Sarah Warnes - Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP
What are your main responsibilities?
Firstly, I manage the whole attraction and recruitment process from beginning to end, so that's recruitment campaigns, marketing, on-campus activities, planning and organising summer placement programmes and open days. I also have responsibility for the assessment process, which includes reviewing forms, shortlisting and candidate contact.
The second aspect of my role is the day-to-day management of our training contract, which involves coordinating seat rotations, some of the trainee training and the qualification process. I'm also involved in a lot of our diversity initiatives and placement programmes; there's never a dull moment! I also manage the trainee recruitment budget, which can make me popular (and sometimes unpopular!) at Edwards Wildman trainee social events.
In addition, I’m the training officer for the London office and thus responsible for organising and coordinating various training and development streams and programmes.
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
I enjoy getting out and about, engaging with potential recruits and developing those relationships. Seeing someone progress from initial contact at an event to being offered then starting their training and thriving is very rewarding. Having been in the role for a few years now, I've experienced this on a number of occasions. It's rewarding to be in a role where you can play a part in helping individuals make critical decisions about their careers. It's also great to be able to reassure people that, while the law can be hard work, there is also a lot of fun to be had. Making offers is also one of the enjoyable parts. Hearing the delight in someone's voice when you can give good news is always memorable. Conversely, giving bad news is never an easy or pleasant experience - especially if the candidate has narrowly missed out on a training contract. We try to highlight the positive things they did and give them some tips for the future in the feedback we give.
What is the biggest challenge of the job?
One of the biggest challenges is communicating what we're about in a way that prospective candidates will understand and be able to relate to. We don't want to be seen as just another US firm in London, because we think we're a bit different. Aside from that, it's the responsibility of trying to select the right candidates and assess potential. I'm responsible for helping to make decisions that will affect the make-up of the firm in the future - it's a responsibility I do not take lightly!
What has been your most memorable moment in the job?
There are quite a few, so it's difficult to pick one stand-out moment. Winning ‘Best work placement scheme’ at the LawCareers.Net training and recruitment awards ranks highly; it means a lot that the hard work the firm puts into the scheme is recognised. Hearing some of the positive comments made by those who come into the office via our diversity initiatives is always very heartening. On a less serious level, seeing our partners and supervisors really get into the spirit of things on some of our future trainee social events has always been quite memorable!
Do you socialise with your trainees/vac scheme students?
Definitely - they're a great bunch and we're a social firm. We had some welcome drinks for our new first-year trainees a few weeks ago and it was great to see them all getting to know one another and other partners and associates at the firm. With a small intake you have the luxury of really getting to know them, which I like. As a firm we try really hard to maintain our social side - it's important that people have the opportunity to get to know each other beyond the context of their office walls. Future trainees also get invited to events at the firm. We have our annual quiz night coming up in November, so it will be good to see a number of those we offered training contracts to a few weeks ago starting to build relationships with other people at the firm.
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
There's no better opportunity to strike up a relationship and start making an impression, for both recruiters and students. For students, the chance to meet representatives from lots of firms in one room doesn't come often. It gives students a sense of the variety of firms out there, because one type of firm isn't going to be right for everybody. Hearing about the types of work trainees are involved in can also give a much deeper insight into a firm. Getting direct answers to the questions that are a priority for you is important. It's always the original and interesting questions that stand out. Asking a question about something that can be found out by taking a look at our website isn’t a good use of the time.
What's the best question you’ve been asked at a fair?
There will always be new and different questions every year and maybe (I hope) the best is yet to come! But those who can start a question by giving a little bit of information about something the firm has done recently are always impressive. It’s also not just about the question, but the way it’s presented and asked – brevity, articulation, genuine enthusiasm and engagement with the response is always noticeable and appreciated too!
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
Very important, now more than ever, as we’ve changed our process so we that we hold an assessment day to select candidates for the scheme. Therefore, we could be making an offer directly after someone has completed their scheme, which in turn means that we could have very limited places left by late August, when we hold our traditional assessment days. From candidates, the scheme plays a hugely significant role in helping them to decide if the firm is the place at which they would flourish.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
Not doing enough research. That's not only research on the firm, but also on the role you're going to be doing - this enables you to match your skills and experience. And answering the question “What are your weaknesses?" with "I'm a perfectionist" - it's used too frequently now. We look for independent thinkers, so it's good to come up with original insight at this point.
What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?
As well as the obvious qualities such as intellectual ability, analytical skill, drive and attention to detail, we look for less obvious traits such as self-awareness. You also need to be comfortable with significant responsibility, as in a small group of trainees you stand out more and need to have the confidence - although not over-confidence - to deal with that. We also like people who aren't, in some senses, perfect. Confident candidates know their key skills and attributes, but are also honest and open about their shortcomings and how they're attempting to deal with them. You've got to be someone who people can get on with and wouldn't mind sharing an office with. These things seem quite basic, but they're worth thinking about.
Have you got examples of candidates citing improbable activities or experiences to demonstrate skills relevant to becoming a lawyer?
I don’t see much improbable stuff, although we did once have an applicant who told an elaborate story about cooking porpoises on a beach and how this was meant to demonstrate initiative! I’m still undecided on whether it was a joke application, but it did cause much mirth at the time, which when you’ve got 600 applications to read can prove a welcome thing. Most applicants use sensible, well-chosen examples. I always urge people to demonstrate good judgement on their selection of examples – don’t just choose the first thing that comes to mind. Make sure that someone reading it would think, “Wow, that was a challenging situation that they handled well.”
What is the biggest challenge facing would-be lawyers today?
Getting to grips with the wider challenges that exist in the industry today (and indeed any business that depends on client service) in terms of the declining demand for legal services and how that necessitates changes to the way you do your job. So you’re not only providing a great service to your client, but also innovating, being creative and giving the kind of service that a client feels they couldn’t get elsewhere. A lot of the time that probably means working harder and smarter.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
Read around the subject and speak to whoever can give you advice. There is a lot of hard work involved, but the rewards are certainly there if constant challenge motivates you. It's also important to be honest with yourself about the types of firms and environments that might be right for you.
Which practice areas are the real core of the firm’s business and will this change?
I think it’s accepted that our key strengths are in private equity, venture capital, corporate and finance, complex litigation, insurance and reinsurance, and intellectual property. Indications are that this will not change, but we’ll probably continue to look for ways to strengthen and deepen those things that we know we do well by adding complementary areas, such as an industry focus.
What are the key facts that you expect candidates to know about your firm?
Our London office is certainly growing at a steady rate at the moment and it's a unique time to be joining a firm that is so aspirational. However we still have a very collegiate feel. We've attracted a number of new partners who bring new practices and industry focuses and expand the types of work we're involved in. This has tremendous positives for trainees, now and in the future. We're part of an international network of offices and most of the matters our trainees are currently working on have an international dimension. It's a time of great opportunity!
What is your dream job (other than this one!)?
It's currently mid-afternoon, so the chocolate fiend inside is saying, “Tester in a biscuit factory!” But more seriously, something like a tour guide for a place of historical interest would be great fun – especially if it meant picking out something from the dressing up box!
What's your guilty pleasure?
Am I only allowed one? It would have to be a pint of tea consumed while listening to 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' on Radio 4. I fear that puts me in the comfy slippers brigade…
What's your desert island disc?
Anything by Crowded House – Neil Finn is a song-writing genius.View Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP's details