Katherine Elam - DWF LLP
Katherine Elam is the graduate & apprentice talent specialist at DWF LLP. She is based in Manchester and joined the firm in late 2012.
How did you end up in law?
I studied law at the University of Nottingham and went on some vacation schemes in London during my second year. Rather than confirming for me that I wanted to be a lawyer, it instead opened my eyes to legal graduate recruitment. I followed this up in my final year by going to the university’s law fair and asking the HR people present how they got their roles. My investigations led to an invitation to do some work experience with Olswang, where I got my first graduate recruitment job. From there, I have also spent a year with PricewaterhouseCoopers and worked at Ashurst and Cobbetts before moving to DWF.
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
The most enjoyable aspect is being approached at a law fair by someone who is a bit confused about his/her career direction, and watching that candidate evolve and flourish through subsequent open days, events, work placement schemes and (hopefully!) an eventual training contract. It’s great to feel that you’ve had a hand in helping someone to achieve their goals.
Rejecting really excellent candidates is hard; we’ve recently been doing vacation scheme interviews and the standard of applicant has been absolutely fantastic. Deciding who (just) misses out is really difficult.
What has been your most memorable moment in the job?
There have been many, but the day that I wore a red onesie to the office for comic relief was a particularly memorable recent occasion. The onesie – combined with high heels, of course – meant that I looked a little odd for a day at the office, but I had only recently started at the firm, so it was a good way to make a memorable first impression! It was a great day in which we raised lots of money for comic relief; it’s also amazing how comfortable onesies are when used as office wear – I might propose that they be made standard business attire!
Do you socialise with your trainees/vac scheme students?
A key aspect of any graduate recruiter’s role is to have a solid relationship with your trainees and potential recruits. Some of my favourite times are those that we spend with trainees – whether that be: qualification dinners, quizzes, trainee balls, mixed netball matches or karaoke sessions, to name a few!
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
We’re trying to spread awareness of the DWF brand on campus, but our main aim at law fairs is to establish personal contact with students. We appreciate that law fairs can be quite daunting for some, but they also present a great opportunity for students to assess us and form opinions about the law firms present – we’re also trying to impress you!
What's the best question you’ve been asked at a fair?
A trainee and I were once approached by a student who, explaining that he wanted to get a sense of the people at the firm, asked us what our favourite bands were. I was still thinking when the trainee jumped in with his response – Scissor Sisters – which seemed to amuse the student! I forgot to check whether we ever received an application from that student…
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
It’s important for any potential applicant to get the best possible feel for the firm and the opportunity to do this is the real value of the vacation scheme. These placements are not just for us to identify our next trainees, but also for candidates to compare firms and decide what is right for them in the long term, for example whether that be a full-service or niche practice, or a regional or a City firm.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
A failure to fully understand what being a commercial lawyer really means is. This applies to the application form, but is just as relevant to the wider application process. Lots of students have quite a narrow legal focus, but excellent candidates realise that being a commercial lawyer is not just about providing pure legal advice; it’s about being able to tailor that advice to take into account the client’s business objectives and priorities.
What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?
At DWF we are looking for innovative and commercial qualities in our prospective trainees. The firm as a business is moving forward with strategic mergers and an approach that embraces opportunities for growth. DWF was only established in 1977, so it is a young, innovative and dynamic firm. We want our new recruits to reflect and embrace those qualities, as they will be at the very heart of developing the firm in the future.
Have you got examples of candidates citing improbable activities or experiences to demonstrate skills relevant to becoming a lawyer?
Never assume that a competency based answer needs to come from academic or legal work experiences. One of the best answers to a competency question came from a student describing his role working on a Co-op checkout. While the example itself was dealing with a difficult customer that was drunk, the example demonstrated perfectly the importance of customer service, dealing with conflict, demonstrating active listening skills while at all times acting with professionalism and integrity. These are all key requirements for client service, whether that be in a role working on a checkout or indeed as a lawyer. The partner was very impressed and still quotes the example!
What is the biggest challenge facing would-be lawyers today?
It’s tough for candidates to make themselves stand out in this very competitive job market, many of whom have great academic, work experience and extra-curricular credentials.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the managing partner of the firm to which you are thinking of applying. It’s important to understand the priorities of the firm, but also form your own opinions. Too many applicants rely on the graduate recruitment brochure and firm website for their information, but in an interview situation you will be discussing commercial matters that will require you to have an opinion on the direction that the firm is taking. Do some wider research to get a sense of what is going on in the firm.
Which practice areas are the real core of the firm’s business and will this change?
Our insurance practice comprises around 50% of the firm’s business, but we have also recently experienced solid growth in a number of other commercial areas.
What is one key fact that candidates should know about your firm?
This goes back to the wider research that I’ve just mentioned. There’s no one key sound bite that you can use to impress; you need to research the firms that interest you in order to get a general sense of their business, practice areas, trajectory and so on. No firm will list its three main strategies for the next few years on their website; you have to read between the lines of what has been going on in terms of deals, mergers, the number of offices, and graduate and lateral recruitment.
What is your dream job (other than this one!)?
I would run my own vintage tea shop – I make a good cup of tea, but I need to work on my baking!
What's your guilty pleasure?
I am a bit of cheesy TV fan – I do enjoy Made in Chelsea and TOWIE. Not that I’m guilty about this, but I’m also a Man City fan, which makes for a lot of highs and lows (the latest low being at the FA Cup Final against Wigan).
What's your desert island disc?
The complete Stone Roses.View DWF LLP's details