Trainee blog: How to bounce back from training contract rejection

"It is with regret that we must inform you that your application has not been shortlisted on this occasion… "

The dreaded rejection email.

If you have started on your training contract application journey, the odds are that you will have received a similar email from graduate recruitment at some point. There are very few, if any, applicants who will not receive at least one rejection on their training contract journey.

According to entry trends published by The Law Society, in the period between 2020 and 2021, over 21,000 UK students were accepted onto undergraduate law degree courses across England and Wales. That is in stark contrast to the number of training contracts which were registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority during the same period – just under 5,500 places. It would be fair to say that the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture.

However, don't despair! Rejection forms an important part of the process and in many respects, it provides a valuable opportunity for applicants to develop their skills and reflect on any weaknesses in their application. It is important that we take a moment to recognise that the pursuit of an ever-elusive training contract is a challenging process which requires applicants to demonstrate resilience and tenacity.

With that in mind, I hope to provide an honest reflection of my own training contract journey whilst also providing practical tips on how an applicant might approach their next training contract application after receiving a rejection.

Taking the scenic route

The path to securing my training contract was far from straightforward. In fact, it took me several years before I managed to obtain my training contract with Michelmores.

I made my first set of training contract applications during my second year of university. I remember feeling out of my depth and daunted by the entire process. I rushed my applications in the hope of blindly firing off as many as possible. Looking back on them now, my applications were generic, poorly thought-out and made without any genuine consideration as to why I wanted a career in law, let alone my motivations for joining that particular firm. It will not come as a surprise to hear that those applications did not make it past the first hurdle.

The rejections left me feeling sceptical that I would ever succeed in securing a training contract. I made the decision to focus on my studies and finish my degree.

After graduating, I remained convinced that I wanted a career in law – I just felt that I needed some practical work experience and the time to properly approach the application forms. I managed to secure myself a legal assistant role at a firm in my home city, before joining Michelmores as a paralegal in their Commercial & Regulatory Disputes team. Obtaining paralegal experience made a real difference to my training contract applications. I felt confident in the sense that I had developed my skillset, experience and commercial knowledge which put me in a good position to prepare and submit quality applications.

Eventually, I was successful and I hope this has illustrated that the training contract journey is very rarely a smooth process. There will be bumps along the way. The key, in my opinion, is to maintain focus on your long-term goals, to be consistent - and to try, try and try again.

The rejection email

So, you've received the dreaded rejection email. What do you do now?

Keeping the above in mind, remember that it is a challenging process which is designed to test one's resilience and determination to embark on a career in law. Try not to take the rejection personally - whether this is the first stage, or the last, graduate recruitment will have carefully considered your application before making the decision.

When you're ready, make sure to read the rejection email in full. There might be an opportunity to receive feedback on your application either by phone or by email. If the firm says it that it doesn't offer feedback, it may be worthwhile sending an email to graduate recruitment to see if they might consider taking the time to provide you with feedback on your application. Even if it is only a high-level review, it gives you an idea of what went wrong and where you can improve next time.

It is worth mentioning that it is not always possible for graduate recruitment to provide feedback due to the number of applications that some firms receive.

If/when you receive feedback, make sure to take a note of this and store it somewhere safe so that you can refer back to it ahead of your next application.

Looking ahead – tips for your next application

The next step is to think about the feedback you have received and implement changes.

The Training Contract Application Form

Consider the following things before you click the 'submit' button:

1. Check to make sure that you understand the firm's entire application process from start to finish. Make a note of key deadlines and make sure that you are in a position to submit ahead of time.

2. Have you attended any of the firm's open days? These are genuinely great opportunities for you to spend some quality facetime with the firm's graduate recruitment team, the current trainees and senior lawyers.

Come prepared with a list of sensible questions. Think about what you want to learn about the firm. What is the firm's culture? Who are the clients?  What sectors or practise areas does the firm cover? What is the trainee experience like?

You may be interested to learn that at Michelmores, trainees are often asked to provide positive feedback on candidates.

3. Have you connected to or followed the firm on LinkedIn? LinkedIn is a good source of information for your application and firms tend to be active in promoting their recent work and client wins. It is also a good chance to reach out to the firm's current trainees to follow up and ask questions.

4. Have you honestly thought through your application strategy?

How many firms are you applying to? Are you focusing on a small number of City heavyweights, or are you hoping to fire off applications to every firm you've ever come across?

There is not necessarily a wrong or right answer here. In my experience, the number of firms is not important, but the quality of your application must be excellent. You need to ensure you invest the time doing your research into the firm and to make sure that the application is properly considered and tailored.

5. Are you using a generic template for each application? While I accept there is use in having a good basic template sketching out your education, work experience and examples demonstrating your skillset… be careful not to 'copy and paste' from one application to the next. At best, graduate recruitment will criticise your application for being too generic. At worst, you might refer to a different firm in your application.

6. Have you done your research? While it might be inviting to skip through the firm's website and the likes of Legal Cheek. In truth, this should be the absolute minimum.

Check out the firm's Chambers and Legal 500 submissions for an idea of the type of work and clients the firm is involved with. Keep an eye out for recent news or publications by the firm. Think about the firm's position in the market, its competition and its unique selling point.

If you're considering applying to Michelmores, we would also strongly recommend you check out some of the excellent articles on our trainee blog.

7. Are you being asked to demonstrate a certain skillset? If so, think about which skills are relevant and applicable to the role of a trainee. Is the question testing you on your motivation for a career in law? In which case, think about how you can provide a compelling and justifiable answer.

8. Triple check your application for spelling and grammar. Read it backwards. Don't give graduate recruitment an easy excuse to reject your application!

Ask at least one other person to read your application before you send. It is always worth having a fresh pair of eyes, even if it is just to provide a sense-check. 

9. Make sure to include any volunteering, work experience and part time jobs. The role itself is not necessarily as important as the skills you have developed out of it.

For more excellent tips, have a read of Matthew Cordwent's article on how to write a strong application.

Psychometric Tests

Many law firms include a psychometric test designed to provide graduate recruitment with an objective measurement of your skills and personality traits. These can range from Watson-Glaser tests through to complex, bespoke applications designed solely for one specific firm.

For the likes of the more traditional Watson-Glaser-type tests, practice is the key. Consider searching online for one of the many free practice tests. Alternatively, there are practice books available to purchase.

The Assessment Centre

Make sure you understand what tasks you will be involved in throughout the assessment day. Sometimes these tasks might be withheld until the last minute, in which case you should take the time to make sure you understand what is being asked of you.

At the same time, it is important to be conscious of what skills are being tested on each task. For example, a group exercise task is designed to test your teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills. A written exercise is designed to test your ability to form well-structured prose without spelling or grammatical mistakes. An article discussion is designed to test your ability to think creatively, critically and commercially.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to the other candidates on the day. Remember that each candidate has been chosen on their own merits and that the assessment day is not designed to be a competition, rather an opportunity for you to display your skills and commitment to the firm. More than one attendee can be successful so try to bring out the best in others.

For more top tips on how to prepare for assessment days and vacation schemes, check out our article.

Hopefully having read this you will feel ready and motivated to take on your next application. It would be fair to say that the training contract application process is a challenging rite of passage for any future solicitor. However, it only takes one YES to make it worthwhile.

Applications for our training contracts and summer vacation scheme are open:

  • Spring Assessment Day deadline: 31 January 2023
  • Summer Vacation Scheme deadline: 31 January 2023
  • Summer Assessment Day deadline: 31 May 2023

If you have any questions regarding the contents of this article or if you would like to discuss the Michelmores training contract in general terms, please do feel free to contact Alex Ricketts on LinkedIn.