University: University of Oxford
Degree: History and politics
Year of qualification: 2017
I wanted something that was both academically and technically challenging, with a commercial approach and people focus. Law ticked all of those boxes!
I did consider it, but I preferred the fact that solicitors worked more closely with clients, on a range of matters and gain in-depth knowledge of their businesses, rather than just coming in at the end of the process. I was also keen to work as part of a team.
I did a lot of research prior to applying, especially as I was coming from a non-law background. I looked for a firm that had international reach, high-profile clients, and excellent training and development opportunities. I also knew that I wanted to work at a firm with friendly people.. Every firm uses the same buzz words, such as having an "open-door policy" – the only way to find that out and to differentiate one firm from another was to meet people, for example at law fairs, recruitment events and on vacation schemes.
I had done a variety of legal work experience before the vacation scheme at DLA Piper, including at a local high street firm and another that specialised in family law. That helped me to work out what type of law I wanted to do. The scheme at DLA Piper was very well structured, with the opportunity to sit in various departments, as well as a busy programme of interviews and meetings. They wanted to give us a complete view of the firm.
My first seat was in global trade and government affairs, which is part of the litigation and regulatory department and my second was in pro bono, which was great experience with a real mix of matters. My third was in financial markets and my fourth was employment, which is where I qualified.
While I was in the pro bono team I helped to research and draft several shadow reports to submit to UN Treaty Bodies on behalf of various NGOs. It was a great chance to get to know the work of the NGOs really well, and be given the chance to take something and run with it.
I wish I’d fully realised the need to make the most of your time as a trainee and not be afraid to ask questions and get stuck into things. It can be overwhelming, especially considering that when you think you’ve got to grips with something, you change seats again every six months. So keep in mind that you want to get as much out of each seat as you can. Plus, even if you don’t get your first choice of seat, whatever you learn will contribute to your overall experience and you will appreciate having exposure to different areas when you qualify. Approach it with an open mind and try seats that you might not have considered at the outset.
In terms of work, it is extremely varied as we handle both contentious and non-contentious employment matters. On any given day, I might be preparing witness statements or attending tribunals, or drafting contracts or policy documents for clients. You need to be good at switching hats!
I recently represented a multinational company responding to a claim of constructive dismissal and age discrimination. My role included drafting and submitting the client’s response, preparing for the preliminary hearing, negotiating with the other side, drafting witness statements and attending the tribunal. In some cases, you are personally representing your client at the preliminary hearing – there’s not always a barrister involved, so that can be exciting.
The best bit is the variety of work, which means that you are challenged every day. I also get to work with people from across the international firm, which I really enjoy. I least enjoy the job’s unpredictability, often facing tight and conflicting deadlines, especially when balancing contentious and non-contentious matters. But it’s just part of the role and you do get used to it!
DLA Piper has extensive reach and acts for high-profile clients, on interesting, cross-jurisdictional matters. From a junior lawyer’s point of view, DLA Piper provides exceptional training and there is a very friendly culture throughout the entire firm, both in the UK and internationally. I wanted to learn quickly, and be given lots of responsibility, but I also wanted to feel that I could ask questions and be supported where necessary. Supervisors take a real interest in your development, not just as trainee but beyond, and they make a big effort to give you a range of experiences.
Have a think before applying about what you want from your career and what you enjoy; learning academic law is just the beginning – you need to figure out what practice area, type and size of firm and location will suit you. If you don’t refine it down, you are less likely to make quality applications and recruiters will be able to tell. It can be tempting to submit as many applications as you can in a rush, but if you sit down and really think about it, you are much more likely to be successful.
Thai red noodle soup – I spent two months living in China and a summer travelling around Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, and the thing I remember most was the food, so I try to recreate it at any opportunity (not always successfully!).