to speak to the relevant person in relation to the possibilities around undertaking a traineeship with the firm. This was a very difficult thing to do and my reception varied widely according to which establishment I
17 visited. The receptionists and secretaries were mostly very pleasant and I met many of the solicitors themselves. Most were very professional and tactful, some were the complete opposite, however, there was a lot of learning in these experiences for me and I succeeded in making a number of contacts. One solicitor in particular was very generous in giving me feedback on the presentation of my CV and advice in regard to interviews. I followed up my visit to each firm in Limerick City with a telephone call two days later and then I decided to expand my search to any county with an accessible commute to Limerick. I visited firms in Counties Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Cork, travelling to Adare, Rathkeale, Newcastlewest, Shannon, Ennis, Tipperary, Nenagh, and Cork City and following up as much as possible with each firm. I had also been keeping a close eye on the Law Society website, checking the Situations Vacant section on a daily basis. I soon learned that this was imperative as many of the firms who advertised Traineeship positions only posted their advert on the website for a maximum of three days. Surprisingly, a number of Traineeship positions were advertised and I applied for all of these, regardless of location, as soon as they appeared, following up as much as possible. I also advertised my availability in the Situations Wanted section of my local newspaper. I had no response to this, but I lived in hope! Some firms were impressed with my CV and I succeeded in obtaining a number of interviews over the summer. Of the firms who called me for interview, some had found my CV on the Trainee Register and contacted me of their own volition, some had shortlisted me following my application in response to their advert on the Law Society Website and others had kept my CV on file for a number of months following my approach to them in person. All of the interviews were very useful learning experiences in terms of finding out what employers were looking for from Trainees with regard to education and previous experience. However, I had not secured a Training Contract by September Again, in September 2010, I walked around Limerick City with my CV, visiting firms that had Trainees in Blackhall Place, and flagging my interest in a Traineeship with a view to gaining some experience while their trainees were out of the office. Success One particular day, I decided to visit the District Court. I observed happenings from the public seating area and spotted a number of solicitors whose performance I was rather impressed with on the day. I stopped by their offices on the way home, knowing that they were not there, but leaving a copy of my CV and asking their receptionist to convey the message that I was interested in doing some work experience with them. I followed up, but nothing immediately came of it. Two days later, however, one of the solicitors I had seen in Court telephoned me to say that she had nothing available herself at the moment, however a colleague in an office across the road found himself unexpectedly very short-staffed that day and would I be interested in doing a few hours for him? I immediately seized the opportunity and agreed. She told me that she would give him my phone number and he would contact me shortly. Sure enough, he telephoned me shortly after and an hour later, I was running his reception!
18 Two weeks later, he contacted me to ask me could I come in for a few days, and at the end of that few days, he offered me some work with the firm on contract with regard to a particular project. I worked on the project from October to the following February and on the successful conclusion of my work on the project, I was offered a Training Contract with the firm. Conclusion Finding my training contract was a long and arduous process, fraught with stress and frustration, however it was also a huge growing experience and I believe that I am the better for it. I discovered just how much I wanted to qualify as a Solicitor while fighting tooth and nail in competitive application processes, justifying why I was a better candidate for the position than the many, many others who had also applied. I learned the importance of seizing the opportunities when they present themselves and how to make the most of them. I learned that willingness to do any job (initially at least!), reliability, punctuality and a positive attitude coupled with a healthy dose of initiative and common sense is what makes all the difference to potential employers and, above all, I learned patience!! I hope reading about my experience of finding a training contract is helpful to you and I wish you the very best of luck. Trainee 13: I want to work as a commercial solicitor so I only targeted commercial firms. I applied for traineeships for over two years. I applied into the milkround twice, I was able to successfully refine my application the second time and I was called for interview in two of the top five firms. I also sent my CV out to all the small to medium commercial firms in Dublin, following up each time. Whilst I was sending out CV's, I continued to upskill my legal knowledge in IP law, mediation and I also did completed a Masters in Law at DIT. These courses were also useful for networking. I was in class with trainees and they'd recommend firms and they'd tell me about any vacancies arising. I also attended a few conferences from these courses and made some great contacts in the industry. I also did a interview skills session, which I found really useful. The biggest lesson I learnt was to remain positive and to keep actively searching for a traineeship. Trainee 14: When I was coming never the end of my degree in university I did what every other law graduate in the country does and I submitted application forms to all of the top law firms. I had not contemplated the difficulty that I would have in finding a traineeship and was very disheartened when I didn t receive any offers for interviews. This made me look at the bigger picture and I discovered I needed to do more to set myself out from the large number of applicants. In an effort to do this, I completed work experience in a number of places including in house counsel in a large organisation and a small general practice.
19 Having completed some of my FE-1 s I then re applied the following year hoping to receive a more positive response. This time around I did get one interview but unfortunately I did not get the traineeship. I then decided that I needed to do more. While I completed the rest of the FE-1 s, I also completed a mediation training course and managed to secure myself an 11 month placement as a legal assistant in a large corporation. This was a fantastic experience and gave me a great insight into the workings of a commercial legal department. When it then came to the time to apply to the large firms once more I decided to cast the net even further and I sent over 80 CV s to firms around the country from the large firms to medium and small firms. I did receive quiet a number of responses most of which apologised for not having any opportunities at this point of time. However, I did receive one positive response offering me an interview, which led to me being offered a traineeship. The process of finding a traineeship is so extremely difficult, stressful and, at times very disheartening. But making your best efforts to set yourself out from the crowd and being persistent and not giving up is the best approach to take. It worked for me! Trainee 15: My Undergraduate Degree I had the option to do Business and Legal Studies in UCD but ultimately I chose to do History in Trinity College. This choice was influenced by discussions with solicitors, who insisted that an arts degree was no bar to becoming a solicitor and therefore my college course should be something I truly enjoyed. Nevertheless I have no doubt that this degree substantially enhanced both my English writing skills and my ability to critically analyse and research large amounts of information. Postgraduate Diploma in Law ` After completing my degree in Trinity I enrolled in the postgraduate diploma in law in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The reasons I took this course of action were twofold. I wanted to gain experience of legal theory before tackling the FE-1 examinations, while simultaneously gaining a recognised legal qualification. The FE-1 Examinations After finishing my undergraduate degree I sat five FE-1 exams in October of 2007 and the remaining three in April Thankfully I passed all eight the first time around. I would attribute a significant part my success to the fact that I was able to treat studying for each set of exams as if it was a full time job.
20 Searching for a Training Contract Each year I applied to each of the big firms during the regularly scheduled milk round. I received a number of interviews with Eversheds and A&L Goodbody, but unfortunately did not secure a traineeship. It was especially tough when I got to the final round and was not successful, but looking back I can see that I learned much from those experiences and am far better at professional interviews then I once was. Separately from the formal application process I posted copies of my CV to hundreds of firms in the Dublin area. I also phoned firms directly in an effort to keep track of their status regarding the availability of traineeships and hand delivered my CVs to solicitors in the local area. While this approach ultimately proved unsuccessful, my knowledge of how best to present my competencies and qualifications in my CV was vastly improved. Work Experience with Various Firms Between college and securing my traineeship I took opportunities to get work experience with a number of smaller firms. In the summer of 2006 I worked in Ennis & Associates, a personal injuries defence firm whose primary client was Hibernian Insurance. In 2007 I worked for two months in Staines & Co., a firm specialising in legal aid criminal law. In late 2008/early 2009 I did a stint in Ledwidge Solicitors, a single solicitor general practice firm. The possibility of securing a traineeship with any of these firms was very unlikely, but it gave me the opportunity to bolster my CV, as well as a practical insight into different areas of law. Time Spent doing Volunteer Work 2009 In early 2009 I took a break from relentlessly pursuing a training contract and spent six months volunteering with the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf. I worked with adults with physical and intellectual disabilities, devising activities designed to exercise their minds and develop their social skills. For the past three years I have also served as a volunteer for the CRC School Summer Project, a summer camp for children with severe disabilities. I have found my association with the Central Remedial Clinic to be an immensely rewarding experience and I credit it with renewing my optimism with respect to my own career ambitions. LLM In September 2009 I returned to Trinity College to complete a Masters in Law. While there were many exciting legal topics to choose from, I focused upon commercial subjects such as banking law, EU financial services law, product liability and EU securities law, while completing my thesis in area of commercial health law. Internship in the Law Reform Commission While still an LLM student I heard through the Law School that the Law Reform Commission in Ballsbridge was looking for intern legal researchers for their Legislation Directory and Statute Law Restatement Departments. I applied and began work in August During my time with the LRC I learned a great deal about the importance of
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