Hi, I’m Mukuma and I recently graduated with an LLB Law degree from the University of Manchester. I decided to study law because I believe it presently has an essential role in society, and how people operate within it. Coming from Zambia, where no distinction between barristers and solicitors exists, I spent my first year attending events held by firms and chambers, which ultimately helped me to determine that the solicitor route was ideal for me.
During my first year at university, I also realised I was predominantly interested in commercial law. Due to the recent shift in social expectations of business, I felt, and still feel, that businesses are beyond the stage of solely operating to make money – creating an exciting context in which to advise clients. I subsequently completed two vacation schemes – one in second year (at DLA Piper) and another in third year (at Herbert Smith Freehills) – and I will commence my training contract at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, in 2023.
My initial interest in Herbert Smith Freehills was sparked after attending an ‘Inside the Headlines’ presentation, with the firm. At the event, I appreciated that the firm would go into so much depth to help attendees understand the work of a solicitor and the business of law. This suggested to me that the people within the firm would readily and happily answer any questions I would have, throughout the training contract. I also felt very comfortable speaking to the lawyers at the event regardless of their seniority, a feeling which persisted even during my vacation scheme.
It was also equally important to me to complete my training contract at a firm that is strong in both its disputes and corporate practice. I believed this would allow me to sit in a range of high-quality seats, which is particularly important as I am not yet certain on which practice area to qualify into. Furthermore, the firm has worked on some of the most novel and complex cases like the UK’s first deferred prosecution. Herbert Smith Freehills’ work also covers an array of sectors such as the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) and Energy sectors, which I am keen to explore further.
Lastly, I was impressed by the firm’s commitment to accommodate employee interests and allow employees to shape their career journeys as they see fit. I was particularly impressed that this care for employees is not only limited to the lawyers, but there is a sense of togetherness even in respect to graduate recruitment, human resources, and the other parts of the business. It is reassuring to know that regardless of the route I end up taking at the firm, I would be supported.
I would highly recommend being a campus ambassador for any of the firms you are interested in. Given that I was the first point of contact for many students, I had to know a lot about Herbert Smith Freehills to be able to answer their questions – this knowledge made it easier to write my application and participate in assessment centres. Additionally, campus ambassadors will usually get a chance to speak to graduate recruitment and other members of the firm one-on-one, which can help with getting answers to any questions you have. The job also enables you to improve and demonstrate skills like communication, public speaking, running social media accounts, and organisation. Moreover, depending on a firm’s application question, applying for a campus ambassador position can help shorten your vacation scheme application (for instance at HSF you wouldn’t have to re-do the psychometric testing).
There are five main ways that I was able to use my society roles to my advantage. Firstly, preparing workshops that were delivered by the Urban Lawyers North (ULN) committee required me to do research that helped me understand the application process more. These workshops also involved different speakers, so I was able to hear from them what graduate recruitment looked for in applications. Secondly, being on a committee is useful to illustrate your ability to work well as part of a team. Thirdly, as Vice president, I was a secondary representative of the society, hence I became more comfortable speaking to people from different firms and organisations and taking initiative in starting and building relationships. For example, there were times when I reached out to numerous firms and chambers seeking sponsorship. Asking for funding can be rather uncomfortable (especially when you’ve never interacted with the person before). Thus, requesting sponsorship was a good way to learn how to handle difficult conversations and rejections. Additionally, as First Year Representative, I spoke in front of entire lecture halls and with a wide range of people within my university and firms. Overall, this made it easier for me to express my interests and greatly helped my communication skills. Lastly, my committee and regular attendees at our events became a great set of peers whom I could reach out to for advice when going through the application process.
I do not think I necessarily tried to stand out; I think it is more important to show that you are interesting and interested.
In terms of showing that you are interesting, allow yourself to explore the parts of the firm and its work that you are most passionate about. It does not have to be anything niche, but trust what speaks to you because you will seem more enthusiastic when you speak about those areas.
In regard to being interested, the best way to do this is by asking questions. This involves actively listening to what the lawyers, graduate recruitment, and even other vacation scheme participants are talking about or enjoying. Equally, show interest in the work you are given and, in any meetings, or presentations you attend. There is no need to ask the most elaborate questions, but if you know something about a subject and want to learn more, feel free to ask a very specific question. I would say it is always useful to have about three questions prepared, that are good to ask a person at any stage in their career for one-on-one conversations. These filler questions can help give you information and/or time to create a better question. Listening to the answers you are given can help you come up with more interesting or nuanced questions which aid with showing your interest and leaving a good impression.
In my opinion the rise of biotech and infotech. I think this will not only affect the legal sector but all sectors and probably humanity. I believe it will be interesting to see how the law will catch up, if at all, to the increasing role of technology in our lives. The challenges arising from this will also transcend privacy considerations, medical law, competition law, and criminal law among others. Additionally, lawyers will need to outline what value they currently bring, and could continue to bring, as algorithms become better and better decision-makers.
Believe in the value you can bring to the firm as a business. It can become easy to throw yourself at an application for any firm, given that you may receive several rejections. However, you deserve to be at a firm that suits you and that you want to be at.