‘Why do you want to pursue a career in commercial law?’ – Despite the question appearing straightforward, it can be challenging to answer properly, and act as a bar to achieving your vacation scheme or training contract. Furthermore, if your answer is not up to standard, many law firms will be close to rejecting you instantly, even if the rest of your answers have been satisfactory.
Hence, this article has been written to help you answer a ‘why commercial law?’ motivation question in the context of a law firm application form or an assessment centre. It acts as a step-by-step guide that will take you through the rationale of the question, to structuring your answer, to making your answer specific and personal to you.
This question also may be framed as “Why do you want to become a solicitor at a commercial law firm?”
Specifically, this article will cover:
- Why law firms ask candidates the ‘why commercial law?’ question
- The structure you should use in your written and oral answers
- The kind of content you should consider having in your answer
- How to make your answer personal to you (and avoid a generic response)
The Structure a Law Firm Wants You to Use
A typical answer to the ‘why commercial law?’ question often involves a long-winded story about how the candidate first encountered a law firm or attended an open day. Whilst personal narratives are great for adding flair to your answer, they can be cumbersome and lead you astray. Remember, you are not aiming to entertain a law firm's recruiter or your interviewing partner – your goal is to demonstrate your knowledge and ability in accordance with the points discussed in the previous section.
We believe that you should start off the process of developing your answer with a simple, yet uncompromisingly clear structure, which is as follows:
- Three distinct paragraphs, each with their own clear topic.
- Use the ‘PEE/AL’ structure in each paragraph
The PEE/AL Structure
What is the ‘PEE/AL’ structure? Simply put, it is a way of structuring your paragraphs to make them as concise and as watertight as possible. To elaborate, your paragraph will comprise:
- A point – this is a clear topic sentence. It does not need to go into great detail; instead it should capture the essence of what you want to argue.
- A piece of evidence – this is usually a personal example that supports your point’s existence or validity, and further develops your answer.
- An explanation – this is an explanation of precisely how your evidence substantiates your point. Give further detail and information to ensure the reader fully appreciates your evidence’s relevance.
- Sometimes this step is referred to as ‘analysis’, but, broadly speaking, it means the same thing.
- A link – this is the crucial final step. The link is the part of your paragraph where you explain how your point answers the question and pertains to the overall area of discussion.
Putting the Paragraphs Together
With the PEE/AL structure in mind, your answer should be built up of three of these kinds of paragraphs. If you would like, you can also include a short introduction and a conclusion to your answer; however, we would save these additions for your answer in the context of an interview (rather than a vacation scheme or training contract application form).
We suggest aiming for no more and no less than three paragraphs (with a distinct point per paragraph), as this is the most that you could be expected to cover in an application form answer, or in a response in an interview setting. Application forms typically have a word limit of 250 words per answer, whilst it is recommended that you limit your interview answers to no more than three minutes per response.
By covering three distinct reasons regarding your motivation for a career in commercial law you (a) provide enough evidence for your commercial law motivation, whilst (b) not exceeding your allotted word count or response time.
The Content of Your Answer
So far, this article has covered the reasoning behind why a particular firm may ask you 'why commercial law?', and the recommended structure for your response to such a question. What will now be covered is the content that you should be putting in your answer. In this section, we will cover:
- What a generic answer is, and why it prevents candidates from getting vacation schemes and training contracts.
- What a specific answer is, and what law firms are looking for.
- How to formulate your own motivations.
We will then explain how to further personalise your answers and 'stand out' from other candidates.
Next City Lawyer often comments about 'generic' and 'specific' answers in the context of vacation scheme and training contract applications. However, what is meant by these terms is not necessarily immediately clear to all candidates.
In the context of legal career motivation questions, by a generic answer, we mean an answer that could apply to any career or candidate. Here is a classic example:
Interviewer: Why do you want to pursue commercial law as a career?
Candidate: I am attracted to a career in commercial law because I find the work to be intellectually stimulating...
This answer, technically, is not incorrect. However, it is exceedingly vague and untargeted. Whilst commercial law is going to be 'intellectually stimulating', the same could be said for a career in investment banking, academia, or several other career paths. There is nothing inherently special about the characteristic of 'intellectually stimulating' that would limit it to commercial law. Consequently, the interviewer is likely to be left wondering why you decided to pursue a career as a City solicitor as opposed to a jurisprudence professor.
Additionally, there is nothing in that one generic statement that indicates to graduate recruitment or the interviewer that the candidate has certain attractive skills or has done the requisite research into the field. Furthermore, many candidates will employ the same generic points in their answers. If you follow suit, there is nothing to differentiate you from the crowd which only serves to further increase your chances of rejection. Hence, even though the example has not been allowed to develop beyond its opening sentence, you should notice how such a generic point can put you at an immediate disadvantage even if you then go on to develop your answer and recover it.
The more successful candidates employ specific answers. To give an example of what a specific answer could be, consider the following:
Interviewer: Why do you want to become a commercial solicitor?
Candidate: I am attracted to a career in commercial law for its dual-faceted nature. On the one hand, I will have the opportunity to further study the law, and engage, on a more academic level, with the field. On the other hand, I will apply my theoretical knowledge in a practical environment and, in doing so, effect tangible results that are played out in the commercial sphere. Consequently, being a commercial solicitor would provide me with a unique opportunity to effect practical solutions and generate material results for corporate clients whilst also indulging my academic interest in, and appreciation of, the law.
Whilst this answer is substantially longer than the example in the previous section, it should serve as an illustration of the depth of analysis you are aiming for right from the beginning of your answer.
The positive aspects of the example response can be summarised as follows:
- It has a specific focus on the career and field (law and commerce).
- It highlights a unique (or, at least, a more uncommon) feature of the career.
- It sets up the rest of the answer, allowing the candidate to transition into a discussion about their interests, opinions on the job, and the research they have done.
Finding the Points
It is all well and good to discuss the structure of a good answer, and what a specific answer might look like. However, we know that candidates often struggle with finding their motivations for commercial law. Whilst we cannot tell you what your motivations are (they have to be personal to you!), we can give you some guidance on forming those motivations.
The obvious place to start is legal work experience. Have you had any experience in a commercial law firm or in corporate law before? You may have worked as a paralegal, completed a vacation scheme, or obtained some other informal experience.
If you have, consider what you enjoyed about the work. What did you like about being involved with commercial transactions? Did you get experience in different practice areas, and, if so, were there things that you found in common between them that you enjoyed?
By asking these questions, you are attempting to discover what it is about the work and role that you enjoyed. Once you find this point, this will serve as a good source of motivation for the career (as it arose out of your personal experience of it!).
Another area to consider is the study of law. If you have studied law at university, or undertaken the law conversion course, think about what you enjoyed about it. What did you like studying the most? How would you like to apply that in practice? Why would you like to apply your theoretical knowledge in a commercial context?
Once again, by asking these questions, you are drilling down into a unique aspect of the career: law applied in a practical commercial context. If you can impress upon the law firm you are applying to why the application of law in a practical commercial context interests you in particular, then you are well on your way to a successful answer.
Even if you have not studied law, reflect on the other half of the career: commerce. Why are you interested in business? Why would you like to help businesses navigate tricky commercial situations? Do you have an interest in helping to manage businesses and their respective commercial interests? Why would you like a career as a commercial solicitor as opposed to a strategy consultant? Have you completed any competitions related to economics, finance, or business?
Asking yourself these questions will help you discover your motivations for commercial law. Remember, you are applying to a commercial firm; hence, you must demonstrate your motivation towards practicing as a commercial law (as opposed to, for instance, family law).
Personalising Your Answer
Assuming you have adopted our structure and articulated your three main, specific motivations towards a career in commercial law, you must now focus on making your answer engaging and personal. Try to steer clear citing open day events or "free virtual work experience programmes" - though these are valid pieces of evidence, they should be used as a supplement rather than the bulk of your example(s).
An Illustration of Good Evidence
Carrying on from the example of a specific point above (regarding the dual-faceted nature of commercial law), some good evidence to substantiate this claim would either be some legal work experience or some substantive mooting experience.
Why? Well, by citing these kinds of experiences, you evidence that you have encountered, first hand, what you are claiming (the academic yet practical nature of commercial law). To explain further: imagine you have some commercial law mooting experience - this experience will involve you studying the law and develop your academic appreciation of it, and provide you with the opportunity to apply your garnered knowledge in a practical (although fictional) context. This evidence directly supports your claim that commercial law has this dual nature.
You should remember that your examples are there to justify your main points. Without such evidence, graduate recruitment or your interviewing partner will question whether you have the requisite authority and experience to make such claims about the legal profession.
An Illustration of Less-Good Evidence
Imagine if a candidate tried to justify the same point as discussed above by only citing their experience of open days. The most that one could say is that they 'heard' or 'learnt about' an aspect of the profession from someone else. Whilst this is a bad thing to say per se, it is not an example of high-quality evidence.
To summarise why, consider that this candidate has passively listened to someone tell them about a legal career. Compare this with the other candidate who had mooting experience. The difference is that one candidate experienced what they claim first-hand, whilst the other makes the claim merely because they heard it from someone else. Consequently, a law firm is far more likely to favour the candidate with mooting experience than the candidate who only cites open days.
This article has summarised how to answer a 'why commercial law?' question in the context of application forms and assessment centres. To begin with, we have suggested using a clear three 'PEE/AL' paragraph structure.
Furthermore, this article has illustrated how you can make your answer specific, and, in doing so, avoid generic responses. Additionally, we have provided a guide on how to find and articulate your motivations for commercial law.
Finally, this article has discussed how to make your answers personal to you, to give you the best chance of law firms finding your answers persuasive, and, ultimately, achieving a vacation scheme or training contract.
Access our database of >70 successful applications from >60 firms where candidates have answered the 'why commercial law?' question here. Remember, unlike others, our database comes with a detailed commentary which walks you through the candidate's answers, and explains why the candidate's answer is successful or what could be improved.
We hope you found this article useful – if you did, please share it with other candidates who might find it helpful!
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.
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