Wed 16 Sep 2020

Top Tips for Traineeship Applications

Isabel Salvesen shares her top tips for securing a traineeship interview.  


Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to prepare your application, bearing in mind that each application will probably take longer than you think.

Aim to submit your application well in advance of the deadline. This will give you enough time for damage control in the (unlikely) event that there any last-minute disasters. Remember, time management is a crucial quality in a lawyer; submitting an application two minutes before the deadline is not a shining example of good time management.


This is perhaps the most important tip, and yet presents the largest challenge to applicants. You might be tempted to think that all commercial law firms sound the same on paper, but the reality is that each firm considers itself to be distinct. Before preparing an application, ask yourself, why do you want to be trained at a particular organisation? What is it about this organisation that appeals to you?

The firm website is a good place to start. Firms will often explicitly state on their website what characteristics they are looking for in their recruits. The website may also give an indication of the firm culture. However, don't simply recycle wording from the website. Instead, all of your answers should be made specific to the firm by tailoring each answer to reflect its core values.

So… Do. Your. Research. Make sure you understand the work the firm does and what areas of law they specialise in. Check where the firm offices are based and consider whether you are keen to work in a particular city. Go the extra mile and clue yourself up on the big issues in their main sectors - this will enable you to demonstrate your commercial awareness.


It sounds obvious, but make you sure you answer the question. Whilst it is tempting to answer a question you wish was being asked, don't fall into this trap! Firms are looking for a clearly written answer that gets to the heart of the question.


When you are identifying your strengths, be realistic and honest about yourself. Try not to exaggerate - don't say you are fluent in Spanish when in fact you have only dabbled in Duolingo. Aside from being easy to spot, firms are trying to determine whether you will be a good fit. This is a two-way street; it is not worth exaggerating or lying if the end result is training at a firm which isn't right for you.


It is easy to identify a desirable quality and claim that you have it. The challenge is convincing firms that you actually possess these qualities. How can you do this?

If you claim you have a particular skill, make sure you evidence this with specific examples. The STAR method is a useful tool for making sure your examples are personal, real and relevant.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This structured response is helpful when answering competency based questions (easy to spot because they tend to start "Tell me about a time when…").

For example, to answer "Tell me about a time when you solved a problem at work."

1 - Situation

Describe the situation you were in

I worked in a bar.

2 - Task

Explain the task you had to complete

I was asked to carry out a review of the stock.

3 - Action

Describe the actions you took to complete the task

I developed an excel spreadsheet which was able to compare and contrast information in a quick and easy format.

4 - Result

Finish with the effort of your results

As a result, we found that we were able to save money because we had better stock management through the new system.


There is no need to panic if you don't have years of legal work experience dominating your CV. Firms are interested in well-rounded individuals who can draw on a range of experiences. Any skills which you have developed whilst working part-time or running a society will be useful as a trainee solicitor. For example, working behind the bar at your local pub demonstrates that you can engage with customers, perform under pressure and work well in a team. These are all skills which you will use as a trainee solicitor.


You don't want to fall at the last hurdle. It is a lawyer's professional responsibility to get the details right. There is no place for poor spelling and grammar on an application form. If you are at university, use the careers services to check your application. If you don't have access to a careers service, ask a friend or family member to check your application.


De Beers' USP is that a diamond lasts forever. Prue Leith's USP is her huge array of stylish glasses. So what is your USP? What differentiates you from other candidates? If you ask yourself this question and make sure that your USP is clear throughout your application, you can be sure that you will stand out from the crowd.

For more information about our traineeships, visit our dedicated page.

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