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Freshfields’ application process: what to expect

We understand that applying for the trainee associate programme and vacation scheme can be quite daunting. Below is what you can expect from our application process.

The application form

The first stage of both our trainee associate programme application and our vacation scheme application is an application form and a personal statement of up to 850 words all about you.

In your personal statement, we’d like you to tell us why you are interested in commercial law, why you are specifically applying to Freshfields and, of course, why you are a great candidate.

You don’t need legal and technical skills – at this stage it’s more about your organisational skills, flexibility, enthusiasm, commitment and other attributes that make a good lawyer. With this in mind, we want you to tell us about what you’re involved in, such as your activities during university, your hobbies and interests, your work experience, any part-time jobs, and any awards or achievements. Don’t just list your skills – giving examples of your experiences will give us a much better understanding of who you are.

The application form concerns your academic qualifications. There’s space for any mitigating circumstances: we want to take this information into account when assessing you to give us a true idea of what you can do.

Tips on writing a good application

What we ask for may differ from what other firms request. We want an 850-word personal statement about you and why you have applied to us.

What to include

The personal statement is all about who you are. Tell us about activities during university, your hobbies and interests, your work experience and your reasons for applying. Don’t paste a bullet-point extract from your CV.

Demonstrate you have thought about what we and our clients need, and that you have the potential to be a great trainee. It’s about more than just your academic achievements – showing us that you have a range of interests and hobbies will bring your application to life.

You should have a good idea of why you want to work at a firm like Freshfields, so make this reason clear.

Try to avoid the phrases we see all the time: ‘I enjoy being challenged’ or ‘I find the law interesting’. Instead, you could say why legal work will stimulate you and what your longer-term career ambitions are.

We already know all the facts and figures from our website so include something about Freshfields only if it genuinely supports a point you’re making.

Why does Freshfields appeal to you? Do you want to join an international firm? Or have you heard good things about us from a trainee? Be as specific as you can.

You have a limited number of words so use them effectively. We already know your name, university and grades from the personal information section, so it’s best to avoid repeating that in your personal statement.

We read a lot of applications so avoid cliché. Try not to talk about ‘honing’ your analytical skills. Avoid ‘relishing’ the chance to work on ‘cutting-edge, high-profile deals’. Find meaningful words of your own.

Keep your sentences relatively short. Long sentences can be difficult to follow.

Tone is important. Don’t be too informal – or deferential. We want your writing to reflect who you are.

Finally, structure what you say. Put what’s most important first and don’t forget to use paragraphs.

The work our lawyers produce has to be spot on. It doesn’t look good if the first document you write for us has errors.

Read out what you’ve written, edit it and edit it again. Then get someone else to read it and make suggestions.

If you’re going to claim an attribute, such as being a team player, you need to provide evidence – for example, if you play football or sit on a committee at university.

Include as much relevant information as possible – legal experience and any other relevant work, even if unrelated to law. Working part-time outside of your studies can help to show that you can juggle a busy schedule, for example.

If your exam results one year weren’t what you were expecting, explain why – and say how you’ve tried to improve things. We take this into consideration when reviewing your application.

Finally, tell us about what you do outside of work and your studies. We want to know what makes you tick. 

The Watson Glaser test

Following a successful application, we’ll invite you to take the Watson Glaser test, which is a psychometric test designed to assess your ability to assimilate information and understand situations.

Sound critical thinking skills, including decision making, problem solving, planning and strategic thinking, are vital at Freshfields. The Watson Glaser test assesses individuals against the RED model of critical thinking: 

  • Recognising assumptions;
  • Evaluating the merit of arguments or information; and
  • Drawing appropriate conclusions based on available evidence. 

Practice will help you understand how the test works and the types of skills it is testing. You can practice here.

The half-day assessment

If you progress to this stage, congratulations! It means we think you could have the potential to become an international commercial lawyer at Freshfields.

If you’re successful in progressing to the interview stage, we will be in touch with you on an individual basis to discuss the next steps.

We’re a decent, friendly bunch of people with a shared intellectual curiosity to get to solutions.

Kate Cooper, Partner

Written exercise

A lot of work for our clients is in writing so we want to evaluate your attention to detail. Our written assessment does not test your legal or technical knowledge.

General interview

The general interview is your opportunity to tell us more about you and your skills – including examples of things you’ve done that demonstrate your best qualities. There are no traps: we want to give you every chance to tell us why you would make a good trainee at Freshfields. The interview will be one hour long and will be conducted by two interviewers, usually a partner and an associate, who will have already read your application. The interviewers will not know which school or sixth form you went to, or your A level grades (or equivalent) as this information will be redacted. We’ll also redact any mitigating circumstances as this is directly relevant to your grades.

You’ll need to have done some deep thinking about yourself and be self-aware to be able to answer our questions.

Tip: Think of examples from your life that show you how you’ve contributed to getting something done, how you’ve stuck at a difficult task or have pushed yourself. These are all things we’re looking for in our future trainees.

A good lawyer at a firm like ours has various attributes: an interest in business; time management skills; the ability to work well in teams; and so on. Think of some examples that demonstrate these traits.

Andrew Austin, Partner

Analytical interview

The analytical interview is there to help assess your ‘business mind’.

We’ll give you 20 minutes to read a press article, possibly from the Financial Times or The Economist.

You’ll then have an hour-long interview with two different interviewers, usually a partner and an associate, who will have read the article in advance and ask you questions about what you’ve just read.

Your interviewers will not have seen your application and will only have your name prior to meeting you. This blind format is only applicable to the analytical interview.

The analytical interview is not a test of your legal knowledge. Our interviewers want to get a sense of your commercial awareness and how well you think on your feet. You’ll get the chance to show your curiosity about commercial and legal topics.




Tips on preparing for the assessment centre

How to prepare

We’re interested in your background and experience, and in assessing your ability to put across your point of view, your eye for detail and how self-aware you are. Try to think of some examples of when you’ve pitched in to help manage something, dealt with a difficult individual, or organised a project or event. Also, try to think of times when things didn’t go well and what you did in response.

You should also think about the sort of work that Freshfields does, what being a trainee here involves and why you are well-suited. Talking to current trainees or other people at workshops and law fairs is great and there is also lots of information on our website.

For the analytical interview, read recent articles from the Financial Times or The Economist to get an idea of the political, economic and financial developments that affect our clients.

Your interview will help us see if you’re who we are looking for. Be yourself – and be open and honest about what motivates you, your strengths and weaknesses, why you want to work here and any concerns you may have. Your interview is also an opportunity for you to assess the firm: ask any questions about what we do or what working here is like and we’ll do our best to answer.

When you introduce yourself to your interviewers, you want to appear (and feel) confident, so take a deep breath, look them in the eye and smile. Try to relax! If you’re unable to answer a question, say so. We’re not trying to trick you. Make notes if you want and ask any questions you’ve prepared or thought of during the interview.

Firstly, feel proud of yourself. You have done very well to secure an interview and to get to this stage. If you are successful, you’ll get a call from one of your interviewers. The graduate recruitment team will follow up with further details.

Don’t be too downhearted if you’re unsuccessful – interview technique is a skill that needs practice, so your time hasn’t been wasted. We’ll give you feedback if you think you might find it helpful.

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