We caught up with Bright Network member Sheila to discuss her experience winning a Vacation Scheme at top Commercial Law firm Macfarlanes. Read her story and top tips below.
I'd known from the age of 16 that I wanted to be a lawyer. I settled on being a solicitor after shadowing a QC and being advised that it would suit me more than the bar. After doing some work with regional and local firms, I did a winter workshop with a Magic Circle firm. It was great to experience a Top 50 firm but I decided it was too big for me.
I eventually ended up meeting a representative from Macfarlanes at a university event and was really taken with the firm. I decided I wanted to learn more so I applied for their Vacation Scheme.
What can you tell us about the application process?
The application form included a variety of questions, from the usual motivation ones like “Why do you want to work in law?” to less common ones such as “What have you enjoyed most about your degree?”. I also discussed my work experience, legal and non-legal, and how it helped me decide to be a lawyer.
I had to keep on asking myself why I wanted to be a lawyer, to make sure every answer was focused. It took me about a day, and then I slept on it and went over it again with fresh eyes.
This was followed by an Open Day. This involved various assessments and lunch with partners. Even though we were being tested, it didn’t feel competitive. You really felt they wanted you to have fun and enjoy the experience.
There was a writing assessment, a negotiation and an interview. Interestingly, the interview was my first where they did it CV blind – I went in there and they had seen nothing so I had to sell myself. It’s really important to be yourself at these times, rather than answering with what they want to hear. If you speak naturally, you will find the firm that’s right for you.
The writing assessment was designed so you didn’t have enough time, but they wanted to see the way you thought through things – you submitted your working out sheet as well as your answer sheet. I had to read and assimilate a lot of information and then present it concisely.
The key for negotiation is to never get too passionate; you never want to aggravate or antagonise. The point isn’t always to win, it’s just to get the best result you can for your client. It’s important to be flexible, not just black and white.
What was the hardest part of the process?
The writing test. The time pressure was a huge factor and we were all doing it together - you could tell everyone was stressed.
What did you enjoy most?
I really enjoyed the CV blind interview. I was able to go in there and sell myself, rather than having to answer questions, and I was able to do it without any prejudices.
How did you prepare for your application?
I read Legal Week which hones in on the legal world and gives you updates you need to know. Add to that reading list The Economist, the FT and Roll On Friday.
I also went through Macfarlanes’ website to find out more about their strengths, the cases they work on, their partners, the programmes they're part of such as the 30% Club.
What three tips would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
Tip 1: What you want matters
Do your research make sure a firm is really going to give you what you want in your career.
Tip 2: Don’t rush
Be wise in what you write – don’t just write anything. Take the time to apply what you are writing to your objective, which is always how can you make a firm want you.
Tip 3: Quality is more important than quantity
Its not a numbers game – even though a lot of people think its good to apply to loads, I think if you play a numbers game you risk getting complacent and mistaking questions that might seem similar on the surface but contain nuances you miss.