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In this article, Gabrielle Long interviews Nadine Owusu-Ansah, a paralegal and future trainee solicitor at Linklaters. Nadine explains why she chose to go into commercial law and complete her training contract at Linklaters, her advice on applying for vacation schemes, and why she chose to start her Instagram platform, @legallydiverse.
Hi Nadine, could you please introduce yourself and briefly explain your legal journey thus far?
Hi everyone, my name is Nadine and I am a Future Magic Circle Trainee, due to start in March 2022. In terms of my legal journey, I attended the University of Leicester in 2011 where I studied ‘LLB Law with a Year Abroad.’ For my third year, I took part in an international exchange where I attended the University of Windsor in Canada and studied law and Spanish. Upon graduating in 2015, but without a Training Contract, I decided to work for two years as a residential property legal assistant at an in-house firm.
Determined to progress in my legal career and qualify as a solicitor, I decided to self-fund the LLM and LPC at BPP Law School, graduating in 2018. I then went into private practice as a property paralegal, where I managed my own clients and conveyancing transactions.
In 2020, I decided to take some time out to focus on the legal recruitment process and this was when I developed the most. I reflected on all of the previous mistakes I had made, the feedback I had received, and my motivations for pursuing a career in law and I worked on the areas I felt had let me down in the past. In January 2021, I received my dream job, at my dream firm, Linklaters.
Can you explain why you chose to go into commercial law?
My journey into commercial law was not an immediate one. My original passion was criminal law. I loved the advocacy and close client relationships criminal law had to offer, alongside the sense of justice and community service. However, after conducting work experience, I realised that it was more emotionally heavy than I was prepared for. I, therefore, decided to explore a career in employment law, media and entertainment law, and residential real estate.
My experience over the years has taught me that a career in commercial law offers many opportunities, variety, and intellectually stimulating work. Throughout my journey, I have taken an increasing interest in the way that businesses work and the interconnectedness of business, the economy, and international relations. Whilst I am not sure what area of commercial law I wish to specialise in, I look forward to exploring four different areas during my training contract.
How did you decide you wanted to complete your training contract at Linklaters?
I never saw myself at a magic circle law firm. For a long time, I was under the impression that they were for a certain type of individual – people who went to private school, attended Russell Group universities, and didn’t look like me. With this image firmly rooted, I looked elsewhere.
Eventually, I came across a couple of diversity events at the firm and that was the initial spark. This later led me to take part in an event at the firm, in October 2018, entitled ‘Breaking Barriers in the Legal Profession’.
With the firm’s commitment to diversity a great foundation, I became interested in the firm’s clients, deals, and international capabilities. Having studied in Canada for a year, I was determined to pursue a career that would allow me to engage in multi-jurisdictional work and network with legal professionals both here and abroad.
After applying for the firm’s vacation scheme in October 2020, I was persuaded by the firm’s one-team culture and the ease at which I was able to approach and communicate with senior associates and partners at the firm. The praise I received from numerous members of staff during the scheme, made me feel as though a career at Linklaters was one where I would be seen and appreciated. To say that I am excited to begin my TC would be an understatement.
What advice would you give applicants about preparing for the interview stage for vacation schemes and training contracts?
There is so much advice I could give, however, if I were to provide just three it would be: research, practise, and network.
Research – Firstly, make sure you have conducted thorough research on the firm, and you are clear within yourself as to why you want to work there and why you would be the right fit. Make sure you are up to date with what they are currently doing in the market, who their clients are and what differentiates them from their competitors.
Practise – Secondly, go through the standard interview questions and practise your answers to them out loud with a friend or your university careers service. Confidence in an interview allows you to communicate better and show your personality, so make sure that you have prepared in advance as much as possible. You can find a list of over 100 questions on the Corporate Law Academy website, so definitely check it out.
Network – Thirdly, network with people currently at the firm and gain their insight. Reach out to future trainees and trainees who have recently gone through the process and get their advice as to how you can perform well. Similarly, reach out to lawyers at all levels of the firm and gain their perspective on what it is like to work there. You can then use this information to demonstrate your commitment to them as a firm in your interview.
How did your experience working as a paralegal, help you secure your training contract, and how could applicants use similar work experience to their advantage?
My experience as a paralegal helped me to secure a training contract because of the numerous skills I was able to develop. From client communication skills to drafting; time management; commercial awareness and teamwork – these were all skills that I could outline in an application form and then demonstrate at an assessment centre or interview.
Spending four years as a paralegal also meant that I was able to demonstrate why I was sure that a career as a commercial solicitor in private practice was right for me. It was no longer just an idea, but instead, something that I had made an informed decision on. I was able to contrast this career choice with my other legal experiences such as that in criminal law, the barrister profession and in-house legal teams and demonstrate why I knew they were not areas I wished to pursue further. It is important to remember that law firms are businesses and training contracts are an investment in you as an individual. All law firms, therefore, want to know that after spending money on your education, training and resources, you will not immediately leave them for another firm or another profession.
In terms of using these experiences to your advantage, I would say, first, make a note of all the transferable skills you developed whilst in your role as a paralegal. What was your role; what responsibilities did you have and what skills did you gain as a result. Were there any achievements or targets that you reached or exceeded? Then, look at the firm’s website and identify what skills they say they want to see in their trainees and make a note of them. Using this information to your advantage, you will then want to make sure that throughout the application process you are focused on demonstrating how you gained those skills from your experience as a paralegal. Whilst all transferable skills are important, law firms will place more importance on certain skills – so make sure that you are aware of what those are.
What advice would you give applicants on how to stand out during a vacation scheme?
Vacation Schemes are an amazing opportunity to not only learn more about the firm but also demonstrate why you are perfect for their training contract.
Prepare – The first piece of advice I would give is to make sure that you prepare in advance of the scheme. Your preparation should include going through any information/documentation you receive from the trainee recruitment team; preparing your knowledge of the firm by going over all the previous research and updating yourself on any changes; and finally, preparing your commercial awareness.
Commercial Awareness – Commercial Awareness is something that you should look to display throughout the scheme and during your training contract interview, so it is a good idea to start developing it from now.
Networking – Thirdly, I would say that networking during the scheme is really important. Before offering you the role, the firm will want to see how you work and engage with other people, so don’t be afraid to build relationships with the other vac schemers. They will also want to see that you are enthusiastic and proactive, so arrange 1-1 coffee chats with people at the firm so that you can learn more about their practice area, legal career and first-hand experience.
High Standard of Work – Finally, it is important that you complete all work/tasks you are given to a high standard because it forms a big part of how you are assessed overall.
I have 10 more vacation scheme tips which you can find on both my Instagram and YouTube channel, so feel free to check it out if you have one coming up. Good luck!
Why did you decide to start your Instagram page, @legallydiverse, and what have you gained from running this page?
I created the platform, Legally Diverse, to help other aspiring solicitors achieve their career goals a lot quicker than I did. Whilst I am thankful for my journey and all of the things I have learnt along the way, receiving rejections from law firms year after year really knocked my confidence and made me question whether law was the right career for me.
On my platform, I, therefore, aim to provide helpful content on all aspects of the legal recruitment process, and I post motivational messages to encourage others to keep going and stay productive when things get difficult.
Over the years, I have worked with some amazing people and gained valuable experience which has helped inform the type of legal career I desire. As such, I also conduct Q&A sessions with legal professionals on my platform so that they too can share their experience, offer advice to aspiring lawyers and provide insight into their legal practice area. I do this so that people can gain a better understanding of what the legal profession is like in practice.
The best thing about running my page is the amazing feedback I receive. Embarking on the journey of content creation has been hard because you start to worry about everything. “Does my post have any errors in it”, “Did I say the wrong thing”, “What do people think of me”, “Why aren’t I growing as quickly as some other people”. It is a different journey to that of obtaining a training contract, but at times it has felt just as hard but for different reasons.
What has kept me motivated to continue is the many people that have taken the time to direct message me about how my posts and/or videos have helped them with their application form, interview or during their vacation scheme – leading them to secure a training contract. Receiving news such as this, really makes it all worthwhile. I truly believe that God allowed me to struggle during my own legal journey so that once I reached my goal, I would be in the perfect position to be able to help other people reach theirs. For that, I am grateful.
Finally, if there is one piece of advice you could offer to students who are applying for training contracts, what would it be?
If there was only one piece of advice I could provide, it would be that your application form and/or cover letter should be tailored to the firm you are applying for. If any part of the form can be copied and pasted to a different law firm, then it is not specific enough. With questions about your commercial awareness, make sure that the commercial topic you pick is either a case the firm has worked on or based on a practice area that the firm specialises in. Each firm is different and so each firm will outline the type of qualities they wish for their trainees to have. Make sure that you demonstrate these qualities and not the qualities you think all law firms want.
When answering questions about why them as a firm, make sure that you are referencing things that are specific. This may include, their events that you have attended, networking conversations you have had with their lawyers, deals and clients that they work with, their strength and place in the market and/or their training and development structure and offerings. I cannot stress enough that if you could take their name out and put their competitor’s name in, then it is not tailored enough and therefore will not be able to compete with other applicants.
The only questions that may not change much (but can still be tailored in some way) are your ‘why law’ and ‘why commercial law’, as this is more specific to you and your journey. Best of luck!