September-December is the season of the year when law firms usually descend on campuses around the UK, laden with branded freebies, wielding experience and insight all in the name of networking. We’re now drawing to the close of application windows. Recently I caught up with Sophie, one of the Trainee Recruitment advisors at Linklaters to get her views on how students can best tackle the milkround…

Sophie, thanks so much for catching up, I know it’s a busy season for the graduate recruitment team at the moment with applications and law fairs. What stage are we at now? Are applications open and if so what options are open to university students?

Hi Kim – it’s been a very different milkround this year, but still incredibly busy! We are coming towards the end of our events and the end of the application window for Spring and Summer Vacation Schemes, 2023 Training Contract and our international Training Contracts.

Are these opportunities just for law students, or undergraduate students?

All our opportunities are open to both law and non-law students! In fact, around 40% of our intake are from a non-law background. Our vacation schemes and training contracts are also open to penultimate-year students and beyond, which includes graduates, postgrads and career changers. For any first years, we have a two-day insight programme called Pathfinder which will be opening on 4 January 2020.

In terms of when to apply, do you have any advice for students? Are applications generally reviewed by firms as they come in or once the deadline has passed or does this vary across the profession?

At Linklaters, we do not recruit on a rolling basis. This means that we wait until the deadline has passed before making any decisions about who to invite through to an assessment day. Therefore, there is no need to rush your application. I’d also encourage you to be ready to take the Watson Glaser critical thinking test when you submit your application and online assessment with us, as you will need to complete this within 5 days.

Some firms do recruit on a rolling basis, so I would highly recommend checking with the firms you plan to apply to.

Are there any common weaknesses you see in applications which students can easily be aware of and avoid?

Yes, that’s correct that application processes can vary from online assessments, to a CV and cover letter, or lengthy application form. At Linklaters our application process is made up of three parts:

  • A short online application form asking for basic information.
  • An online assessment consisting of 6 modules which gives a real-life job preview. This is untimed and will roughly take 60-90 minutes.
  • The Watson Glaser critical thinking test which is also untimed.

My advice to applicants would be to write a list of things which they are looking for from their career and from their employer. Then, spend time researching and speaking to people to find out which firms match your list – this should help to narrow it down and enable you to make a few really strong applications. Familiarise yourself with the application process of each firm and make sure you’ve understood what they are looking for (at Linklaters we set this out in our agile mindset framework which can be found here).

At some point, either during the application stage or at an assessment day, you’ll be asked ‘Why us?’. This is your chance to show some specific and well researched motivations and where your list will come in handy!

Applications aren’t the only thing graduate recruitment have been busy with! I know you’ve been busy with various law fairs – how have you found those, particularly being virtual during COVID?

I think the virtual law fairs have been fantastic – it’s meant we’ve still been able to speak to lots of students not just in the UK, but also globally. It has also allowed us to speak to a much wider pool of students from universities across the country, which we might not have been able to visit in person.

How should students be using these fairs and networking opportunities more generally? It’s easy to get into a mindset where you don a blazer and heels (both optional!) and try and sell yourself and/or try to ask a standout question that makes people from a firm remember you… is that the aim of law fairs and how should students approach them to get the most out of them?

Events (both in-person or virtual) should be seen as an opportunity for students to find out more about a firm and help them decide who to apply to and why. Students shouldn’t be worried about trying to stand out or ask a question which has never been asked before (chances are they have been!). Instead, spend some time before attending a session and write down a few things that you are hoping to learn from the event. This will help you to think of questions and ensure you make the most of it.

I imagine that law fairs can involve lots of the same questions being fired at you… I know I always tried to operate on the premise that if you can Google it, don’t ask it, but are there questions which students should avoid asking and on the other hand questions which are particularly valuable and/or noticeable when students do ask them?

I think the main challenge for students has been a reluctance/nervousness to turn their video on. We aren’t looking at your background and wouldn’t expect you to be dressed smartly for an event. For those who have a video, I would highly recommend putting it on as it is much easier to engage with someone you can see.

I agree with your approach, I always think it is worth looking at our careers website first and seeing if your question has been answered there. Think about what you aren’t able to find out online e.g. firm culture, personal experience, tips for success etc.

With applications under way I guess that interviews will be starting before too long for various schemes. What can students be doing ahead of those to best prepare and perform well in their interviews?

Absolutely, the bulk of our assessment days will be taking place throughout Jan and Feb. Students should be starting to think about the following:

  • How can you best demonstrate your enthusiasm and motivation for a career in commercial law and at Linklaters (or whoever you have applied to!).
  • Commercial understanding – what is it and how can you develop it? Pick a few sectors/deals/trends that you’re genuinely interested in and follow them in the press, read around them and develop your own opinion. Put yourself in the shoes of the CEO and consider what they might be thinking about.
  • Understand the role that you’re applying for e.g. the role of a trainee. Speak to trainees at events and sign up to our virtual internship to experience it for yourself (
  • Think about the different experiences you have (part time jobs, positions of responsibility, work experience, extracurriculars etc.) and how you can use them to demonstrate the skills and attributes that a firm is looking for.

Lots of students (myself included!) will probably have experienced rejection at some stage in the applications process. What would you say to someone who has been unsuccessful in their applications – what actions should they be taking next and could they apply again?

Rejection is normal and something that everyone experiences, so try not to be disheartened by it. Make sure to gather all the feedback you can – whether it’s a copy of your Watson Glaser test report or a feedback call following an assessment day. Most firms will say that someone will need to wait until the next recruitment period (e.g. the following year or summer Training Contract window) before reapplying.

All of this research, networking, applying and interviewing is ultimately directed towards getting onto a scheme at a law firm. If are ultimately successful, what can students expect, how should they prepare and what can they do to make the most of that opportunity?

Our schemes are either two or four weeks long and you’ll sit with a principal and get to experience real work. You’ll also attend numerous overview and information sessions, work in groups on a client pitch exercise, and take part in some assessed projects. There will also be plenty of opportunity to network with your fellow vac schemers and with a range of people from the firm.

The best thing you can do to make the most of the opportunity is to ask questions (when appropriate of course). Showing you are interested and enthusiastic about the work and firm is important and asking questions is a great way of demonstrating this. It will also help you develop your understanding and put you in the best possible position to get a training contract at the end of the scheme.