Why Law Firms are on the Hunt for STEM Graduates

Why Law Firms are on the Hunt for STEM Graduates

The Lex 100’s Halima Dikko explores why STEM graduates are so sought after in an industry which has traditionally been dominated by arts and humanities.

These days it’s far from unusual to meet a lawyer who studied a non-law undergraduate degree. Common subject choices for aspiring lawyers include English Literature, History, Politics and Modern Languages. But in recent years, an increasing number of law firms have shifted their focus to recruiting STEM -that is to say Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – graduates, which begs the question- why?

An interest in STEM graduates is not exactly new. For years companies from myriad industries and sectors have been keen to recruit individuals with this educational background because their skills and experiences are relevant and transferable to a number of roles. And the law is no different. The increasing convergence of law and technology (evidenced by firms embracing Artificial Intelligence technologies and the launch of law-tech innovation hubs) has meant that law firms too are seeking to boost their trainee intake with scientific and tech-savvy recruits. Their acute understanding of the challenges facing STEM-centric businesses means that they are well-placed to devise solutions for clients.

For many law firms, especially those with established Intellectual Property (IP) practices and clients in the technology, manufacturing, healthcare and life sciences sectors, recruiting STEM graduates is high on the agenda. Matthew Royle, a partner in Taylor Wessing’s patents department explains: ‘More and more of our clients are in tech sectors and an understanding of our clients’ businesses is becoming more central to the way most law firms work – I think that automatically drives an increase in demand for STEM graduates. With most service industries – and the law is no different – actually having an interest in, and understanding your client’s business and what they’re doing, is really important to the relationships that you’re going to build and the level and quality of service that you can provide to them’.

For Bird & Bird, renowned for its work with Technology Media & Telecommunications clients, recruiting STEM students has been at the forefront of their recruitment programme for some time. Senior graduate recruitment officer Shannen Loudon expounds, ‘we’ve had a well-established IP practice for a long time, so for us it’s always been important that we attract specifically science and engineering students’. Indeed for areas like patent litigation, expert knowledge in the business area of the client and what they are trying to patent is invaluable. ‘If we’re representing pharmaceutical clients for example, it’s important we have individuals who understand and have a background knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry or pharmacology in order to deal with the technology and communicate with the client’s scientists’.

George Khouri, an associate in Bird & Bird’s IP department, echoes Loudon’s sentiment. ‘My background in biomedical engineering gives me an understanding of technical aspects of products that are sold by companies in the life sciences and telecommunications sectors. Having an understanding of some of the general scientific principles that products in these sectors are built on, such as the maths behind image processing algorithms or the physics behind an MRI machine, helps me get to grips with the ‘language’ and particularities of unfamiliar technical areas relatively quickly’.

‘The change in the market with regards to the development of new technologies’ is also a driving force behind the desire to recruit STEM graduates explains Joanne Smallwood, graduate recruitment specialist at Womble Bond Dickinson. These technologies have a profound effect on the way clients run their business and having individuals who are privy to the workings of such innovations is a significant benefit to both the firm and the client. ‘Having a solid grasp of the technology may give the client more confidence in your legal advice and help you discuss matters with expert witnesses with assurance’ says Khouri. Bird & Bird IP associate Georgina Hart expands, explaining that ‘Everyone is on an even playing field when it comes to the law but having some awareness of a particular field that a client operates in can help you when discussing technical topics’.

Aside from the knowledge and understanding of science and technology that STEM graduates bring to the practice of law, their ‘methodical and ‘logical way of doing things’ also makes them desirable to law firms, claims Royle. Loudon agrees: ‘They’ve got skills – specifically in research – that are really transferable to the role of a lawyer’.

Though STEM graduates offer a unique and valuable skill-set and expertise to the practice of law, that’s not to say law firms are sidelining candidates from other academic backgrounds, nor do they believe students who haven’t studied a STEM-related subject are lacking in any way. Gemma Barrett, IP partner at Bristows insists that non-STEM graduates should not be discouraged: ‘They’re just as able to do the work, it’s just that they might have to put a little bit more time into reading into the background so that they can get up to speed. But there’s absolutely no bar to them doing IP, we’ve got plenty of people who do really well without any kind of science background. Graduates from other disciplines just need to show that they’re interested in the area and that they’re not scared or put off. Quite often people who haven’t studied science get scared by the terminology and just run off the minute they see that – I think it’s just getting over that initial fear’.

‘In any work environment you need a mix of different people as different people bring different qualities to the team’ explains Royle. Smallwood is similarly vocal about the need for a mixed group of trainees, believing that whilst individuals who studied STEM subjects are important to recruit due to new and emerging technologies, recruiters ‘don’t disregard students from the other non-law subjects. We still very much need that diverse group of people coming through the business, that’s how you make a good team’.

70 Years of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

70 Years of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

2018 marked the 70th anniversary of US behemoth Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The Lex 100 looks back over the firm’s colourful biography and its extraordinary evolution into one of the most recognised names in the legal industry.

Picture this: it’s 1948, New York City, springtime. On April Fools’ Day, Skadden is formed; but make no mistake, this firm is far from being a joke. What started out as a three-man legal practice taking on whatever small work came through the door, has today grown into a 23-office international firm with a 1,700+ attorney roster that dishes out expert-level advice in over 50 practice areas. This is a rags to riches story of the best kind; a story which shows explicitly that from humble beginnings one can rise to incredible levels of greatness. To celebrate the firm’s 70 year anniversary we revisit the origins of their practice; this is the story of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps and John Slate were the founding partners of what has become one of the largest law firms in the world. The three-man partnership came about after all three had suffered unsuccessful partnership bids at well-established firms in New York. At the time, the top law firms in the city were akin to private members clubs – if you weren’t a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), it was extremely difficult to get in, much less rise to the top. Thus, Skadden, Arps and Slate’s Jewish and Catholic backgrounds barred them from top-level positions. Not wanting to concede to discrimination, they ventured out on their own and set up shop. From the start, Skadden was founded from a place of difference and presented a challenge to the status quo.

In the firm’s first year, an addition to the team was made in the person of Joseph Flom. A Harvard Law School graduate, Flom joined the firm as an associate, but his influence on the firm’s growth over the years was far above the level of a young upstart. Particularly noteworthy was Flom’s work in the area of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), which the firm would eventually go on to be best known for. He helped establish Skadden as the go-to firm for advice and guidance on hostile takeovers – that is, when an individual or business seeks to purchase a target company without consent. White-shoe firms considered hostile M&A dirty business and so shied away from taking on such work, but such reluctance to engage in proxy fights spelled big business for Flom and the Skadden team who were able to call dibs on a significant share of the work in this area. That the ‘[white-shoe firms] thought hostile takeovers were beneath contempt until relatively late in the game … [and] left [Flom] alone’ meant that during the firm’s early years all through to the 1970s, Skadden gained unparalleled experience in hostile M&A transactions and built up a reputation for being able to successfully deal with large and complex business deals. The firm is now one of, if not the, most sought-after M&A firm in the world.

In 1960 the firm changed its name to include Flom’s and that of William Meagher, and opened several more offices (Boston in 1973, Tokyo in 1987 and London in 1988) signalling its onwards trajectory toward worldwide expansion. The firm also expanded its areas of expertise to include litigation, tax and antitrust (among many others) and has earned an excellent reputation for being relentless in its pursuit of success. The many accolades the firm has earnt over its 70 year history is evidence of its commitment to excellence and determination to obtain favourable results for clients.

Skadden’s London office is the largest outside of the US and celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Much has been achieved in these few decades; the firm was ranked above all magic circle firms for M&A targeting UK companies in 2017 by Mergermarket and was the first firm to handle more than $1 trillion in global announced M&A in a single year. Skadden also boasts some hard-to-beat work highlights, such as representing Vantiv, Inc. in its $10.4 billion acquisition of Worldpay Group plc. (Britain’s largest payment processor), representing CME Group Inc. in its US$6 bilion acquisition of NEX Group plc. and representing Roman Abramovich in his successful defence of the multimillion-dollar proceedings brought against him in the English High Court by Boris Berezovsky.

Skadden is the sort of firm that individuals with resilience and tenacity want to join. The founding partners’ entrepreneurial spirit and embracement of their background and individuality extends to the firm’s recruitment practices and informs how trainees are selected. In speaking with Pete Coulton, the firm’s UK graduate recruitment partner, it becomes apparent that Skadden is interested in people who are both unique and talented. Of course ‘[certain] things are a given: intellectual rigour and academic excellence, a demonstration of teamwork, drive and ambition’. But, that said, the firm ‘looks deeper into people and what motivates them’, often recruiting those with character, who have their own opinions and don’t follow the crowd. At Skadden, individuality is sought after and praised, with everyone encouraged to carve their own path, much like the firm’s founding partners. In the words of UK training principal Danny Tricot: ‘We all have common attributes, but in terms of personality everyone is hugely different’. Deciding whether candidates have that je ne sais quoi can be difficult to do in a one-hour interview, which is why Skadden recruits trainees from a pool of candidates on their vacation scheme. This approach enables the firm to get a better feel for the candidate and likewise gives the applicant real insight into the firm and significant time to decide whether Skadden is a good fit for them.

So what’s next for the already leading legal powerhouse? Maintaining their top-tier position in the market is the goal. To this end, part of the firm’s strategy involves hiring the best talent to help develop the practice in areas old and new. With evolving teams and fresh perspectives, departments can be more innovative and develop better solutions to the various legal and commercial challenges brought to them by businesses, government organisations and individuals. With such a great history and track record, one can only assume such goals are comfortably within reach by the teams at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

To see Skadden’s full Lex 100 profile, including details of how and when to apply, click here.


Making a Difference: The Irwin Mitchell PLS Training Contract

Making a Difference: The Irwin Mitchell PLS Training Contract

Ask a group of law students what kind of lawyer they want to become and the chances are most will say something along the lines of corporate. But in doing so, they are ignoring a plethora of people-focused practice areas offering an equally enriching career path. Enter the Irwin Mitchell personal legal services training contract.

Practice areas such as medical negligence, family and personal injury have traditionally been bypassed by trainee solicitors for their business-oriented counterparts. This is, perhaps, unsurprising considering the emphasis placed on corporate and finance modules on courses such as the LPC. But at Irwin Mitchell it’s a different story. The market-leading national firm offers a two-year personal legal services (PLS) stream training contract which allows aspiring lawyers to focus their training on just that: personal-focused practice areas which interest them. The programme is comprised of three four-month seats, followed by a year-long seat in the department in which the trainee wishes to qualify.

‘When I did my GDL I was very much intending to go down the corporate/commercial route’ says Lewis Ayre, a second year trainee on the PLS stream, currently sitting in Irwin Mitchell’s serious injury department. ‘It’s certainly the most heavily advertised practice area and it was very difficult to look into anything else’. But a series of vacation schemes and feedback from friends in the industry quickly convinced Lewis that the corporate route wasn’t for him.

A paralegal job in London’s West End working on industrial accident and disease matters introduced Lewis to personal legal services. ‘I connected more closely with having client-facing work and having more in-depth involvement on matters, as well as feeling as though I was actually helping someone’, he explains. It was this experience which led him to apply for a job as a paralegal, and subsequently a training contract, at Irwin Mitchell.

Chani Dhaliwal, partner in Irwin Mitchell’s serious injury group, has a similar story. ‘I actually didn’t know which area of law I wanted to go into. When I started my training contract in 2008 at Irwin Mitchell I had the typical feeling of wanting to be a corporate or commercial lawyer’. It was by chance that Chani ended up doing his first seat in serious injury. ‘It was the one seat that I thought I wasn’t going to do; I had no idea about the work I was going to be doing. But once I was exposed to it, I found it so rewarding working with seriously injured individuals and making a real difference to their lives through litigation’. Even so, Chani was still convinced that his future lay in corporate law.

A stint in the commercial property and corporate department changed his mind. ‘It just wasn’t for me. There were some really important transactions going on but what I quickly realised was that I enjoyed the contentious element of the work’. At the end of his first year, there was no question that Chani would return to the serious injury department to complete his final seat. It was clearly a good decision as he has been there ever since.

An interesting case I worked on

Chani Dhaliwal

‘I represented an individual who was working on a construction site as a labourer and fell from height. He suffered a complete spinal cord injury so he was paralysed from the waist down. He became a permanent wheelchair user and doctors told him that he would not be able to walk again. We established liability early and obtained significant interim payments to fund rehabilitation, getting an adapted property and meet the client’s equipment needs. He had a lot of therapy, including a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and dietitian. 12 months passed and he was making little progress in accepting his disability; despite what everyone was telling him, he still thought that he would walk again. That was a real challenge for everybody because they knew that his injuries were significant and that there was never going to be movement in his legs again. We knew that we needed another solution. What we managed to do was get a significant interim payment to buy an exoskeleton. Exoskeletons are like robotic suits which were originally designed for the army because they enable soldiers to carry heavier loads. This was the first case where someone with a spinal cord injury obtained an interim payment to purchase an exoskeleton so it was very innovative, and still is. My client was able to walk when wearing the exoskeleton and the impact on his life was just amazing. It improved his psychological state, he started to accept his disability and was getting out and about in the community and starting to enjoy life again. He said ‘I feel like a normal person again and my confidence has returned. I can’t put in words what it feels like to be at eye level with other individuals again’. It was great to see how technology interacts with the law and how it can make a difference to someone’s life.’

For Lewis, the benefits of deciding to pursue a particular type of law early on are manifold. High levels of responsibility, more exposure to matters and opportunities to undertake complex work are the norm for trainees in the PLS stream. ‘I’m trusted within the team to prepare court documents, statements, instructions, routine correspondence, liaise with clients directly and I assist more senior fee earners with complex, multi-million pound claims’.

Any trainee undertaking a typical six-month seat will be familiar with the frustration of joining a department mid-trial or at the end of a transaction and finding themselves unable to follow a matter the whole way through. The PLS training contract overcomes this hindrance thanks to the 12-month qualification seat, which ensures that trainees have enough time to really get their teeth into interesting matters. Lewis elaborates: ‘By the time I qualify, I’ll have experience of running my own caseload. I’ll have experience at all stages of the claims process, from initial client interview right up to trial and post-settlement matters’.

An interesting case I am working on

Lewis Ayre

‘In an ongoing matter, we act for a client who suffered multiple injuries in a microlight plane crash. The plane was piloted by the client’s friend who had performed a negligent manoeuvre in the air and caused the microlight to stall. They were unable to recover the aircraft to where it should have been and so it crashed. It then transpired that the friend had not properly insured himself, which was shocking to our client who had been out with him a number of times. Because there was no insurance, we brought a claim against the friend directly. He repeatedly refused to engage in the litigation process and we secured judgment against him at a trial that he did not attend. He then suddenly ceased all communication and we subsequently learnt that he had absconded to Spain. We reinforced the judgment against the property we knew he had in the UK and just as we’d made the application to court to do this, we found out that he had transferred all his assets in the UK into his wife’s name. It has very much been a game of cat and mouse, involving investigators and other departments in the firm, such as the commercial litigation and insolvency team who have advised on things like freezing injunctions and fraudulent conveyances. The case continues and we’re doing everything we can to bring the defendant to account.’

For Chani, the benefits of specialising early become clear once trainees qualify. Recruits have typically been undertaking NQ-level work for about six months before qualification and so they can hit the ground running once they obtain that coveted solicitor title. What’s more, they have proven that they are committed to their chosen practice area. ‘The candidates that we’re getting have already tested their options and they’ve already had exposure to personal injury or other fields within PLS. They are dedicated to this area of law – this is what they want to do’.

But are there any downsides to committing oneself to a specific type of law at such an early stage? ‘I wouldn’t call it a downside, but what could be a disadvantage is that having an exposure to different areas of law is really helpful, even in personal injury litigation. Having contacts in different parts of the business is useful’, says Chani.

In reality, however, PLS trainees will frequently find instances where their work overlaps with other teams within the business. Irwin Mitchell is focused on ‘client sharing’ – putting the client at the heart of everything they do and thinking about the legal services that a client may require. ‘More often than not, a client who instructs us will also want other legal services. They might need property law advice because they are buying houses and adapting them or they may have obtained a multi-million pound compensation settlement and so they need advice from our private wealth services team’, adds Chani.

Rather than specialising early, Lewis views the PLS stream more as committing to an ‘umbrella’ of a type of law, which still gives trainees a wide range of options when it comes to choosing where to qualify. ‘I think if you’re truly unsure of what you want to do it’s probably not the wisest idea, but I still don’t think it ties you to a particular route. Especially in a firm like Irwin Mitchell which has such a broad range of practice areas’.

It goes without saying that practical work experience will be invaluable for those looking to apply for a PLS stream training contract. But Lewis stresses that this does not necessarily have to be in the exact area of law applicants want to go into. In fact, any related experience speaks volumes: ‘skills such as practical case handling, drafting and experience with vulnerable clients are all helpful things to talk about at interview’.

Chani agrees. Whilst gaining some exposure or knowledge of an area of law will set you apart from other candidates, non-legal work experience should not be discounted. ‘You shouldn’t disregard things like working in Tesco during law school or university, because it’s client-facing and you’re working as part of a team. It also shows how you can manage a challenging degree with work commitments’.

Applications for 2021 training contracts at Irwin Mitchell are now open. Click here to apply.


Globe-trotting Dentons primed to secure Norton Rose’s Venezuela business

Globe-trotting Dentons primed to secure Norton Rose’s Venezuela business

Expansive global giant Dentons is positioned for another regional merger, with Norton Rose Fulbright’s (NRF) 26-lawyer strong Venezuelan practice the new addition, as Dentons moves to bolster its offering in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The Caracas-based practice is spearheaded by labour partner Juan Carlos Pró-Rísquez, who became managing partner for NRF in Venezuela in 2018. Pró-Rísquez will now lead the office under the name of Despacho de Abogados miembros de Dentons. Currently, the office is in a transitional structure, which sees it associated with Dentons’ Colombian business in Bogotá. However, it will be fully integrated into the firm’s verein-backed structure in the coming weeks subject to a vote from the Dentons partnership.

‘This first started after we recruited several Norton Rose lawyers in Bogotá,’ Jorge Alers, Dentons’ chief executive for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Legal Business. ‘They integrated very well with the firm so we knew how much of a good fit their former colleagues in Caracas would be.’

The Caracas firm counts eight partners with a business focused on energy and natural resource as well as employment. Venezuela, meanwhile, remains one of the world’s largest oil producers, however, the country is currently looking to diversify its economy in a bid to become less reliant upon global commodity cycles.

For Dentons, the tie-up continues its ultra-expansive strategy, having opened in Nicaragua and El Salvador last year, as well as combining with Delany Law and Dinner Martin in the Caribbean. In Latin America, meanwhile, the 8,700-lawyer firm allied with Brazil’s Vella Pugliese Buosi Guidoni, as well as merging with Gallo Barrios Pickmann in Peru.

NRF, in contrast, has been more conservative with its global footprint. The firm closed branches in Kazakhstan and Abu Dhabi last year while Paul Hastings recruited its Japanese corporate team.

The firm released a statement from chief executive Peter Martyr: ‘Market conditions in Venezuela have been challenging for some time. Therefore, we have reached a mutual agreement with our Caracas partners that Norton Rose Fulbright will no longer maintain a local market presence in Venezuela.’

Alers at Dentons unsurprisingly struck a different note, stressing his firm’s expansion plans in the Latin American and Caribbean region: ‘It not only our strategy to grow globally but also grow continually in Latin America and the Caribbean, where we already have the most legal coverage in the region. This is just another step in our effort to cover the entire jurisdiction.’


CMS adds to Northern line up with Liverpool launch

CMS adds to Northern line up with Liverpool launch

CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang has extended its chain of northern offices with a Liverpool office opening following a hire from DWF, its first launch since its tripartite merger with Nabarro and Olswang in 2017.

The new office – located in Exchange Flags amidst Liverpool’s commercial district – will complement legacy Nabarro’s Manchester and Sheffield offices. DWF real estate partner Abigail Dry has been hired for the Liverpool launch, but the firm would not comment as to how many employees will be driving the opening. Liverpool is the firm’s tenth UK office.

The North has increasingly featured as part of firms’ UK strategies, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Reed Smith, and Norton Rose Fulbright all among those to open up in the region. Taylor Wessing was another firm to target Liverpool, setting up an office in the city comprised of business analysts and IP specialists to better support the firm’s London hub. CMS will likely look to make good on an uptake in real estate work across the northern region.

In a statement regarding the Liverpool opening, the firm said: ‘This appointment forms part of our strategy to grow in the North. The ongoing regeneration of the North combined with opportunities coming out of the Northern Powerhouse initiative have resulted in a significant uptake in real estate projects across the region.’

Last June, CMS announced a UK turnover of £518m and a 19% increase in profitability, but chose to omit profit per equity partner in its figures. Meanwhile, the firm’s three-way merger cost approximately £50m, with the cost split to £25m between two financial years.

In October of last year, the firm lost real estate heavyweights Alan Karsberg and Simon Kanter to Fladgate, while in November Fladgate deepened the blow by recruiting an eight-lawyer team in London. CMS subsequently commented the exodus was due to ‘confidential client conflict issues’.


Fieldfisher swims against the current with launch of stand-alone alternative investments law firm

Fieldfisher swims against the current with launch of stand-alone alternative investments law firm

Never a firm to rest on its laurels, fast-paced Fieldfisher has taken the unusual step of launching a separate law firm focused on hedge funds, derivatives and alternative investments.

The new entity – called Cummings Fisher – sees Fieldfisher hire three partners from other law firms to run it. Financial services partner Claire Cummings, who founded alternative investments boutique Cummings Law in 2003, has been appointed managing partner. She will be joined by James Tinworth, formerly head of Stephenson Harwood’s hedge funds practice, who will lead the funds practice. Ron Feldman, previously a partner at asset management consultancy MJ Hudson, will spearhead the derivatives practice.

Cummings Fisher will be based at 1 Mayfair Place, London’s hedge fund and alternative asset management hub. Despite the separate office, Cummings Fisher will still be able to access Fieldfisher’s pool of lawyers and its outposts dotted across Europe.

Structurally, Cummings Fisher is a completely separate firm rather than a division or new brand of Fieldfisher. It is an independent, SRA-authorised firm that is owned and supported by Fieldfisher. It is not an Alternative Business Structure (ABS).

Guy Usher, head of financial markets and products at Fieldfisher, told Legal Business that the idea for a separate law firm came after seeing the success of Fieldfisher’s near shore operation in Belfast: ‘We wanted to do a similar service with a competitive price point for investment managers. We needed more hedge fund clients for this to work though, which is why we approached Claire. In fact, she was the first person who answered our email asking to meet for a coffee!’

Cummings added: ‘We are building up the practice we already had at Cummings Law. We had lots of smaller clients that we would often regard as friends, but now with the ability to exploit Fieldfisher’s resources, we are able to offer more for our larger clients.’

The Cummings Fisher launch builds on a sustained period of international growth and new product lines for Fieldfisher. In 2018, the firm opened the low-cost hub in Belfast, with a long-term view of staffing it with 125 people. The Northern Irish office provides document negotiation and legal support from a team largely consisting of paralegals.

In early 2017, Fieldfisher launched Condor, an alternative legal services platform which offers clients process-efficient services. Among those on offer are contract negotiation and outsourcing, contract automation, AI and robotics.

In other firm news, last week it was revealed that corporate partner David Wilkinson and real estate partner Anthony Phillips had launched bids to succeed Matthew Lohn as Fieldfisher’s senior partner.


Law Fair FAQs: All Your Training Contract Queries Answered

Law Fair FAQs: All Your Training Contract Queries Answered

Whilst travelling the length and breadth of the country attending law fairs, we noticed that students kept asking us the same few questions. Below, we attempt to address the most common queries.

I’m a non-law student. Can I become a solicitor?

There is still much confusion among non-law students as to how (and even if!) they can become solicitors. The answer is simple: the graduate diploma in law (GDL). The GDL is a year-long law conversion course which allows graduates of any degree discipline to gain a legal qualification. Once you have completed the GDL, you will be on an equal footing with your law graduate counterparts and you will be able to enrol on the legal practice course (LPC). So, if you’re not studying law at undergraduate level – don’t worry! In fact, some firms prefer non-law graduates because they bring fresh knowledge and a different skillset to the role.

I’m a STEM student. Can I become a solicitor?

Law has traditionally been the reserve of arts and humanities graduates so we completely understand why we frequently get asked this question. But times are changing and law firms are keener than ever to recruit candidates from a scientific background. If you are a STEM (science, technology, engineering or maths) student or graduate, our advice would be to watch out from STEM-specific open days and events at law firms. That way you can visit the firm, ask questions and find out if law is a career path to which you might be suited. Of course, you can always ask recruiters the same questions at law fairs, which are held at universities around the country.

I want to practise human rights law/I want to practise IP law/I want to practise [insert practice area here]

Law firms always encourage trainees to go into their training contract with an open mind as to which area they would eventually like to qualify into. But if you’re absolutely certain, or if there is a particular seat you want to make sure is on offer, you can find out which firm is highly regarded in what area. Our sister publication, The Legal 500 ranks law firms all over the country (and indeed the world) in hundreds of different practice and work areas. Search for your desired practice area on The Legal 500 website and, once you have drawn up your shortlist of firms, consult the firm’s Lex 100 profile to learn all about the training experience. The ‘Star Performers’ section of The Lex 100 profile also tells you in which areas a firm is ranked highly.

Do the law firms in your guide offer work placements?

Work placements or work experience are commonly known as vacation schemes in law firm speak. A large proportion of Lex 100 firms offer vacation schemes and these one or two-week programmes are generally a very good way of starting out on the training contract recruitment ladder. To find out which firms offer vacation schemes, consult the firm’s Lex 100 profile and check out their score in the vacation scheme category (that’s the fun, colourful graph which you’ll see at the top of each online profile, or on the first page of a firm’s print profile). We’ve also written extensively about vacation schemes here.

I don’t have any legal work experience

We get it, obtaining legal work experience is difficult. If you don’t have friends or family members who can help you out, you may need to think outside the box. Ask university professors, work colleagues, friends of friends or, if you’re feeling brave, give a local law firm a call and see what they can offer you. You could always send out your CV speculatively too. If none of the above works, remember that any work experience is good experience, even your part-time job in a shop or restaurant. Be sure to emphasise the transferable skills you have learnt in these jobs on your application form. And remember that law firms understand that it can be difficult to get legal work experience!

When should I apply for training contracts?

This completely depends on what stage you are at! As a general rule, if you are in your second year of a law degree or your final (usually third or fourth) year of a non-law degree, you can apply for training contracts. Graduates and career changers can apply whenever, just be sure to check each firm’s application deadline!

I’m only in my first year. Will this guide be useful for me?

The short answer is YES! It’s never too early to start thinking about which firms you might want to apply. More and more firms offer open days, workshops and other opportunities for first-year students, which we have handily summarised in our ‘first year opportunities’ section. Some firms even offer ‘mini vacation schemes’ for first years which could put you well on your way to obtaining a training contract at that firm. More generally, you can start reading firms’ Lex 100 profiles and get a feel for the types of firms they are and whether the culture is one in which you think you could fit in. The more you know about a firm before you apply, the better!

HFW continues Middle East growth drive with Saudi Arabia association

HFW continues Middle East growth drive with Saudi Arabia association

HFW has continued its Middle East expansion after striking an alliance with Saudi Arabian firm Mohammed Al Khiliwi.

Named partner and leader of the Riyadh outfit, Al Khiliwi, will join HFW’s partnership as part of the agreement, subject to authorisation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. HFW insurance partner John Barlow, who splits his time between Riyadh and Dubai, is set to relocate full-time to the new office

For HFW, the association ties into a wider push to align the firm’s Middle East practice with its six global sector lines: aerospace, commodities, construction, energy and resources, insurance and shipping.

Richard Gimblett, head of HFW’s Dubai office, told Legal Business: ‘We know Mohammed from previous dealings so we know he’s a quality lawyer. He has a practice with a heavy dispute resolution focus, too, which perfectly aligns with what we do.’

Richard Crump, HFW’s senior partner, described the region as a ‘priority’ for each of the firm’s sectors, and said the Middle East ‘is fast becoming a major centre for international dispute resolution, which is a key part of our practice globally.’

Al Khiliwi’s arrival builds on an acquisitive 2018 for HFW, with the firm adding 24 new partners across Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston, London and Rio de Janeiro.

HFW was particularly expansive in the Middle East last year, most notably in the hire of Reed Smith’s managing partner for the region, Vince Gordon. Corporate partner Tania de Swart followed Gordon from Reed Smith to HFW.

The firm then strengthened the newly-opened Abu Dhabi outpost in November by hiring former Bird & Bird defence and infrastructure partner Richard Lucas to lead the office.

Throughout 2018 HFW also made key hires in Singapore, London and the USA. The firm also broke new ground by launching a standalone consultancy arm, branded HFW Consulting.

At a time when other firms, such as Herbert Smith Freehills, Clifford Chance and Latham & Watkins, have scaled back in the Middle East, HFW’s continued growth in the region comes amid robust overall performance. The firm’s revenue for the 2017/18 financial year was up 8% to £179.1m, thanks in part to its international offices accounting for 60% of overall turnover, up from 55% the previous year.

Gimblett added: ‘If you don’t have a sector focus in the Middle East then investment becomes a lot more speculative, it’s a difficult market out here at the moment. It’s a much more mature market too, so you need to offer something special.’


The Dechert Vacation Scheme

The Dechert Vacation Scheme

Vacation schemes have fast become a vital part of the trainee recruitment process for most law firms, and Dechert is no exception. For two years now the US firm has been recruiting its trainees exclusively through its vacation scheme, meaning that for those who have their hearts set on training at the firm, the best way in is via the two-week programme.

The decision to recruit solely from a pool of vacation scheme students comes from Dechert’s desire to have trainee solicitors ‘understand the firm and its clients, and reflect the energy, ambition and business focus that our clients look for’, explains training principal Jonathan Angell. ‘We also want our future trainees to have a solid understanding of the commitment Dechert has to its people, the training we provide and our collaborative working environment. We believe the best way to do this is to participate fully in a two-week scheme at our London offices’.

It’s not only those at the top who believe that this is a superior method of recruiting trainees. Many of the firm’s juniors also extol this new approach to recruitment, deeming it an incredibly useful opportunity to develop unparalleled insight into the firm. Charles Ashie, a future trainee, explains: ‘each firm’s culture is so different and so to gain insight in terms of what the people are like – not just the lawyers, but also the receptionists, secretaries and support staff – is invaluable’.

Current trainee Kerenza Kerslake agrees, adding that ‘[by completing the Dechert vacation scheme] you get more of a feel for the work that you’d be doing as a trainee, and get to see how friendly the teams are’. Furthermore, for the candidate bent on securing a training contract offer from the firm, the two-week vacation scheme is the perfect opportunity to showcase the skills and personality traits which cannot be gleaned from an application form. As Ashie rightly notes, completing the vacation scheme means ‘you get to see more of the firm and crucially, they get to see more of you’.

With the increased importance that the Dechert vacation scheme now holds, it is no wonder the firm goes to great lengths to make the two-week placement of excellent quality. And there is no doubt that the firm is living up to the expectations of candidates who join the fold over the spring or summer seasons. The work opportunities, quality of supervision and networking opportunities are unparalleled. Echoing this sentiment, Ashie is quick to praise the excellent supervision he received whilst working in the firm’s white-collar crime department: ‘having a supervisor who is so invested in your personal development over the week was incredible – I was really appreciative of it’.

The scheme sees students spend one week each in two of Dechert’s various departments. They have numerous opportunities to ask questions and network with staff of varying levels of seniority. Candidates are assigned a trainee buddy but sit with a supervisor – usually a senior associate – who assigns trainee-like tasks and provides feedback upon completion.

Much of the work is research-based says Kerslake, who recalls having to conduct research into the people with significant control register and good faith requirements in contracts during her time in the corporate team. In an equally stimulating task, Ashie was tasked with summarising a legislative update relating to white-collar crime. Students are also enlisted to help with pro bono work, which gives candidates an opportunity to see that ‘Dechert is not only committed to providing the highest level of service to clients, but also to individuals and organisations who may not have access to legal services’, asserts Ashie.

Attending training sessions, being included on conference calls, shadowing senior associates, giving group presentations, attending talks on different practice areas and having informal lunches with trainees and supervisors is all part and parcel of the vacation scheme at Dechert. The scheme, says Kerslake, is ‘challenging’ but nevertheless ‘really enjoyable’.

‘Dechert does loads’ to facilitate socialising, says Kerslake. Social events are dotted throughout the two weeks, with everything from ‘cooking classes at [French restaurant] L’Atelier’ and champagne networking events on the London Eye, to trips to the City of London Museum with clients comprising part of the itinerary – ‘it was clear that ‘they’d put a lot of time into organising the two weeks’. Attending these various events ‘showed a more relaxed side to the associates’ says Ashie, who advises incoming recruits to seize opportunities and ‘say yes to everything’! He notes that the firm is keen to get ‘vacation scheme students involved in anything that’s going on in the seat they’re placed in which made [him] feel more welcomed and included’.

Towards the end of the placement, candidates undergo a training contract interview. In recalling the interview process, Kerslake is keen to reassure nervous interviewees that when asked a challenging question, ‘[interviewers] are not testing what you actually know about business or markets, they’re assessing your thought process. So, in asking you a difficult question, they are looking for you to ask sub-questions that will get you to the answer they’re looking for. It’s all about showing that you are interested and willing to learn new things.’

There is no doubt that attending Dechert’s two-week vacation scheme (with a view to gaining a training contract) is beneficial to both the firm and the candidate, as each will emerge in a better position to decide whether to spend two years working with each other. A decision not to be taken lightly!

To apply for Dechert’s vacation scheme, click here.

For more information on the Dechert training contract, read the firm’s full Lex 100 profile.

ICSA Graduate Open Evening – Wednesday 30 January

ICSA Graduate Open Evening - Wednesday 30 January

Your law degree can get you into the boardroom, influencing and guiding the board of an organisation to be both effective and risk averse. There is no necessity for a training contract or the need to specialise.

Join the ICSA on Wednesday 30 January to find out more about roles in governance and company secretarial.

At this event:

• You will find out more about the role of the company secretary and how it can get you into the boardroom at an early stage in your career
• Meet company secretaries and learn about what drew them into the role, how they qualified, why they love their role, and why it’s better than a conventional law career
• Talk to a specialist company secretarial recruitment consultant about ways into the profession, career paths, work/life balance and salary potential
• Network with other students and graduates.

There will be a photographer present offering complimentary professional headshots.

Register now to discover more about routes into governance with ICSA.

Book your free place: https://www.icsa.org.uk/professional-development/graduatehub/graduate-open-evening?utm_source=3rd-party&utm_medium=email&utm_content=lex100&utm_campaign=graduateopenevening30jan19