Hello! I’m Amelia and I attended the University of Dundee, which I started at in 2016. I studied a dual-qualifying Scots and English Law LLB, so I can either work in Scotland or England. I then went on to study the Scottish version of the LPC, which is called the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice. In my penultimate year of my LLB, I applied for a vacation scheme at CMS, which is called the CMS Academy. I was then offered a training contract in the summer of 2019, and I started my training contract in August 2021. I am currently a trainee solicitor in the litigation team, and I am going to NatWest on secondment for my next seat.
CMS was a firm that I felt really suited me for various reasons. CMS is one of the largest international commercial law firms in the world, so there are great opportunities to do international work of very high quality, whilst staying in Scotland. I also have a particular interest in dispute resolution, such as litigation and arbitration, and CMS are ranked band one (The Legal 500) in commercial litigation. The type of work and clients at CMS aligned with my personal interests.
I was also a CMS brand ambassador at my university campus, and I gained deep insight into the culture at CMS: the teams, how work is structured, and firm initiatives. Also, during my vacation scheme, I was given high-quality and meaningful work, as opposed to just admin tasks. The level of training and support, just on the vacation scheme, was so high, and I can confirm the same carries through to the training contract. CMS also offers client and international secondments which are incredibly attractive and excellent opportunities to try something a little bit different.
Ultimately it was a combination of things – the type of work, the culture, the support, the high-quality training you receive – which prompted my decision to apply to CMS and then accept the training contract offer. It should be noted that CMS recruits its trainees through the CMS Academy so that would be your starting point if you are interested in training at CMS.
I think any achievement or hobby can be leveraged in some way in your application. Even if you don’t have legal experience, you might have been part of a university sports club or a society, part of the student union, work in retail or hospitality, and these can all be leveraged. It is all about what transferrable skills you can show on your application. For example, if you’re working in hospitality, you are constantly speaking with customers and so you might have gained the skill of being client-focused, and you should highlight that in your application. If you do have some legal experience, make sure to demonstrate which areas of law you worked in and how that has shaped your legal interests to date.
In terms of my application, I highlighted a range of academic achievements, legal and non-legal work experience. It is always positive to be well-rounded where possible and demonstrate a range of skills and experiences. For example, sports can show determination and perseverance, and having the motivation to reach a particular goal. It can also show that you’re a team player if it is a team sport. If you emphasise your academics, this can go to show that you are detail-orientated, capable under time pressure and able to deliver high-quality work.
Overall, there are lots of things that you can pull from your experiences to put into an application, and it doesn’t always have to be legal.
As I previously mentioned, I am really interested in contentious work. The pinnacle, I suppose, of any dispute is the trial. A lot of cases get settled before it goes to trial, or they mediate (a guided negotiation), or they are dropped, so going to trial is not as common as some people may think.
I’ve been very fortunate to attend an in-person trial in this seat which was definitely the highlight for me. Firstly, I got to go to the court in-person and there’s something so mesmerising about being in a courtroom. Secondly being able to be a part of a team for a very high-profile case, and doing all the prep work, knowing the documents inside out, knowing the witnesses inside and out, and then seeing that all come together at trial was very exciting.
I think it depends on what you’ve done previously. I did the last semester of my undergraduate degree and my diploma (LPC equivalent) all online, so working remotely became normal for me. So, when I started with CMS in August, and everything was still online, it felt no different to me because I had been doing it for the past year and a half. Having good IT makes such a big difference and I’ve been very fortunate that CMS have a dedicated 24-hour IT service helpline who can assist with any IT query. Despite working from home, the litigation team have regular check-in calls and people are always happy to have a chat about the work you’re doing so you never feel like you’re alone at home. However, as restrictions have started easing over the last few months of this seat, I started going into the office a few times a week.
In terms of my advice for other trainees and remaining productive, I’ve written about this on my blog. This is called “Staying motivated for university – heading into lockdown (again)” and you can find it on my blog, See Through Law – Staying motivated for university – heading into lockdown (again) (law.blog). It’s based on the lockdown waves (coming out of lockdown and going back into lockdown), and how to stay motivated at university when going back into lockdown. So, I mentioned things like having a good desk setup, having a good routine, and taking regular breaks. The same can apply when you’re working from home as a trainee. This can also vary from person to person – some people like to have nothing on their desk other than their laptop and a notepad. I personally like to have different folders/screens at the same time so I can see various documents simultaneously and be able to cross-reference. It may take some time to find a pattern that suits you so don’t be discouraged!
Commercial awareness is understanding how different factors affect the business, and in this case, law firms. There are of course the obvious ones such as inflation (or economics in general), environmental issues (e.g. climate change litigation is on the rise) or Brexit (yes, still ironing that out!).
I’d like to mention perhaps a newer one which is very topical at the moment which is recruitment and retention in the legal sector. You’ve all probably read in the news or heard about lawyers, especially more junior lawyers, leaving their current firms or leaving the sector entirely. For example, despite the pandemic, many firms saw an increase in the need for legal services to complete deals or litigate. Coupled with working from home (which can run the risk of displacing a good work-life balance), there has been an issue of mental and physical health and well-being.
I think the well-being of lawyers is very topical at the moment, but I suppose at the same time it is being recognised. It is positive that firms in the legal sector are increasing their social and well-being initiatives. For example, at CMS we have lots of mental health and well-being committees and teams that run events to raise awareness.
I felt that when I started applying for vacation schemes, there was so much information out there and I didn’t know where to start. I was quite fortunate to get a TC in my first application cycle, so I thought it would be good to share all these tips with people because there is so much information out there. I’d also posted about getting my TC, and people asked me for tips, so I thought it was easier to collect all this information in one place. It has been running since 2019, and it’s still growing; I’ve now added a trainee diary series to it where I blog about my time as a trainee, you can find it here – Trainee Diary Series (law.blog).
In terms of what I’ve gained from it would be when people message me that they’ve got a vacation scheme or training contract and that my blog helped them. I’m so glad it helps people and assist them in their legal journey.
First, anyone can come and have a chat with me by emailing me, messaging on LinkedIn, or submitting a question through my website. They can try and find a mentor, to guide them through each step of the process. They can also check out all the different resources out there. For example, my blog, See Through Law, walks you through all the different stages of the vacation scheme process or the training contract process, such as tips on how to write a good application, how to succeed in video interviews etc. I would also advise attending open days at firms as this gives you a chance to speak to graduate recruitment and trainees first-hand. You can also just have a scroll through LinkedIn, and for example just try connecting with a CMS trainee, if you’re interested in finding out more about CMS. So, I think the first point is to start reaching out, whether that be on open days, or LinkedIn, or finding a mentor. Make connections because it will lead you to some helpful information that you could use in your applications! Good luck!