Why should I apply early in the application cycle?
More applications are sent on deadline day than any other day. This makes your chances of success this late in the process vanishingly small for top law firms- it might not even be worth the 8+ hours that you should have taken writing your application. This is especially the case for firms that look at applications on a rolling basis. Not only is it likely the firm has already interviewed people and made offers already, but your application will also be lost in the crowd against the 100s of other candidates applying on deadline day.
Let’s start with one example. One of the founders of Next City Lawyer applied to his dream law firm within days of receiving his second year grades in the very same week that applications for the firm opened. He was invited to the first assessment centre of the cycle, which took place before the application deadline had closed. The firm told him that he had secured a training contract within hours of the assessment centre. So before applications for the firm had even closed, at least one training contract had gone and the odds of receiving a successful training contract offer became slimmer for everyone else in the process.
Let's consider an opposite example. Another contributor to Next City Lawyer applied to his dream law firm on deadline day. He did not hear back for three months. Though he was invited to a first-round interview, he was not successful after that point. The firm told him that they had already filled their spaces for the vacation scheme, and so could not take him on. In the next cycle, he applied to the same firm three months prior to the deadline. He completed two rounds of interviews and secured a vacation scheme offer weeks prior to the official deadline. Long before the application window closed, at least one vacation scheme had gone and it became more difficult for everyone else to succeed.
Most firms review applications on a rolling basis. If you apply early in the cycle, you have a far better chance of securing a vacation scheme or training contract.
Firms that review applications on a rolling basis
As of 23 April 2023, here is a list of verified firms that review applications on a rolling basis:
- Addleshaw Goddard
- Akin Gump
- Baker McKenzie
- Bird & Bird*
- BCLP (except Manchester and Hong Kong training contracts)
- Charles Russell Speechlys
- Cleary Gottlieb
- Clyde & Co
- DLA Piper
- Gibson Dunn
- Hogan Lovells (vacation scheme only; training contracts are non-rolling)
- Jones Day
- Mayer Brown
- Mishcon de Reya
- Osborne Clarke
- Pennington Manches Cooper
- Sidley Austin
- Simmons & Simmons
- Slaughter & May
- Stephenson Harwood
- Taylor Wessing*
- White & Case (vacation scheme only; training contracts are non-rolling)
- Willkie Farr & Gallagher
* Firm has confirmed that assessment centres will not take place until the application date has passed. Spaces for assessment centres are nevertheless allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Why do firms do this?
Firms prefer to review applications on a rolling basis because it’s easier for them. Rather than working through a massive batch of applications under time pressure after the application window closes, graduate recruitment can work through applications as they are received at a pace that suits them. It also means that they can identify the most enthusiastic and dedicated candidates from the outset. If you apply quickly after the application window opens, then you will show the firm that you have prioritised your application to them.
Some firms nonetheless review applications en masse at the end of the application window. They do this because they perceive that it is fairer for candidates who apply later in the cycle. However, you should not assume that the order in which they review applications is random. We suspect that many firms who review applications on a non-rolling basis still review those applications by the order in which they are received. In other words, even if you are applying to a firm like Freshfields, Clifford Chance or Macfarlanes that reviews applications on a non-rolling basis, it still makes sense to get your application in as soon as you can.
So how early should I apply?
If you are an undergraduate, you should apply for training contracts as soon as you have your grades for the current academic year. Firms use grades as an upfront filter before they review the rest of your application. There's no point applying until you can include the grades that they want to see in your application. But you should apply as soon as possible once you receive your grades.
If you are a graduate, you should apply as early in the application window as you can. There's limited advantage in waiting to include your grades from the GDL or LPC. Firms typically only look for a "Pass"-level grade in the GDL/LPC exams. They take far less interest in your specific grades here than they would during your undergraduate degree. As such, the benefits of waiting for your LPC/GDL grades are outweighed by the disadvantages of delaying your application.
If you are studying for an academic masters (i.e. a traditional MA at a prestigious university, not at the University of Law or similar), it probably does make sense to wait until you receive your grades. Firms will place at least some value on the grades you achieve in a traditional postgraduate degree.
All candidates should apply as early as possible after applications open. It's probably not worth waiting for a firm's campus presentation before applying. The gain from applying early normally outweighs the benefit of name-dropping a partner, associate or trainee that you briefly spoke to at the presentation. Besides, you can always mention these events at the interview stage should you wish.
Law firms receive over half their applications in the immediate days running up to the deadline. This means that your application will be pushed to the back of the queue if you leave it too late. You should therefore apply as early in the window as possible, so that graduate recruitment looks at your application first and so gives it the consideration it deserves.
You can learn more about how we can help you secure a training contract here.
- Our Application Database has >95 examples of successful applications for >70 different law firms for £14.99 each. Each application includes expert line-by-line commentary by our team of qualified solicitors from US, Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms to help you craft your own perfect application and secure a training contract.
- Our Practice Case Study will help you turn your assessment centre into a training contract offer. This realistic mock case study takes 45 minutes to complete. It includes >15 pages of expert feedback which will teach you vital commercial content that you need to know and help you to assess how strong your practice performance was. It costs just £19.99.