Interview and article by Zainab Hassan
Raphael Khoo is a final year law student and future trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance. He is also the president of UCL’s law society and has participated in volunteering as part of UCL Law’s Grassroots Human Rights Programme in his first year. Raphael enjoys sharing his creative content through his passion for photography. He shares with us some useful practical steps in this interview.
Hi Raphael, please share with us what the current stage of your career is.
I am currently a final year law student at University College London (UCL) and I am serving as the president of the UCL Law Society. Over the summer of 2019, I completed vacation schemes with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Sidley Austin. I will be starting my training contract with Clifford Chance in February 2021.
As the current president of UCL’s Law Society, please share some of the opportunities you have been involved in and the events you have organised.
Before becoming president, I was the society’s vocational officer and organised three negotiation competitions for our members. I was elected as president on March 2019. As president, I am responsible for our society’s sponsorship arrangements with over 40 city law firms, inns of courts and chambers. This year, we brought in six new sponsors for the society. I am also responsible for leading a committee of 18 members and supervising all of our society’s events, such as career (bar and commercial law) events, competitions, student-run publications, pro bono, sports and socials.
Personally, one of the best events I organised was a doggy de-stress event in the law faculty, where we managed to bring in three therapy dogs for over two hours. Additionally, I sit on the UCL Laws Faculty Teaching Committee and Student-Staff Consultative Committee, where I am responsible for representing the interests of LLB students to the faculty.
I am very grateful to be trusted with these responsibilities. Importantly, both roles gave me the opportunity to improve my leadership skills, work in teams to achieve a common objective and refine my public speaking skills. Being involved with so many activities in school gave me a range of examples to write about in my applications.
What experiences or advice helped you choose which type of law you wanted to enter?
I chose to go into commercial law because it lies at the intersection of my interests in finance and law. Before deciding on commercial law, I completed several online finance courses on Coursera, which gave me a broad understanding of the business world and the clients which law firms work with, specifically fund managers. I was also interested in securitisation and derivatives, having come across those concepts while learning about the Global Financial Crisis at A-level Economics. I then became interested in the business world and started listening to several industry-specific podcasts on a weekly basis, such as Exchanges at Goldman Sachs, The Blackstone Podcast, and FT’s Behind the Money.
Based on these commercial interests, I strategically applied to firms that have strengths in working with fund managers or investment banks. I was able to clearly articulate my motivations for applying to these firms by leveraging my knowledge of the industry. This made me seem more authentic and less cliché.
Aside from your role as president, have you been involved in volunteering?
I volunteered to teach human rights law to a class of Year-11s as part of UCL Law’s Grassroots Human Rights Programme in my first year. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and feel fulfilled knowing I made a small impact on the lives of these students. The experience taught me how to make complex information more accessible, research key updates to legislations and present information to a crowd. Come to think of it, this is what good commercial lawyers do on a daily basis – simplifying complex information, understanding industry trends and advising their clients! If time permits, I would definitely recommend doing some volunteering at university.
What tips would you give to aspiring lawyers in relation to the application process?
Knowledge. Have a strong understanding of the role of commercial lawyers in business transactions, key trends affecting specific industry sectors and the unique offering of each law firm you are applying to. I would strongly recommend getting a copy of Jake Schogger’s Commercial Law Handbook to get a brief overview of the legal industry. Next, I would recommend following a few podcast channels on Apple/Android Podcast – BBC Business Daily, Exchanges at Goldman Sachs and FT’s Banking Weekly. Make it a point to listen to them when you are making breakfast or walking to school. Lastly, read the Chambers Student True Picture profile of the firm you are applying to. This would help give you a preliminary and brief understanding of the firm’s key strengths.
Network. Have a list of firms you want to apply to and take note of the events they have throughout the academic year (either on campus or at their offices). While it is good to come prepared with a list of questions to ask these representatives, try and aim for authentic conversations (over questions affecting the global economy… unless you are speaking to a partner who seems keen)! Always make it a point to follow up any conversation with a thank you note either via email or LinkedIn.
Authenticity. When writing any application, always ask yourself, “Why does this matter to me?”. Asking yourself this question would help you avoid the standard clichés you would normally throw in an application and tailor your responses to be more specific and genuine.
Finally, share a fun fact about yourself!
I am incredibly passionate about content creation. I would consider myself a semi-professional landscape/cityscape photographer and am always trying to get the best picture – lighting is key! I have also started to delve into videography and motion graphics. The learning curve is steep but hopefully I can create some aesthetic content soon!