Unfortunately, because firms don’t provide feedback, students often think they’re being rejected because they’re lacking something in their experience or grades – and I do understand why you’d think that.
But most of the applications I’ve seen fall down because of the application, not the applicant. It’s always because their application isn’t tailored enough or they don’t sell their experiences i.e. specifically talk about what they did and why that was impressive/what was the outcome.
I’d go so far as to say an objectively weak student who knows how to write about their experiences is much more likely to be accepted than an exceptional student who can’t. That’s how essential it is.
How important are grades at the top firms? I didn’t do so well in my first year due to circumstances, but looking at LinkedIn I see trainees with first class grades and A* at A-Level
It’s a barrier, but it’s not detrimental. Grades are just one factor of many in an application. Sure, at some firms they may have more weight, but even then you can make up for it if the rest of your application is good.
I’d suggest avoiding LinkedIn profiles. The candidates with top grades are more likely to list them on their profile. A friend of mine got a third in his first year and starts at Linklaters in September, but he’s not going to be posting those grades on LinkedIn.
I received a number of rejections in my first application round, where, even though I thought I was writing tailored applications, I later realised my language was too generic and could easily have been used to describe another firm.
I completely get that this is very difficult because firms – despite saying they’re all different – do seem very much the same. Here are the steps I followed:
Step 1. Research
I’d copy/paste all relevant information I found about a firm into a word document.
Main sources I used:
· Chambers Student Guide: The natural starting point, it’s great to get a sense of what the firm is like from an internal and external perspective. It provides a useful overview of the firm, any recent developments or achievements and an insight into the strongest practice areas.
· The Lawyer: Useful for profiles, recent developments within the firm and insights into a recent deal. I’d usually go back 3-4 years if I found lots of information, sometimes even more.
· Legal Week: If you haven’t used your free trial this I best saved when you have a 30-day period of applying to many firms or attending interviews. It’s a high-level version of the Lawyer.
· Firm’s website: The graduate page will give a sense of what they’re looking for and the perspective you have to take when applying. The main website is useful for finding a recent deal or learning more about a recent press development. Also check out the about page and any awards.
· Legal 500/Chambers and Partners: Useful for an insight into a firm’s strongest practice areas and how it compares to competitors – check tiers and the recommended people.
· Lawyer2B: This can be a useful resource for profiling lawyers or graduate recruitment.
· Legal Cheek: This was in its infancy when I was applying, it now seems alright, albeit very gossipy.
· Roll on Friday: The profiles for the ‘firm of the year’ can be a very useful – if not informal – outline. Good for an insight into culture.
· Lex 100: Decent for a basic outline.
By this point, you’ll have a sizeable word document with a mix of great and irrelevant information.
Step 2: Condense
I would then split my screen with a fresh word document opened up (alternatively you can print out the research document).
I would then go through the very large research document and condense everything into my own words, summarising the relevant and discarding the irrelevant. By doing this you’ll not only come out with a very useful file with specific information about the firm but you’ll also start to pick up themes, remember facts and really understand the firm. The information you have to hand for your application will be targeted and when it comes to the interview, you’ll have a lot of useful information available.
Step 3: Spot the difference
By this point, you should have a better understanding of the firm and once you’ve done a few of these, you’ll have a sense of what makes Firm X different from Firm Y and how it sits against its competitors. Some of the areas a firm can differ include:
- Geographic reach
- Practice area strengths
- Important deals
- Management structure or management change
- Leadership strategy
- Recent mergers
- Training or development
- Lateral moves and recent partnership moves
- Growth (internal and external)
- Recent profit figures
- Innovation & Technology
- Size of intake
You can then dip into this and pick three to four very specific details about the firm.
I didn’t want to go into corporate/commercial law until late into my second year of uni so that left me with little time to prepare and very little confidence (when everyone else seemed to have completed first year schemes/knew what they were doing etc.). It took me a long time to believe I could get into a good corporate law firm and I spent way too much time being hard on myself.
I wish I realised sooner that the whole process – applications/interviews/schemes – are trainable skills and much like learning to play an instrument or working out, it’s going to be tough in the beginning but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
And something a bit more concrete: I would have saved applications to certain firms until a bit later after I had some time to practice. That came back to bite me for a few when I couldn’t re-apply in the same cycle despite having a significantly better application.
I recently did a vacation scheme and I’m trying to incorporate the experience into my application. I’m finding it hard – do you have any advice?
I had to do the same thing: I spent ages crafting my ‘story’ of how my entrepreneurial experience translated to an interest in commercial law. After my first scheme, no matter how many times I tried to tag that experience to my answer, it felt out of place. In the end I started over; I took a blank piece of paper and wrote an answer to ‘why commercial law’ without referring to my original.
Even though it was frustrating having to scrap the original, the revised answer was much better. It was genuine and informed by my actual experience in the vacation scheme. So that’s my advice, start fresh, forget about your old applications and write down three bullet points on why you’re interested in corporate law. You’ll likely come up with an answer based on your vacation scheme experience.
When I first started writing applications, they weren’t very good and I got lots of rejections. I was ecstatic to get my first telephone interview only to stumble on the final question: ‘what are the advantages and disadvantages of interest rates going up’. I was rejected a few hours later by an automated email. That sucked.
I managed to get a few interviews and assessment centres with mid-sized firms that round. I assumed they’d be easier, but I was proven wrong quickly. My hardest ever interview – including silver circle/magic circle and US law firms – ended up being at one of these firms.
After a string of rejections, I was starting to give up hope. A few days later I received an interview invite from the last firm I’d applied to, minutes before the deadline on the 31st January. That was one I’d written off (I had realised shortly after applying that I had spelt the name of the firm wrong throughout my application form!). I’m still not sure why I got that interview.
Fast forward a bit, that interview became my first vacation scheme and my first training contract offer. Battling through more rejections helped me get my second scheme, then my third and then my fourth.
Rejection is tough. Writing an application is exhausting: it means hours of drafting, editing and proof-reading. And the more you’ve tailored your application, the more you’ve invested into a law firm. It gets worse the further you go: a rejection after an interview hurts; a rejection after a vacation scheme feels like a confirmation that you aren’t good enough.
But time spent isn’t time wasted. As you write more applications you get better: you pick up typos, revise sentences and dig deeper into your interest in law. With more interviews you become more confident, better able to understand how firms differ and more familiar with the business world.
One of my favourite examples is a student of mine who had really poor first year grades. He worked exceptionally hard, went to events and honed his application technique, but two years went by and he kept getting rejected without an interview. That third year was going to be his last before he packed it in. He starts the LPC in September as a future trainee at Linklaters.
A training contract application asks what issue in the press affects their international practice, I don’t really know what areas to focus on and whether it means the firm as a whole or particular practice areas?
This question gives you a broad scope. You could zoom in – the impact of a particular regulation, or zoom out – the impact of an event on the economy. You could look at how the firm’s global practice is impacted in response to client-driven changes or other law firms e.g. competition as others increase their scale through mergers. The issue you choose all depends on your understanding of the firm and how it operates. In terms of answering the question, there’s no set structure provided it’s clear and concise. You may want to outline the issue briefly first and then detail 2-3 ways it’ll impact the firm. You can show off some of your knowledge of the firm as you go along. Sometimes, it also helps to form an opinion on the topic
Unless years have elapsed or you’ve completed more vacation schemes or you’ve woo’ed them in person, re-writing your application won’t change the fact that they’ve already spent the resources to evaluate you. At that point, it would be more appropriate to give a new applicant a chance.
An application form asks how an issue will affect the practice of an international law firm. I don’t know whether I should just be talking about how it affects clients or just the law firm? I’m thinking it should be both?
It’s quite difficult to tell without seeing the question, but your reasoning sounds about right. I remember those questions – trying to work out whether to talk about how X affects clients or X affects law firms – and yes in those cases I’d generally discuss both. Generally, if something is big enough to impact clients, law firms will have to be responsive to those issues.
I’m stuck. On the application form I have to answer why this firm and the skills and qualities required by a lawyer, which would normally be fine, except I have to fit both answers in 200 words. How should I split the questions? And do you have any suggestions?
Yes I’d aim for 50:50. It’ll be difficult but very useful in your future applications; you’ll learn how to write concisely (not that you don’t already!) and make every single word count.
My tip would be to write it all out first rather than trying to perfect it along the way: let your thoughts flow even if it goes well over the word count. Then continue to delete unnecessary words and rewrite sentences until you’ve got your 200-word masterpiece.
Do you have any advice for dealing with the wait? I mean after an application has been sent off, it’s making me very anxious!
To name a few:
- Advice from GR/partners on what they’re looking for in an application
- Understand what the firm does/how it operates
- Pick up the small things that trainees/associates/partners comment on: this really reveals a lot and you can often learn how they see their competitors or what firm culture is
- To impress GR/partners with good questions and get noted
- To immerse yourself in the world: you learn how to conduct yourself around partners, how to network and other soft skills
- To feel less nervous when you go for interviews (because you’ve met them/been at the firm before)
- To connect with a certain trainee/associate/partner and write that on the application form or tell them at interview to show your interest in the firm
- Most of all – and this is often forgotten – work out whether corporate law is right for you and whether X firm is right for you. This is really important.
I’m really struggling to answer the ‘Why this firm’ question on an application form, I feel like my answers are too generic.
Due to mitigating circumstances, my A Level grades weren’t very good and I only got BCC (but I did go on to get a 1st at uni). I’m worried that I won’t stand a chance at the silver circle/magic circle/US firms?
Well done on the first. As you have mitigating circumstances, your GCSE/A Levels shouldn’t be a stumbling block to getting through. But you may need to be a little proactive when it comes to speaking to graduate recruitment before you send off your applications. Often it helps if you have the opportunity to explain your situation first, especially as you’re applying to firms where candidates will have achieved much higher grades. If you can meet them at a firm event, then great, or try to give them a call.
I don’t understand how technology will increase the profit in a firm if it means lawyers will do less hours? Wouldn’t clients want to pay less? Or would law firms just do more high volume work?
I wouldn’t say it’s driven from the fact that law firms are struggling to keep up with client demands or looking to be more efficient from a profit-seeking motive. And I understand where you’re coming from – that’s what I would have assumed. The issue is, big law firms have a huge pool of people that they can hire each year if they’re short. They’re also not the most efficient industry – they wouldn’t invest in technology unless they felt they had to.
Your second point is more in the direction of how it started – in an ideal world, law firms would continue to charge really high rates and make more and more profit. That was often the case pre-financial crisis, until clients became a lot more price conscious. Now, clients care a lot more about price. And that means in a very competitive legal market, where law firms are trying to compete for clients, they have to show they’re charging reasonably or they won’t win work. We see that happening in due diligence –some clients aren’t happy spending money for junior lawyers to do due diligence if must of it can be outsourced for cheaper.
Now that technology is available – it’ll soon become the standard (and it has in some cases) for clients to ask what systems are being used by law firms to make things more efficient. Law firms which can complete tasks cheaper and therefore charge lower prices may be the most successful. Law firms also tend to follow what other law firms are doing, so when firms like Slaughters and Davis Polk do it, the rest follow.
It may also not just be about cost – there’s some evidence that particular software can be more accurate than lawyers in certain areas – which’ll be an even more compelling reason for the more sophisticated clients.
At the deep end, I don’t think we’re anywhere near the case of lower hours due to technology – especially at the kind of firms you guys are applying to. At the moment the technology is reasonably rudimentary and so even if clients are more price-conscious and technologically-aware, they still need a big team to provide advice. It’s more the case that junior lawyers may shift and take on more responsibility – where previously they may have been proofreading or compiling documents – they’ll do the other stuff computers can’t do yet, like liaising with clients or project management.
Lawyers are hired to do the legal stuff clients don’t want understand or want to do, so even if it’s simply inputting information into legal-software, for the near-future it’s still what we’ll do.
What happens to the enforcement and jurisdiction of disputes after Brexit? What happens if we don’t get an agreement?
I think it helps to start with our current position. At the moment, the EU has a set of rules that determines (a) who has jurisdiction (the authority to hear a case) and (b) the ability to enforce judgements in a member state. That’s called the Brussels Regulation.
It’s very extensive; the idea behind it is to stop ‘parallel proceedings’ (the same case being brought in different member states) and ‘irreconcilable judgements’ (conflicting judgements in different courts).
There’s been a fair bit of tension between the UK and EU regulation, but I won’t go into that here. The takeaway is that if an English court were to make a judgement, a party wouldn’t be able to pursue the case in another member state; the foreign court would respect the decision of the English courts.
Now that we’re leaving the EU, we’re no longer going to be governed by the Brussels Regulation. And as the question rightly says, we’d want to negotiate agreements so other member states respect decisions made by the English courts. There’s currently two existing conventions which we could join – the Hague and the Lugano convention, or we could negotiate our own agreement (like Denmark). If we did, I think it’s likely we’d have similar provisions to what we have now.
To answer your question, yes – if we didn’t have an agreement with the EU it would be a problem. If there were no rules, a French court wouldn’t have to respect judgements made by the English courts, nor would it be required to prevent parallel proceedings. In my view, that all seems very unlikely; the EU cares a lot about certainty and harmonisation, and in theory, we wouldn’t have to respect their judgements either – so no-one would benefit there.
Finally, with respect to the last point, I think it’s important to remember that the London Commercial Court has a lot of respect for reasons not to do with the EU. Foreign parties choose the court because it’s seen as fair, efficient and commercially aware. The court respects contracts (which companies like) and they’ve got great weapons at their disposal i.e. the power to freeze foreign assets and to stop parties bringing cases in other courts.
I don’t know what kind of agreement we’ll end up negotiating, but I doubt it’ll be too dissimilar to what we have now.The EU has a lot of leverage, but they’d also respect the power of the courts we have.
I read ‘All you need to know about the City’ by Stoakes which I’d definitely recommend but sadly it’s not all you need to know: some parts are too basic, some too detailed and some irrelevant (I’m thinking the stuff on the reinsurance market).
I’d recommend a combination of The Economist (magazine and podcasts), BBC News (basic) and the FT (detailed). For finance terms Investopedia is good.
One of the most useful things I did was to summarise The Economist/recurring FT stories weekly and every time I didn’t understand something I’d research it until I did. Developing commercial awareness is like learning a new language: the best way to learn is to immerse yourself. I started out really unfocused but I slowly picked up how things connect with each other because I kept trying.
- Clients: Kirkland has a strong sponsor-side practice, consider how many banks it represents and compare that to Weil.
- Partnership: Look at what the press has to say, there’s a lot on this for Kirkland. Consider remuneration/bonus/competitiveness etc. Are people leaving?
- Strategy: Compare the approaches both have taken to advance their London practice – Weil, for example, have historically focused on organic growth.
- Practice areas: Both are good at PE, are there any other departments that Weil/Kirkland excel at? Consider this globally (hint – restructuring). Look at clients in other departments (hint – Lehman). How do they integrate their US offerings – think relationships and departments.
- Culture: This ties in with partnership – see what you can find on the press. Do either emphasise a more cutthroat atmosphere? How about entrepreneurial? What are their intake sizes?
- Geography: Easy one here, who is based where? Why?
How do I research a firm’s future strategy? For example what they plan to do in the next five years?
It sounds like you’re taking the right approach. Use Chambers & Partners/Legal 500 to see what they do well and go through all the publications: Chambers Student, Legal Cheek and particularly The Lawyer (go back a couple of years on this one) to assess their past and present strategy, and search for any further press releases on the website. You’ll develop a detailed understanding of the firm, where they’re based, how they hire, what kind of deals they work on and often what the senior partner has to say. By then, you’ll have an understanding of what the firm is likely to do in the next few years i.e.
I’ll run through three practice areas which could be involved in a relocation:
- What’s the length of the current lease? What are the termination provisions? Check contracts to consider the termination process and any provisions for early termination – can they agree/exercise a break option/sublet or even assign?
- Will they be taking a new lease in Frankfurt – lawyers to negotiate appropriate cost and terms – consider parking, service charges, guarantees, repairs, deposit, requirements for landlord consent in potential changes, building hours, security, landlord and tenant responsibilities etc. German counsel may also need to consider any state-specific regulations/permits and insurance.
- Are the constructing/refurbishing an existing building? This may need regulatory approval/planning permission under German and/or EU law. What kind of building quality does an international bank need? Office space?
- How does it move all its infrastructure/assets across? Will third parties help with transportation? What about the environment? What about health and safety
- Are people being relocated? Do they want to be – could this lead to potential litigation risks? What do their service contracts say – any mobility clauses or notice provisions? Where are they going to stay – will the firm accommodate for that relocation through compensation? Will they be housed? How many will be affected? What about their families? Is the bank giving enough time for consultation? Transportation and amenities? Does this discriminate against some? What about if an employee doesn’t want to relocate – are they disadvantaged/could they bring a suit
- Will they be hiring new staff? What terms will that be in? Consider German/EU employment legislation.
- How is the bank financing a relocation? Do they need to restructure? Issue equity or debt? Do they have cash?
- What’s the budget? They may need to fund substantial amounts from insurance to infrastructure to marketing. Lawyers will negotiate the terms of these contracts.
- What are the tax consequences of a move?
- German tax counsel may need to opine and evaluate Frankfurt legislation.
It’s important to remember the general commercial issues too:
How does relocation affect the ability of a bank to serve products to its clients/customers? How about existing contracts and licences? Can it make use of the passporting regime from within Frankfurt – how? What about serving existing UK clients post-Brexit?
I understand employees/pensions/contracts should be looked at during due diligence in a general sale, but I’m wondering how to tailor that to a media company? Would it be a share sale?
Yes, in a share sale it’s likely that all the assets and liabilities will automatically transfer to the buyer. The buyer now becomes the owner of the target, and rights/contracts/the business will generally stay in place without disruption. So if you’re concerned about saving the IP, a share sale might be a better bet.
Imagine you’re the CEO of a media company. You agree with the shareholders – and the rest of the board – to put the company up for an auction sale – that’s where a number of companies can bid to acquire your company.
You hire a team of advisors – investment banks, lawyers and accountants – to prepare the data room.
Much of the acquisition process now depends on:
- Why are you selling?
- Are you looking for a quick sale?
- How much are you aiming to sell the company for?
- How many skeletons do you have in your closet?
- Are you selling because your business isn’t doing well, or you just want to retire?
- And many more…
Now if we don’t have the answers to those questions, we can still apply the considerations you listed to the media company. It does depend on what type of media company they are, but we can put forth some general considerations:
- Finance: how does your company make money? Through subscriptions? Do you have evidence of a large audience? What are your projected financials? Are you diversified? What markets do you operate in?
- IP. Try to be specific, what does that mean exactly? The value of its brand? Is it a reputable media company? Can you identify your intangible assets? Do you have trademarks, are they registered
- Employees: Media companies are likely to have many employees, what kind of contracts do they have?
- Technology: how do you optimise technology to cut costs? How are you dealing with competition from online services? How about apps? Or audio/video?
- Contracts: What about contracts? Do you have deals with advertisers? Where do you get your data from?
The point is, try to think about what the purpose of a sale might be, and if you want to distinguish a particular type of company – what makes them different?
Finally, you’re right, intellectual property is central to the value of a media company. Counsel for the bidders will have to check whether its assets are protected, often by a search at the Intellectual Property Office or Trade Mark Registry – depending on the type of asset.
Yes, so let’s assume you’re writing to a client on behalf of the firm, some of the things they’re testing:
- Whether you can spot the key issues – what do clients care about the most?
- Whether you can articulate that appropriately – do you use the right formalities? Can you get the point across in a way they’ll understand?
- Whether you can get that information down within the time frame – that may involve being selective, think about what’s the most relevant.
- Write using simple language. This is a key skill for lawyers who must breakdown technical legal speak in a form that clients can understand. The key is to structure your work and plan beforehand so you have enough time to finish.
- Always remember the correct form must be taken, for example in a letter writing the address in the top right hand corner and signing your name or a name that has been given to you at the bottom, with the appropriate formality.
- Time will be the biggest challenge throughout the assessment. As you read the case study, note the most relevant points: it is very common to have too much information in these case studies and the assessors are looking to see who can distinguish between what is useful and what is not. Make use of sub headings, numbered points and clear paragraphs.
Debates are hard, but the same principles should apply as with group exercises:
- Listen carefully to the other points raised
- Speak up, be firm with your points
- Be prepared to concede points when necessary
- Even if it’s a debate, try to come across as considerate of others (especially in a group dynamic)
How do I answer interview questions on ethical issues? The scenario involves opposing counsel threatening with a complaint unless we settle.
If it’s an ethical issue, it’s testing whether you understand – in a broad sense, what lawyers do, what conflicts they may run into and why this matters i.e. how would this affect the law firm. The partner will be looking to see how you think about the problem (rather than knowing the particular legal process).
So here, the main issue is that opposing counsel is trying to force your hand by making a threat. It can help to think about the steps you’d take, rather than coming to a definitive answer. There’s a few ways to go about this, but one might be:
- If we’re talking an immediate response during the phone call, I wouldn’t be making a decision either way. We don’t make decisions for our clients, and definitely nothing as big as a settlement.
- I’d speak to a more senior lawyer to discuss the threat made against the client – see what the law says about making threats to reach a settlement. Maybe there’s some action we can take.
- Depending on how that goes, I’d speak to the client (hopefully with the senior lawyer) about the settlement. I presume we’d have a clear idea about what happened at this point and take a view as to how strong the case is. I’d also tell the client that opposing counsel threatened to report to the regulatory body. The client is likely to be displeased – so I’d reiterate that the client shouldn’t submit based on this – especially if the lawyer has acted in poor faith. Based on the findings above, I’d also present a view as to whether we’d be taking some kind of action against the lawyers.
- There are also more factors which (hopefully) the partner would share to you. I.e. it would matter how big the settlement was for. Whether the client had a strong case against it. Whether the client wanted to fight it. Reputational damage etc. If they’re not – you may want to ask the partner, as they demonstrate you consider the bigger picture questions i.e. if it’s a small claim, you’re not going to start a legal action fighting against the other law firm.
- Chances are there’s a lot of information in the document. Prepare for that. You’ll already be feeling nervous. So, this doesn’t have to be a surprise and you don’t need to spend time thinking of all the worse possible outcomes. Easier said than done I know. Breathe.
- As you’re reading, work out what the purpose of the document is – what’s going on? how would you summarise the facts? Who are the parties? Are there important sections that you think the partner might ask you?
- People have different preferences in terms of going through the document. I tend to read it through quickly first, making a mental note of what’s important. Then I go back through it and highlight or put an asterisk by the important provisions. Definitely do that last bit, in whatever format you prefer, so you can refer to it during the interview. If you have any, consider using sticky tabs to flag these up – but, don’t worry if you don’t have any.
- Case studies often have you advising a client. If that’s the case, put yourself in their shoes. What kind of business do they have? How do they make money? What’s important to their business?
- If you’re acting as a lawyer in this case study, think about why the client has come to you in the first place. What does the client want out of the situation? What could go wrong? Why? What could you do to protect your client? That often comes down to what you could draft in the contract to help your client.
- For example, if it was to do with the purchase of a large quantity of goods, you might want to draft provisions that deal with their storage, transportation and delivery. You’d want certain rights to reject it or return it, if it wasn’t suitable. You might want provisions where you pay half the money when it’s ordered and the other half when you receive it. Remember, you’re not expected to know the law – it’s about whether you can understand the needs of a client and come up with common sense solutions. Unless of course, they state what the law is in the case study.
- Now when it comes to presenting your thoughts/answering questions from the partner – take your time. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time to think if you need it – it may be better to sit there in silence for 15 seconds and think, instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind.
- Be prepared to stand your ground if you need to. Sometimes, the partner will challenge you – on purpose. They’re looking to see if you have conviction.
- However, there is a line. You may be wrong. And that’s ok. It’s ok to concede and explain why.
- If you really don’t know something, be honest, don’t dig yourself into a whole. You can still do that in an effective manner – explain your reasoning and which bits you do and don’t understand.
Support staff are incredible – especially secretaries who often have your back when times are tough. There’s nothing I’d really differentiate here for a professional setting: I’d speak to the trainee (alone) and tell them I didn’t approve. I’d be calm but firm, and I’d probably check in with the support staff. If the trainee is difficult I just wouldn’t interact with him/her. If it continued or it escalated I’d probably speak to my supervisor or someone at the firm.
Hypothetical 1: You have plans so you’re leaving the office early. A trainee in your department still has lots of work to do. What do you do?
Often your thought process is more important in these grey-area questions.
First off, putting in time to help others make a big difference, and the mentality of everyone pitching in is really important for morale. Those bonds are really important; who knows when you’ll need a trainees help in the future. However, it’s also important to note that two trainees aren’t necessarily better than one. If you haven’t been briefed on the deal, it could take more time to bring you up to speed. It also depends on the work that’s being done/when it’s due etc. So I’d want to ask the trainee some questions – what kind of work are they doing? If the trainee was printing/photocopying for a meeting tomorrow, I wouldn’t necessarily drop my plans.
How do I use PESTLE and SWOT in a law firm interview? Someone suggested it to me and it feels very forced.
I was asked at an assessment centre if you were the managing partner, what strategies would you use to tackle the what political, economic and social global challenges facing the legal sector?
I don’t blame you for struggling, that’s a very tough question. If it helps at all, these are generally designed to assess your reasoning and your ability to present on difficult topics, rather than expecting you to give a flawless answer.
There’s only so much you can cover in questions like these, especially in 10 minutes. So a good structure is very important. They’ve indicated what themes they want you to discuss: political, economic and social, so that’s your structure. Three minutes per theme. I’d probably only do one point per theme to stay within the time.
As the scenario has you as the managing partner; it’s testing your understanding of the firm, its market position and strategy. So the global challenges/strategies you choose should depend on the firm in question.
A few quick thoughts:
I might choose the US/EU introducing legislation to stop Chinese buyers acquiring western companies (for fear of national security). If I were managing partner of Freshfields for example, this would be a big challenge – they’re M&A heavyweights and also see a fair amount of Chinese outbound work in Germany. So this could affect their income.
I’d invest in research, so lawyers can understand the regulatory position and are in a position to advise clients. I’d publish insights to update Chinese clients and I’d liaise with senior partners in the key financial centres to get their input – potentially with the aim of establishing a group to work on this.
Let’s say I take Brexit for this one. My concern would be that many financial institutions will relocate (or reallocate more resources) to the EU. On top of the typical Brexit R&D investments, I’d want to ensure I had regulatory and international trade practices, and sufficient investment in key financial centres in the EU, for example a strong Germany practice, to cater to the needs of clients. I’d also consider having competition lawyers register in Ireland so they retain the right to represent EU clients in court. If I didn’t invest enough in measures like these it’s likely I’d lose clients to competitors who can service their needs.
I could use employees here. There’s been a lot of talk about millennials recently and what firms can do to adapt the needs to a changing workforce. That could range from an investment into mentoring schemes to agile working to greater work life balance. It’s expensive when law firms lose people and investing in employees often means productive employees, so being ahead of these needs is very important.
Generally speaking, there are many topics you can choose when you get asked questions like this. I tend to shy away from Brexit/Trump topics or choose one very small issue within them because otherwise they’re too broad.
Finally, I’d also reiterate that you shouldn’t worry about finding this hard, it’s a very hard one!
Most of my initial mock interviews with students go like this: they have good, well-researched answers to why law and why X firm, they’ve been following commercial stories well and they can talk about a recent deal. I know this because they’ve told me before in conversation. We then we set a time for the mock interview and everything changes. They’re rigid, they waffle and they grasp to say everything they can about the question. They speak quickly and often give irrelevant answers to the questions because they didn’t listen – instead they answer with the question they expected to be asked. All of a sudden it feels less of a conversation and much more like an interrogation.
I see nerves as one of the toughest battles to face because it often prevents good students from showing who they really are. But you can develop this skill and overcome it.
Break out of Interview-mode
One commonality I noticed between myself and many other trainees is we all started off with imposter syndrome – to varying degrees – when applying (which then came back when we started working). When I began my answers were very stiff. I had memorised answers and couldn’t adapt to tougher questions. I struggled to talk about everything I knew – and I had really researched the firm – because I was so nervous. It becomes self-defeating, I’d be convinced I wasn’t good enough and it showed (good-old mirror neurons).
Once I learned how to break out of interview-mode, it flowed much more like a conversation and I was able to be myself. In my view this is the key to a successful interview: it allows you slow things down, answer questions in a professional but conversational manner, and it gives you a degree of control over the direction of the interview.
There are a few things you can work on to develop better interview technique and break out of interview mode. The first is deliberate practice. That means you want to simulate a real interview, reflect on how you did and then do it again and again. I usually suggest students draw up a list of questions that you might be asked and find someone to give you a mock interview. If you can ask another law student or know someone in the field, great. If not, don’t worry – it can be anyone (even your parents). The point is to treat it seriously. The interviewer – whether they are in law or not – can offer feedback on your verbal and non-verbal communication (body language), which make a big difference in your performance. If you can record yourself that’s even better, it’ll feel a bit odd, but it’s a great way to identify areas you can improve.
I’ve just arranged mock interviews over Skype with some students, so feel free to drop me a PM if you’d like one, and I can offer feedback – but that’s completely optional.
Rehearse (but don’t script) answers
The second is to rehearse answers. That means outlining how you would answer a question. I suggest 3-4 bullet points which give you the flexibility to adapt your answers to a question and expand if necessary.
The key is not to script, a lot of students memorise answers and whilst you might get something out: it’s likely to appear robotic. Likewise, if the question is worded slightly differently, relying on your memorised answer will make it irrelevant.
On the other side, I note some people are against or just don’t rehearse answers – that doesn’t make sense to me. Think of it like an exam where you’ve been given half the questions in advance. That’s your opportunity to get bonus points and impress by preparing excellent responses to the ‘why this firm’ or ‘why commercial law’ questions, especially when many students will stumble on those questions. The key again is that you’re not simply offering scripted answers, but you’ve got a basis for a developed and thoughtful answer.
Fake it till you become it
The third suggestion is something I learned after a series of early rejections. Once I took this advice on board, I saw a dramatic shift in my performance, and now it’s something I tell all my students. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk ‘fake it till you become it’ to see what this means.
Imagine you’re a very experienced lawyer already. You’re a senior associate at a law firm and you’ve established a great reputation. Visualise this. Now in your mock interview, pretend Legal Cheek have come to your office to ask you questions, you kindly offer to take a break from your busy schedule. Try answering these questions as if you were this person.
After the mock interview, ask the interviewer how you did. Were you more confident? Did you feel better able to tell your story? The key to tackle feelings of doubt is to embrace a growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s work)
I note this technique has worked for students in other professions too – friends have turned around medicine rejections – simply due to this attitudinal shift. It might seem unconventional and feel odd to do a little acting, but see how it goes: I intend to do an article on this at some point but hopefully, that’s enough to get started.
A final point on this: have good eye contact, a firm handshake, an upright – but not rigid – posture and smile.
It’s OK to be vulnerable
If I could give my younger self a piece of advice before interviews, I’d say “ you’re going to be nervous but that’s OK”. Reaching the interview stage with any of these firms isn’t easy and some people struggle to get an interview at all. I know it’s scary but they’ve identified you as an applicant with potential.
Try to see this as an opportunity to get to know the firm and for them to get to know you, it’ll then feel more like a conversation. At the interview, it’s OK to pause and think about difficult questions. You can ask them for more time to think about your answer. You can say you don’t know if you don’t know. Often this leads to some of the most thoughtful answers.
I’ve found honesty to be one of the most powerful – yet rarely mentioned – traits which are important for the interview and in practice. When you start working you know very little and the more open you are to listening, the quicker you’ll learn.
If you get rejected after an interview, always ask for feedback. That’s tough to do – going through the interview process and receiving a generic email hurts. A little story of my own: during an interview with a US firm, the of counsel reacted to one of my responses with “that’s the best answer I’ve ever heard to that question”. I left completely confident I’d nailed it. I was very happy. Two weeks later – and after much internal celebration – I received a rejection by email. That hurt. After some time I had the courage to ask them for feedback. The first answer I received was: “it wasn’t what you said, but how you said it” – I had no idea what that meant, so after some back and forth, I learned that some of my answers weren’t relevant enough. That was really useful feedback. I suggest asking them to be as (constructively) critical as possible so you can improve, they’ll typically respond well to that.
GR know video interviews are hard: it’s not something students are used to and that can cause a lot of nerves. That’s ok. Back when I was applying, CC were among the very few firms that asked for a video interview and I had no idea what to expect. I prepared for it like a normal interview, expecting to be asked about my interest in the firm/law and some kind of commercial question. That’s what I got and it was a lot shorter than I had imagined. The main thing I didn’t like was the time pressure: in a normal telephone or in-person interview you have the opportunity to pause mid-question if needed, whereas this was more of a fast-paced, hear the question, make quick notes and answer.
If I was doing them now I’d do lots of practice video interviews first and rehearse (but not script) answers to the typical questions asked at interview. Practice timing yourself. I’d say be careful not to over-complicate things, you have to be concise, go straight to the point and answer without waffle. Unlike a normal interview, partners can’t explore the answer you give, so it needs to be able to stand up on its own as a good interview answer.
Yes – I did one of my schemes there.
My interview was very informal and one of my favourites (they gave me a response an hour after the interview was over). It was mostly about me, my reasons for law, some competencies and a commercial question. They generally bounced off what I said so it was more like a discussion/debate rather than a box-ticking exercise.
I’d suggest you try fit that style too, you don’t want to sound very scripted as you’ll quickly lose flow. My interviewers wanted to see personality: they even asked me if I’m the kind of guy that would be down to go for a drink after a long day!
Smile, be enthusiastic, pass the aeroplane test (if you guys were stuck on a delayed plane would they enjoy your company). Getting out of interview mode is tough I know so the more mock interviews you can do for this one the better.
Really know what Jones Day is about, it’s a firm that has a very strong personality – so show how enthusiastic you are about their non-rotational system, that you’re entrepreneurial (so would thrive), that you really value their ‘true partnership’ model – that’s something they really love to talk about.
So prepare (but don’t script) the below, but please note this isn’t prescriptive and it may not be indicative of actual interview questions – I just want to get you into the mindset of a good JD interviewee.
· Why law
· Why JD – if you’ve met anyone there, stress that, they get a sense for who’s a good fit so you’ve gotta convince them
· if I remember correctly there was a commercial question on the app form – know that well and also know Brexit well (if you want a mock interview drop me a PM and I can help prepare you)
· Go through your app form/work experience and any other schemes (they usually like it if you do, but show you’ve got a clear sense of the kind of firms you’re applying to)
- What makes a good lawyer/skills
- What you do to relax/on the weekends – the personality type questions.
[Note: the key to answering this is to be honest, IMHO they’d rather you said you watch Jeremy Kyle on a Saturday instead of reading the FT.]
- Where you see yourself in the X years
- Some competencies
- Your strengths and weaknesses (either yours or what your friend would say)
- Think about how they compare to competitors
This was early on in my application timeline, the interview was finished (so I thought) and the partners had answered my questions. I was about to get up when one of them asked “before you go , tell us why we should choose you instead of the many other applicants we’ve just interviewed”. I was really caught off guard – after a very long pause I ended up mumbling something about me being entrepreneurial and watched as my chances of a TC went out the window.
A runner up would be: “What energises you?”.
They were generally a variation of the following:
A question on a specific commercial story:
At the time the Greek debt crisis was a hot topic so I was expected to understand the main issues and have an opinion on its bailout. I was asked whether Greece should leave the Eurozone, what solution I’d have to fixing the crisis, whether hedge funds would be interested in buying distressed debt from Greece and what kind of return they would expect (note my approach was much more important than my actual answer). This hot topic would be Brexit now. I’ve also had questions on the financial crisis and my thoughts on increasing regulation.
A question about a news story you read recently
I had two stories which were my go-to for these questions, they were quite specific (one of them being the European Banking Union) so in interviews I could answer a range of follow-up questions.
A case-study question
This was typically a question on a mock acquisition, I’d have to walk a partner through the due diligence or discuss the financing options. I didn’t end up going to my A&O interview (I had my offer by then) but I’ve mentored students who have: if it hasn’t changed, you’ll get 30 mins to read through a pack of documents and have to present/deal with client requirements/highlight problems. There’s a lot of information (including a balance sheet) and you’ve got to be strategic because there’s not enough time to cover all the questions.
A specific commercial question
Questions I’ve been asked range from the advantages and disadvantages of interest rates going up. A student I’ve helped recently was asked how Brexit could lead to rising interest rates for PE firms.
I feel like as a non-law student I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to the commercial questions at interview.
I know it’s hard for non-law students because you have to demonstrate an interest in a world that you haven’t yet studied. Your interview won’t require legal knowledge so don’t worry about that; interviewers know you’ve still got the GDL and LPC to do.
Instead, they’re trying to identify whether you have the potential, so try to understand what a commercial solicitor does and think deeply about why you’re interested in it.
Most law students won’t have an understanding of finance through their degree but yes, especially with the top corporate firms, you should be able to discuss the above on a very basic level. A lot of students struggle here because they pick out a complex story from the FT and then suffer when asked very simple questions. And I get it – it’s really hard to know where to even start with this as there’s so much to cover, I was in the exact same position when I first started.
I don’t think my examples are good enough for competency interviews. Do you have any advice on this?
Learn how to sell your experience. You don’t need to be captain of the rowing team or a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau to stand out. This is often a new skill for students to learn because they’re too used to being modest about their achievements. Interviewers don’t have the benefit of knowing how impressive your achievement is unless you tell them.Learn how to sell your experience. You don’t need to be captain of the rowing team or a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau to stand out. This is often a new skill for students to learn because they’re too used to being modest about their achievements. Interviewers don’t have the benefit of knowing how impressive your achievement is unless you tell them. It’s easy to transform the seemingly mundane experience into a tale of achievement by following the S-T-A-R or the C-A-R method. This structure forces you to be concise and bring out the best of your experience.For example:
This should be brief. Include enough information to provide the necessary background to explain what you were doing. This is the least important part.
By contrast this is the most important part and should form the majority of your answer. This is all about you – even if you worked within a team. What was your role? What exactly did you do?
Briefly outline the outcome. The best answers quantify the outcome ‘I secured £3,000 in funding’ or ‘the magazine was distributed to 300 students’. Be able to answer the following (and more):
· Tell me about a time you worked in a team
· Tell me about how you resolved a recent major challenge
· When have you worked under pressure? How did you handle it?
· Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team member, how did you handle that?
· When did something not go to plan? How did you adapt?
Filling out a table like this might be helpful:
Always be specific, focus on what you did (even if you did something as part of a team) and try to use different experiences for different competencies if you can.
These are often seen by students as one of the more difficult assessments. Candidates are given a set time to read a case study, often a very large document and must prepare to answer questions on what they have read. This task is easier if you know what you are looking for and can focus on reading the relevant subsections as there is often insufficient time to read the whole document. This can be helped by marking the useful sections for later review. Importantly interviewers do not expect you to have memorised all the information and it’s wise to review the case study during the interview. You are tested on your ability to reason and draw conclusions, particularly when the nature of the topic is technical and you often are not expected to know the right answers. You can say you don’t know if you don’t know.It is important to consider both the legal AND business implications of the scenario. The latter is often overlooked by students, but it is essential. Clients are looking for how the legal consequences impact their business.Case study
The case study can be quite challenging: be prepared to walk a partner through an acquisition (the target will often be a big brand) and in particular, what factors you will need to think about. I find it helps when students split it into categories something like this:
· Structure – Share purchase (whole business) v asset purchase (cherry-pick parts)
· Finance – Raising equity (selling shares) v debt (getting a loan or issuing a bond)
· Employment/Litigation – Any claims? Terms of the current contracts? Any potential claims?
· IP – How powerful is the brand?
· Real Estate – Who actually owns the title to the property?
Then be prepared to think about how you can get protections if things go wrong i.e. warranties and indemnities, reduction of the purchase price etc.
I’m worrying about the written exercise during my assessment centre. What’s it like? How do I do well on this?
Students are often given 1 hour to read a case study and draft a letter, email or memorandum to a client or lawyer. They are designed to test your ability to articulate the key points in a concise manner. This is a key skill for lawyers who must break down technical legal speak in a form that clients can understand. Take as much time as necessary to read the information; there will be vital information in the text which can be easily overlooked if skimming. From there, the correct form must be taken, for example in a letter, write the address in the top right-hand corner, sign appropriately and check whether to use your name or a name that has been given to you in the exercise (i.e. if you’re representing a law firm).
Time will often be the biggest challenge throughout the assessment. Students often use this as an excuse to write as much information as possible and turn what could have been a good answer into a very mediocre one. Taking the time to plan your answer and noting the most relevant points demonstrates you are confident enough to be strategic. It is very common to have too much information in these case studies and the assessors are looking to see who can distinguish between what is useful and what is not. Making use of subheadings, numbered points and clear paragraphs makes this easier. The key is to be concise.
- Make sure you can answer “what’s private equity?”, it’s a huge revenue-driver at the firm and most departments will work for PE clients.
- For this reason, you may want to consider how PE feeds into your answer of ‘Why Weil’ in some way.
- Be prepared to go through some of the typical competencies/why law questions. But, generally, they’ll try to get to know you. Brush over your application form as they’ll use this as a basis.
- Be prepared to discuss a current commercial awareness issue or a case study i.e. the PE acquisition of a company. This’ll typically be at the end of an interview and will form the basis of a question, with a few follow-ups.
- The above may seem scary, but the Weil interview tends to be relaxed. It’ll typically be a partner and associate, and they’ll be trying to get to know you.
- There’s usually a written exercise: you’ll have to read a couple of pages and write recommendations to a client/law firm based on the case study. The key is to think about structure, simplicity and relevancy. Make sure you address the exercise to the write person and use the write formality in your introduction/signature.
I have a group exercise coming up for my first assessment centre, do you have any advice on what I can expect and how I can stand out?
Depending on the number of interviewees on the day, group exercises will usually range from four to eight people with a host of assessors sitting in for the duration of the exercise. Students might be given a case study to read and are then asked to discuss the activity in a group. The group must then present their findings. Alternatively the students may be split into smaller groups and asked to negotiate. The types of case studies vary – I’ve seen fictional business dilemmas, firm strategy/sector discussions to the unusual ‘who would you invite to a dinner party?’.
Assessors are looking to see how you operate within a group dynamic. However many share misconceptions that those who speak the most and put forth the most forceful arguments are necessarily the most successful. In fact, being either extremity: too loud or too quiet, are common reasons candidates are rejected. When practicing as lawyers, knowing when to speak and when to listen are vital qualities both when working in a team and interacting with clients: acting competitive can suggest poor teamwork and interpersonal skills.
On the other hand, a good candidate can defend or concede their points of view where appropriate. They will interject with useful arguments which progress the team towards the main objective, whilst ensuring they listen to different points of view. In fact, there are many roles a candidate can take to do well within a group. This includes effective time management, approaching and listening to quieter members of the group and delegating responsibilities.Group exercise
You can’t prepare for the fact patterns and that’s understandably frustrating. But you can prepare how you behave which is exactly what they’re assessing (interpersonal skills/communication etc.). Think about:
- Can you put your viewpoint across firmly but not forcefully
- Can you delegate (e.g. you could ask someone who seems quiet what their opinion is)
- Do you listen and respond or are you just waiting to make your point?
Try to think of the group exercise as a team working towards an objective. If someone in the team is going down the wrong path or being forceful, try to guide them but if you can’t get them back it’ll be to their own detriment. Also note that you can take a number of roles from time-keeper to scribe: you don’t necessarily have to lead.
Life at a law firm
Honestly, not really no. There’s generally a greater proportion of Oxbridge/London Uni/private school students but I’ve seen enough students who didn’t go to these uni’s. In terms of extracurriculars they vary a lot; the key is not what experience you have but whether you know how to sell your experience. A lot of students think they need to be captain of X sports team or to have won mooting competitions, but with the right technique you can make working at McDonalds stand out.
I found my vacation scheme at a top firm very intense and I’m worried I can’t cut it. I don’t know whether to apply for a mid-sized firm or just stick with it?
It’s difficult to give you advice on this bit without knowing you (and I think it’s something you’ll know best). What I would say is vacation schemes are great for experiencing what a lawyer is, how the people are and for getting a vibe on what the firm is like, but they don’t give a holistic view of the firm, not least because they’re extremely intense – my firm’s vacation scheme is renown for being extremely assessment heavy and the actual experience as a trainee is very different. You’re still trying to impress but you can have a lot of fun in the process. Stress-wise firms could do a lot more to manage mental health, though I wouldn’t underestimate your ability to manage the work especially if you’ve got this far. It’s a lot less difficult than it sounds and much more about project management/organisation than real technical ability.
I think it’s right that you’re thinking about the long term though, few candidates do. I’d suggest applying to all of them. Normally I recommend against a scatter-gun approach of applying to law firms, but in this case you know your stuff and the best way to learn what works for you is to try get on more schemes (or at least an open day) and eliminate by trial and error. I ended up turning down a few TC’s until I found the my current firm; it was risky but if I didn’t do that I don’t think I’d be enjoying myself as much right now. A final point to remember: it’s easy to move down once you train at a prestigious law firm, however it’s very hard to move up.
I’m not sure whether to go for a US firm (smaller intake) or a magic circle (larger intake) – I fear I can’t handle the intensity of a US firm.
Some lawyers at U.S. law firms tend to reject the notion that it’s any different to the magic circle; I don’t think that’s true at all. I imagine the hours aren’t too different but you’re completely right that there’s often less of us to handle a deal. What that means is very often I’m liaising with a more senior lawyer on the other side. I get a lot of responsibility and that’s scary; it’s less learning by formal training and more let’s throw you in the river and let you swim (though thankfully if you start to drown there’s a lifeguard outside). That said I love it – I think that it’s a terrific way to learn and once you go through that you come out as a formidable lawyer.
Do you ever regret choosing to work at a US firm? Rather than a better work-life balance at a UK firm?
I can’t say I do, however I think that’s because it fits well with my personality and stage in life. I think if I had more responsibilities – a partner or family – my perspective would be very different.
I get a lot of pleasure from working hard if the work is interesting. And usually it is, or I get a scary amount of responsibility which keeps things interesting. There’s never any face time so I’m either very busy or I’m done for the day: that means I rarely clock-watch. I don’t think I’d be comfortable with a job where I was counting the hours down.
Speaking of more general differences: there’s some training but it’s very much you learn by doing. At the start that’s working out what to do first and getting it wrong, sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s because of a tiny mistake – the expectations are very high. After that, I won’t forget it and I’ll remember the steps I took to work out what to do. I love that style of learning, but it’s not for everyone.
Because there’s a small number of us, I’m usually dealing with a more senior lawyer on the other side. That was scary at first, but it meant learning quickly and adopting the right practices so as to not embarrass the firm. I also generally prefer working in a small team.
If I was doing a mock report to a client, how would I structure it? A summary – main report – then conclusions? What information does a client want?
A client/partner needs to find the information immediately, but they also need the evidence to know how you came to those conclusions – in case you made a mistake. If this was a task I had in practice, I’d, as concisely as possible, detail the key commercial issues and conclude with my opinion. Then, at the end of the email or as an attachment I’d present a more detailed explanation for each of my claims – but this should still be concise, relevant and clear.
A client is busy. They don’t come to lawyers for a detailed explanation of the law (unless they ask for it). They want to know: Is doing X within the law? Or out of X, Y and Z – what’s the best option? – In which case you need to understand both the law, their business and the industry to form a view of what’s the best action to take.
In my experience, yes.
If a partner wanted only research, they’d ask a secretary to compile the information. A junior lawyer should form a view to present to the partner and in my experience, prepare to be questioned on how they came to that decision. It’s a way for partners to quickly form their own opinion and also a way for you to improve. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve pointed things out to a more senior lawyer – that took some courage at first, but, it went down very well. Especially if I was convinced they’d missed out on something important.
Is there usually a dominant practice area at a firm? Does it overlap with other practice areas? Do firms want that?
If you’re asking what’s the most common practice area, then at my firm that’s corporate, as will be the case at many of these firms. That’s very noticeable in some departments including intellectual property, real estate and employment, where they might serve as support teams for corporate. They’re huge revenue drivers and an acquisition requires input from many different departments.
But that’s not exclusive to corporate: departments cross over all the time, that might be a simple case of asking the litigation team a question about the possible consequences of a particular course of action, or it may be having the tax partner join in on a call with a client, providing his or her thoughts on a potential structure.
That’s why law firms pitch their full-service offering. A client would rather have one firm which can service the various needs of their project rather than constantly shopping every time a new question comes up. Although note, they probably have a few (rather than one) which work with them on different activities i.e. some firms will be better for litigation or restructuring.
This is where the international capability also comes in. You don’t want to tell a client you don’t have the capability or worse, give incorrect advice. So if an international question comes up, which it does all the time, you’ll call the Spanish office or your relationship-firm about the consequences of incorporating a shell company there or to get a legal opinion in a financing transaction.
Do non-Oxbridge applicants have a chance at getting to the top firms? I’ve been lucky to secure a Jones Day vacation scheme, but I’m worried that partners and associates will look down on me. I’m the first from my university to interview at a firm in the City (It’s in the bottom 10).
Yes of course. Firms are much more diverse in their recruitment now and they care about it more.
I certainly found the law firm environment to be quite a different world when I first started. But the more you immerse yourself and by extension, the less you see yourself as a barrier, the easier it’ll be. I haven’t seen attitudes like that at my firm at all, perhaps the occasional comment in jest on a vacation scheme, but it is very rare. More importantly, it’s about whether you display the right attitudes and show potential.
How important are GDL/LPC grades in the long-term? I’m not sure whether to pursue other activities instead.
How important are GDL/LPC grades in the long-term? I’m not sure whether to pursue other activities instead.
I would imagine a little more weighting might be placed on the GDL but I’ll reserve giving any opinions on that, I didn’t do the GDL and I don’t want to advise you incorrectly. I would suggest putting the work in for the GDL, it’ll make the LPC easier because the content will be new, and set you with a good foundation of the law, which I do think is useful for practice (in a broad sense).
If we’re talking about law firm recruiters, they may care more about certain GDL grades such as contract law because that’s more important for commercial law firms. That said, if you don’t get a distinction in your GDL, it’s not the end of the world by any means!
With regard to the LPC, just make sure you pass and that the law firm doesn’t have any grade requirements. Post-training contract, I don’t think it’s important at all. Your undergrad matters and you’re all set with that. I’d actually strongly recommend using the time at law school to pursue any extra-curriculars you’re interested in. Free time will be relatively scarce once you start working. If you’re at the University of Law, feel free to drop a message on the board and I’ll send you some LPC notes.
I’m not sure whether to practice law, I don’t really see myself at a desk all day, do you travel much?
Travelling isn’t really a thing we do at my firm as trainees, unless you count my many coffee and loo breaks. A couple of times a month I get to meet a client in person, but so much is done virtually now that I can only see that getting shorter. Associates and partners travel a lot more though, two guys went to the Paris office last week and one of our partners is always flying back and forth from New York.If it’s more secondments you want, there are certainly firms like White & Case, Norton Rose and Linklaters which are very big on that, but again, that’s not so much the case at my firm.But yes, if you don’t want long hours or to sit in an office all day, I wouldn’t apply to commercial law firms. If you just want less hours, there’s certainly firms you can apply to which will offer that.
The hours were a shock to the system at first. I missed the freedom of doing what I wanted to do during the day. Or at the very least, being able to have a few hours after work to relax. For a good while my schedule was to wake up, get to work, come home and drop straight to bed. I’ve clocked some of the highest hours in my intake, but that’s quite exceptional: I just so happened to get a department where we were short staffed and very busy. It’s different between departments though and between firms. All that said, you get used to it really quick, and learn to value the free time you do have, especially the weekends. I also stopped minding it, sure some days I was pretty sleep-deprived, but I really like the work, get tons of responsibility and I feel like I’m really contributing to my team. I’m never there for the sake of it, and my colleagues constantly make it known how much they appreciate it. I never have to count the hours down because it goes so quickly.
Oh I didn’t realise they had a full en-suite and everything! I always pictured the Japanese type sleeping pods!
My graduation falls during a vacation scheme, should I miss it? I’m worried about telling the firm.
Same thing happened to me. I missed the morning to go to my graduation and then came back to the firm when it finished. I even missed an assessment. The firm were completely understanding – they initially told me to take off the day – and it didn’t affect the outcome at all. Just tell them early and you should be fine.
It also depends on how much graduation matters to you, but I wouldn’t miss it too lightly. It’s one of the few once-in-a-lifetime things (or two/three if you do more degrees!) that I wouldn’t miss.
I have a vacation scheme coming up. I was wondering if you could provide some guidance on legal research – how to format/structure it?
It’s difficult to offer general advice because it depends on a number of factors:
- Firms have different formatting styles
- Partners have different preferences
- The task may require a particular style
A few tips I can suggest.
First, you should be getting IT training during the first day or two. This is a question worth asking in terms of the numbering format for your firm – ours is 1/1.1/1.2 etc.
Second, check with the person who sets you the task whether they have are particular style they prefer. If it’s a senior then I’d suggest asking your trainee buddy or a secretary for suggestions.
Third, try to understand what the task requires. It’s not usually so rigid – unless the person has asked for a particular format. I can’t say I’ve ever included purpose and rarely an intro/conclusion. Typically, I’ll do a summary of my findings (sometimes in bullet points) and then provide more detail in the body of the report. The key is that the partner/supervisor can get to the important points quickly. Then, if they want more guidance on how you got there, they’ll read the main body.
If you’re ever confused, fall back to the second point. It may even be good to make a start and check in with the supervisor/partner to see if what you’re doing is along the right lines. We do that a lot in practice. It saves you wasting time doing it incorrectly. If you can do that during a vacation scheme, it often shows a lot of professionalism.
Your supervisor/trainee buddy will generally give you work. You’ll also have an tour of the department you’re sitting in on the first day – that’s when I’d usually mention I’d be happy to take on any work, so sometimes people will know they can come in and give you work. And sometimes I’d just offer it to people who came into the office.
Aside from that, I don’t think it’s necessary to get work from lots of people, at least in the sense of knocking on doors or searching for work (apart from Jones Day where it’s part of the training). There’s some qualifications to that, for example if you found yourself without any work – then I’d suggest seeking out work.
It’s a bit strange because you’re on a scheme without many highly-qualified students, so I know it often feels like you need to go above and beyond everyone else. But I’d think of standing out this way – just focus on doing well in each activity you do. That means work really hard on every task you’re given; be nice to every person you meet, from the IT staff to the secretaries to other students; and ask genuine questions during department talks. I think it’s better to get good reports from a smaller number of people you do interact with than spreading yourself thin or trying to get the attention of senior lawyers.
It varied between firms. For Osborne Clarke and Weil I was doing 9:30 – 6:00/6:30, whereas for Jones Day, it was more like 8:30/9:00 – 7:30/8:00. Simmons was somewhere in between.
That’s excluding the social events, which some firms emphasised more than others. The bigger social events would often run late – one was an overnight office party (we stayed in a hotel) – though I must say I preferred the shorter ones!
Generally speaking, I worked very hard. Sometimes that was due to the work. For example, for one of my vacation schemes, a partner set me a huge task (at least I thought it was huge, but he didn’t seem to notice!) – I had to write a report about an ancient law for every country the firm had an office in. I was worried that this was going to take up too much time and I wouldn’t be able to work for other people (this was for JD where this was more important). So I ended up getting in early and working on the weekend. I think that’s a bit exceptional though.
For another US firm, we had lots of assessments during the scheme, so I had to balance this with vacation scheme work. In that case, it was about being efficient and using my time wisely. We also had a client pitch and a TC interview on the last day, so I’d come home and work on those or stay late.
But it’s important to work hard on the right things i.e. the areas you think you need to work on. For me, that meant preparing questions, pushing myself in presentations or putting in the effort at a networking event.
It also means different things for different firms. For one of the other schemes, it would have looked bad if I stayed late. I’d advise against this unless you really have work to do (and can’t push it to the next day). Please don’t be the guy who used a sleeping pod on a previous scheme – especially when partners needed to use them!
Whilst you’re not always working hard in the traditional sense, I think vacation schemes are very intense. That’s because it’s a new environment where you have to be switched on all the time. I think it’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the two weeks; clear out as much of your schedule as you can and devote your time to it – after those two weeks you can then relax. Likewise, if you can do things to help yourself in preparation, you’ll be really thankful during the scheme – I’ll expand on this tomorrow.
If I don’t secure a vacation scheme in my second year, do I still stand a chance in my third year? Should I lower my standards?
I don’t see why this would be a problem, many students take more than one cycle to get an offer. You can leverage all of the experience you’ve gained doing apps/interviews and apply for vacation schemes next year. Unless you mean direct TC applications, in which case, yes it will be much harder if you haven’t done a vacation scheme anywhere. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible though.
It’s important to think about the purpose of legal drafting to do well in this exercise:
A lawyer is recording what the parties have agreed, or if it’s the first draft, this will be your client’s instructions. This is a document which will have contractual effect. Any terms which you draft inappropriately could be harmful to your client.
These are the most important points:
- Spend a lot of time planning: think about the type of agreement, what has been agreed and how best you can set this out on paper.
- Make sure the language is simple, relevant, clear and can’t be misconstrued. Eliminate unnecessarily wording.
- Have a clear layout, use headings and sub-headings if they help; it should be easy to read.
- Be consistent with your language and structure.
Yes – by the time it came to my last vacation scheme I had a decent sense of how to convert. If you’ve got to the vacation scheme you’re not far off and often it’s about not messing things up rather than having to be perfect – so I’d actually say don’t try too hard to stand out and you will.
Be interested/enthusiastic about the work and ask thoughtful questions when it’s appropriate. Be sincere and a nice person to the other interns (even if others are trying to be competitive)/secretaries/trainees etc. Show you’ve taken feedback on board. Manage expectations if you’ve been given too much work, it’s much better to do less work of a higher quality than trying to work for everyone. There’s a lot more detail I could give and happy to expand if needed but generally these are the kind of qualities you need.
Do you have any advice for the vacation scheme – in terms of standing out and converting it to a training contract?
It’s going to be a little scary, but remember – the firm has decided that you’re a good candidate; that’s why you’re on the vacation scheme. Even then, you don’t have to get everything right, often it’s a case of not shooting yourself in the foot during the scheme. That means handling situations appropriately (communicating if there’s an issue), conducting yourself professionally (especially on the socials!) and being friendly (it’s very obvious when you’re trying to be competitive).
Vacation schemes are exhausting. Or at least, that was my experience. It’s not so much the tasks, but going from university life to a day of work was harder than I thought. It’s a new environment where you have to be switched on all day, so it helps to mentally prepare for that. I’d suggest preparing as much as you can in advance e.g. your outfit, travel routes and times (don’t do what I did and turn up late to your first day), and track what you’re doing each day – that’ll help for your TC interview if it’s held on the last day of the scheme.
If you’re getting set quite a few tasks, you’ll have to practice managing expectations. It’s good to get into the habit of asking when the trainee/associate/partner needs the work by. If you don’t think you’ll get it done on time, the best thing you can do is speak to whoever set you the work – it’s much better to give them notice than rush a piece of work or miss a deadline completely. Likewise if someone tries to set you work when you’re at full capacity, briefly let them know what you’ve got to do at the moment and check whether you can do it after.
Proofread your work, many times. Make sure there’s no typos or obvious errors – print it and read it over if necessary. Otherwise, it looks sloppy and that’s going to look bad.
That said, there will be times when you’re not sure what to do in a task, that’s fine, just relay that back appropriately. Prepare informed questions and ask the person who set you the work if you can run through it with them (instead of just saying you’re lost).
When a trainee/associate/partner sets you a task, it often doesn’t make complete sense until you start it, so make good notes – that can be a lifesaver.
It might also be helpful to re-write your notes once you’re back at your desk/after your conversation with the lawyer – that can help you to understand what’s going on and flag up any immediate issues which you might want to ask. It’s quite hard to balance listening and note taking, which for me, led to some of my notes not making sense at all!
Have a to-do list. I found this to be essential for keeping track of different workloads/assessements/meetings during the day. This can combine as a work log. Some firms have their own for you to fill out, but otherwise this is useful when it comes to the TC interview, so you can easily run through what you’ve been working on.
It’s not necessary if you’ve done vacation schemes at other firms in the past, but it can help by giving you two weeks to impress rather than a one-day grilling. The one exception is some firms recruit exclusively (or mainly) from vacation schemes, so make sure to check first.