Approaching my final year I couldn’t count the amount of times I had been asked the dreaded question; ‘So, what are you going to do when you graduate?’ This attempt to take an interest and make conversation filled me with dread and anxiety, as I didn’t have a concrete post- University plan. The careers service (both at school and University) has always said that it is an advantage to do a broad degree, with transferable skills like a history and politics degree because you can do any career. Which is all well and good but in a way that makes the career search even harder, as I had nowhere to start. In medicine, you can also create a very good career, depending on which specialty you choose. For example, students of medical institutions can provide a service - write my nursing paper for me that will help other students in their studies.
“So, what are you going to do when you graduate?”
I had always considered a career in law and in the summer of my second year I completed a work experience placement at a criminal law firm and had a summer job as a noting junior at a Crown Court trial. After completing this placement I decided that despite it being extremely interesting, it wasn’t a career I was suited to. I therefore decided to look at the completely opposite side of the legal spectrum, corporate and commercial law. From my experience, depending on who you are, corporate and commercial law either has a really good reputation or a really bad one; either a well-paid, well-respected career or selling your soul (and your social life) for your job, or training contract at this stage.
So in the autumn of my final year I wasn’t convinced enough to apply for a Training Contract straight away. Subsequently thinking about it I also probably didn’t have a strong enough application. However, I wasn’t utterly put off so I attended a careers presentation run by Travers Smith LLP, a city law firm. The evening was structured with a presentation followed by drinks and canapés with graduate recruitment partners and trainees from the firm. After the event I decided to apply for a vacation scheme to find out more about the firm. I applied for the summer vacation scheme (due to being on the University ski tour during the winter scheme.) It is usually the case that winter schemes are predominately for non-law students and the summer scheme for law students, but my experience was definitely that they are fairly flexible. I was invited for an interview and I think it tends to be the case that interviews change drastically depending on the firm, but mine was very much something I couldn’t prepare for. It was testing your ability to think on your feet, construct a logical and persuasive argument and to not be flustered by the unknown questions.
“It was testing your ability to think on your feet, construct a logical and persuasive argument and to not be flustered by the unknown questions.”
That is also a reason for doing vacation schemes; the application process is less rigorous than for a training contract. Although this is probably because the whole two-week process is designed to test you far more than an interview could. I quickly realised that there is no point being worried that you are constantly being tested because they know exactly what they are looking for and you either fit that bill or not. It would be too hard work to spend 2 weeks pretending to be something you’re not, let alone the length of your entire career.
The two weeks were very well structured and organised and allowed me to meet a lot of people and see a lot of the firm’s work. I sat in two different departments, a week in each. I sat in employment and commercial. Having the opportunity to do tasks in a department, similar to those of a trainee gave me an insight into the legal industry that it would be impossible to get from Google searching. As well as having individual tasks to complete, we also had to participate in group activities. We did a mock negotiation, presentations and a Dragons Den style challenge where each team was given a scenario and had to create a business. All of the tasks were challenging but also fairly enjoyable.
“Having the opportunity to do tasks in a department, similar to those of a trainee gave me an insight into the legal industry that it would be impossible to get from Google searching.”
I’m sure it is common knowledge that vacation schemes also have a large social aspect and mine certainly did. We had the opportunity to attend a 3-course lunch with graduate recruitment partners in the client dining room as well as a pool/table football tournament, an evening at Ping Pong the new table tennis bar and a day tour of the city of London. Not only were these events enjoyable but they also provided a great opportunity to meet fellow vac-schemers and trainees, but did make it a tiring week!
“Before I completed the vacation scheme I thought most law firms were ‘all the same’ but I do think that in fact their cultures are very different”
Before I completed the vacation scheme I thought most law firms were ‘all the same’ but I do think that in fact their cultures are very different and it’s definitely worth taking the time to see this properly before applying for a Training Contract. Overall, it was both an enjoyable and insightful experience that I would thoroughly recommend.
1) What the most unexpected question was that she was asked in the interview?
I was asked ‘What makes you angry?’ which was a bit of a surprise. Again, I think it is a case that as long as you don’t panic and think out loud, explaining why you feel the way you do they don’t mind what the answer is (as long as it isn’t completely ridiculous.)
2) A piece of advice she got from a trainee she talked with.
That everyone is only human. It is really easy to feel overwhelmed and daunted by partners at the firm, but a trainee told me to just remember you can relate to them as you would anyone else. It helped me feel a lot more relaxed and confident.
3) Describe the culture of the firm in 5 words or less:
I would say hardworking, friendly and competitive.
4) What surprised you most about the firm when she spent time there?
What surprised me most was how much access we had as vac-schemers to partners. I sat in a room with a trainee, an associate and a partner and there were frequently graduate recruitment partners at the social events. We also had a Q&A session with the managing partner at the firm. This really gave the impression that everyone in the firm was approachable and it was small enough that all employees knew you.
5) Having completed a vacation scheme – what is your next CV building move?
I decided that a law career wasn’t what I was most suited to so I am currently employed in the Department for Education/Department Business, Skills and Innovation at the Civil Service.