We caught up with Abbie, a Law graduate from the University of York, about her time on Baker McKenzie’s Vacation Scheme. She tells us about the application process, the company culture and tips for how to make the most of the scheme when it comes around. Take a look below…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Abbie and I am 22 years old. I studied law at the University of York and absolutely loved it. The city is amazing and will always have a special place in my heart. I did Maths, Chemistry and Economics at A Level so many people wouldn't have guessed that I would have chosen to go into law. I actually think Maths and Law are quite similar in that they are both logical and structured - something which I like.
I have an older sister and younger brother so that unfortunately makes me the middle child. However, I don't really suffer from middle child syndrome as, in a way, I acted as the older sibling because my sister has Down Syndrome. This has 100% contributed to the person I am today.
I was on the University pool team (as in similar to snooker) and I am a keen gym goer. I like to push myself and see myself getting stronger. In school I was a part of all the sports teams and did rowing for 5 years.
I love comedy and love going to watch comedians perform. I saw Catherine Ryan quite recently and am looking forward to seeing Rob Beckett soon. It's also nice to see not-so-well known acts as they are almost always as good, if not better, than the big names!
What inspired you to apply to Baker McKenzie?
My first interaction with Baker McKenzie was through the student campus ambassador. She spoke so passionately and I could see that she genuinely loved the firm - for me, that was so important. I attended the Baker McKenzie careers dinner at university and met trainees, partners and members of graduate recruitment. The atmosphere was relaxed and I felt at ease; everyone was friendly and approachable. This differentiated Baker McKenzie from other firms. I had a similar experience when sitting at the Baker McKenzie table at the University of York's Law Society Annual Careers Dinner. The trainees spoke so much about the investment that Baker's makes in providing such a great training programme. Meeting and talking to people definitely helped me decide to apply to the firm.
What was a ‘normal’ day like on the scheme?
A normal day on the scheme looked something like this:
Get in to the office at 9am. Most people got in at 9:30 but it's good to look keen and ready to go (plus it's always good to leave excess time as this avoids being late).
In the morning, there might have been a talk or meeting e.g. we had a presentation skills training session, seminars on diversity and CSR, Q&As with a partner etc. Then, go back to our desks to either assist our supervisor or trainee buddy with some work.
We had networking lunches with different departments and committees which enabled us to meet people outside of the department that we were sat in.
Go back to our desks and continue with tasks given to us. These tasks could include researching articles, proofreading, helping locate evidence for a case through watching YouTube videos (yes, I did that!) and identifying recent cross-borders deals to check whether they had a specific feature in common. The work varied depending on your department and not one of us on the vacation scheme did the same work.
Social events were organised on some evenings. We had welcome drinks, a curry night at Bengal Tiger (so much food was ordered!), we went to Bounce in Farringdon which was a lot of fun and had a farewell lunch at the OXO Tower.
What was the application process like? What was the hardest part? What did you enjoy the most?
The application process can appear as quite daunting. It is long with multiple stages (cover letter, online tests, video interview, assessment centre) to complete but once you do get further through the process, it is worth it. Each barrier cleared is a triumph within itself! I think the hardest part for me personally, which isn't specific to the Baker McKenzie application process, is handling rejection. I applied for vacation schemes during my second year of university and didn't get anything. This was a tough pill to take as I got through to the later stages in the majority of them. However, in hindsight, I do believe all things happen for a reason. You can't dwell on it as a negative and should use it as motivation to keep trying. Take the extra time to build up your cv, grow as a person and become more confident. If that year wasn't your year, another will be.
The part that I enjoyed the most was, surprisingly, the assessment centre. This comprised of a group exercise, a case study interview with two partners and a competency-based interview with an associate. I can honestly say I had a really good time and everyone there, from graduate recruitment to the partners and associates, make me feel at ease and I forgot my nerves. This was so different to other assessment centres I had been too. Plus, I count myself very lucky that I completed the group exercise with other lovely candidates. I think this can make or break an application to be honest. If someone is a bit overbearing, then this will not only impact them, but everyone else too. It's much better to try and work together cohesively and efficiently.
What is the company culture like at Baker McKenzie?
Inclusive! While on the vacation scheme, we were made to feel like we were already a part of the firm. People took so much time out of their days to get to know us and answer our questions, whether that was at the organised talks or events or by going to coffee with our supervisor or trainee buddy. The people don't take themselves seriously despite the serious nature of their work which provides such a great balance.
Has Bright Network helped you on your career journey? If so, how?
I attended the Bright Network Top 100 Future Lawyers event which was probably one of my first experiences in meeting top global law firms. I was able to ask so many questions as it is organised similar to speed dating. We were in groups of 4/5 and got to speak with each firm for a set time. Meeting so many partners and associates and hearing about the work that they do was eye opening and speaking first hand with graduate recruitment was invaluable to my future applications. This event definitely prompted my drive to get a training contract
Finally, any tips for anyone who’d like to apply for a similar role at Baker McKenzie?
- Before writing your applications, try to have as much contact with firms as possible. This is great to help figure out which firms are for you, but also gives you a better feel of what a career in law is like.
- In interviews, be yourself and, I know it's easier than it sounds, but relax. They are not trying to catch you out. If they are, you will know it is not the type of firm for you. At the end of the day, it isn't really about whether you get the answer right or wrong, they want to see if you can come to a well-reasoned conclusion.
- For the group exercise, you don't need to be the loudest. I think you should show that you can listen to others, appreciate what they have said and react or build upon that. Working together, instead of competing, is the best way for everyone involved.
Tips for the vacation scheme:
- Ask questions at every session. This shows that you are paying attention and are keen.
- This may sound silly but make sure you look interested. Vacation schemes are jam-packed and intense so you probably will be quite tired. Whether you're at a training session, a Q&A session or lunch with the managing committee, make sure you look like you are not bored and don't let the tiredness show. People could mistake that for boredom which does not look good.
- Be proactive and ask people for work. Not everyone will have work which is acceptable for you so ask around and someone will be able to find something for you. Also, there might be additional opportunities, e.g. attend a session at a local pro bono legal clinic or assist in a diversity scheme for high school/college students (I helped out at this). You will all be emailed and asked whether you would like to help. Even though there aren't enough spaces for everyone, a simple email showing interest says a lot.
- Try to find out more about the work that you are given to complete. E.g. why are you completing the work, how this fits in with what the trainee/associate/partner is doing, what deal is the work for etc.