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Meet the recruiter

Charis McGowan

Charis McGowan

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

Does your firm run a vacation scheme?

We run a two week vacation scheme that takes place in June each year. We're very proud of our vacation scheme; we try to make sure that students get exposure to some fantastic work while also having the opportunity to network, attend practice group presentations and work together on a group task. We also organise some fun social events – it's important to unwind and get to know possible future colleagues in an informal setting.

We managed to run the vacation scheme virtually throughout the pandemic but returned face-to-face in 2022. The vac schemers attended centralised inductions in either Glasgow or Manchester on day one and it was so exciting to see everyone in person for the first time!

How important is your 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’re looking for someone who can work well in a team. It’s important that candidates can provide evidence of these values because they’re a key part of our recruitment process.

How important is diversity and inclusion (D&I) to your firm?

Diversity and inclusion is extremely important to DWF. When I joined DWF six years ago, I was drawn to the firm because of how much it was doing for diversity and inclusion, particularly with our 5STAR Futures programme. Now there’s even more activity both firm wide and within early careers more specifically and there's lots to come in the future too. Within early careers, we have been using Rare Contextual Recruitment since 2017, we use blind screening and we also removed our A-Level/Scottish Highers criteria in 2020. We've recently partnered with Aspiring Solicitors which we're very excited about; we've worked with Aspiring Solicitors for a few years on projects such as our Ethnic Minority Access Scheme, but this is the first time that we’ll become affiliate members. We're going to be re-launching our Ethnic Minority Access Scheme in autumn 2022 in-house with some new additions that we can't wait to share more about soon!

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

We were excited to have our first cohort of trainees completing the SQE begin this year. The first part of the programme is a period of full-time study that prepares them to sit SQE1 and prepares them for practice – similar to how the Legal Practice Course would’ve done previously.

The trainees will be joining us in November for their qualifying work experience (QWE) before sitting SQE2 later in the training contract.

We chose an apprenticeship route because as an accredited Living Wage Employer, we're able to pay the trainees a salary while they study which offers more financial security. The salary will increase when they start their in-office training in November.  

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

Candidates can fall into the trap of not answering the question that’s being asked. Sometimes this can be glaringly obvious and perhaps a candidate has inserted a generic answer that they've used in another application that doesn't address any of the questions. Other times it’s very subtle and a candidate has just interpreted the question in a different way or has brought in an example that doesn’t quite answer the question. It’s so easily done 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’s anything that doesn't fit within the application form questions, don't worry – you’ll have the chance to demonstrate all of your relevant skills during the video interview or the assessment centre 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’ve developed relevant transferable skills.

We’re 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’ve 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's 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’s 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’s 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’s 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?

This year we’re attending a mixture of face-to-face and virtual law fairs. Over the past few years we’ve had to adapt our way of working dramatically, which saw us rely solely on virtual activity. Now that we can meet candidates back in person, we're keen to do this without reverting back fully to our old ways! There are many environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits to virtual fairs, specifically on the environmental and social side. 

We’re attending less university law fairs this year but we're attending a variety of Legal Cheek and Aspiring Solicitors fairs and we'll also be at LawCareersNetLIVE in Manchester.

Our main objective is to help candidates to understand DWF as a global legal business. DWF has such a unique business model and law fairs give students an 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.

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’s 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’re very open to the level of understanding that the candidate has and the level of research they’ve 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’re 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.