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Meet the recruiter

Charis McGowan

Charis McGowan

Charis McGowan is the emerging talent specialist at DWF Group PLC. She is based at the Manchester office and has been at the firm for five years. 

Does your firm run a vacation scheme?

We run a summer vacation scheme, which takes place in June over two weeks. The dates that you complete the scheme depends on your location – for example, our Scottish vacation scheme tends to run first and our English vacation scheme follows the next week.

The vacation scheme has been run virtually for the past two years but we would love to be able to run in it in person in 2022.

How important is the vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?

In England, we recruit predominantly via the vacation scheme and in Scotland we recruit solely via the vacation scheme, which makes it a key part of the process.

The vacation scheme is important for both the firm and candidates because it’s important that they identify whether DWF is the right firm for them and the vacation scheme is the perfect chance for them to do that.

What key skills does your firm look for in candidates when they apply?

We always look for candidates that demonstrate the DWF values. Our values are at the heart of what we do so we look for candidates who can demonstrate these values, whether that’s in the application form, at the assessment centre or during the vacation scheme.

The values are incredibly transferable. One of our values is ‘be better together’, so as part of this value we are looking for someone who can work well in a team. It’s important that candidates can provide evidence of these values because they are a key part of our recruitment process.

How is the firm adopting the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)?

DWF has decided to adopt the SQE from 2022. This means that from this day onwards, we will only be offering the SQE to anyone we make training contract offers to. However, if a candidate has already completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) this won’t apply. Those who are yet to start the LPC at the point of offer will undertake a 32-month apprenticeship programme, which will incorporate a period of study for around eight months at BPP University Law School. This is followed by 24 months of qualifying work experience (QWE).

This means that candidates will have lots of preparation for the SQE via the training at BPP, as well as preparation for the QWE in a similar way to how the LPC previously prepared candidates for practice.

By doing this, we can also pay students’ living wage while they study, which is something we have never been able to provide before. We are incredibly excited to be able to offer our candidates more financial security.

The 24-month QWE will be experienced in the same way as before; candidates can still expect to have seat rotations and secondment experience available.

What is the most common way that candidates let themselves down in their applications?

A lot of the time candidates don’t answer the question that is being asked, which is an easy way to lose marks. It’s such a simple trap to fall into because candidates often want recruiters to know all of the fantastic things about them, so rather than answering the specific question they go off topic.

My advice is to answer the questions as closely as you can. If there is anything that doesn't fit within the application form questions, don't worry – you will have the chance to demonstrate all of your relevant skills during the assessment centre or at the interview stage.

Should candidates use examples of non-legal work experience in their applications?

Since the pandemic, legal work experience has been even more difficult to obtain and so non-legal experience is more important now than it has ever been. At DWF we want to know about all types of work experience, especially if you have developed relevant transferable skills.

We are interested in legal or non-legal experience, volunteering or any other role that shows you’ve had a role of responsibility (eg, law society treasurer). More recently, we want candidates to talk about anything they have done to remain proactive during the pandemic, including virtual work experience or key worker roles (eg, at a vaccination centre or in a supermarket).

It has been a tough time for candidates trying to gain experience, so we want to hear about any experience you have.

How important is it for candidates to show they have researched the firm? What key things about your firm should any good candidate be able to talk about?

It is essential for candidates to research the firm before they apply and then demonstrate this knowledge.

We recommend that candidates attend an open day before they apply because these are great ways to build knowledge and gain further insights into the firm. This is more effective than simply looking at the firm’s website and brochure.

DWF has gone through a lot of change over the past few years so it’s important for returning applicants to conduct this research again and refresh their knowledge.

In terms of key things a candidate should be able to talk about, I would say this includes DWF’s three offerings: legal advisory, mindcrest and connected services. Each of these means DWF can deal with clients holistically and offer a completely different service. Candidates must understand why we do what we do and how this benefits our clients.

Does your firm run an assessment centre?

The assessment centre includes a panel interview, which is usually with a member of emerging talent and a fee earner who is well connected to the trainee process – for example, they might have previously been a trainee at DWF or they’re a trainee supervisor now. We also run a group exercise, which has a presentation element, as well as a proof-reading exercise. So, in total there are three assessed activities on the day.

Aside from the assessed activities, there is an informal networking session so candidates can meet with all the assessors from the day and use the opportunity to their advantage to find out more about the firm and what we can offer them.

Does your firm attend university law fairs in the autumn term? What is your main objective when you go to a law fair?

We normally attend around 30 law fairs across the autumn term. The main benefit for us is to meet students and give them the chance to understand the benefits of working for a global legal business.

DWF has such a unique business model and it may be quite difficult to see the benefits of that if you’re not working within the firm. We believe the law fairs are key for students as it is another opportunity for them to speak with firm representatives and ask their questions – they can then use the knowledge gained in later applications.

One of my favourite aspects of the law fairs is meeting the students and then later witnessing them secure their training contract at DWF or elsewhere. It’s such a nice feeling.

Before speaking to you at a law fair, how much should a candidate have researched the firm? Is it different for first years compared to second and third years?

It is refreshing when candidates ask well-researched questions about DWF, rather than just asking for more information about the firm. Equally, we would rather students come to speak to us with no knowledge at all and leave feeling motivated to do more research.

Depending on what stage a candidate is at, it could be their first exposure to a law firm or just to DWF in particular. As such, we are very open to the level of understanding that the candidate has and the level of research they have conducted, as long as they leave the conversation feeling excited about DWF.  

What advice would you give to anyone interested in a career at your firm?

DWF has a wide range of sectors and practice areas, so if you are interested in training here it’s important that you’re keen to get stuck in and keep an open mind because you won’t know which area of law you will enjoy the most until you’re doing the work.

What’s your favourite TV show?

‘Friends’ is my go-to programme! I always have it on in the background and even though I’ve seen them all before, it still manages to make me laugh.