March 28 2021

Advice from a future trainee solicitor

Alanna Gardella, a future trainee solicitor, has kindly written this piece for DUWIB about her experiences applying to commercial law firms and being a part of the Aspiring Solicitors AS Aspire programme. We hope you enjoy reading her advice and insights!

My name is Alanna Gardella, and I am a future trainee solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills! In this short piece I will talk about my experience getting a training contract and some brief advice I have for anyone looking to go into commercial law.

I am a first-generation university student, the first in my family to go into the legal industry and I come from a low-socio economic background. When I started at Durham, I had an idea that I wanted to be a solicitor, but I had no idea what type of law I wanted to go into. So, in the summer of my first year at university I researched different areas and commercial law stood out as the most exciting and fast-paced. It was then that I applied for the Aspiring Solicitors AS Aspire programme. Before being accepted onto this programme I always felt that it would be impossible for me to get into commercial law, especially as someone from my background with no contacts in the industry. However, I realised that there are so many people who can give advice. If not Aspiring Solicitors, there are many other coaching programmes such as Rare Recruitment and Strive. Through the AS Aspire program, I was advised on writing a good CV and cover letter, choosing which firms to apply to, as well as one-to-one mentoring from professional coaches (my coach being Zoe Brown who was lovely!), lawyers and the ability to go to industry and specific law firm events. I couldn’t recommend applying more if you are eligible. This just shows that if you work hard and look for the help that is available, you can get your dream job.

In addition, I have found that LinkedIn is an invaluable source as you can directly message others who have been accepted onto vacation schemes or other programmes you are applying for, and you can directly ask them about the interview process and tips for doing well. People genuinely don’t mind and are usually happy to help! 

Looking back, the firms I applied to for vac schemes in second year didn’t have much in common and I wasn’t quite sure what my reasons were for applying to some of them. I would advise you to thoroughly think about the reason why you want to apply to a specific firm. I know everyone says this, but it genuinely is important! If they ask about why you want to come to this firm in an application or interview, think about whether your answer would make you stand out from others. Think about why you are applying; maybe all the firms specialise in a specific area, perhaps they strongly value diversity etc. 

Some other things I have learned from receiving rejections are that commercial awareness and good competency and motivation answers are key. My top tips for commercial awareness are to listen to podcasts, follow commercial awareness Instagram pages, subscribe to newsletters such as Watson’s Daily as well as reading the news and understanding how it fits into the wider commercial landscape and what role a law firm might play. One book that is great is ‘All You Need to Know about the City’. With competency questions, I think it is key to draw on a wide range of experiences, thinking of things that will make you stand out, but which show a wide range of skills. For instance, some examples I used were from my part time job in Marks and Spencer and my volunteering at Citizens Advice.

I hope I have given some very brief advice to any aspiring solicitors! Feel free to contact me if you want any help or further tips. Good luck!