Nicola Stafford is the HR consultant – early careers at Ashurst. She joined the firm in January 2018 and is based at the London office.
Our internal ‘Evening with Ashurst’ networking events where we invite students into the office always stand out. It is great to see students come in for the first time to meet members of the firm and get a first-hand sense of our environment. We have also recently moved into a brand new office in Spitalfields, and so would like to put our rooftop terrace to good use for these events going forwards!
We run a winter scheme, a spring scheme – ‘Ahead with Ashurst’, which is for first years – and a summer scheme, with 20-25 places on each. Participants get a real insight into what a training contract would be like with the firm and get to complete tasks such as due diligence and legal research. On the summer scheme, which lasts for three weeks, candidates get to sit in two different departments and can use the longer time period to gain a deeper insight into the work and the firm.
It varies, but we tend to recruit around 50% of trainees through the vacation schemes. We encourage direct applications to attract candidates from as wide a talent pool as possible – I have always felt that to recruit exclusively through vacation schemes would exclude candidates who cannot participate because, for example, they can’t get time off work for that period.
Our trainees are a diverse group. They all, however, share good interpersonal skills. Building relationships with clients is a key part of the job and all our trainees enjoy that side of it. Equally, commercial awareness – a grasp of commercial and economic affairs – is very important. For example, how does Brexit relate to the legal sector or one of the firm’s clients? Resilience is also needed – law is a really rewarding profession but it can be high pressure.
The main stage of our application form is a cover letter of up to 1,000 words. This gives candidates a lot of scope to take control and frame their applications how they want. It is also where good applicants shine – it is so important to take the time to make the cover letter clear, cohesive and focused on the skills you have developed.
Non-legal experience is just as important as legal experience, if not more so! So many roles involve client-facing skills that will stand you in good stead, and these skills are not developed overnight by one or two days shadowing a solicitor.
Law fairs are a chance to provide clear, transparent information directly to students, both about the firm and about what being a solicitor entails, to help them decide whether this career is for them. The ‘milk round’ is my favourite time in the legal recruitment calendar because I love meeting students and hopefully giving them advice they find helpful at the stage when they are just starting out.
I think it is absolutely fine for first years to come and ask questions without knowing much about the firm – most law fairs take place in October and it is unrealistic to expect students to be experts when they have only been at university for a few weeks. Second and third-year students have had a bit more time to think about their careers, so I would expect them to do some preparation and have some knowledge of the firm already, so that they can ask more involved questions about a career with us. I love it when students come up to me at a law fair and have been looking for Ashurst specifically.
I must admit, I love ‘Troublemaker’ by Olly Murs!