I'd always wanted to be a barrister and I did lots of mini-pupillages while I was studying for my A-Levels and throughout university, but I wasn't really enjoying them. I started to consider being a solicitor instead, and I was attracted to Freshfields because of its excellent reputation and the fact that a career with the firm would give me the opportunity to work on the biggest and most complex international deals. At first I was apprehensive about applying to a magic circle firm, but everybody was very welcoming and friendly.
How did you apply for the vacation scheme?
I applied online, which involved completing an application form, writing a personal statement, and taking a verbal reasoning test. I was then invited to an assessment day, where I sat a written test and had two interviews. The interviews were around an hour each - the first was a personal interview about my reasons for applying, and the second was a commercial interview, where I had twenty minutes to read a Financial Times article and then had to analyse it and answer a few questions on it.
What did you do on the vacation scheme?
At the beginning of the three-week scheme there were three days of training, including an exercise on the final day where everyone was split into teams and we performed a mock transaction. I then sat in Banking for the rest of my time at the firm. The trainees in the department gave me lots of work to do, and I was also given a research assignment by one of the partners. When I'd completed the task, he marked it and gave me some constructive feedback. We also had a group fundraising project to work on during the vacation scheme. The other students and I were split into two teams of eight, and challenged to raise as much money as possible for Habitat for Humanity, the global homelessness charity. We approached local businesses for donations and then held a silent auction for lawyers at the firm.
Did your degree course prepare you for the scheme?
I was studying European International and Comparative Law at university, so I'd had no exposure to banking law. It was a challenge to get to grips with some of the things that were being discussed, but you're not expected to know anything about the legal concepts. I don't think studying law puts you at an advantage on the vacation scheme - it's the LPC that really prepares you for a career in law.
Were there any fun activities planned?
We went to Paris for the day! We visited the Freshfields office in the morning and met some of the lawyers there, and then we were given some spending money to go out and enjoy the city for the rest of the day.
Throughout the scheme, there were also lots of social events involving everyone from the trainees to the partners. We went speed boating on the Thames, to a comedy club, and we also had a final dinner and night out. There were lots of opportunities to network with the lawyers at the firm and to ask questions, both about the work itself and life in general at the firm. My mentor, who was a second seat trainee when I did the vacation scheme, is now one of my best friends!
What did you enjoy most about the vacation scheme?
I really enjoyed working in a team environment where you feel you can ask other people for help if you're struggling with something. Overall, it was an invaluable experience because I found out that the career and Freshfields are both right for me.
Do you think the experience you gained on the vacation scheme helped you secure a training contract?
Absolutely. The vacation scheme is essentially a three-week interview, and it guarantees you a formal interview for a training contract without having to go through the whole application process again. It's much easier to explain why you want to join the firm when you've already had three weeks of experience there!
How did you find the LPC in comparison to your undergraduate degree?
I took the accelerated LPC, which is an intense six-month course. It was more challenging than studying law as an undergraduate because, although the work isn't necessarily more difficult, there's a lot more of it and the exams are more frequent. It prepares you extremely well for your training contract.
What seat are you currently in, and how are you finding it?
I started my training contract three months ago and I'm currently in Corporate, which is my first seat. I was given a lot of responsibility from the outset and my tasks have included legal research, drafting documents and minuting meetings. I've also been very lucky in the fact that I've had lots of exposure to both partners and clients. I've contributed to two very high profile deals so far, the most recent being the sale of Northern Rock to Virgin Money. Although I've been working quite long hours, I like the adrenaline rush of seeing my team's work in the news.
Do you get involved in any extra-curricular activities at the firm?
I think it's very important to give something back to the local community by participating in the firm's pro bono activities. I'm currently mentoring GCSE students at a school in an underprivileged area of London.
I've also enjoyed getting involved in the firm's graduate recruitment campaigns by attending law fairs and presentations at universities. Lots of students worry about their applications, but I like to encourage them to believe in themselves.
Do you have any tips for students applying to Freshfields?
I think the most important quality that you need is a genuine interest in business. It is also extremely important to have a good eye for detail. I'd advise students to check, double-check, and triple-check their application for errors before submitting it to the firm. Silly mistakes look careless, and that's one thing that a lawyer can't afford to be!