Should You Re-Apply to a Law Firm that Already Rejected You?

Purple briefcase
Next City Lawyer
August 13, 2021
[time to read]
min read

Let’s face it: getting rejected sucks. And it would suck even more to get turned down by a law firm once, spend 10+ hours rewriting your application next year and then get rejected again.

In answering whether you should re-apply to a firm, you will hear a lot of conflicting messages from friends, trainees, graduate recruitment teams and online that can be summed up as:

  1. Definitely re-apply, as this shows determination and that you’re keen on the firm
  2. Re-apply but change your application heavily to show that you’ve changed since you last applied
  3. Re-apply but only if you got rejected at the application stage (i.e. do not re-apply if you made it to an assessment centre and were then turned away) because the firm will have invested significant resources in evaluating you at that stage
  4. Don’t bother reapplying at all because law firms receive hundreds of applications for every spot available and they will be looking for excuses to whittle down the pile to review - so being previously rejected is an easy way to filter out those applications again

Even the Next City Lawyer team initially disagreed over what the best approach is!

After some further discussion, we agreed that it depends entirely on (1) your circumstances and (2) the firm. The reason why we can’t give a ‘one-size fits all’ answer here is that there is an element of truth in options 2 - 4 above.

Infographic to help you decide whether to re-apply to a firm that rejected you

Instead, we have set out some key points to keep in mind if you are considering re-applying to any firm that declined you:

Contact Graduate Recruitment

If you plan to have another bite at the cherry then the first thing to do is contact graduate recruitment. By doing this you (1) demonstrate you are keen and reaching out to show more interest and (2) can determine whether or not they have a policy on re-applying.

We think the graduate recruitment team is unlikely to remember you having emailed/called them about this.  However, sometimes they will remember you.  This can help your application if it’s reviewed by a favourable screener. But the bigger reason to contact the firm is you don’t want to waste 8-10 hours of your time crafting a brilliant application only to get automatically rejected.

It’s important to note here that we suspect some firms have a ‘hard’ policy and others have a ‘soft’ policy here. For example, a firm could have an official policy that they “may consider” applicants who re-apply but in reality they immediately discard almost all of those applications except for one or two which really stand out or detail mitigating circumstances (if that’s you, read our article about how to effectively explain mitigating circumstances).

It’s easier to get a feel for what their ‘actual’ policy is by speaking to the firm over the phone. That being said, we appreciate it’s a little daunting so you can alternatively email them and then follow up by email in a couple of weeks if you don’t hear back. If it’s still radio silence at that point give them a quick call. But whatever you do, do not re-apply without first getting confirmation that you should or else you could be wasting your time!

Online Research

In determining whether a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ policy exists it’s also helpful to read up online to check whether others have heard particular stories about firms. Some of this will be gossip/untrue, but some firms do indeed have actual policies that their graduate recruitment teams don’t always advertise.

You should check the FAQs page of law firms’ websites, recent posts on The Student Room or work with one of our qualified solicitors who can give you an up to date picture and an inside scoop on other law firms.  

Failing an Assessment Centre

As is probably obvious from the above, you may be OK to re-apply to a firm that rejected your application prior to an assessment centre. However, if you made it through that stage, were evaluated over the course of a day and were subsequently unsuccessful, we think your chances of making it through the application round are even lower if re-applying. Even if a firm is willing to reconsider you (or says it will), we would advise you to save yourself those 8-10 hours redoing the application and apply to one of London’s other 50+ fantastic law firms this year.

We accept this may be a little controversial, especially if a firm tells you it still may consider you, but we just don’t see it being worthwhile from a cost/benefit analysis. The truth is that if you land a training contract at any Magic Circle firm they are pretty much the same for the purposes of your TC (e.g. if you got rejected from Allen & Overy just apply to Linklaters next time) - the training will be just as good and the culture will be determined by the individual team you’re in. The same can be said about the Silver Circle, and then about large international firms in the City. (Macfarlanes and Slaughter & May are a little different from their Magic Circle/Silver Circle counterparts, but not as much as they might claim to be!).  If you’re thinking about US firms, there’s more nuance: it’s worth reading our article about whether you should follow the money.

If you don’t love it then you can move at the NQ level where it’s much easier to transition to another firm and you will have a better idea of where you want to work. You are therefore better off not banging your head against the wall repeatedly with the same firm - even if you think it’s your ‘dream’ firm - and giving yourself the best chance of succeeding.

For example, we know that as of June 2020, Macfarlanes and Herbert Smith Freehills will not consider any applicant who has already failed an assessment centre in the previous year.  That’s not to say there aren’t others, but these are the only ones we have had direct confirmation from.

New Application

Assuming you have now (1) checked with graduate recruitment that they will reconsider you, (2) done some online digging and (3) were previously rejected at the application stage (i.e. before the assessment centre), you can now start preparing your new application.

You will need to calibrate your approach depending on whether it is a CV/cover letter or traditional application form. It should go without saying that you should not just copy/paste your previous year’s attempt and try your luck without making any changes (we have actually seen this before!). Equally, it will take you an eternity if you try to recreate a new image of yourself without any references to your previous application.

For a law firm that wants a CV/cover letter, your CV will probably not change all that much if it was done well the first time. Your cover letter, however, should be amended in detail. It is difficult to master that and finesse it so you hit the key areas to stand out without compromising your best attributes that you detailed the first time you applied.  

If the law firm uses a traditional application format with a number of questions, there is a good chance that they will repeat some of the same questions from the previous year. For any new question this gives you a fresh chance at putting together a perfect answer. However, if certain questions reappear you will need to improve them and make sure they are different to your first attempt. Like amending a cover letter above, it’s not easy: odds are you drafted your initial answers the way you did because you thought it was best! It’s therefore a bit of an art to delineate between your content that should stay in and the parts that need to come out.

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.
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