Essential Tips for Law Firm Job Applications – Part One

Lord Bobo has been greatly disturbed by reports of appalling job applications and interviews involving law graduates in Malaysia. His Supreme Eminenceness in all his benevolence proceeded to mind-control five minions to sit their busy (but undoubtedly well-formed) bottoms down and type up these essential tips for law firm job applications, targeted at applicants for pupillage or first/second year associate positions.

The contributors are Donovan Lee Shyun Hyn of eLawyer, Fahri Azzat of Messrs Azzat & Izzat, Goh Siu Lin of Shook Lin & Bok, Lee Shih of Skrine, and Marcus van Geyzel of Peter Ling & van Geyzel. They represent the full spectrum of the legal employment market in Malaysia – big firms, medium-sized firms, small firms, and a legal recruitment agency. This Part One will address job applications, and if you stick to the tips in this article, then you will also find Part Two (which will be published later this week) relevant, as it deals with job interviews. These tips are required reading for anyone applying for a pupillage or junior associate position in a law firm – you no longer have an excuse for that shoddy job application/interview!

How important are first impressions when it comes to job applications? What are the things that make an immediate impression (positive/negative) on employers when receiving an application?

Donovan: VERY crucial! First impressions either make or break you, as they stay the longest in someone’s mind. If you make a great first impression, you have won half the battle. Whether or not you get shortlisted depends on the presentation of your CV.

When employers receive an application, most expect to see your cover letter and CV/resume together. The immediate impression will come from the cover letter, CV and the way your email is written. A neatly presented CV and cover letter which are free from grammatical errors, and with a detailed description of your working experience will certainly capture the employer’s attention. Referring to or citing where you saw or heard about the job opening will give a positive impression that you are serious about applying.

Fahri: Contrary to popular belief and widespread advice, don’t waste your time with first impressions, especially if they are not true to your character and lifestyle. If your first impression is false, you will be found out eventually. That’s what the probationary period is for – to evaluate whether you are the real deal or a fake. And even if you are confirmed, your quality will soon become apparent.

Instead, cultivate qualities that leave a lasting impression with whomever you meet and speak to. Develop your emotional intelligence, practice delayed gratification, cultivate politeness, read widely and indiscriminately, engage with cleverer people, mouth closed and eyes open, ask why often, do the right thing – doing these things often enough would go a long way to moulding you into a person that often leaves a lasting impression.

The most immediate impression I glean from the application is the academic results because it is so prominently displayed, and really the only thing they give us by way of evaluation. The candidates would make a big impression if they explained why they wanted to specifically pupil at that firm.

Lee Shih: In most cases, the first thing I will scroll and look at will be the covering email if there is one. I have seen some very effective covering emails which immediately grab my attention. So for example, in one short introductory sentence the applicant states “I am a First Class graduate from the University of … and I would like to apply for pupillage at your firm.” On the other hand, I have seen applicants not leverage off their strengths, with weak covering emails not showing off their good academic qualifications.

Next will be an examination of the CV. I want to have a snapshot of the law degree classification, the university, and the CLP or BPTC degree classification. A CV with a professional-looking photograph does help an applicant stand out. But a photograph lifted off your Facebook profile or cropped from a group picture may not assist you much.

It is unfortunate that I find it rare to find well-formatted CVs. Elements such as the addition of a  bit (emphasis on a bit) of colour, the good use of white space, details like page numbers, headers and footers, do help to make a good impression.

Marcus: First impressions are important, but are not the be all and end all of the application process.

My first impression of an application is always the cover email (we don’t really get traditional cover “letters” anymore). Your email subject must be clear and simple – something like “Application for the position of an Associate” is just right, and much better than “FOR YOUR ATTENTION: MY APPLICATION FOR POSITION OF LEGAL ASSISTANT IN YOUR ESTEEMED FIRM”. An eloquent cover email makes a very good first impression. Keep it simple and to the point. Don’t be overly verbose or use big words that you don’t usually use and which are obviously out of place. Stick to writing like how normal human beings write to each other on a day-to-day basis.

Moving on to the CV/resume, formatting is important – be conscious of using an appropriate font and font size (Comic Sans 12 makes an awful impression, unless you’re applying to be the office clown). Stick to commonly-used fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Verdana, or Garamond. Use paragraphing, indents, headings, and tables to make the reader (your potential employer) happy to read your CV/resume.

I always ask that a photograph of the applicant be included. There is no excuse for using a badly-taken or inappropriate photograph. No selfies in bathroom mirrors, or a cropped image from a group photo from a night out. Any applicant should have a smartphone with a decent camera (or have a friend who has one) – put on something professional, and take a photo. It makes a difference.

Siu Lin: Your job application is the first step to creating a relationship with your future employer. Therefore, in crafting a resume, yes, first impressions are highly important.

Impeccable English is a must. If a photo is required, then make sure that it looks professional. Some candidates have in the past used playful, casual photos.

Next, decide on an attractive resume format that is uncluttered, sleek and easy to read. Make use of headings, spacing and write in short simple sentences. There is no need to use bombastic words as this will more likely annoy rather than impress. Avoid long wordy paragraphs, devoid of punctuation and small fonts at all costs, unless you are prepared to face the ire of impatient and short-sighted partners!

I frequently encounter candidates who submit cookie-cutter type resumes. This reflects a lack of effort. Tailor each resume to the prospective firm according to the firm’s practice areas and skill-sets, and this will obliquely convey the message that you are keen to be part of their legal team.

Strive to be concise in highlighting your academic credentials or past work experience. Focus on your relevant achievements and provide some elaboration on past work experience to showcase your strengths (be it writing flair, oratorical prowess, leadership ability or organizational skills).

There is a delicate balance to be struck, as a candidate who excessively blows his/her own trumpet is off-putting to the reader. Always be honest and do not over-inflate your abilities. For example, a common mistake among fresh undergraduates would be to say, “I am well placed to contribute to your organization.” It would be more relevant instead, to indicate that you are prepared to work hard, under stress, are committed and willing to push yourself to contribute to the firm’s / client’s well-being.

Excellent results are a given and I often look at the candidate’s extra-curricular pursuits to have a better idea of the candidate as a person. However, listing unusual hobbies may back-fire by attracting too much attention, deflecting discussions on your legal ability.

Name three common things you have come across in job applications which ensures an immediate rejection.

Donovan:

(1) Kangaroo CV. Although you have good academic results, if you change jobs like changing clothes, the potential employer would not have confidence in your working ability and commitment. In most cases, the best way to understand someone is to understand that person’s history.

(2) Bad English. A CV which is full of grammatical mistakes and/or with improper use of language shows that you are a careless person, and that you may not be able to communicate effectively with your clients and others. The ability to communicate effectively and the ability to be meticulous are both essential qualities in lawyering.

(3) Applications to multiple employers. If a particular employer receives your application with other employer(s)’ email addresses as recipients, it provides a very negative impression that you are not professional, do not understand basic work ethics and more importantly, not serious about joining the employer’s firm.

Fahri:

(1) An emailed application that encloses the resume without any written introduction or explanation. “Do I look like I’m begging here?”

(2) An emailed application sent en masse with all the law firms emailed to baldly stated in the “To” field. “Delete.”

(3) Poorly written cover letter/email for the application. “I don’t want to deal with the language issues.”

Lee Shih: I could only think of two very common things I keep seeing crop up:

(1) Missing the grade – where the applicant fails to provide details of the degree classification of his law degree, CLP, or BVC/BPTC degree. These details are especially important for a pupillage application. If there is an omission to state these details, I would have to assume that the degree classification must be low or that the applicant is embarrassed.

(2) This may spell your doom – bad spelling or bad grammar in the covering email/letter or your CV will weigh heavily against you. Examples would include “I graduated from the Unversity of London”, “Being a graduate who have completed his LLB, I would like to apply to your firm”, “I would like gain exposure in different area of laws” and “Your firm has intentional (presumably, it should have read international?) practice areas.”

Marcus:

(1) Horrible English. This is probably the most common deal-breaker. Language is an important tool for lawyers. It is fair to assume that a cover email and CV/resume would have been written and double-checked before being submitted. If it is still full of grammatical errors, then it shows that the applicant is incapable of writing in English at a reasonable standard. Also bad (as I mentioned in the previous section) is over-writing; using big words which have obviously been picked up from a thesaurus, or are misused and don’t even make sense.

(2) Not addressing the application properly. This may seem obvious, but is painfully common: Ensure that you have sent the correct application to the correct firm – I will not read an application which is sent to me but addressed to another firm. Also, when emailing, don’t put multiple addressees in the “To” field. If it’s too much to ask that you write a fresh email for each firm (and it shouldn’t be), at least use the “Bcc” field. If your application is attached to an email and all the email says is “See attached”, all your application will see is the Trash folder. If you want to be a lawyer, mistakes like this are inexcusable.

(3) Irrelevant hobbies/interests. I love it when applicants have interests outside of the law – we are after all not just looking to hire “good lawyers” but also hopefully people who will make good colleagues and friends, and be a part of an interesting and vibrant office culture. However, some applicants make the mistake of listing too many hobbies, and some which they only dabbled in. I don’t need to know what your favourite television shows are.

Siu Lin:

(1) Weak academic credentials.

(2) Horrific English grammar and typographical errors, badly written content.

(3) Overall impression that the candidate is not driven or interested in the profession/firm. For example, the applicant refers to another law firm as the addressee.

What are your top three tips for applicants?

Donovan:

(1) Tailor-make your CV. It is crucial to know/understand the job description before you apply for a particular position. A job description usually contains the job scope and the employer’s requirements in respect of skills, experience, and education. Highlighting your particular experience or strength which matches the requirements and described job scope makes your application outstanding. Needless to say, you must be genuine in doing so. Never state any experience which you do not possess as it can be easily spotted during the job interview.

(2) Explain the reasons you left any previous jobs in your CV. If you have an unstable career track record, briefly state the reasons you left each job. This will eliminate the negative impression/imagination that the potential employer may have.

(3) Apply through a recruitment agency. More often than not, a job application which is submitted through the services rendered by a recruitment agency will result in a higher percentage of getting shortlisted. A professional recruitment consultant not only understands the job scope, required experience, requisite soft skills of a particular job opening, he/she also understands the culture of a particular firm. In most cases, potential employers perceive candidates recommended by a recruitment agency to have at least met the minimum requirements. A recruitment agency also has the capability to recommend other suitable job openings to you if your desired application does not fit you, or is unsuccessful.

Fahri:

(1) Ensure your cover letter/email is properly written. Have someone check it for grammar and typos.

(2) If your language is weak – especially English – please improve it. Sign up for an English course if you have to. Language is a lawyer’s tool.

(3) Explain why you want to pupil specifically at that firm. Why is it important that you pupil at that firm?

Lee Shih:

(1) Show off your strengths – Let your CV be self-contained and show off your strengths. Don’t have the interviewer hunt through your supporting documents. So where you have done well in certain subjects, or where you want to demonstrate that you have taken certain subjects relevant to your intended practice area, or a relevant research paper or dissertation, list out these details briefly in your CV, with the grades obtained.

(2) Check, check and double check – Whether it is your covering email, covering letter or CV, please check the spelling and grammar.

(3) It is not all just about the law – Have your CV show off a bit of your interests outside of law school. There is no need to only list out your mooting. Details such as any sport you play, any volunteering experience, leadership roles, help to give us a better picture of who you are. Gives us a chance to ask you more about these experiences to find out how you work in a team.

Marcus:

(1) Strive for an error-free application. Read what I’ve said in the previous sections. Ensure that your cover email and CV/resume do not contain grammatical or language errors. Make an effort with the formatting. Include a good photograph.

(2) Be honest, and let your personality show. Don’t use words you don’t usually use. Don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. Avoid meaningless clichés like “I’m a team player” or “I think outside the box” (if anything, including the latter in your application shows that you certainly do not think outside the box). Most law firms receive many, many applications throughout the year – let your personality show, and make your potential employer excited to meet you at the interview. Some may say that the interview is where you display your personality, and that the application should be serious and formal, but I disagree – more often than not, the decision is already 60% made by the time you step into that interview room.

(3) Tell me why you want me. Any employer would appreciate if an applicant really wants to work for that employer, as opposed to taking an “I’m applying for 20 firms and will work at the one which makes me an offer and pays me the most” approach. Information on most firms/lawyers are easily available online. It would help greatly if your application shows that it was written specifically for the lawyer/firm which it is addressed to.

Siu Lin:

(1) Excellent English. Be succinct and sincere.

(2) Tailor your resume. Avoid careless typographical errors, be careful about formatting and lay-out.

(3) Think carefully about your content. Go for quality over quantity. Avoid over-lengthy resumes. I would suggest a maximum of 2-3 pages.

Look out for Part 2 later this week: Essential tips for law firm job interviews!

Donovan Lee is a Recruitment Consultant with eLawyer, the leading legal recruitment agency in Malaysia. His portfolio includes sourcing legal talents for law firms and corporations. He was in private practice for a short stint wherein he was exposed to litigation, corporate and conveyancing before he decided to take a leap of faith and do other things in life which are close to his heart – headhunting, dragon boating, fitness instructor, etc. He is reachable at [email protected].

Fahri Azzat is an actor who plays the role of a professional advocate and solicitor of the High Court of Malaya during office hours and during official business of the same name at the firm of Messrs Azzat & Izzat. The role of court going lawyer for this series is with the director’s consent. At all other times plays he plays the role of his namesake to his family, friends and foes. He performs on occasion as @LBMinion1 for LoyarBurok and the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights events and initiatives. He has not performed in any other role and has yet to be nominated for any acting award despite critical acclaim (mainly from his mom).

Lee Shih is a corporate litigator and partner at Skrine. He has recently been spending a lot of his time looking at pupillage applications and sitting in interviews. He tweets at @iMleesh and blogs at leeshih.com.

Marcus van Geyzel is a founding partner of Peter Ling & van Geyzel, a corporate/commercial law firm. He believes that lawyers (and all workers/employees in generally really) would be a whole lot happier if we stopped measuring success by how “busy” we are, and striving for more and more money and titles just because that’s what everyone else is doing. There are more important things in life. He hasn’t quite figured out what these more important things are, but believes that finding out is part of the fun. He tweets at @vangeyzel, and is almost permanently mind-controlled by Lord Bobo to run the most awesome blawg in the known and unknown universe, LoyarBurok. He rather enjoys referring to himself in the third person.

Goh Siu Lin is a daughter, wife and mother of two young children. Partner of Shook Lin & Bok, Chair of the Practitioners’ Affairs Committee, Kuala Lumpur Bar, Vice President of the Association of Women Lawyers. Mensan. Budding interest in women’s issues. Addicted to Latin Dancesport. Tweets at @ChachaSiu.


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32 Responses to Essential Tips for Law Firm Job Applications – Part One

  1. happywheelsgame

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  2. I couldn't agree more. doing your research is vital. Know the company you're interviewing with and be familiar with their work. Successful lawyers have initiative and this is one of the key ways to show that to a potential employer. Thanks for the post! A great list and resource for new graduates and anyone wanting to find a job!

  3. Are you looking for a job? Or do you plan to look for a job in the near future? Those questions represent the most common reasons why someone would begin to look at their resume and decide if it needs to be updated.

  4. Mashuk

    Your cover letter is more important than your resume! An absolute truth! In reality, most people do themselves a great dis-service by not respecting the true value already sitting in their resume. how to write a good letter of recommendation

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  9. Far too many people underestimate the importance of resume cover letters. In a sense, a well written cover letter works like an agent on your behalf.

  10. Allen

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  11. As the responsible parents, we gathered lots of career information on the web space, as it could help our children to shape up their future prospects with full vigour.

  12. Good suggestions there! I like your post. Thanks a lot for sharing very great views.

  13. Kiasulah

    What's wrong with “I graduated from the Unversity of London”?
    Why does Lee Shih use this sentence as an example for bad grammar?

  14. LeeKokHoong

    In my early post, I had merely said that UNLESS the employer asked for a photograph, do not volunteer to send one in. Some may agree, some may not. This is just a opinion, and there is no right or wrong; this is not rocket science.

    It appears the "no photo" discussion here irked some netizens, including lawyers, who decided to take the issue elsewhere. And it is their right, really. (We are always talking about human rights, aren't we?) Check out their tweets. :-)

    If Malaysians condone the publication of advertisements blatantly specifying gender and race as preferences, asking a candidate for a photograph with a resume really seems trivial by comparison.

    Equal employment opportunities in Malaysia will probably remain the unreachable utopia for a long time to come. More than five decades after the British left us, some of our employment practices still remain very much a legacy of the colonial days. And I am not sure if UK today advocates equal employment opportunities yet.

    Under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Laws, Regulations & Guidance, the Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices specify that:
    "Similarly, employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant. If needed for identification purposes, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment is made and accepted."
    (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices/)

    Hong Kong SAR, a former British colony, have made some progress in the past decade. Under the "Code of Practice on Employment under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance", Clause 11.5.3. of the Guidelines for Recruitment recommends that employers:
    "avoid requests for photographs and copies of ID cards at the application stage as this may indicate an intention to discriminate on the ground of sex although asking for ID numbers would be acceptable. However, requests for photographs and copies of ID card can be made at the interview stage for identification purposes"
    (http://www.eoc.org.hk/EOC/GraphicsFolder/showcontent.aspx?content=cops_sdo_content#11)

    Across the causeway, is Singapore any better? I don't know. To quote Baker & McKenzie (in a 2009 paper downloadable from their website),
    "The government has stated that it believes legislation in the area of equal opportunities will not be effective. Instead, it has chosen to address the issue using moral persuasion. For example, guidelines on job advertisements were recently issued by the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower. The guidelines stipulate that race, religion, marital status, age and gender should not be used as job criteria in advertisements." Oops, they made no mention about photograph of the applicant.

    We hear a lot of our activists in Malaysia advocating human rights. Some of these activists are lawyers in our midst. If there was any party advocating rights to equal employment opportunities, regretably I must have missed it.

    In all fairness, the original contributors of this article did a noble job of sharing their views and experiences. I am not here to challenge their views. Moreover, this is their fraternity. hahaha… And I really don't belong here, and I am grateful of their graciousness in granting me permission to post here.

    So, job applicants aspiring for an interview with lawyers, toe the line, please, as far as the photo is concerned. :-)

    'Nuff said. Brickbats are welcome.

    • Goh Siu Lin

      Thanks for highlighting overseas employment practices vis a vis photograph requests. Your observations may prompt a change in local law firm recruitment. No doubt there is always an element of discrimination be it on gender, race, looks. However, in this current climate, being an employees' market, it would be very foolish for any potential employer to turn away a good candidate based on looks alone. Grades, EQ and substance are a priority, looks secondary. For me, photographs are used as a memory aid, no other sinister motive.

    • Lawyers are quick to attack the flaws of status quo in the political and social sphere – this is a good thing.

      But they are slow to attack the flaws of status quo within their fraternity – this is a bad thing.

      Being part of the legal fraternity, I am very embarrassed that you, Mr. Lee, have been subject to adverse backlash from my brethren for your opinions – which are certainly legitimate ones.

      Back to the photographs – Forget about what the law says, it's quite a common and well-accepted practice among major companies to NOT encourage photographs to be enclosed with a CV. In fact, if an applicant does so, it may even put off the employer, who will think that the applicant is trying to gain mileage by looks. Anyway, whether you agree with this or not, please do not belittle and ridicule this issue. Maybe most of you are blessed with good looks and really want to share your wonderful selfies with the rest of the world, but some of us aren't and that's not what employment should be based on.

      That said, the entire article is good and thought-provoking. Keep it up!

  15. WTLow

    For cover letters, take every application seriously, and pay attention to even the smallest of detail. Do not make any mistakes which can be avoided. For example, my friend who had very good grades from a red brick university once applied to a leading law firm but spelt the name of the law firm wrongly. No interview was forthcoming. I also know of senior lawyers who reject outright applications for "chambering" as opposed to "pupillage", no matter how good the applicant's grades may otherwise be.

    On the other hand, while it is fully understandable that graduates are eager to start work as soon as possible, my personal view is that it helps to do a very brief mini-pupillage (for a less glamorous term, "attachment") with a firm before deciding whether or not to apply to that firm for pupillage. Fancy websites and brochures never tell the full story. Taking some time (one or two weeks) to experience the environment and work with lawyers and staff who may become your colleagues will make a huge difference. Do not be afraid to take your time to decide.

    It is more meaningful to state in your cover letter that "I had and enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the finer points of the Sukuk Murabahah with Partner XYZ and his team, and would cherish the opportunity to continue working with them" (which is unique to you), rather than "I believe Firm ABC is the leader in Islamic Finance, as it has been recognized by Legal500 and Chambers" (which is what every other applicant will say).

    For CVs, I agree with Kok Hoong and Raphael. In my view there is hardly any legitimate reason or justification for requiring applicants to submit a photograph. Verification of the applicant's identity can be done by the office manager at some stage of the recruitment process. If your CV is not sufficient to earn you an interview with your firm of choice, an airbrushed photograph will not make any difference and if it does, you may want to think twice about working there.

    Sometimes, referees do matter. One of my former bosses once had lingering doubts about an applicant she had just interviewed. When she contacted the applicant's former boss for a reference, the latter said that the applicant was incapable of working independently and was not ready to move on to more sophisticated work.

    Do not include irrelevant matters in your CV just to fill up the pages. For example, "Microsoft office" is not a skill which will earn you interviews, unless you are applying to be a secretary. There is no better illustration of the point than this particular Queen's Counsel Cartoon strip, which is my all-time favourite: http://www.qccartoon.com/images/cartoons/10_5_16….

    Solid academic results, CVs and cover letters written in flawless English are desiderata, but they are arguably only important/relevant to the extent that they will help an applicant get an interview. Applicants often assume that good grades guarantee an offer. But we now live in an age of grade inflation, where upper second class degrees (and perhaps even firsts) are the rule rather than the exception. When it becomes impossible to shortlist candidates based on paper qualifications, something more is required.

    Do not lie in your CV. You will either be brutally exposed during the interview process, or at a later stage where the humiliation and damage to your reputation will be more profound. Do not boldly claim that you love the law of trusts if you are not ready, willing or able to discuss the rule in Re Hastings-Bass.

    Ultimately, employers who truly place emphasis on human capital and organic growth vis-a-vis pupils will look beyond the facade of grades and beautifully crafted cover letters or CVs and focus on the human condition. My pupil master, the greatest lawyer I have had the privilege of knowing and working with, was firm in his belief that grades were ultimately meaningless if an applicant did not display the core values of humility, honesty and capacity for hard work. I share that belief.

    • Yes, good point – referees are important (more so when you apply for higher level jobs in your profession). I think it definitely helped me land my latest job. Good referees go a long way in increasing your credibility. There's no set formula. I chose two referees – (i) a senior, well-respected member of the Bar; and (ii) a senior, well-respected law lecturer. I think diversifying your referee choice is a good move. Your prospective employer gets to know different facets of yourself.

      Listing down your 'professional achievements' is another key part. It should read like all those lawyers profiles (in point form) you see on firm's newsletter or website. There's a certain art to drafting it. Choose your best 5 to 7 achievements. Keep it short and simple.

      Like someone pointed out, a good CV should be short. Ideally, it should be 2 pages long (so you can also save on paper and staple).

  16. LeeKokHoong

    Interviewer: Tell me, what's your expected salary?

    Graduate: I m open to negotiations. I am actually looking at the total package. Starting with a RM5,000 monthly salary, to be adjusted after probation. Benefits wise, 20 days annual leave days. Medical & dental coverage for me and my family; my parents actually since I m not married. Do you offer travelling allowance?

    Interviewer: No, but we offer a company car with the package.

    Graduate: You got to be kidding, right?

    Interviewer: Yes, but you started it first.

  17. leeshih

    I agree with Marcus that for good applications (especially in the context of pupillage applications), the decision is often almost made based on the strength of the CV and the other documents. So it is so important to get the covering letter and CV right, and to have the necessary supporting documents. The interview process is just to get to know the candidate better and for the candidate to not jeopardise anything. Stay tuned though for Part 2 where all of us cover more on tips at the interview stage.

    Picking up on Fahri's point, on academic results, that is often the single most important aspect. Many employers look for a good LLB degree and with good grades in specific subjects. I know a lot of employers put a lot less emphasis on CLP and BPTC grades. It is good to see a string of 'Outstandings' and 'VCs' for the BPTC subjects but employers still turn to the LLB results as the first indicator on whether to call the applicant up for an interview.

  18. LeeKokHoong

    Also, job applicants cannot afford to be lazy. Don't send photocopies of standard CVs to every firm. Modify each cover letter and each CV according to the type of firm or the area of work you are applying for. For example, applying for a position in financial law or a position in constitutional law requires you to highlight different aspects of your profile.

    Do not volunteer to send in a photograph unless they ask for it, or that you think your looks give you an edge over the next candidate. Not all of us are born good looking, and we would not want prejudice to happen when they are screening our CVs. Note that in countries that practise equal opportunities employment, a request for a photograph with your CV is disallowed. Of course they can still discriminate against you when they see you during the interview, but at least you get to the first stage goal. It is for you during the face-off to impress upon them that your looks is secondary.

    • I agree – Employers should not request and require a photograph of the applicant.

      Yes, it's partly a anti-discrimination issue. But then again, in this day and age, an employer can simply search a name on Facebook and obtain the person's photograph. Also, unless the interview is conducted in a 'confession box', discrimination can still happen at the latter stage of the interview.

      My reason for not enclosing a photograph in my CV is simple – you judge me by my credentials, not my looks (though I reckon myself rather good-looking). If you still insist on seeing my photograph, then I don't think you and your company/firm is the sort of employer I would like to work for.

      That said, discrimination happens, more so in the service industry (yes, including legal). A lot of lawyers are hired mainly due to our looks. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you need a pretty associate to accompany bosses to meetings to impress clients. Every magician needs a beautiful assistant. Like magic, law is mostly about misdirection (that's an entirely different debate altogether, which I am all too happy to engage in).

      • Meera Samanther

        Raphael , I presume you meant either a beautiful male or a beautiful female assistant , isn't it ? . I think in the end clients will only be impressed as to your legal expertize . That I'm sure you agree .

        • Not really. Clients are only humans. And humans are visual creatures.

          I really feel sorry to break this to people, but that's reality for you.

          Trust me, I've seen less legally sound lawyers 'wing' it through judges' and clients' heart simply because they look better and sound better. Style is just as important as substance.

          I'm not saying good looks is everything. But it's definitely something employers look out for, including the top employers.

          P.S. You sometimes hear that Firm X or Department Y "mainly hires good-looking people". There's truth in that, and there's good reason for that. It's not even a secret. Look closely enough, and you will see what I see.

  19. LeeKokHoong

    A job applicant must be clear of his/her stage goals. The first stage goal is to get called for an interview. That's what the CV or resume should aim for. A big mistake is sending in a CV as if the document is speaking on our behalf at an interview. Not yet. So, what should be in the CV that would get you that interview? Your strengths. E.g. if you finished with a CGPA score of 3.5, send in your full transcript! If you didn't finish top, highlight only the papers that you scored exceptionally well. If those also happens to be the very subjects the firm wants, bingo, you get called for an interview. You reach your first goal. Leave the less favourable results to show them during the interview.

    Get ready for interview. Dress professional. Be tidy. Forget hair dyes, earrings, trendy fashion, etc. You get to do all that when you are on the job. Be punctual. Your new stage goal at the interview – (1) present and argue your case like a lawyer! (2) ask and learn more about the firm from the horse's mouth. Who knows, they may not even be the kind of law firm you want to work for. Move on to the next.

    How much do you want? When asked, confirmed with them first that you met all the criteria they are looking for. If you have not, it does not really matter how much money you want. Good luck.

  20. Pepper Lim

    Nice!

  21. One thing missing is that you must be well connected to join the big firms!

    • Not true. Two of the contributors to this article are partners in big firms — Lee Shih is from Skrine, and Goh Siu Lin is from Shook Lin & Bok.

  22. SY New

    The legal profession is like a besieged city, all that are in wants out and all that are out wants in. For law students and prospective lawyers, having a good job application is the first step towards ramming that city wall down. What you find in the city though, may well disappoint you.

  23. John Baptist

    Wow, sounds like a lot of work! Whatever happened to the orthodox way of simply attaching a recommendation letter from a powerful politician/political party or including a photograph of the applicant wining and dining with the rich and famous of the country? ;)