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In this article, Gabrielle Long interviews Jasmine Cracknell, a trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths, currently on secondment at ThoughtRiver. Jasmine discusses how she chose which firms to apply to for training contracts, her experiences during her training contract and secondment so far, as well as her advice to anyone applying for vacation schemes and training contracts.
Hi Jasmine! Could you please introduce yourself and briefly explain your legal journey thus far and what attracted you to a career in commercial law?
Hi Gabrielle, I am a second-seat trainee at Shoosmiths, based in the Leeds office. My first seat was in Property Litigation, which I really enjoyed, and I am now on secondment to ThoughtRiver, a legal tech company. I studied LLB Law and Legislative Studies at The University of Hull and completed my LPC with a master’s at ULAW in Leeds. Prior to starting my training contract, I worked at Citizens Advice advising people on benefits and employment-related issues, before that, I worked for an MP, initially during a placement year as part of my degree and then part-time during the final year of my LLB.
I was attracted to a career in commercial law for a couple of reasons. During my degree, I really enjoyed contract law and during my LPC I found modules such as insolvency and competition law interesting as they involved a lot of black-letter law, which I liked. I am also a big people person and enjoy working with others. Commercial law seemed like a perfect fit in this regard because I knew that I would get to collaborate and work with people every day to find solutions to complex legal issues. At Shoosmiths, a lot of our clients are at the forefront of their respective sectors, which makes the work interesting as there are often a number of legal and commercial considerations that need to be addressed.
Deciding which law firms to apply to for vacation schemes and training contracts can be difficult. How did you decide which firms to apply to, and how did you reach the decision to complete your training contract at Shoosmiths?
Deciding which law firms were a good fit for me was something that I struggled with when applying for training contracts. I think there are two parts to figuring out which firms are right for you. Firstly, think about whether you want to work for a high street, regional, national, international, niche, or city firm, or train in-house. Factors to consider are location, work-life balance, whether you prefer to work in large teams or smaller teams, and the type of clients you want to work with. When you have decided on the type of firm, you then need to look at the individual firms within that category and think about which firms would suit you. Things to think about here are the areas of law the firm offers and the sectors they operate in, the charity and CSR initiatives at the firm, the firm’s culture, and the working arrangements (e.g. do they usually have one trainee in each team or several as this will affect how you work). Training in-house will also be made much easier with the introduction of the SQE, so I think this will become something that more and more aspiring solicitors will consider.
My decision to train at Shoosmiths was based on several things. In my experience, people at the firm are incredibly welcoming, supportive and friendly no matter their level of seniority. I also thought that the firm’s size was ideal in that it is large enough that the work is good quality and multifaceted, but the teams are small enough that only one trainee is needed in each team. This means that trainees get great exposure to work and clients. Finally, I was really impressed by the CSR initiatives at Shoosmiths, particularly the firm’s work around social mobility which is something that I am personally quite passionate about.
Do you have any advice on how best to prepare for vacation schemes or training contract interviews?
It goes without saying that preparation is key for training contract or vacation scheme interviews. The first piece of advice I would give is to find out (if you can) what questions may be asked at the interview. Some interviews are competency based whereas others have a mix of questions on competency, the firm, and the legal market. Once you have an idea of the kind of questions that may come up, I found it useful to prepare some example responses. I wouldn’t recommend memorising your responses word for word, but just jotting down a few bullet points for each question will give you an outline answer that you can expand on in the interview. I also found it helpful to practise answering interview questions with somebody else.
For commercial-based questions, researching the firm and staying up to date on your commercial awareness will be key. Commercial awareness is something that I think is built over time, so if you have not started to develop your commercial awareness yet, I would suggest making this a part of your daily routine (e.g. reading the news or listening to business podcasts for 10-15 minutes each day). On the day of the interview, I would also recommend having a quick skirt around the firm’s website and the news just to make sure that you are fully up to date with what’s going on.
Finally, I would advise preparing a couple of questions to ask the interviewer. Make sure you ask something that you are genuinely interested in and maybe even have some follow-up questions prepared too!
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?
Honestly, I don’t think I have a particular highlight that I can point to. I’ve been involved in so many interesting matters that it is difficult to identify a specific piece of work I have done. Experiences that stand out the most for me are the times when I have received really good feedback despite the task being quite challenging or complex. The beginning of your training contract and each subsequent seat move can be a fairly steep learning curve, so to receive some good feedback is a great feeling and often gives you that confidence boost you need.
How are you finding your secondment during your training contract, and would you recommend doing a secondment to other trainees?
I am now five months into my secondment, and I can’t believe how quickly it has gone. The past two months have been especially enjoyable as my workload has increased and I have been able to get more involved in other aspects of the business. ThoughtRiver is contract acceleration technology and so we actually use ThoughtRiver in the legal team to review procurement terms and conditions and NDAs. This means that I often liaise with the product team to help continuously improve the product by giving my feedback as a user. As is natural at the three- or four-month mark, I have also been given a lot more responsibility and am now managing several processes on my own.
I would definitely recommend that trainees complete a secondment during their training contract. As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed contract law at university and I have always wanted to do a commercial seat. The secondment has allowed me to experience commercial law within the context of a business, which I think is invaluable. One of the main things I’ve learned while on secondment is that different businesses have different risk appetites and, when advising in-house, it is important to always couch your advice in the context of that risk appetite. When I return to Shoosmiths, this is something that I will continue to bear in mind when dealing with clients.
I have also had a fantastic insight into legal technology, how it is developed and designed, and the role that it plays and will play in the future.
Commercial awareness is an important skill for any applicant to have. Therefore, in your opinion, what do you think is the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge facing the legal sector at the moment?
I think it’s very difficult to pinpoint a single biggest challenge for the legal sector. Most recently, agile working and remote working will have been quite a challenge for most, if not all, law firms. I think law firms will struggle to meet the needs of everyone when there is such divergence, not only between individual employees but across teams in how they prefer to work. Keeping everyone happy will therefore be quite a challenge.
Technology and finding the right solutions for clients is clearly an ongoing challenge for law firms, particularly smaller firms and mid-sized firms. Not only is there a cost factor, but firms also need to be smart about which technology they employ because the technology is useless unless there is a specific client need that the technology can address. The possible recession could make the need even more pressing as clients may be looking for cheaper legal services, yet law firms may equally have less money to spend on tech. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
As much as tech is a challenge for law firms, I think it is also a great opportunity to tailor your service to your clients’ needs. If a law firm can find an effective piece of tech which gets the job done in half the time with less cost and, in a lot of cases, more accuracy than a human, clients will see so much value in the service that you can provide. A lot of law firms including Shoosmiths are now offering complementary or non-legal services so that clients can simplify certain processes and deal with non-legal aspects of a transaction all in one place. Again, this could bring a cost-benefit for clients and a sense of continuity throughout the whole process.
Finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to anyone applying for vacation schemes and training contracts, what would it be?
I think my main piece of advice would be to be resilient. Resilience is so key when applying for training contracts due to the competitiveness of the process. I know very few trainees that haven’t experienced rejection during their training contract journey. If you have experienced rejection, it is so important to reflect on your performance and ask for feedback. This will be key to ensuring your next application, interview or assessment centre goes a little better. You will get there!