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Charis McGowan is the emerging talent coordinator at DWF. She is based at the Manchester office and joined the firm in October 2016.
How did you end up in law?
After university I was offered a role in apprenticeship recruitment, where I began to specialise in legal recruitment for a number of commercial law firms. I enjoyed learning more about the different routes into law; it really sparked my interest. As the role developed, I gained more experience in coordinating assessment centres, which was an area that I enjoyed immensely. I decided that I wanted a role within in-house recruitment where I could experience the whole recruitment cycle within the early careers sphere, so this role ticked all of those boxes!
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
I really enjoy meeting candidates at law fairs and events, and tracking their progress throughout the assessment centre process. You spend a lot of time with the candidates, and it's so exciting to see them develop, and get closer and closer to their dream role. When the candidates are offered a training contract at PGP Friday, hearing how happy they are makes all of the hard work worthwhile.
On the flipside, this can also be an extremely challenging aspect of the role when candidates you've built a rapport with are unsuccessful. You do find yourself willing them to succeed and it can be really tough if the time isn't right for them. However we try to provide constructive feedback to the candidates, so that they can understand how to improve and understand the reasons behind the decision, which is really important.
Do you socialise with your trainees/vac scheme students?
Yes, our vacation scheme is extremely social! We arrange some really fun activities throughout the vacation scheme, so that the students can get to know each other as a group and also get to know trainees and partners within the firm. I think the social events are one of the reasons we won the ‘Best Work Placement – Regional Firm’ award at the LawCareers.Net Recruitment Awards this year, as they are a big part of the two weeks!
As a firm, we have 'Fridge Friday' where free drinks are provided on the last Friday of the month in our local offices. It's a great way to meet new people, and have a bit of downtime after a challenging week. We also try to arrange events throughout the year; we have our future joiner events for our next intake of trainees and qualification dinners for our newly-qualified trainees!
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
We want to give students the opportunity to ask questions about the firm in person, rather than just reading the information on the brochure or website. We can really hone in on different interests; find students who align well with what DWF offers and our values. It also gives students a great opportunity to find out more information which they can use for applications and assessment centres.
What's the best question you’ve been asked at a fair?
I like speaking to students who've done some research before attending the fair. My favourite questions include things such as, "I know that DWF has a sector-based approach; how does this benefit your clients?" or "I've read one of the trainee blogs online about CSR opportunities which DWF offer. How could I align my own volunteering experience with this?". This shows that the student has done some research and is keen to show that DWF is the right firm for them.
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
Our vacation scheme is an integral part of the recruitment process. Your training contract is such a big commitment, so it's important that you've experienced the culture of the firm first hand before making your decision on the firm. We ensure that the vacation scheme students are placed in departments where there's going to be lots of interesting work, so that they can picture how life will be as a trainee at DWF. It helps the students to feel more confident in the long run, and I believe helps with our final stage of the recruitment, PGP Friday (where the students meet the senior partners). This is because the student will have spent two weeks in the firm, communicating and socialising with partners on a daily basis. I would encourage all applicants, if possible, to apply for the vacation scheme.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
I think that it's frustrating when the students have clearly not researched the firm before applying. I understand that while you're at university, it's difficult to know who to apply for, and to take the time to tailor each application accordingly. However, the scattergun approach to applications doesn’t work, it doesn’t show any passion for the firm and it betrays a lack of attention to detail. I would recommend applying to between five and eight firms to ensure that you have built up enough knowledge of each firm to apply properly.
What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?
We're looking for commercially minded people, who can understand our approach and want to use both legal and business skills to ensure the client has the best outcome. We're no longer just a law firm; we class ourselves as a legal business and we want to attract students who can understand the services which we offer. It's also important to be adaptable and flexible, because as a trainee we would like you to get involved in as much as possible to fully embed yourself in the DWF life!
Do you welcome candidates citing their non-legal work experiences in applications?
Definitely – having a part-time job while studying, or volunteering while you're at university is so important. Sometimes students may be put off applying, thinking that they haven't spent a few days shadowing a lawyer or gained any vacation schemes due to work commitments. However, a part-time job can ensure that you have a range of different skills, such as teamwork, customer service and time management. The main requirement for us is that students can demonstrate commercial awareness, which can be developed in other experiences just as much as the vacation scheme or shadowing.
What is the biggest challenge facing would-be lawyers today?
One of the biggest challenges would be keeping up with technology; DWF is committed to having the most innovative technology and products such as DWF draft and DWF pinpoint have been delivered as a result of this. It's really important that the trainees keep up to speed with this, which will be a challenge but definitely worthwhile!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
My advice is to persevere and not to let any of the challenges dent your confidence. There may be setbacks along the way, but each one of those will help you to become a better lawyer in the long run. The students who I've seen who make the best impression throughout the recruitment process are those who have spent a lot of time ensuring that they are ready; making sure that they have a strong awareness of commercial issues, are able to give potential solutions to issues and can define what makes DWF different to other firms. This doesn't come instantly to all candidates, but if you don't succeed, don't let it put you off.
Which practice areas are the real core of the firm’s business and will this change?
DWF has core strengths in corporate & banking, insurance and litigation, and in-depth industry expertise in sectors including central & local government; energy & industrials; financial services; real estate; retail, food & hospitality; technology; and transport. As a firm we have gone through a rapid period of expansion, but I don't envisage us losing our core identity. If anything, the expansion will only add more areas of expertise!
What is one key fact that candidates should know about your firm?
I would expect the candidates to know about our international expansion, but also to know and understand the firm's areas of expertise outside of law. DWF recently launched a new division of our business, Connected Services, which will spearhead the development and delivery of specialist business services. It's key that students can talk confidently about this during the recruitment process.
What's your desert island disc?
It would have to be something 90s/early 2000s R&B – definitely a guilty pleasure!View DWF LLP's details