Herbert Smith Freehills Vacation Scheme Interview 2019

Discussion in 'Interview Experiences 2018/2019' started by Jaysen, Nov 24, 2019.

  1. Jaysen

    Jaysen Legendary Member
    Staff Member

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    Huge props to this candidate for sharing such a detailed overview! This candidate successfully secured the HSF vacation scheme.

    Overview of the firm’s selection process

    Two question application form -> blended online test (SJT, VRT, personality test) -> Assessment centre (case study, competency interview, scenario-based interview).

    Number of interviewers and positions held (e.g. Graduate Recruitment/Partner)

    Three interviewers, all were partners in different practice areas.


    9:25am – Welcome from GR. (late start, was scheduled for 9 am)

    9:45am – Started reading case study.

    10:30am – Head back to the main room.

    10:40am – Taken to the partner who pretends to be case study client and asks questions.

    11:15am – Head back to the main room.

    11:20am – Went to competency interview with another partner.

    12:10pm – Head back to the main room.

    12:10-13:00pm – Office tour with a first seat trainee and then lunch in the main room.

    13:00pm – Went to the scenario-based interview.

    13:50pm – Went back to the main room and waited for others to return.

    14:00pm – HR explained that the day was over and we saw ourselves out.

    Overview of each assessment you undertook with rough timings for each section

    For case study interview: 45 minutes to read the information provided and prepare a 10-minute presentation answering the two questions provided. (There are four other questions that you must consider as they will likely be asked as a follow up at the end of the presentation). After this I met with the client (a partner) to deliver a 10-minute presentation and then 25 minutes were allocated for the partner to ask the four additional questions. You may or may not get through them, most important is giving realistic and rational advice.

    For competency-based interview: 40-minute interview based on your motivations and competencies. A few minor discussions referring to your application, you should be bringing up aspects of your application yourself too.

    For scenario-based interview: 40-50 minutes of going over a case that the partner has worked on. This is testing your commercial awareness and thought process. For law students, its best to go over contract law and the processes of an acquisition but again, it’s difficult to prepare for this as you are effectively trying to reach a solution in 45 minutes that a partner of the firm has reached. The partner will of course, help you reach the conclusion.

    Interview Questions I was Asked
    • Why law?
    • Why commercial law?
    • Why HSF?
    • A time you led a group project and any challenges?
    • How have you motivated your team mates?
    • A time you made a mistake and what you did to fix it?
    • A time you had to balance multiple priorities and meet deadlines?
    • Three of your top skills?
    • In what way has (your topic of interest) helped you in terms of your other hobbies/ activities/experience?
    • Why is technology so important to law firms?
    Top Tips

    Competency-based interview

    You need to show interest through body language. Non-verbal cues tell a lot more than I thought. I was praised for smiling a lot.

    Compliment other candidates as well, I like to make people smile and I cracked appropriate jokes with partners and colleagues. I would be lying if I say I didn’t prepare any in advance.

    Don’t wait for them to ask you questions like “why does that sector you mentioned appeal to you” quantify all your statements with your personal experience.

    When answering “tell me about a mistake you made or a time you failed and how you solved it”? I was honest about a mistake I made and I explicitly took responsibility for it and used my initiative to resolve the problem. Try to be reflective, show that you thought about what you did and how you prevent it from happening again. And of course, use your discretion. Don’t go off on a major mistake you made, but equally ensure that it is still a mistake at the end of the day – don’t try to spin it!

    Case Study

    I followed the FIRAC acronym to deliver my presentation.

    Facts, Issues, Rules, Analysis, Conclusion.


    Who is who (who is your client, who is the opposing side, what are they disputing?) What do we know about your client’s goal vs the other party’s goal?


    What are the main issues regarding the case? What has the client identified as being the main issue? Start to answer the presentation questions (do not go into the additional questions, unless otherwise states, they are supposed to be asked at the end and you don’t have time)


    What are the relevant clauses? Who benefits more from the clauses? Does your client have a winning case, if not then why i.e. does the clauses state otherwise? Does the available statistics favour the opposing side or not?


    Analyse the case from an objective point of view but with your client’s interests in mind, perhaps offer alternative solutions if the strength of the case isn’t favourable for your client.


    Summarise the facts of the case, your recommendations, and finally ask if the client has any questions.

    I made a mistake in my interview. Some candidates will try to spin it to make it seem like it is not a mistake. You have to truthfully evaluate if you are wrong (which I was) so I backtracked on a matter. Alternatively, do not backtrack because the client makes you feel like you’re wrong if you don’t think you are. I also asked the client to give me a moment while I reviewed the information. I did this at least on three different occasions. It is better than giving nonsensical advice.

    I think the partner was impressed that my answer had a law minded approach. This was only possible because I researched how to answer law questions and found one that suited me!

    Scenario-based interview

    You can’t really prepare for this. The best advice I can give is to study contract law and acquisitions in detail.

    Contract law- what makes a contract legally binding (five key terms), under what circumstances can you suspend an agreement? Etc.

    Acquisitions – where can the firm secure funds from? Loans, debt, cash reserve, bonds, IPO. What are the +/- of each type.

    How do you structure a financial deal?

    Asset based purchase or share based? +/- of each type.

    What is the buyer’s protection in terms of the acquisition target’s assets and liabilities? What is collateral? What is security? Also consider non-compete agreements.

    What practice areas would be involved in this process and why?

    All of this information can be found in the commercial law hand book by Jake Schogger.

    I was interviewed by a partner in the international arbitration practice on a multidimensional issue that involved multiple foreign parties, political issues and a contract dispute at its centre. The solution to the problem, I later found out, was in the contract law section of the commercial law handbook! I was kicking myself for this, as I thought the answer was impossible, yet if I was a bit more prepared I could have impressed massively here.

    Still, I gave solutions that the lawyers actually explored (but did not execute), and I think I was given some leniency for demonstrating commercial awareness and of course, being a non-law student. The partner helped me a lot. I laughed when I found it difficult and he laughed too. At some points he had to spell out the answer. I used this as an opportunity to repeat what he said in my own words to demonstrate that I am now on the same page.

    The solution to the second part of the case was elaborate. There was no way I would have thought of it but I remarked on how sophisticated the solution was, especially in addressing all aspects of the problem. They don’t expect you to work it out but they want to see your thought process and whether you shut down. I asked to clarify various points I didn’t understand. Don’t be afraid to do this.

    - Not sure if this is helpful but another candidate explained that his case was based on management funds so this just demonstrates the wide variation in cases and why it’s unlikely you can prepare for the scenario-based interview beyond strengthening your commercial knowledge in terms of business law.
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  2. Jaysen

    Jaysen Legendary Member
    Staff Member

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    Top tips for preparation
    1. Understand acquisitions and contracts even if you are a non-law student. (available in commercial law handbook)
    2. Why law? Why commercial law (as oppose to high street firm and regional firms)? Why HSF? Ask yourself if your reasons are substantial, do they hold weight, if so, how? What experience can you mention that strengthens your point. For example, if you like a specific sector why does it appeal to you? Do you have experience that can demonstrate that interest?
    3. Listen attentively, it allows you to ask follow-up questions instead of a memorised list of questions. It allows you to be more personal.
    4. I prepared a document with different competency questions and wrote bullet pointed answers for each. Printed it out and practiced with an honest friend. I practiced tricky questions but mostly focused on answering the ‘given’ questions well. This way, I could be more confident for curve-balls which you can’t really practice too well anyways as opposed to something that’s a given like why HSF? (which alternatively, needs be a strong answer).
    5. If you have access to coaches, use it. My coach played a pivotal role in me revamping quite a few of my questions to ‘hammer home’ my motivations.
    6. If you have a connection to the firm, perhaps from an open day, mention it. Talk about the skills you used in their workshop, how it draws you to a career in law and why you stand out.
    7. Firms are looking for personalities. If they can’t see you holding a conversation with a client in an elevator, perhaps making them smile, then you have to work even harder to get a vac scheme. So, try to be outgoing and friendly.
    8. Commercial awareness – I listen to a BBC podcast called “Wake up to Money” in combination with “the top stories of the week” section of Comaware.net and then I investigate the top stories in detail using other news sources including BBC news and FT if I don’t understand something.
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  3. Jaysen

    Jaysen Legendary Member
    Staff Member

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    Another great insight from a recent non-law candidate (also successful).

    Number of interviewers and positions held

    Three separate interviews each one on one. Two were with Partners and one with a Senior Associate.


    9:00 Arrive, and wait with the other candidates.

    9:15 Introduction and welcome from GR followed by welcome from a Partner.

    Divided into groups and undertook following exercises in different orders.

    10:00 Case study exercise, presentation and interview.

    11:30 Tour of the office by trainee with one other candidate.

    12:00 Competency Interview.

    12:45 Scenario based interview.

    13:30 Lunch and then finish.

    Overview of Assessments

    Case study:

    45 mins to read through material and prepare a 10-minute presentation. Given 4 questions to cover in the presentation and then 2 further questions to be prepared to answer. 10 minutes to present to a Partner followed by 25 mins of questions.

    Competency and Motivations Interview

    35 mins of questions with a Senior Associate.

    Scenario Based Interview

    35 mins. Partner works through a Scenario and asks what you would do in the situation.

    My scenario was an Asset Manager looking to terminate a contract with a technology company that they had contracted to produce a product for retail clients.

    Please list any interview questions you were asked

    Case Study

    For me, this was about a company looking to acquire another company based in [redacted] through share purchase. Given Heads of Terms and an Exclusivity Agreement as well as some background information.


    1. Is the HOT binding?

    2. What do you think about the agreed payment?

    3. What else do you think should be included to protect your client’s finances/reputation?

    4. How will disputes be solved?

    5. Are you happy with the exclusivity agreement? Does it adequately protect client’s interests?

    There was a 6th but I cannot remember it. Also, some further questions in response to the points I had made.


    1. Why law and why HSF? – I included why specifically commercial law, I think my interviewer liked that I didn’t need to be asked.

    2. What transferable skills have you got that you think would be useful as a trainee solicitor at HSF?

    3. How do you deal with multiple deadlines/ work?

    4. Tell me about a time you have managed a team and faced challenges?

    5. How did you motivate the team?

    6. Tell me about a time you have dealt with someone’s different opinion?

    7. How did you feel about this difference in opinion?

    Scenario Based

    Cannot list questions here as it was a conversation. Mainly looked for my suggestions and then my reasons why I would suggest this.

    Everyone had very different scenarios mine was how would you advise a CEO looking to terminate a contract with a vendor and someone else I spoke to had a dispute.

    Case Study

    To prepare I looked over some contract law and commercial contracts.

    Look at everything on the page- if there is a header in the document, think what does this mean.

    Concentrate mainly on the documents and not the background info- the questions really help. Think of everything in the context of what does the client need. And if it is unclear make a point e.g. ‘the sale is conditional on x number of assets, is x a sufficient number, how many do you need?’/ ‘The payment is in x currency- we should see if they would accept £’.

    Be confident with what you say and show you are engaged in the material. For example, I made a point about Disputes and the Partner laughed and said that was his specialism but I think he liked that I had gone a bit further and given some thought into the pros and cons of the particular method.


    Look over your application, be prepared for the why law/ why commercial law/why HSF.

    Think about examples you can draw from past experience. I was lucky as I have a little legal experience but I made a point of drawing on other examples so that I could demonstrate some diversity.


    Try and ask questions. Think logically and don’t over complicate things. I found it useful to write down notes while the Partner explained the scenario and then repeat what I had understood back to him.

    This way I could clarify my understanding and had a bit more time for it to sink in.


    I made a point of chatting with the other candidates, this put me at ease for the rest of the day and helped me relax. It also meant I had started the day being genuine to myself and carried on that way.

    Everyone is super friendly and they want you to do well. In the Case Study/ Scenario they will push you and ask you why, don’t let this throw you- they are probably just looking for reasoning.
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  4. Farah Ahmad

    Farah Ahmad Standard Member

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    Just to add to this, I had my vacation scheme interview a few weeks ago and during my competency interview I was asked about a commercial case I had been following. The associate asked for a detailed analysis of what the implications were on the company and the wider society implications so I would do a SWOT and PESTLE analysis of a commercial case before going for the interview as that threw me a little. I know a couple of other candidates were asked this during the interview as well.

    Also for case study, I would suggest familiarising yourself with some key emerging markets, that will help.
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