Law graduates looking to secure a training contract are facing uncertainty, thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. With competition tougher than ever, what can you do to move your job hunt forward?

Law firms have been responding to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, with many putting a freeze on graduate recruitment or reducing their intake. As a result, competition for a place at those firms still recruiting is all the more fierce.

It is incredibly demoralising as a graduate to have worked hard to finish your studies only to be met with such a tough job market. What can you do to improve your prospects?

It’s important to remember that we have been through recessions before and come out the other side (albeit without a pandemic thrown into the mix). There will be opportunities out there but it helps to have a strategy, so we’ve put together these tips for approaching your job hunt positively.

1. Start with the right mindset

Attitude is everything!

Perhaps you are facing a marathon rather than a sprint. Once you’ve accepted this, you can focus on where you are now and what you can do to move forward. As any good athlete knows, mentally preparing yourself for the challenges ahead is the first step to winning.

Resilience is hugely important. Prepare to hear ‘no’ often. And don’t be afraid to reapply to firms who have rejected you previously – that tenacity may be the very thing that sets you apart from other candidates next time.

Let go of the pressure of where you ‘should’ be by now. Comparing yourself to friends who seem to be progressing more quickly than you, or measuring yourself against an imagined career timeline, is not going to be constructive.

Having the flexibility to adapt to a changing landscape is a valuable skill for most employers. Be open to all opportunities, even if these were not part of your original plan.

Finally, you are not alone in dealing with this. There are many people in the same position right now and many others who have been affected by turbulent economies at various points in their legal career. It can help to be honest about this and share your experiences. You will probably be surprised and reassured at the support you receive.

2. Nurture your network

This brings us to the next tip: never underestimate the power of the people around you.

Your network can be a great resource, so take stock of who you are already connected to and consider if you can reach out to them. Do you know anybody who can recommend you for a position? Or who would act as a mentor? Take up offers of help, whether this is for a chat over coffee or casting an eye over your CV and applications. Learn what firms are expecting from successful candidates now.

Keep building your network. Attend online meetings or events and follow up with the people you meet. Use LinkedIn to expand your contacts, follow the conversations happening on there and comment on relevant posts to raise your visibility. It’s also worth making use of the careers service at your university and connecting with fellow alumni.

3. Think laterally

There is more than one route to qualifying, so it’s worth approaching this creatively. It may not be the traditional path you imagined when you started your degree but there is a lot to be gained from taking a different direction.

One option is to intern for a while. This obviously gives a distinct advantage to those who are able to work for free, so it’s not a norm that we would like to see returning. But even a short internship can boost your applications.

There are alternatives, however. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) provides a way to qualify while earning. As well as being suitable for those without a degree, it offers a graduate fast-track route that involves a period of qualifying employment and work-based learning.

If you want to hold out for a training contract, consider what else you can do to get that all-important legal experience. Take a look at smaller high street firms, which may offer paralegal roles. Be flexible in your specialism if firms are not hiring for this.

Finally, don’t dismiss non-legal experience. Law firms increasingly value candidates who have a good knowledge of a particular industry or sector, while there are many transferable skills you can bring from roles within business or marketing. Volunteering is also a good choice, as this can be done alongside paid jobs and can help to build your contacts.

Remember, no experience is wasted: it is all a matter of how you can apply this to show why it will make you an asset to the firm.

4. Hone your application

With so much competition for positions, you need to make sure that your application is as strong as it can be. Every detail counts!

When your CV is landing on a desk alongside twenty to thirty others, you need to think about what is going to make it stand out. The more tailored your application, the better. It will take you longer to put together but sending generic ‘copy and paste’ applications is a false time economy. Make sure you spell out exactly how your experience fits the firm and the role you are applying for.

This is a large part of what we do when we are talking to firms about candidates. Without a recruitment team on your side, you need to advocate for yourself, which includes handling possible objections. Research the right person to contact and use your cover letter to introduce yourself and answer any questions, such as when you can start, the salary you are looking for, any gaps in your CV.

It’s also important to make sure you don’t stand out for the wrong reasons. With so many applications, firms will be looking for ways to whittle these down, so don’t give them an excuse to cast yours aside. Proofread carefully!

It may feel like you have a way to go right now but remember that there is no one route to qualifying and no time limit on this – in fact, the average age of qualification is 29, which will include those who took the traditional path as well as those who did it differently. We have met hundreds of candidates over the years, each with their own story, and it is these unique experiences that have helped them to be successful in the end.

Legal Southwest is a specialist legal recruiter, bringing together talented professionals with like-minded organisations. Take a look at our current vacancies or contact us to find out how we can help you.