Law firms tend to have a very clear idea what they’re looking for. These are called “competences“. ‘Situational judgement tests’ look at competencies.
Qualities might include the following.
Outstanding problem-solving skills
Do you have the mental agility and intellectual rigour to analyse problems and apply this analysis to develop novel, unexpected solutions?
The problems you face can be large or small, simple or complex, and easy or difficult to solve. Regardless of the nature of the problems, a fundamental part of every trainee lawyer’s role is finding ways to solve them. So, being a confident problem solver will be really important to your success a trainee lawyer.
Much of that confidence comes from having a good process to use when approaching a problem. There are various methodologies which you could use to improve your ‘problem solving’ ability: the ‘Mindtools’ website http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_00.htm. With a consistent method, arguably, you can solve problems quickly and effectively. Without one, your solutions may be ineffective, or you’ll get stuck and do nothing, with sometimes painful consequences.
They suggest there are are four basic steps in problem solving:
- Defining the problem.
- Generating alternatives.
- Evaluating and selecting alternatives.
- Implementing solutions.
Steps 2 to 4 of this process are covered in depth in other areas of Mind Tools. For these, see our sections on Creativity for step 2 (generating alternatives); Decision Making for step 3 (evaluating and selecting alternatives); and Project Management for step 4 (implementing solutions).
Are you naturally inquisitive with an openness to new ideas and the initiative to turn them into practical results? Initiative is often misunderstood because it is simply not about meeting performance goals or targets; it’s often about going the extra mile. Initiative may be about identifying a need and championing a solution for the benefit of the law firm, without being asked to do so. Initiative involves a sense of responsibility for the company’s well-being and a few guiding principles. Initiative is about taking steps to make the law firm better, and not about wasting time tackling unimportant matters. To make the distinction, try determining the impact a certain action would make on your team’s performance, the company’s bottom-line or the company’s long-term vision.
An excellent, friendly, article on showing initiative is here, http://uk.askmen.com/money/professional_100/137_professional_life.html.
Commitment to excellence
Do you hold yourself to the highest standards of performance even when the going is tough? And are you passionate about continuously raising and refining your own performance levels? Do you persevere when pursuing a project, but remain flexible if there are obstacles in your way?
Every member of a corporate law firm, it’s felt, must strive to achieve and maintain the highest professional and personal standards, thereby enhancing both the competence and cohesion of that law firm. You might find it helpful to read carefully the Code of Conduct for Solicitors (2007) at this stage, from the Solicitors Regulation Authority: http://www.sra.org.uk/rules/ . It is really important that you make every effort to stay in good physical or mental health for our own health and well-being and also as a personal responsibility towards people you work for/with. It is our responsibility to develop our own and others’ professional understanding of how air corporate law is most effectively applied and how it can remain relevant and capable in contemporary environments.
Strong communication and negotiation skills
Can you communicate fluently, clearly and concisely? Persuade and negotiate with others in both group and individual situations? Make complex information understandable to clients? What will you do if you find there are problems with communication?
You may find it interesting to look at the following resources:
Improving negotiation skills for professionals (from the ‘Harvard Negotiation Project’): http://www.pon.harvard.edu/free-reports/
Communication skills: “Law school essentially teaches future lawyers nothing about good communication skills. Here’s what junior lawyers need to know to excel”. http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202424031318&slreturn=1
Do you have the confidence to collaborate, seek feedback, share ideas and build credibility through your interaction other people?
An excellent overview of the relevance of teamwork to legal reruitment, and beyod, is given on the page: http://www.wikijob.co.uk/wiki/teamwork. Candidates with good teamwork skills are able to see the bigger picture and grasp the concept that employers value the outcome achieved by a group, more than that achieved by any one person.
There is a well-known model of working in groups, which you may be interested in:
Often quoted, Bruce Tuckman’s classic description of the stages of group development is easy to understand and remember, but it helps to go back and look at what’s behind each stage. Tuckman is a respected educational psychologist who first described the (then) four stages of group development in 1965, soon after leaving Princeton. Looking at the behaviour of small groups in a variety of environments, he recognised the distinct phases they progress through, and suggested they need to experience all four stages before they achieve maximum effectiveness.
Organised, with keen addition-to-detail
Can you manage your own workload, stay organised under pressure, pay attention to detail and be relied on to complete each task accurately and completely?
Corporate law firms need trainees who can handle both the small and large parts of a task. Such individuals won’t overlook what needs to be done and can be depended on to do each task accurately and completely. The following website page from the University of North Caroline offers an useful checklist about what might be included in ‘attention-to-detail’:
For example, the trainee solicitor:
- Keeps a project checklist, covering all the details that might be overlooked.
- Checks, and rechecks work for mistakes before sending out.
- Follows procedures exactly to make sure all parts of a job are completed.
- Compares finished work to what is expected.
- Performs routine or repetitious tasks with care and attention.
- Reviews work carefully for completeness and accuracy.
- Makes sure equipment is working before it is needed in a project.
Examples of questions for the ‘situational judgement test’
88 individuals took the LegalAware SJT test, and here is a breakdown of the results. This is described in a blogpost on the LegalAware blogpost, http://legal-aware.org/2011/09/legalaware-the-situational-judgment-test-a-test-used-by-clifford-chance-and-eversheds/.
EQ1 You are a trainee. You find that a document summarising the background of a client, which your Managing Associate has prepared and circulated to your group, contains some factual errors about the client. You know the client’s history well as you once did a research project on them at University. You are at a meeting, with your Managing Associate and Partner present. Which of the following courses of action do you take?
Half-way through the group meeting present your own Powerpoint presentation outlining the Managing Associate’s mistakes. (0%)
Have a private word with the Managing Associate early on in the meeting, to ask what he would advise. (91%)
Immediately seek the attention of the Partner to express your concerns. (9%)
EQ2 It is your first day on a team of a trainees consisting of four people (including yourself). Your Managing Associate has asked your group of trainees to find the relevant cases relating to a transaction you are about to start. He has previously given you a list of the cases. This is an area which you studied in a module at University, and you feel you know it well. What do you decide to do regarding finding the cases?
Assemble your own list of cases, and obtain case judgments for all of them, and photocopy them. (7%)
Introduce yourself to the other trainees, and discuss with them how they wish to proceed in finding the cases. (90%)
Find your own list of cases, and ask the other trainees to find them for you. (2%)
EQ3 Your friend, who has always been your competitor at law school, is about to give a Powerpoint presentation on share acquisitions in Korea as a trainee, and you know that the Managing Associate is looking forward to this presentation with interest. However, there appears to be a mechanical fault with accessing Broadband, and the only copy of the file is an email which she sent to you to check yesterday. You saved it on your memory stick, which you happen to have brought to the meeting. You know the memory stick is compatible with the computer she is using for her presentation. How do you decide to proceed?
Pretend you have forgotten the memory stick, and you cannot help. (0%)
Offer to upload the presentation on her computer using the memory stick, but to offer also to download the file from the internet if that fails from a neighbouring computer. (94%)
Ask the Managing Associate for help, to demonstrate that you enjoy teamwork. (6%)
EQ4 You have about sixty documents relating to a financial transaction which you have inherited this morning. It is your first morning in a new seat with five new trainees, and one of your two Managing Associates (the one who was due to meet you) is late for work. What do you first?
Introduce yourself to the other members of your team. (86%)
Phone the other Managing Associate, and insist on him or her being there to lead your business meeting this morning. (1%)
Arrange the documents into five piles of twelve documents, and ask each member of the team to provide details about them for use in an Excel spreadsheet. (13%)
EQ5 You are a trainee, nearly concluding a very important transaction. Your client has asked you to fax to him a copy of a document, but the only person who has a copy of it is your (only) Managing Associate, but he is on holiday in Tenerife and is completely unavailable. All the other members of the team are currently listed as ‘available’ in your head office. Which of the following people would you like to contact first for help?
Another trainee (16%)
An associate (67%)
A partner (17%)
EQ6 You have written a report on private equity in Japan, and you have ten minutes before the deadline, to send it to your supervisor. You are aware that there may be some cases with incorrect citations referenced. Which of the following do you do?
Check thoroughly for spelling and grammar errors. (5%)
Identify urgently the references in an accurate way, and amend your report. (78%)
Ask for an extension (a few hours in addition) so that you can vastly improve your report potentially. (17%)
EQ7 You are close to the final weeks of your first seat in technology in London. Your team is considering proposing a new office in an international jurisdiction to further your commercial interests abroad. The other trainees have asked you to present what you think is the most important aspect of that proposed office, as collectively your Supervisor has asked you to assemble a report on the subject by the end of the week. Which of the following factors do you think might be most important for opening this new office, which you choose to include in your report?
The quality of legal services to be offered by your firm in that particular office. (58%)
The price of legal services to be offered by your firm in that particular office. (4%)
The range of legal services to be offered by your firm in that particular office. (38%)
EQ8 You are a trainee in the corporate finance seat in London where all team members are extremely busy. You have recently been liaising with ten particular clients on an almost daily basis in France. Your Supervisor has asked you to canvass for opinions of various clients in different countries towards the recent fall in stock prices in the European markets. You feel you do not have time to do this task on your own in time. Which of the options do you consider first?
Seek help from other trainees to help you to write the report, and ask other trainees which clients should be contacted. (24%)
Seek help from other trainees to help you to write the report, and contact some or all of the ten clients to ask them for their opinions. (47%)
Research the information which could be obtained from the clients and punctually write a report. (28%)
EQ9 You passed your advanced elective in intellectual property in your Legal Practice Course. You are in a small team of five trainees, and you are all working on an urgent case the preparation of which must be concluded by the close-of-play tomorrow night. Your Managing Associate has asked you to consider where a series of claims in a patent diverges between your client and the party making a claim against your client. She is experienced in intellectual property. You have not looked at the case yet, but already three people think the claims diverge at step 12, but one person thinks the claims diverge at 23. Where the claims diverge is important for your case. Which of the following options do you pursue first?
Analyse the case first to make up your mind about where you think the claims diverge, and discuss further with your team. (93%)
Ask all other members of the team to compile (and email to you) a written report to send to your Managing Associate so that she can decide. (4%)
Ask your Managing Associate to meet up with you urgently to resolve the dispute. (3%)
EQ10 You are a trainee in a law firm, and your best friend is working in a rival firm. You get on well with your Managing Associate, as your firm is reputed to be ‘small but very friendly’. She is very good at keeping secrets, according to your colleagues. Your friend is acting in the team for the opposing client, and has told you informally that it is widely believed in fact that the share acquisition does not fit in with their corporate strategy, despite what is reported in the Financial Times. She has asked you not to tell anyone, but the information could make a critical difference to the success of the transaction of your client. What do you do?
Decide to keep this information confidential, but consider the information as part of your preparatory research, as available from public sources. (58%)
Tell your Managing Associate immediately in private, but request politely that she does not tell anyone. (11%)
Ignore the information, as it could be totally untrustworthy anyway. (31%)