We recently sat down with Harry to talk about how he secured a training contract with Clifford Chance, how he built up his commercial awareness before the interview and his top tips for Bright Network members looking to follow in his footsteps.
Why a role in Clifford Chance?
When asked the question ‘Why Clifford Chance?’, the typical response that follows is ‘it’s the culture’ or ‘it’s the people.’ I firmly believe there is a reason for that.
I feel like I can be myself at Clifford Chance, which can only be thanks to the inspiring people that make up the firm. The measure of Clifford Chance, in my view, is how the firm’s core values resonate in every aspect of who they are and what they do: a diversity of experiences and backgrounds is actively championed in all dimensions of their practice.
Clifford Chance (CC) made an impression on me from an early point. Back in Year 12, I attended a residential weekend at Oxford University for students from disadvantaged backgrounds interested in studying Law. The programme was fully sponsored by CC. It just goes to show that the firm is dedicated to putting their values into action, even when it is outside of their immediate purview. Looking back, I would not have had the confidence to later apply to Cambridge without this residential weekend.
When I first stepped into the firm a few years later, as part of the ACCESS (formerly PRIME) scheme, what really took me back was the openness of people at the firm. You quickly realise that this attitude of inclusivity is part and parcel of CC. Across practice areas and different career stages, people are willing to give you their time and attention, precisely because they want to hear what you think. That CC’s training programme is world-class is, in my view, a reflection of these values in action.
From when I first heard about CC at that residential weekend in Oxford to now, it has been this consistent sense of the firm’s identity – how this resonated with me and my career aspirations – that confirmed I made the right decision when I signed my training contract. I hope to remain with the firm for many years.
How did you build your commercial awareness before the interview?
The key misconception of ‘commercial awareness’ is that it is a subject to be revised, rather a skillset to be refined.
One of the inheritances of syllabus-based education is that we find it naturally reassuring to write out a block of revision cards for numerous deals, memorising them before the interview. This was, I confess, an important part of my preparation in the days leading up to my interview, but it was not my overall strategy.
Rather than simply cramming information in the short-term, I would recommend framing the learning process as something much more long-term and holistic. With any new information or research you come across, think of it as an example that you can compare with and relate to a wider understanding of commercial markets. An article in the FT might prompt you to think ‘how does the outcome of this deal compare with a similar one from last month? What forces in the market may have made this outcome different from the previous one? What predictions could I make as a result?’
Applying critical questions like these to new information will allow you to expand what I call your ‘commercial toolkit’: a practical approach that animates your knowledge.
Treat your ‘commercial toolkit’ like the take-off plans that pilots use, following the same structure in your casual research as you would in an Assessment Centre. Start with the priorities of the client and the structure of the deal, incrementally working your way out to the widest possible field of effect that a deal can have: the global financial market. Always try to strike a balance between detail (deal-specific information: structures, financing, use of the SWOT framework) and scope (knowledge of wider financial markets, their behaviour, and relevant current affairs). Starting out, the Clifford Chance Podcast Library, FT Daily Briefings and Finimize were essential for my ‘toolkit.’
Not only is this approach critical to how well you perform in the interview itself, but also to how well you will retain this information in the long-term. After all, ‘commercial awareness’ is assessed at interview not as a way of catching you out, but because it is an essential skill for everyday practice as a lawyer. Think of it not as just an investment for the interview, but as an investment in your future career.
Cramming facts up to a week in advance ultimately places great pressure on your ability to recall information at interview. It places even greater pressure on the interview itself, when you want to be at your most composed. You will inevitably leave reflecting more on the information you did not use, rather than the information that you did. You may end up performing well, but why add to the pressure unnecessarily?
Generally speaking, those who follow this long-term ‘toolkit’ approach will be more likely to build unique and interesting connections in the moment. Under the demands of the situation, you will be able to respond quickly yet articulate precisely. I could not recommend it more.
How did Bright Network help you secure this role?
Fellow Bright Network Members pointed me to some essential reading throughout the process of preparing for SPARK – the firm’s first-year scheme – and later my training contract interview. The ‘Commercial Law Handbook’ by Jake Schogger, ‘An Introduction to Global Financial Markets’ by Stephen Valdez and Philip Molyneux, and ‘Know the City’ by Christopher Stoakes proved especially valuable to me.
Bright Network’s Commercial Awareness updates offered case studies for me to put abstract legal concepts into concrete terms, relating terminology and principles to real-life transactions. All of this formed the building blocks of the aforementioned ‘commercial toolkit’ I would use in the Assessment Centre and further interviews.
Most of all, Bright Network demonstrated to me that students reading non-Law subjects are not at a disadvantage. This emboldened me to apply for ACCESS (formerly PRIME) back in 2018. In my experience, law firms wholeheartedly embrace the diversity of thinking that recruiting from a range of subjects offers. If you are interested in the importance of diverse perspectives in the workplace, I’d highly recommend Matthew Syed’s ‘Rebel Ideas’. Syed compellingly writes that diversity ‘isn’t an optional add-on. Rather, it is the basic ingredient of collective intelligence.’ If you are a non-law student aspiring to a legal career, know that there is a place for you.
What top three tips would you give Bright Network members looking to follow in your footsteps?
Tip 1: Small steps accumulate into big results. Prioritise long-term consistency over short-term bursts of productivity.
When it comes to applications, you may be months away from a deadline. Perhaps you are days or even hours away. How can we structure our time effectively to ensure optimum results without creating any additional, unnecessary pressures? Focus on building personal habits that stick. For me, this meant switching from ‘daily’ to ‘weekly’ goals when it came to building ‘commercial awareness.’ Without feeling frustrated at my lack of daily progress, I achieved so much more despite supposedly paring down my research.
We naturally fall into working habits — some good, some bad — but what’s most important is recognising those habits and how we could change them. Be willing to experiment with new ways of working, even when it doesn’t work out straight away. Even when the stakes feel like they could not possibly be higher, it is always better to champion agency over urgency: the discipline to control the flow of your work over time, rather than relying on a last-minute rush of ‘productivity’. Be mindful of your present self and your future self as you plan out tasks.
Tip 2: Applications stand out based on how they reflect on experiences, rather than necessarily the experiences they reflect on.
Many applicants (me included) tend to be concerned that they lack the specialist work experience necessary to build a strong application. Don’t let this be a cause for concern. Worked in retail as a part-time job while studying for your A-Levels? Talk about how it surely tested your composure under pressure. Juggling several extracurriculars alongside your studies? Demonstrate how you’ve had to balance your time effectively to get the best out of both. Above all, keep in mind that you are always learning. It is up to you to show how this learning has helped you build or develop certain skills, and how these skills could help you to become successful in your chosen field.
Tip 3: Build an online network that works for you (and may later help others). Champion online conversations above online ‘connections’, follow-ups over followers.
Used in the right way, your online network has the potential to become a life-changing resource. 500+ LinkedIn connections is all well and good, but 5 insightful conversations with specialists in your field could make all the difference to your next application. If you’ve networked with someone at an Open Day, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up message asking for advice, guidance or insight: after all, they can only say no! Some of the best advice I’ve ever received has come from these kinds of interactions. Dig deep, send that first message!
What’s been the toughest interview question you've faced?
‘What would you say is your greatest weakness? Can you give me an example of an instance when that weakness has caused an issue, and how you went about fixing or resolving it?’