It's a marathon, not a sprint - with Rosie C

Welcome to the second post in our series of interviews with future trainee solicitors! Today, we are delighted to hear from Rosie Coles, who is a future trainee at CMS.

1. Who is your training contract with?

CMS

2. Are you a law or non law candidate?

Non-law

3. Which university did you attend?

Exeter

4. Please could you tell us more about your background and current stage?

I have just started the GDL at the University of Law, Bristol, after graduating from Exeter with a degree in History in July 2020.

5. When and why did you decide to apply to commercial law?

When I was sixteen, I did work experience at a commercial firm, which actually wasn’t the moment that I realised I wanted to become a lawyer (ironic now!). I think this was because I really had no understanding of how commercial law and businesses worked in general, but I think what it did do was made me realise that I liked the idea of working in an office environment. I didn’t rule out the law after this experience at all, and always thought of it as a potential possibility for a future career. I took a gap year and worked at a school and thought that teaching could be a potential career, and was also interested in charity and international development. So in my first year of University I gained work experience in these sectors and decided I enjoyed them but I still didn’t feel like they were the right paths for me! I went to a few law events at University and firm Open Days in my second year to try and understand the process of applying and learnt a huge amount through these. I then decided I would try and apply for a few first year schemes in my second year of University to see if I had any success. I managed to get on the CMS ‘First Steps’ programme which was similar to a mini vacation scheme and really loved it. I also had an internship at a legal aid firm in London specialising in family and mental health law to ensure that the law was for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it but missed the commercial elements of the work experience I had had at CMS and therefore decided to take the plunge with commercial law! By the time I finished my degree I had definitely realised I wanted an academic element to my job without it being too overwhelming and commercial law I think gets that balance right for me.


6. How many applications did you send?

12

7. How many interviews/offers did you receive?

3/1


8. How did you go about the application process? Did you map an application strategy?

Over the holidays I drew up a spreadsheet detailing the different firms I was potentially interested in and their application dates which was a useful way of keeping track of the different firms and where I was in their application process. I applied to a wide range of firms and picked those which I had an interest in for varying reasons. For example, I applied to quite a few firms which had private client seats as well as more corporate and commercial seats. I also took geographical location into account and applied to a mixture of London and Bristol offices to get a different perspective. I also tried to prioritise firms which are known for their friendly and supportive culture and generally UK-based firms. The intake size did not matter too much to me, but I prioritised firms which had a good retention rate. I generally tried to only apply to firms that I had come into contact with at some stage. For example, firms I had had Open Days with or met at a law fair, event or dinner. I would recommend doing this as it’s a really good way of answering the question- ‘why this firm?’ You can say that you have direct experience with the firm’s people, and this is what drove you to apply. Alongside studying I tried to spend as much time as I could on applications but it was difficult to fit it into my schedule on a daily basis. When writing each application I tried to do them one at a time as I found it was easier to keep track of each firm and its details. I edited my answers to applications generally over a week period and little and often. This I found helped with picking up on errors and getting more perspective about the things I should include in my answers. It also makes it less daunting compared to spending a whole day on it!


9. Did you change your strategy during the application process and, if so, what did you change?

In my first year I sent off a few applications to firms for insight days, but I really had no idea about the process and how to write them successfully! I think there is an element of this that takes time, and I learnt by going to events and speaking to people in the legal industry about what they looked for. I would say the main thing that changed over the application process in my second year was the types of firms I prioritised applying to. At the beginning I definitely sent off applications to firms that I wasn’t particularly interested in but felt like I should make an application there because I had had some interaction with them. I then began to really think about what I wanted from a firm and who my personality and values aligned with. It is 100% a two-way process and if you aren’t the right fit for a firm, they will be able to tell at interview stage, which is just a wasted application!


10. How did you develop your commercial awareness?

I firstly bought a subscription to the Financial Times and started reading that a little every day. I soon found little parts that I was particularly interested in, which was useful to understand what elements of business I was fascinated by and hence what kind of firms I should apply to. For example, I really enjoyed reading about technology, so firms which prioritised digital innovation became much more important and relevant. I also read ‘All About the City’ by Christopher Stoakes which I would really recommend. It was so useful to understand how financial markets work. I think also just being open to learn about how a business works, profitability and how this overlaps with law firms and their services is really important. A line that was repeated to me often in application workshops and speaking to law firms at fairs was- ‘we want applicants to understand our firm is a business.’ Therefore, having a simple understanding of what that actually means is a foundation for building commercial awareness.


11. What is your best advice for succeeding at the interview stage?

I would say try and enjoy the assessment day and interview as much as you can, because this really shows in performance. Try to get to know the trainees that work at the firm if you are able to and ask them questions about the firm’s culture which is so central to finding the right place for you. I would also say that preparation is key, not only for effective answers but also for confidence. I found that the interviews I was more prepared for I felt really confident in, and in turn did better in return. In terms of preparation make sure you have covered the following: sectors/practice areas of the firm, where the firm has offices, recent deals they have been involved in that are interesting to you, the firm’s values and clients, information about the training contract they offer, their specialisms and key areas of expertise and secondment opportunities. This is a minimum!

A really key question to ask yourself is what does the firm prioritise? Is it their supportive culture, unique work, globality, diversity? Then try to think about what your priorities are and why these align with the firm’s. This will be key when answering the ‘why do you want to work at this firm’ question. At the interview I would say it’s really important to pay attention to your body language and the way you come across. Make sure you smile a lot and try and build a rapport with the person interviewing you. I think just trying to come across as ‘human’ is much more important than someone who can just regurgitate facts. Also- be yourself! As cliché as it sounds, you need to find out if they are a good fit for you, and if you feel as though you’re putting on an act you can’t truly know if you belong there.

12. What is your best advice for case study interviews?

As I mentioned earlier, the Christopher Stoakes book is a really good place to start to learn about financial markets. I would also encourage you to speak to anyone who works in finance or the law or even just friends who study those subjects. I was lucky enough to have a friend who had got a training contract the year before who explained to me how mergers and acquisitions worked.

I would say that learning the basics of financing and mergers and acquisitions is also really important to start to gain an understanding of what the firm may be asking you to do in a case study. Thinking about commercial considerations and legal issues that the firm needs to take into account when advising a client on a potential acquisition or expansion of a company. For example- the price, rationale, due diligence, indemnities, warranties, competition issues, intellectual property rights and whether the current management will be retained after the merger. This is also where understanding the different types of financing and deducing the most appropriate one for the situation would be useful to mention in a case study.

Reading just generally on current mergers and acquisitions in the newspaper I also found very interesting and good to get to grips with the basics of these deals. In a session with Hogan Lovells they also recommended going through a newspaper and picking out stories which are linked to commercial law and then deducing what practice areas of the firm would be involved with it. Ensuring also that when you do a case study the way that you structure and lay out your argument or advice is very important. I would recommend using titles, subheadings and bullet points if appropriate to get your point across clearly and succinctly.

13. What was the biggest setback you encountered during your journey to a training contract? How did you deal with it?

I think my biggest setback I faced was resilience and trying to keep my spirits up. It’s very easy to take rejections as personal, which is certainly something I found difficult. However, switching it round to reinterpret a rejection as-‘it clearly wasn’t the right fit for me’ or ‘if they don’t want me I don’t want them’, really helped with this. This is much harder to do at the time! It is also so important to keep going, and the more you do the more you learn and improve which is not something to be underestimated.


14. If there was anything you would do differently, what would it be?

I would definitely shorten the list of applications I made and ensure they were to ones that I really could see myself in and align myself with their values. At the end of the day- if you receive a training contract offer from a firm that you are not passionate about it’s a very big commitment and will shape a significant part of your life, it would be a shame to do that somewhere where you don’t feel comfortable!


15. What is the best piece of advice you can give to future applicants? Do you have any advice for individuals who might’ve been in a similar position to you?

I would advise future applicants to be patient and to spend time learning and developing your knowledge. It was definitely more of a marathon than a sprint and over around a year I had learnt so much about the legal sector and exactly what I was looking for in a firm. I would also say to be picky! It’s so important that you end up in the right place for you so don’t be afraid to say ‘actually that one’s not really for me’- even if it is one of the ‘top’ firms. Your opinion matters- it’s your life!
 

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