Getting a Training Contract by Blogging: Mission Impossible

In September of this year, I was asked by a journalist to answer some questions on the use of social media in my fledgling legal career. He had been very excited when I told him of my training contract offer back in February, because “the storyteller in him liked the idea of a training contract obtained via the internet”. I was aware of this when I agreed to be interviewed, and thought that I might get the chance to shatter this particular illusion.

We chatted for a while, and I explained that despite my being quite proud of being published on one occasion prior to receiving my offer, most of my blogging had been done post-offer and in any case, my interviewers were not in the least bit interested in my writing. I explained that they were far keener to explore the personality-based parts of my CV, particularly leadership roles such as being the captain of a cricket club. During this part of the conversation, he reminded me that the focus of the article was social media; apparently, the truth was not on-message enough.

I felt happy to have set the record straight, and was therefore slightly taken aback, but admittedly not entirely shocked, when this article appeared following our discussion. I will not go into the fuss that followed – others, particularly the highly-respected legal blogger Charon QC, have dealt with the issue far better than I could or would. I want to deal with the problems that this falsehood might cause for prospective trainees.

Recently I received the following question on Twitter:

I responded that of course this was not the case, saying that unfortunately there is no shortcut available for those of us who want to become solicitors with any type of firm, particularly city firms with strict recruitment procedures and cycles. Where might the questioner get such an idea?

Students need to know that blogging or tweeting WILL NOT directly get them a training contract. How could it possibly do so? It is not something that is measurable or quantifiable, nor is it something that one can easily put on a CV. If you walk into an interview and are desperate to rely on the fact that you have X number of Twitter followers in order to land yourself a training contract, you might as well not be there. Not even people who are actually on Twitter would be impressed by that, never mind a partner in a big firm who believes it to be a timewasting enterprise only meant for narcissistic celebrities.

When the journalist repeats his mistaken belief that somehow it’s possible that anyone, let alone me, can obtain a city training contract just by their online activities, it encourages people to devote time into an area that simply will not pay dividends for them in the way they hope it will. Of course, there are auxiliary benefits to an online presence, such as the confidence that being taken seriously by the ever-expanding list of extremely impressive tweeters can give an applicant (as was the case with me), but saying that writing a blog is a route to a training contract is simply wrong. Repeating this claim to people who are looking for advice on what to do is actually irresponsible, as they will divert their time and energy away from building a CV that will be worthy of the offer they dream of.

Students – please do not place all of your eggs in the wrong basket. And magazines, Law Societies, newspapers – please do not repeat these claims.

And as for the journalist in question: stop writing this nonsense. You have been told countless times by numerous people, and I am telling you again. Your words are false. Your ‘spin’ is incorrect. You clearly do not understand trainee recruitment. I am flattered that you think that my blog is worthy of a training contract, but you are the only one who believes this to be the case. I am not even close to being the best exponent of this particular medium. When you write ridiculous paragraphs like this one:

But do these blogs actually get students training contracts and pupillages? To date, the only example I know of a student landing a job through their blog is Ashley Connick, a GDL student who, after failing in previous application rounds, built a re-vamped CV around his online writing activities – and netted a TC at a magic circle law firm. Surely, though, at a time when law firms are anxious to improve their engagement with blogging and tweeting – and bring in recruits with expertise in this area – there’ll be more Connick-style successes in the future.

you serve only to show yourself to be out of touch. Until you have seen my CV, you cannot allege that I have built it “around my online writing activities” – I did not. I hate to break it to you, but a “Connick-style” success is the same as anyone else’s success in this endeavour – one through the standard channels of city law firm recruitment.

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About Ashley Connick
Ashley Connick is a trainee solicitor at an international law firm. For a full profile, please visit the "About the Author" section of the blog.

12 Responses to Getting a Training Contract by Blogging: Mission Impossible

  1. Adam Wagner says:

    And it won’t get you a pupillage either!

    Of course, that is not to say it won’t help – if what you write is sensible and well respected – or hinder, if what you write is badly researched or reasoned.

    It may get you noticed by a firm or chambers which has so many good candidates that it doesn’t know how to distinguish between them. But a foot in the door, or useful background, is about as useful as it will be.

    My advice for any law students tweeting or blogging is to only do it if you find it interesting, fun and it increases your understanding of the law.

    You don’t have to get everything right, but as with any published article, you need to make your best efforts to confirm that everything you write is justifiable by evidence. A good discipline is that whenever you make a statement of law or fact, you try to link to a reliable source (e.g. a law report, newspaper or established blog) which backs you up. If you still get it wrong, at least you have made a real effort not to.

    This is exactly the same discipline when making a submission in court, and it is a good one to get into sooner rather than later – for prospective barristers, it will save you some (but not all) judicial tellings off.

    Also, try not to be too opinionated until you are confident and knowledgeable enough that your opinion is worth expressing to the world. This is an easy trap to fall into, as every blogger knows that the more controversial a post, the more attention it will get. But don’t get mixed up between respect and notoriety. The internets love nothing more than to get exercised at how silly a blog post is – it’s a standard Twitter trope and you really don’t want to be on the receiving end if you want to be considered a serious potential lawyer.

    In conclusion, don’t publish anything which you wouldn’t be happy for a potential (and knowledgable) employer to pick over in an interview. That is a high bar, but it is a necessary one.

  2. Derrick says:

    Anyone vaguely familiar with the application process will be aware of the necessary attributes, and on that basis, I really don’t think there’s any need to give any further attention to Aldridge’s writings…

  3. colmmu says:

    Ashley, I am glad you have set the record straight on this issue, not because of the irresponsible original reporting of Alex Aldridge who it would appear never likes facts to get in the way of a “good story” (maybe he went to same journalism school as Johann Hari?), it is important because it has sent a misconception out to prospective trainees about blogging and Twitter.

    As you correctly state, there isn’t a question in the recruitment rounds about number of followers or what your Klout score is – it won’t get you a job in and of itself. The dynamics of networking theory (online or otherwise) dictate that you have to put a lot into it in order to take anything out and you can never take out a full job. It’s all about loose coupling in networks and what students can get from it is gems and discussion from a wide diversity of people in the legal industry.

    For me the “commercial awareness” one can get from following and reading people like @kilroyt, @legalbizzle or @legalbrat (to name just a few) is great, it can be a way for students to get insight into the world of law in a working sense that could not easily be achieved by guest talks at uni or law school and cannot seem to be covered well by legal publications.

    Additionally I believe tweetups have been very good for students to interact in an informal way with wide range of practitioners (it’s equally important for practitioners to hear from future prospects).

    Sadly, there is no magic formula in any profession but I have always found that those who engage, are inquisitive, humble and learn about multiple areas of how the profession works tend to be the more interesting and successful ones and that probably has more impact on why you got a TC than Twitter.

  4. Tom says:

    It would be awfully nice if the Graun stopped giving a platform to that buffoon Aldridge.

  5. kris says:

    I’d forgotten about the brohaha earlier this year! As I mentioned then, it’s a bit of a cheap shot to suggest a blog, however sterling, “got you a training contract”. Getting noticed by a section of lawyers does not equate to getting the sale – so to speak.

    You might meet some wonderful people – and put faces to names at a tweet up – but again, I would be amazed if someone said, “Oh, so *you’re* @legalgenius! Let me give you a job”!.

    Unfortunately, the secret is to get some legal experience that you can continue to build upon which eventually is so attractive that a firm thinks it’s good value to hire and keep you.

    *simples*

    Yours sincerely

    Bemused of @stokenewington

  6. BrettTechLawyer says:

    I agree with Colmmu and Tom.

  7. I would be extremely surprised if any magic circle firm awarded a training contract on the basis of a potential trainee’s online activities. If anything it may well count against you.

    It is, as we all know, the smaller firms who understand and effectively use social media/blogs. Trainees in waiting will (via appropriate online activities) be more likely to bring themselves to the attention of those firms (and remember those firms are very much a minority). It provides a networking opportunity that could well lead to getting yourself in front of a firm looking for a trainee (although having said that the smaller firms are less likely to be taking on trainees anyway). But that is merely a stepping stone. You will still need to prove yourself well beyond your online credentials.

    If I were actively looking for a trainee there is a handful of Scottish law students who would come to mind as potential trainees. They are the ones who I tweet with and/or whose blogs I read. They have created top of mind awareness in a way that the countless CVs that cross my desk via post and/or e-mail could never do (just the other day I received a traineeship application via Twitter). There is a good chance that I would approach those top of mind law students and ask them in for an interview. But then I am probably very much in a small minority of Scottish solicitors that would look at things in this way. It would not be advisable for potential trainees to put all their efforts into online activities in the hope of attracting the attention of that small minority (who may not have training places available anyway).

    I do think, however, that online activities by young lawyers will stand them in good stead whether or not it may lead to a training contract. So they should not be discouraged from pursuing such activities as long as they realise that there is more to being a successful lawyer than being IT savvy.

    Earlier this year I gave a talk to students on the Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow on the benefits of Personal Branding:-

    http://www.inksters.com/itandmarketinginthelegalprofession.aspx

    This does, of course, apply as much to old lawyers who did their training contracts many moons ago ;-)

  8. Wow. Something genuinely interesting happens in legal Twitter/Blog land beyond the vacuous RT’s tedious #FF, endless one way broadcasting and routine back patting..at last.

    My sense is, and this is based upon the tiny handful of people I trust and respect (aka my social network) in this space, that you are a straight up guy. I laughed when that article came out, partly cos it appealed to my cheeky mischievious nature but partly because of the initial reaction(s) as people grappled with how to respond publicly/socially. I did think at the time, “blimey even I wouldn’t write that.” Then it dropped off my radar, then it came back on this evening.

    Everyone can claim to be a technologist, a social media expert and yes even a journalist/writer these days. People with no real journalist track record or qualifications can jump the queue because they did something really controversial. They wrote good content that others enjoyed…I am looking at you @_millymoo Content (value in old money) wins. Always. Bad content ultimately kills you (or at least renders you irrelevant). The fact is though jumping the queue can piss people off in the queue. Just to mess with your minds guys…why do we have a queue? Clue we don’t anymore, you just think we do.

    Anyway…….

    But you know what I like about this article? This has bothered you, challenged your integrity and reputation and you have played to your strengths and advocated (is that the right word cos I am one of those dumbass ‘customers’ ‘consumers’) your opinion, pretty eloquently in my interpretation. You stood up, you made a stand, you set the record straight, you walk away with dignity intact and enhanced in the eyes of people like me who don’t really know you.

    You have, as the social media term goes, self-formed to solve a problem from the fringes and people for various reasons have joined your ‘tribe’ for as long or short as they choose aka supporting you because they believe you are right.

    Now the next stage comes. Does this run and run? Twitter et al can be evil on victims, truly evil.

    I am sure my aforementioned social network will keep me updated.

    ps any suggests for Friday Tweet of the week anyone?

  9. Hi Ashley. Good blog (and welcome back).

    I was involved in the process of reviewing candidates for trainee positions at a top 20 city law firm as recently as August. Based on my experience, Aldridge’s assertion must be nonsense.

    As you know, there’s a regimented process. Initial screening of candidates selected from CVs involved an interview by a senior associate such as myself and an HR representative, then various tests. The best were then selected for a further interview by 2 or more partners – always from a panel who interviewed many candidates so there was consistency and candidates’ relative merits could be weighed. There is no alternative to that process.

    If you ask any of the big law firms how much it costs them to train someone, you’d be surprised by the answer. It’s hundreds of thousands of pounds. The firms are well aware of that and do not take hiring decisions lightly. The number of applicants far outnumber the positions available and the process is designed to make sure that the firms choose the best of the applicants.

    I believe that blogging wouldn’t have been given any more weight on the CV than any other hobby. As you point out, the firms are interested in evidence of leadership and team work, personality (can I work with this person, can we put them in front of a client?), analytical ability, and a commitment to law (specifically, at the firm doing the interviewing). You would only have been awarded a training contract because of your ability to demonstrate that you have these traits through your CV and training contract interviews.

    I think Adam’s approach is sound: blog only if you find it interesting, fun and it increases your understanding of the law.

    But I can see how blogging could benefit a candidate – albeit not in the way that Aldridge suggests. Blogging on legal topics is likely to help you keep abreast of recent legal developments and hone your ability to explain and discuss them in a logical and coherent fashion. And from my experience as an interviewer, that’s a skill that will stand you in good stead in a training contract interview.

  10. Pingback: Accuracy is not an aspiration for journalists and law bloggers. It is a requirement when reporting or commenting on serious issues. « Charon QC

  11. Michael says:

    Good job on setting the record straight, Ashley. :-)

    I’ve said it over on Charon’s blog, but it’s worth repeating here: I think it’s all about the google juice.

    If it gets more hits, accuracy can be diluted, stories massaged into a state which gives them more click-appeal and non-factual elements whipped up until they’re something much more than they should be. It’s all a question of extent, isn’t it? It’s a fine line between giving a story some polish to produce compelling material and misreporting facts. If this were 2003 we might have even been using the phrase ‘sexed up’ here.

    I don’t agree with this approach, neither does it square well with a journalist’s duty to report accurately. But it happens.

    Of course, some are more guilty of it than others…

  12. Pingback: Sweet Tweet? – Elizabeth Cruickshank and Penny Cooper « Lawbore Future Lawyer

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