City law firm applications: the recruiter's perspective

Caroline Sarson, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager at global law firm Mayer Brown, on what the recruitment process looks like from her side
Applications and interviews

As you're filling out an application form or preparing for an interview at a law firm, have you ever wondered what the recruiter will be thinking when they read your form or hear your answer?

We asked Caroline Sarson, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager at global law firm Mayer Brown, to give us her perspective of the graduate recruitment process.

Can you outline the law firm recruitment year from a graduate recruiter's perspective?

The law firm graduate recruitment year starts in October/November, when most City law firms open their applications. At this time, we're going to lots of law fairs across the UK and other campus events, from dinners to skills sessions.

The next main focus is the vacation scheme application period, which runs until the end of January. We tend to get quite a lot of applications after the Christmas holiday, as that can be a good time for many students to really focus on the application form. But don't wait until our deadline at the end of January to submit your form, as by then we'll have filled most of our places.

From early spring we concentrate on training contract applications, for which the deadline is the end of July. Over the summer, we do most of our training contract assessment centres and are also very busy managing training contract offers and running the vacation schemes. The cycle starts all over again in the autumn.

Who's on the graduate recruitment team at Mayer Brown?

I oversee all graduate recruitment and development at the firm, and I'm supported by an excellent graduate recruitment co-ordinator. We work together across a range of areas including campus events, the recruitment process, and trainee career support.

How many application forms does the firm receive every year and how do you decide whether or not to take an application forward?

We receive approximately eight to nine hundred applications for the vacation scheme, and around the same number of training contracts applications.

The first part of the application form that I look at is the academics section - to be successful, candidates have to have very strong grades, though we do look at the whole form before making a final decision.

Next comes the employment and work experience section, which enables the candidate to demonstrate the experience they've had so far. We're not only interested in legal work experience - I think general commercial work experience is also very useful. Whatever a student has done, we're interested in hearing about the transferable skills and knowledge they've gained that would be relevant to being a trainee at the firm.

The next section of the form is a blank page for the covering letter, and here we expect students to tell us why they want to be a lawyer, why they want to be a lawyer in the City, and particularly why they want to come to Mayer Brown.

It's quite easy to spot a generic, reused application, of which we get a few - these mention factors that would also apply to 30 or 40 other law firms in the City. Instead, we like to see that a candidate really understands the kind of firm we are and is able to explain why they want to work for Mayer Brown in particular.

They might mention some of our deals, clients, or the particular opportunities for trainees here - for example, we have a relatively small trainee intake compared to some other City firms, which would appeal to someone who's looking for real responsibility from the beginning.

How many candidates does the firm invite to assessment days every year and how do you decide which ones to offer training contracts to?

We run four to five assessment centres each year, and there are six places on each one. We aim to recruit 15 trainees from these, and from our vacation schemes.

The assessment centre consists of three commercial exercises in the morning, including a group exercise, then an interview with two partners in the afternoon. I'm always aware of how hard the day is for students, but my advice to them is always to try to relax, be yourself, and even enjoy the day where you can.

In the commercial exercises, read the questions carefully and don't panic. In the group exercise, make sure you participate - we can't give you any marks for sitting in silence. Prepare well for the interview.

Immediately after each assessment centre, we have a candidate review session. We make our offer decisions there and then, and aim to communicate these decisions to students quickly.

What do you find are the most enjoyable parts of the graduate recruitment process?

The most enjoyable aspect of my job is meeting someone at a law fair or open day, seeing them make a great impression, inviting them for a vacation scheme, and then eventually offering them a training contract - to see them go through the whole process and gain professional confidence along the way is very rewarding.

Because I work in trainee development as well as graduate recruitment, I also get to see our trainees develop further and become qualified lawyers.

Is there anything about the graduate recruitment process at Mayer Brown that you think students don't realise that you'd like them to know?

I'd like students to know that during assessment processes we're not trying to catch them out but to give them the best opportunities to demonstrate their skills, which can sometimes mean challenging them.

We get really good feedback from students on our recruitment and assessment processes - most students enjoy the experience as they find that we're friendly, helpful and do our best to assist them where we can at the beginning of their career in law.

Image: Sebastien Wiertz (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiertz/)

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