We caught up with Zhi, who’s currently completing his non-rotational Training Contract with Jones Day. Here, he provided us with his insights on the distinctive training system at Jones Day, how the culture shapes the work they do and his top tips for your application.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in Malaysia and came to England when I was six years old. We lived in the coastal powerhouse that is Western-Super-Mare and then I came to London for university at King's. My route into Jones Day was quite a typical one: I did a Law degree, a vac scheme with Jones Day in my final year, went on a gap year, then did my LPC and started my Training Contract.
What inspired you to apply to Jones Day?
When I attended law fairs events, I got the chance to speak to their people and really liked the way that everyone came across. For me this was so important because as a student when you don't have that legal work experience, it’s hard to know what law firms are like. But when I was speaking to the trainees and associates before I joined, they were really candid about the kind of work that you'll get involved in. This was so different to some other law firms, where graduate recruitment brochures and websites all say the same thing. Instead, they let me know that yes there's hard work, but it's rewarding. I really liked that honest approach.
What makes the training system at Jones Day distinctive and how does it work in practice?
The main distinctive features are that the system is non-rotational and led by your own interests and initiative. It really is up to you and how you want to shape your training.
In the first couple of weeks it can feel daunting, but that’s the same with any role you’re settling into. After a little bit of time, you find yourself feeling like part of the furniture and having the confidence to engage with the wider team and clients.
I found part of the learning curve of the system was learning to communicate with the people you’re working with. It feels odd at first but actually on this system you’re able to say “I've given this department a serious try but I don't think it's for me, so I want to try something else”. This really separates the Jones Day training system from other firms.
What are the key benefits and challenges of the non-rotational system?
The lack of direct oversight on your day-to-day activities is daunting at the start, and that’s compounded by the fact you’re sat with another trainee – not a senior supervisor. On the whole, I think this is a great set up, but there are also some challenges. If you’re sitting with a supervisor, you’re able to go straight to them with questions and that’s how you learn. But with the non-rotational system, you’re encouraged to make the first attempt by yourself. The emphasis is placed on your need to be independent, so you really need to think if you’ll be suited to this style of training before you apply. It’s a great way to learn since you get to develop your own style of working and, crucially, you get some very high exposure to substantial work from an early stage. It’s also great to share an office with another trainee as we have close friendships and your peers are an excellent support network.
What would a ‘normal’ day look like for a trainee at Jones Day?
Once I get in in the morning, the first thing is to catch-up on anything that I didn’t get to from the day before. I’ll also spend the morning doing any admin work such as typing or reviewing and responding to emails. Once you get into the later morning you start having a few more calls on internal or external matters and then break for lunch – usually catching up with others in my cohort.
After lunch I move onto my other matter. That involves much of the same as the morning; emails, reviewing and drafting documents for court. This will take up most of the afternoon and if anything stretches into the evening it’s generally things that I have to do in order to meet our deadlines we set for the day. Most of the time this is getting documents ready and doing final checks. Then at the very end of the day it’s mostly looking at my inbox and planning for the next day.
What is the company culture like at Jones Day?
It’s very non-hierarchical. Of course, there has to be a functional hierarchy in practice, but even senior partners will jump on calls with you about matters you’re on to get updates. You never feel like you’re doing tasks just for the sake of having something to do or because you’re a trainee. Everyone has their role in the team – partners, associates and trainees all work together on matters and there’s a level of trust there that everyone knows how to perform in their role and, whilst you might not get everything right, you will be acknowledged for working hard and giving everything a go.
Do you have opportunities to develop during your training and what support measures are in place?
Once you qualify you are able to attend events and training sessions, including opportunities in our offices worldwide. As a trainee, most of the training you do is on the job, however, we do have regular seminars where we’ll run through topics based around the different practice directions. This is a great way of getting everyone together and spending time with the other trainees. For me though, I enjoy learning on the job the most.
Finally, any tips for anyone who’d like to apply for a role at Jones Day?
Jones Day ask for a concise cover letter, so you really have to focus and be honest about why you want to do commercial law, why you want to join Jones Day specifically and why their training system is right for you.
Something that would be really helpful to highlight are examples of times where you’ve been independent and sought out responsibility. This doesn’t need to be that you’ve done 10 vacation schemes and were appointed as head of the UN Junior Council - if you were stacking shelves in Tesco and there was a particular moment when you were seeking out more responsibility and using your initiative, that’s just as important to highlight. That initiative and ability to be independent is the exact kind of thing Jones Day are looking for.