In search of the sweet spot

4th August 2022
Insight & events

The recruitment of trainees into law firms needs rebalancing, says Mayowa Oni-Williams

As a potential trainee, I gathered a wealth of experience in interacting with the graduate recruitment websites for Magic Circle, US, national and international firms. However, even though I made upwards of ten applications, there were many more firms whose marketing didn’t appeal enough for me to apply.

They were all reputable firms. But differences in their marketing styles towards candidates – particularly how they communicated the give-and-take relationship between employee and employer – were, while subliminal, hugely influential in my decisions as to whether or not to take them seriously as a future employer.

For this article, I’ve researched a sample of eleven law firms ranging from Magic Circle to Asian-headquartered. I’ve analysed the extent to which they effectively market their relationship with future candidates, and whether they’re able to achieve what I believe is the optimal midpoint: displaying the firm’s qualities whilst also outlining the candidate’s responsibilities.

Too much about the firm…

On one side of the spectrum, several law firms market the benefits of their workplace but understate the role a future trainee will have to play. Neglecting to talk about what is often the least favoured part of a job – the hard work which goes into it – might make a firm more attractive, but I believe it also hinders how authentic the firm looks.

The main brand propositions for Magic Circle firms Allen & Overy and Linklaters are, respectively, ‘It’s time’ and ‘Are you ready?’ I think both propositions are punchy and eye-catching. However, neither immediately conveys much about what the firm expects from its candidates, nor what the firm is prepared to offer them in terms of environment and benefits.

Even when the copy digs deeper, the qualities of the firms take priority, not how future hires might contribute to those firms.

In my opinion, despite attractively depicting a high-functioning, top-end law firm, the failure to talk about a trainee’s role make the firms’ cultures appear less genuine.

It’s common knowledge that the legal industry is demanding, and that a high standard of skill and dedication is required from each trainee. Communicating this would ground the grandeur of the firm, creating a more realistic image for the applicant.

…or too much about the candidate

Firms can also overdo communications about what’s required of candidates. Being explicit of the standard a firm holds their employees to is a step in the right direction. But I don’t appreciate being asked to satisfy a host of requirements without knowing what the firm offers me in response.

That being said, it was rare that, in my survey, firms did this to a distasteful level.  Pinsent Mason’s proposition of ‘Take the law into your own hands’ seemed to get it right, communicating a sense of autonomy which could be regarded as both responsibility and opportunity.

The same can’t be said for all. Spanish firm Garrigues and Asia Pacific firm Zhong Lun are both responsible for employer marketing I considered slightly misjudged. Garrigues’ primary proposition is ‘Excellence and talent are our future capital’. I consider this too one-sided. I’m not claiming that the firm are taking from their lawyers without giving anything back ­– but this is what their first impression suggests.

Finding a happy medium

In my opinion, the best approach is the combination of these two strategies. As a candidate, I need to know about the responsibility required, but also need to understand what’s so appealing about a specific firm’s qualities.

Some firms can accomplish this with a skilfully phrased proposition. For example, Clifford Chance’s ‘Where bright minds meet’, White & Case’s ‘Together we make a mark’ and Latham & Watkins’ ‘Do what you love’ all work for me. (Full disclosure: Clifford Chance is the firm I’m joining.) Each proposition highlights the necessity for both employee and employer to be active in sustaining the rewarding work and environment that the law firm advertises.

‘Where bright minds meet’ explicitly says that both parties need to bring intelligence and creativity, while also underlining the teamwork that is the product of that mix. White & Case develop their proposition with a day-in-the-life film that shows how employee and employer collaborate to build a productive environment.

Latham’s slogan isn’t explicitly collaborative, but it is complemented by other benefits such as ‘The Latham Advantage’. Together, the messaging promotes the give-and-take relationship that I believe is the best approach.

Each to their own

These opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent the entire pool of legal candidates. That said, I do believe that many prospective lawyers appreciate the give-and-take relationships being explained in firms’ recruitment marketing.

Given the legal industry’s infamy for being highly challenging, candidates want to know exactly what will be required of them, what they will get in return in terms of culture and environment and, ideally, that the candidate and firm will develop together.


4th August 2022

Mayowa is a future trainee at Clifford Chance, and has interned at Blackbridge Communications