James Wilson is the emerging talent business partner at Eversheds Sutherland. He is based in Leeds and has been with the firm for five-and-a-half years.
Trainee induction week is a real highlight every year. All the new trainees head to Leeds for the week to be inducted into the firm and to commence the Professional Skills Course. Seeing people whom you first met years previously at law fairs and networking events start their training contracts is always a great feeling.
Each of our offices runs a summer vacation scheme – with the London office running two over the course of June and July. This year we also launched a scheme aimed at giving first-year law and second year non-law students a head start in the application process.
There are three routes to a training contract at Eversheds Sutherland. The first is the vacation scheme, but we also invite direct applications and have a process for internal candidates. The majority of candidates come through the vacation scheme route and I always advise potential applicants that this is the best way to showcase your skills and get a sense of whether the firm is right for you – it’s very much a two-way process.
Sitting with our teams and working on live matters forms a large part of the vacation scheme experience. We hope that they will be able to see the difference their contributions make to the team and to the client, which reflects what the role of a real trainee is like. This is sometimes supplemented by set exercises to ensure that all candidates are assessed on the full set of strengths that we are looking for.
We run a strengths-based process which focuses on skills, but also motivation and engagement. Candidates need to have the competencies for the job, but also the motivation and passion to enjoy it – only these can make you the best lawyer you can be. The key skills we look for include communication, problem solving, teamwork and time management, all of which are vital to do well at Eversheds Sutherland because of the level of responsibility with which we trust our trainees.
Other than the obvious spelling and grammar errors – including use of the wrong firm name, which unbelievably enough still happens – the biggest mistake I see is a failure to be specific enough. If you choose to apply to a firm, you should do your research and be able to draw on previous interactions you have had.
On the vacation scheme, the most common mistakes among candidates are taking on too much and then running into problems with time management, or at the opposite end of the scale, sticking only to their assigned work without taking a wider interest in the life of the firm and putting themselves out there.
Absolutely. One of the most frequent worries that candidates express is a lack of legal work experience, but we are not worried about whether you have attended other vacation schemes – what we are looking for is a set of strengths which can be learned in a whole range of non-legal roles. For example, if you have worked in a restaurant, that will have involved teamwork, time management and communication skills, including dealing with customers – or clients – in a professional manner on a daily basis. Just bear in mind that with non-legal experience, it is especially important to outline the skills involved in the role and how they apply to the role of a trainee solicitor.
You must be able to explain what appeals to you about Eversheds Sutherland as opposed to our competitors. Familiarity with our locations and practice areas should be a given, so drill down into individual offices, teams and projects, and look at where they align with your interests and experiences.
Yes, the process for both vacation scheme and direct applicants starts with the application form, which is followed by a video interview and then an assessment centre. The assessment centre is made up of three stages – a written exercise, an interview and a one-to-one roleplaying exercise. We also put on lunch for everyone taking part, which is a good chance to network with trainees.
We are attending around 25 law fairs over October and November. Law fairs are a great way to start the networking process and begin forming a relationship with a firm. The trainees we take to fairs often give us feedback about positive conversations they’ve had with people who impressed them, so making an effort at your law fair can get you on recruiters’ radars early. Equally, it’s possible to make a bad early impression by approaching us without knowing anything about the firm – it gives the impression that you are not serious.
Do your research so that when you meet us in person, you can ask the questions that haven’t been answered in the information you have found so far. I always enjoy getting into the details of the training and development process with candidates who are genuinely interested and want to learn more.
After that, visit the website or social media to find out what events we are attending or hosting and then come and speak to us.
I spent some time abroad on a gap year, during which I spent three weeks scuba diving to conduct marine biological research for the government in the Gulf of Mexico. I would love an opportunity to do that again.