How do I make my non-law background appealing to commercial law firms?

November 25, 2021

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3 min read

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“Why do you want to be a commercial lawyer” is a question that all aspiring lawyers should expect to be asked at some point on their journey to securing a training contract at a commercial firm. This question holds even more significance when targeted at someone who did not study law at university as firms need to be sure that their trainees are committed to the legal profession. A carefully thought-out answer that pinpoints the advantages of your non-law background will make you a stronger candidate.

Highlight your transferable skills

Being a commercial lawyer is about much more than a person’s knowledge of the law. Qualities of a successful commercial lawyer include communication skills, analytical skills, attention to detail, commercial awareness and, of course, enthusiasm for the job. 

 A non-law degree will have allowed you to develop a diverse skill set which includes many of these transferable skills that are valued highly in commercial firms. This could be excellent communication skills from an English or languages degree, analytical and problem-solving skills from a STEM degree or a strong understanding of issues in the business world from an economics or business degree. All of these skills can be linked to tasks required of commercial lawyers such as data analysis, drafting documents and dealing with clients and their businesses.

Think about times in your life when you have overcome obstacles and worked hard to achieve a goal – if you have examples of these then law firms will be interested to know that you are tenacious, hardworking and have a drive to succeed. Similarly, if you’ve played a team sport, held positions of responsibility or regularly volunteer, you will be able to demonstrate soft skills that are equally valuable in the workplace.

In a competitive market where training contracts are often likened to gold dust, these transferable skills should be seen as assets and a great opportunity to set yourself apart from the hundreds of students applying to commercial firms.

Show your commitment to a conversion to law

“Why law?” is another question most students can almost certainly anticipate when applying to a law firm. While it may appear that non-law students could face difficulty when answering this question due to their choice to avoid studying law at university, a non-law student can actually use their degree choice to their advantage.

 Studying a non-law degree which keeps your career options open often means that non-law students and graduates are able to demonstrate that they have genuinely considered their career prospects and their route into law. Embarking upon an additional year of study by undertaking the GDL shows a dedication to law which does not go unnoticed by many firms.

Provided that non-law students can justify their motivations for a career in law, their commitment to the industry will be just as valid as any law student’s. Many law firms now recruit on a 50/50 basis, with 50% of their trainees being law graduates, while the other 50% come from a non-law background. You should be able to identify what fascinated you about the industry, who you have spoken to that has inspired you or given you added insights into the field and events or mentoring programmes you have joined that have solidified your resolution to pursue commercial law. Furthemore, any work experience, even if this is not in the legal sector, should help you to identify why you would be a good fit for the industry. Attending law fairs and open days, joining law societies and researching widely will enable non-law students to demonstrate that in spite of not choosing law as their degree, they are keen to pursue it as a career. Many universities now have law societies for non-law students that you can join in order to get to grips with industry whilst not yet studying law.

Remember that grades count

Many commercial firms now require candidates to obtain a minimum 2:1 at degree level in order to be considered for a training contract. Anything that makes you stand out from other applicants, such as getting first class honours – is likely to improve your chances of securing vac schemes and training contracts. Therefore, studying a subject that you are truly passionate about and excel in is a great way to achieve this competitive advantage as passion for a subject will often translate into high grades in assessments.

Report written by Lucy Reynolds

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