September, 2015

Nicola Ward, careers consultant at BPP, reveals the top five qualities that you'll need to succeed in the competitive legal sector

Commercial awareness

Law firms expect their trainees to demonstrate that they're commercially aware during the application process.

To claim that you read the newspapers is not enough - you must also show an interest in business. Read the firm's website from the perspective of a potential client as well as a potential recruit, and sign up to legal publications to help you follow market trends.

Appreciating how law firms operate is vital to understanding your career prospects and being successful in gaining legal employment.


When you write an application or create your legal CV, you should consider how well you demonstrate your communication skills. If your cover letter is vague, too long or full of spelling mistakes, what would a potential client make of your letter of advice? Get advice on how to write a successful CV and cover letter.

Seize opportunities to develop your presentation skills. Gain confidence in public speaking by volunteering as the spokesperson in group work at university. Attend career workshops and employer talks, and follow the practical advice on offer. Take every opportunity to hone your communication skills and, above all else, practise.

Honesty and realism

You might like the idea of working at a City law firm or leading chambers but, if you don't have the academic grades that they require or dislike the high-pressured competitive culture, it maybe isn't for you. Don't just follow the crowd - choose the right firm or chambers to suit your preferences.

Find out how to choose a law firm and see what's out there by searching for jobs in the legal profession.


As a careers adviser and former graduate recruiter, I find that students struggle to answer the question: 'Why do you want to become a lawyer?'

There isn't one perfect answer, but yours should be based on your own experiences and insight into the profession. It's not a question of listing what you've done. Instead you must reflect upon what you learned and enjoyed. Genuine enthusiasm is never taken for granted, but it’s always expected in the recruitment process. Know that it's right for you and, if you're not sure, explore why this might be.

Resilience and self-confidence

You mustn't just be able to overcome any academic setbacks and difficulties in securing a training contract or pupillage - you must also deal with managing client needs and the challenging nature of the role.

This is a difficult career and it's not for everyone. Have the confidence to apply and re-apply if necessary, seeking and acting upon feedback. Do you need to develop your skills further or gain a better understanding of the profession? Do you know how to sell your experience against the skills required?

Many students have the potential, but just don't know how to use examples to illustrate their abilities. It takes practice to get it right.

The essential guide to studying law


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