On Friday 5 August, La Trobe Law school ran a workshop to help students when applying for legal traineeships. The workshop was conducted by careers expert Denise Egan, who gave students personalised feedback on their resumes and cover letters, as well as some general advice on how to best tackle their traineeship application.
To give a flavour of some of the insight provided, here are five useful tips discussed at the workshop.
1. Know what to provide, and when.
For most firms, you’ll be required to submit a cover letter, CV, academic transcript and generally answer some online questions. Make sure you know what each of these documents entail, and get them ready in time for the application deadline. Usually, traineeship applications are due by a set closing date. Organisations that are signatory to the LIV guidelines for example, close on Sunday 21 August 2016. Remember that each firm or organisation might have a different closing date, so make sure to double-check this.
2. Do your research.
As a law student, you have several resources available to you that will make hunting for a traineeship easier. Find out which organisations or firms is offer traineeships by utilising CV mail or the LTU careers guide. Also check which organisations are LIV signatories, and scour the internet for firms that may be smaller or identify as a boutique/regional firm. Then ask yourself some questions: what are some important employer aspects for you personally? What culture, size or practise areas align with your interests? Once you know what you’re looking for, research the firms you are interested in in detail. Key factors to look into can include recent cases that the firm has acted for example, or any media coverage or high-profile employees you admire. Utilise the firm’s website, social networks and legal news sources.
One thing to keep in mind is that some firms only hire trainees who have completed a seasonal clerkship with them, so if you haven’t done this for a firm, don’t waste your time crafting an application for them. Most firms will list this information on their website.
3. Structure your cover letter well.
Cover letters need to read well, and be structured logically. Write concisely, use a professional tone, check your spelling and grammar and make sure you don’t reuse cover letters – instead, tailor a cover letter to the needs of a specific law firm. If you struggle with structuring your writing, you might want to use the structure below as a guideline:
First paragraph: What specifically are you applying for? Why are you sending them your information?
Second paragraph: What attracts you to their firm and their field of law specifically? This is a good spot to showcase the research you have done on a legal firm.
Third paragraph: Identify your academic qualifications and course-related experience. List the most relevant experiences to the position for which you are applying.
Fourth paragraph: List any additional experience. In particular, list things that have allowed you to develop or broaden personal or professional skills. You could list your part-time job for example, or any placements, volunteer work or leaderships seminars you may have attended.
Fifth paragraph: Thank the reader for considering your application.
4. What about resumes?
Keep your resume concise – use reverse chronological order, include your legal experience on the first page, focus on key points and dates, and keep it to 3 pages at most. Structure your resume so it doesn’t appear cluttered. Your CV should have a clear layout that makes it easy to read. Organise information by utilising clear headings and subheadings and use dot points for details. Also don’t forget to number your pages if you include more than one.
The information you provide should be relevant – each line you include on your CV should have a clear purpose. Highlight your key skills and provide clear evidence for each of them. Use key words that reflect skills and attributes firms are looking for.
Understand that you need to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Ask yourself: what added value or potential do you have? Your achievements are a high selling point, because they indicate personal qualities and potential – things like leadership, initiative, intellect, commitment, competitiveness can all add value to the work you do for an organisation. Don’t be shy in mentioning instances where you have positively affected a project, a community, an organisation, your boss, your co-workers, or your clients. Also include any awards, commendations, publications you may have, that could show your commitment to your career objective.
5. Responding to application form questions
When you answer questions on a firm’s application form, always use direct language, and make sure you have addressed all elements formulated in the question. Include clear examples where you can, and illustrate the research you have done on this firm in any way possible. This will show your potential employer what you think sets their firm apart and it will give them an idea of why you are interested in their practice areas. When answering ‘behavioural questions’ (e.g. ‘How would your respond to the following situation?’), always provide evidence where you can. In other words: provide examples of similar situations that you may have encountered already in other professional experiences. Any examples, no matter if you draw them from any legal experience, part-time jobs or volunteering work, can help to illustrate your sense of control and initiative with a behavioral question.
Finally, remember to set enough time apart for writing your application and always ask someone else to proofread anything before submitting it. The Careers Hub at La Trobe University provides a service where you can get detailed feedback on your resumes and cover letters, so we recommend you make use of this great free service!
Good luck with your upcoming applications!