Can you briefly describe your legal career so far?
In terms of the path I’ve taken, I studied classics at UCL. I then completed the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) at BPP Waterloo. I then completed the LPC at BPP Hoban, so a standard path but a non-law student in terms of my undergrad. During my LPC years, I applied for training contracts and was offered one at Vinson & Elkins. Luckily, they brought my training contract forward a year, so I only had one year to kill instead of two. So, I took a gap year, in which I travelled, tutored all over the world, and then I started my training contract in September 2019. So now I’m in the fourth seat of my training contract.
In terms of work experience I’ve done, throughout university I did an internship at a private bank and worked with the legal team, as well as an internship at Nabarro. I also did a mini pupillage and an internship at TLT, another law firm, and I also volunteered at Lincoln’s Inn, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a barrister or solicitor at this point. I interned at Grant Thornton, did some volunteering, and pro bono work whilst I was at law school. During my GDL, I did a vacation scheme at Milbank, and then during my LPC I did a vacation scheme at Vinson & Elkins and Akin Gump.
Did you find it at all helpful having studied a non-law undergraduate degree when entering into the legal profession?
I think non-law students always worry that they are going to be at a disadvantage, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. Firstly, because the GDL and LPC are comprehensive. Secondly, especially as I do corporate and private equity work, a lot of which you learn on the job. I also really enjoyed not studying law at undergrad and for me I was always going to do best at something that I enjoyed. I think I benefitted from studying classics which has a lot of variety and I think there are a lot of transferrable skills so I can bring something different than a law student or a maths undergrad student etc.
How did you find the transition from your undergraduate degree to studying the GDL?
I found it fine, I think there’s this misconception that the GDL is really hard but it’s just not. I think, in all honesty, and this is again a generalisation, I think the reason I didn’t find it as difficult was firstly because of doing a degree that encompass many subjects. But also, I love exams and I hate coursework. I didn’t do a dissertation and instead I chose to do another four exams. So, for me, I’m very used to having to study and learn a lot of information, to then produce over a short period of time. I think whatever you’ve studied you’ll find the GDL different, but I don’t think it’s as bad as people make out, it’s all about being tactical and having good exam technique. It really is about learning the structure and how to apply it to a situation, not actually learning absolutely everything that you’re taught because if you know the framework and know how to apply it, you should be fine.
You mentioned an interest in being a barrister, so why did you decide to go into commercial law as a solicitor?
I knew I wanted to study law for a long time even though I went into classics initially, but I always thought I wanted to be a barrister and then I joined Lincoln’s Inn. I started doing debating club and mooting club and I did mini pupillages. And I just was very conscious that it is very academic. You are going to court, you’re looking at the law, the case, or the legislation, and a lot of writing, a lot of studying, and not so much practical application, because that’s what solicitors do. As a solicitor it is much more a combination of academia and your commercial knowledge and awareness. Another reason was that I am a very sociable person, I love the office corporate environment, and when I did my mini pupillages, it was with one person for three days and we didn’t see another face for those three days. So, I think in terms of the work environment, being a solicitor suited me a lot more.
Do you have any advice on how to stand out in vacation scheme and training contract applications?
Number one, and it’s so easy to say this but it’s really very true, is be succinct, and to the point. When I review people’s applications or my own, I would look at each sentence and think ‘is it showing me off?’ No. ‘Could anyone write it?’ Yes. Well, you should probably scrap that sentence. Think about it as an essay so you’ve got 20 minutes to do a 25-mark essay, every single minute you will be getting a mark, so every sentence needs to be adding something. So, basically every sentence you write, make it count. And, I have a checklist in my head of everything I’ve done and want to mention, so I’m getting straight to the point.
And it’s got to be specific to you. As I said, if anyone can write it, people will be bored of it. A lot of graduate recruitment have read hundreds of applications for years and years, so try to get your personality across as much as possible. The way I did this was making sure everything was really tailored to my experience. Also, I would really recommend the STAR method, and I use it in interviews as well as it will keep you really clear. The graduate recruitment team will probably want to know something different about you, so try to include something that shows your personality.
How did you make a good impression whilst attending vacation schemes?
So, I was very nervous, and I had to just go for it kind of thing. Try to introduce yourself to as many people as possible, ask for as much work as possible, be polite, be friendly, produce good work, always triple check everything you do, ask for explanations, and try and get people to remember your name. It is harder at the moment because everything is virtual, but organise zoom calls with people and have some good questions lined up before you have a call arranged. Overall, just be friendly, hard working, be yourself, put yourself out there if you’re shy.
Why did you choose to complete your training contract at Vinson & Elkins?
Obviously, everyone says this, but number one is the people. I loved the people, the environment, the atmosphere, the culture. But I think the really important one was, actually the training contract structure. The first two seats are non-rotational, in the sense you do seat one and you do seat two, and there’s a little scope to other work but you mostly do the work of that department. Whereas seats three and four, you can go and work with as many other departments or as few departments as you want.
For example, I love private equity law. In my first seat I did litigation, and did bits of finance but mostly litigation. My second seat was capital markets. Then, my third seat was my oil and gas seat, or my energy seat rather, but I actually did 90% private equity work, again, because I could do it, and 10% energy. Now I’m finally in my M&A seat, I’m going to do pure private equity. Whereas, if I’d been at another firm and wanted to do private equity, and in that six months private equity was quiet, I may only have two- or three-months experience, so I can qualify there but I’m not particularly experienced. Whereas hopefully if I qualify into private equity, essentially, I will have done a year and a half of private equity. So, I’ve really benefitted from the breadth and flexibility of the training contract structure.
What advice would you give to someone about to start their training contract?
Firstly, don’t be so nervous. Also this is not absolutely necessary, but I guess before you start whatever seat you’re going into, maybe go over your LPC notes, and introduce yourself to everyone when you arrive. I would also say, you get out of a training contract what you put in. So, say yes to everything, be a yes man, unless you literally have no capacity to do any more, at which point you can say I really want to help but I can’t at the moment. You have essentially a two-year period where you can mess up as much as possible, the main thing is that you learn, so that when you do qualify you don’t make any mistakes or make as few as possible.
Also, remember everyone on a training contract will get things wrong. So, I think just accepting that you’re going to get stuff wrong and learn from it. So, as long as you learn from your mistakes, don’t let getting stuff wrong, get you down. Mistakes are how you learn, so I think that’s something that was quite like a shock, but that’d be my advice.
Finally, what seat have you enjoyed the most so far during your training contract and why?
So, the actual seat which I’ve enjoyed the most and hope to qualify into is M&A. I just love the team I work with and I love the work. We work with large international clients, but in terms of the work timeframe it is a very quick time frame so the working hours are very extreme and then relaxed and then extreme and then relaxed. I personally quite like the up and down, whilst other departments are kind of more consistent. I also like the variety of tasks that come with it. Because we work on such large international deals, my role as a trainee is often to communicate with all the different sets of local counsel. For example, if you’re working on a deal that is in six different African countries, it might be the role of the trainee to speak to the lawyers in those six African countries. I like that it is a mix of a good understanding of contract law and commercial law and corporate law, and using this practically, using your common sense and commercial awareness and doing all of that over quite a tight time period.