Sarah Warnes - Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP
What is your job title?
Trainee recruitment manager.
Where do you work (geographically speaking)?
We're in a building just behind Liverpool Street Station with great views of several City landmarks, including the Gherkin. Guests who attend the office remark on the pretty spectacular views we have. We are quite lucky to have such an interesting cityscape to look out onto. Spitalfields market is only about 10 minutes’ walk away and there are some really interesting stalls and artisan/independent producers selling goods there.
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 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.
How long have you been in the job?
I'm rapidly approaching the end of my fifth year and we've gone through two mergers in that time, so it's been an interesting challenge responding to significant developments such as these. The time goes by quickly though, as there's always plenty going on!
Who is in your team?
We're quite a small team: it's me, but I also get support from the HR officer Leanne. She supports the HR manager in the main, but is a much-appreciated extra pair of hands at particularly busy times of the year. Our trainee principal is Helen Clark; she is also the UK head of human resources, overseeing the whole HR and trainee function - she gives lots of time and support to what we do.
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!
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 October, 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 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 attend law fairs? Why is it important for students to attend?
Yes - we normally go to around a dozen and try to go to a couple of new fairs each year at universities we've not been to before. 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 priority for you is important. It's always the original and interesting questions that stand out.
What's the most annoying question you're asked by students?
I don't know about annoying, but sometimes people will ask about a practice area that we don't have, which can be quite frustrating. Or sometimes we are approached by people who don't grasp that the firm is as interested in the contribution the individual envisages making to the organisation. It's always worth doing a little bit of research before such events and tailoring your questions to the firm representatives present.
What do you look for in a candidate?
A variety of things. 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.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making?
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 has a candidate done that has most impressed you?
I think there are always candidates who impress you and that can be for a variety of reasons, but I remember one particular candidate who'd amassed an amazing variety of work experience and was very adept at relating it all to their future career as a lawyer. It was really clear that they'd thought hard about their career and taken every opportunity to seek out valuable experiences - not exclusively legal - and showed a clear desire to grow their employability.
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.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
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 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!
If you could do something completely different, what would it be?
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 songwriting genius.View Edwards Wildman Palmer UK LLP's details