Paralegal to Trainee Solicitor: How to Get a Training Contract
Gordon Chung is a trainee solicitor with Baker McKenzie. Read his inspiring story about how to get a training contract after he finally realised his ambitions of becoming a lawyer. If you’re new to the world of paralegals, check out our ultimate guide first.
Gordon Chung exudes an aura of positivity. I can’t help but smile as we mull over his meandering path towards a training contract.
Here’s a person that has achieved what no one else thought possible, but his success hasn’t been without daunting challenges. Gordon is a future trainee solicitor with Baker McKenzie; a title with connotations that feel lightyears away from the adversities and obstacles that barred his way only a year ago.
The fascinating thing about Gordon is the way he speaks about career success. His story offers a stark contrast to familiar, rose-tinted epithets and glossy LinkedIn posts that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. His journey didn’t begin and end in a single training contract application window. It was never a certainty.
Instead, Gordon recites his tale with uncommon honesty and heartfelt clarity: it was painfully difficult. He pushed himself, he doubted himself and, slowly but surely, became a trainee solicitor with the help of paralegal roles.
Perhaps surprisingly, for someone so obviously adept and brilliant, Gordon is incredibly self-effacing, bordering on overly modest. Our discussion is peppered with thoughtful silences.
Gordon’s answers are never hurried. He considers the questions as a trainee solicitor, but also as an ex-paralegal, perpetually aware of the gnawing sense of instability and the possibility of failure.
As a writer, I find it difficult to describe people like Gordon. Their personalities just don’t quite fit tidily into a sentence or a paragraph. It’s much easier to let Gordon describe himself, and that’s exactly what I’ll do. Enjoy as Gordon relates his own poignant personal narrative and lays bare the inner workings of the legal world.
We begin with that age-old, perennially flawed question: Gordon, describe yourself in three words.
He nervously chuckles.
“Oh, not this one. Well, I guess I’d say I am genuine. I am ambitious.”
We’re both chuckling at this point.
“And I’m passionate.”
Sorry about the last question. I’ll make this one a bit easier. Can you tell me about yourself?
“Yeah, sure! I’m originally from Hong Kong and I came to London to study for my masters. I think London has always been the environment I dreamed of working in, I think that’s because I’m a person with a global mindset.”
What’s your best piece of advice?
Gordon pauses for a moment, clearly deep in contemplation.
“I’d say that as a young person you should pursue every opportunity, regardless of where they are.”
Ok, I think I understand. What motivated you to pursue so many opportunities?
This time there is no hesitation.
“I want people to think of me as an ambitious person, someone who is passionate about what they do, someone who has an authentic spirit.”
Is there anyone in particular who’s helped you to develop this mentality?
Judging by the smile that spreads itself across Gordon’s face, there are a lot of people who have made their own individual impact on his outlook.
“I would say my best friend from the time I was at Cambridge. He’s from Ecuador and is a really great person.”
“At the time I was caught between two different value systems. On the one hand, I wanted to pursue my ambitions without holding back. On the other hand, it was difficult because I was away from all my family and friends.”
So what did he tell you to do?
“He told me to try out as many opportunities as possible. You only live once and it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”
How did your journey towards becoming a trainee solicitor begin?
“Paralegal work was really important. It helped me gain experience in the areas of the law that I wanted to go into. I used these jobs to develop myself and enhance my applications.”
Would your recommend starting with paralegal work to prospective trainee solicitors?
“Yeah. There are so many paralegal roles you can choose between. From small businesses to global law firms. Look for paralegal work that you’re interested in.”
Tell me about the emotional challenges you encountered as you negotiated the unpredictable job market.
The recollection of a past ache is palpable in Gordon’s voice now. He speaks with complete honesty, almost as if addressing his past self.
“Ambitious people are harsh on themselves. It’s so difficult to face the obstacles in your way when they make you doubt yourself. You’re not sure if all of this is worth it.”
“When I couldn’t find a training contract in London, after submitting numerous applications, I felt like my life was filled with uncertainty: I didn’t know how many more rejections I could endure before giving up. I was worried about my future every day.”
It sounds like you were close to giving up on a few occasions. How did you keep that burning desire to progress your career alive?
“When I felt like giving up I thought about successful and inspirational people who didn’t give up.”
“The thing is”, his voice tinged with a dry sense of humour here, “if your goal is something easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. You wouldn’t put so much of yourself into chasing it.”
“It’s the challenges in life that give you the purpose to keep moving forward.”
What was the toughest setback you’ve experienced on your way to the life of a trainee solicitor?
“It was after my first assessment centre. I felt like I had performed really well. I guess I was expecting an offer. I waited for two weeks, only to get a rejection email. I went to KFC and ate the most unhealthy meal on the menu because I was so upset.”
“That was the moment that made me reevaluate everything. I realised that I had to work harder. I knew that I really wanted this.”
What advice would you give to your past self?
Gordon has clearly rehearsed this scenario a few times. The answer is simple: “be patient!”
“It’s difficult when you’re young and you haven’t had much life experience. It’s particularly difficult to be patient when you see successful people all around you. But you need to realise that everyone goes at their own pace in life. It doesn’t mean you’ll be less successful.”
“There’s a reason for all the failures you’ve experienced. Ultimately they will make you stronger. Live in the moment.”
What do you mean by living in the moment?
“During that period of my career, I was living in a place of fear: I was afraid to mess up, I was afraid to get rejected.”
“For those who are struggling in their legal career and being so hard on themselves, don’t make the same mistake I did. Be grateful for what you have while striving for more.”
After battling so many adversities, how did you feel when you become a trainee solicitor with Baker McKenzie?
Judging by Gordon’s beaming smile, I can already tell the recollection of that moment is flooding back in happy waves of nostalgia.
“After the interview, I had a gut feeling that this was the one.”
“I still remember the moment that I spoke to someone from HR on the phone. I was speechless. The feeling was so amazing; it’s hard to describe anything like it.”
Let’s talk about the application. What piece of advice do people not hear enough when it comes to cover letters?
Gordon’s answer is short and sweet. “Give genuine answers.”
“You need to remember that law firms read thousands of applications every year. They know exactly what makes them a top firm. What they don’t know is your story.”
“When you write your cover letter, show them how your experiences have shaped your life and brought you to this point. Give them your personal narrative as well as the legal experience. Ultimately, a good cover letter will reflect your story.”
What advice would you give to someone just before they walk into their interview?
“Be authentic and passionate. Law firms want to hire someone that really, really wants to work for them. Interviewers can clearly spot authentic interest and passion. It will add significant value to your overall interview performance.”
It must have been fairly tricky to put together so many applications while holding down a demanding paralegal job.
“It takes hard work, that’s definitely true. Really it’s about knowing your priorities.”
“Make some time every day to work on your applications. It’s so important to make progress every day, whether that’s submitting an entire application, or simply writing a paragraph. It’s always possible to squeeze a bit of time into each day in order to make continuous progress.”
Should you tell your firm that you have ambitions to gain a training contract?
“Yeah. If you want to be a solicitor, that should be your priority. You want a training contract, so be honest about that.”
“If you’re looking to progress your career internally, a good law firm will recognise that you have the qualities to be a successful lawyer.”
A final piece of advice, Gordon?
He reflects for a moment.
“I feel like success in training contract applications is 80% mentality. Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change with it.”
Thanks so much for your time, Gordon. It’s been a pleasure!
“You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.”
More from Gordon
Gordon really is an inspirational guy – and he’s nowhere near done yet. So, if you haven’t already make sure to check out his LinkedIn for regular updates, tips and advice. Plus, Gordon is regularly recording handy videos on YouTube to help you ace your next application. If you’re making applications or have any ambitions to land a training contract, this really is the place to start!
As Gordon’s experience demonstrates, paralegal roles can be the perfect springboard towards your training contract. Simply sign up to Jump to get exclusive access to incredible legal roles as some of the UK’s top firms.
I’ve also written tonnes of training contract application advice on the Academy to get the ball rolling for you. Feel free to give it a read.
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