Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Olivia Ponton
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP

Olivia Ponton is a graduate recruitment adviser at Herbert Smith Freehills, based in London. She has been at the firm since January 2016.

How did you end up in law?

As a student, I did some HR work experience at a couple of law firms, and soon realised that what I liked best was working with people and the graduate recruitment side of things, especially the creative aspect and working with students. I spent six months at Clyde & Co before joining Herbert Smith Freehills as a graduate recruitment assistant in 2016, and moving on to my current role in January 2017.

What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?

I really like attending the events, talking to students and offering them career advice, even if that means that they realise that law isn’t right for them. I also enjoy putting together our recruitment campaigns, including on social media and our brochure. Less enjoyable is application screening – it’s interesting to read all the applications, but it can be hard when there are 4,000 of them to get through!

What is the biggest challenge of the job?

My role includes managing all our university relationships, with over 30 different universities, each of which is quite different. I work closely with our alumni teams within the firm to decide their individual university strategy and manage the logistics when we’re actually on campus, including ensuring that we have people there! It certainly keeps me busy.

What has been your most memorable moment in the job?

We recently ran a competition for someone to go on a trip to our offices in Australia and Hong Kong, and I was involved in the competition from start to finish, from watching applicants' video entries to putting together fun activities for the winner during the trip. The young woman who won was amazing, and she subsequently applied for and was offered a training contract.

What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?

It is a two-prong piece; first, we want to attract people who may not already know about us so meeting them face to face can make a real difference, as opposed to them just looking us up on Google. Second, we want to meet those who are already considering us and who have specific questions that we can help them with. In this way we can give them guidance on what we look for and help them to write a good application. 

What's the best question you’ve been asked at a fair?

Nothing specific, but I always remember people who have done their research and have a specific question to ask – that really stands out. I also remember being impressed by one person who had a list of all the firms that they wanted to talk to, with different questions for each. I always think that’s a sign that you understand the importance of the law fair and you are making the most of it.

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

We will now only be recruiting our trainees through vacation schemes and all candidates will have the opportunity at the end of their vacation scheme to interview for a training contract. These schemes have been specifically designed to build and test the unique combination of skills and potential required to succeed at Herbert Smith Freehills. It is also a two-way process and the vacation scheme gives students longer to decide if our firm is right for them. For those who are unable to attend a vacation scheme, we are happy to discuss individual circumstances, which we will consider on a case-by-case basis.

What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?

People who don’t connect their own experiences and interests to us as a firm and submit a very generic form that could be sent to any firm. Make sure that you emphasise your skills that you have gained from various experiences and how they are relevant to a career in law at Herbert Smith Freehills. Another mistake is putting work experience in bullet points. We want to see clearly expressed prose and linking work experience back to why they have chosen our firm. 

What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?

While there’s not a particular type, all our trainees are very proactive and good at time management. They also have a good work/life balance and get very involved with extracurricular things here at the firm, such as our various networks, events, committees and pro bono work. They are able to manage all that as well as their work, which is a good thing as they get responsibility from the word go!

What is the biggest challenge facing would-be lawyers today?

Competition for places is huge and getting through the application process is hard, especially as few firms offer feedback on forms. It can be hard to know where you’re falling down at that point, especially if you’re submitting quite a few applications at the same time. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?

Anyone who is at university should be making the most of the firms that come on campus – go to the presentations and law fairs and do your research. The more you get to know about different firms, the better. Have a think about what you want from your career – for example, what type of firm, what type of work, and what your key skills are. Figure out how – or whether – your ambitions align with a particular firm, and then get to know more about that firm. 

What is one key fact that you expect candidates to know about your firm?

We are the market leader in disputes, so I would be disappointed if they didn’t know that – we’re also a full-service firm, and are very strong in corporate. We sometimes refer to dispute resolution and corporate as our twin engines!

What is your dream job (other than this one!)?

Travel journalist – I think most people would like that job!

What's your guilty pleasure?

Crisps. I can’t resist them.

What's your desert island disc?

Hotel California, by the Eagles. 

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