Kirkland & Ellis International LLP
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Emma Ridley is the associate director, attorney recruitment and development international at the London office of Kirkland & Ellis. She has been at the firm for five and a half years.
How did you end up in law?
I studied law at the University of Sheffield and went on to secure a training contract at a law firm in Manchester, where I eventually qualified as a commercial property solicitor. I then moved to London and continued practising there, but decided that I needed a change at two years’ post qualification and made the move into legal recruitment.
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
I get so much satisfaction out of meeting a student for the first time at a law fair or assessment day, sensing that they would be a good fit for the firm and then watching that initial hunch prove to be correct as the student then thrives throughout the recruitment process and ends up being offered a training contract – those are the best calls you could make in any job.
The least enjoyable aspect? Sore feet at the end of a busy law fair!
What is the biggest challenge of the job?
I oversee all aspects of the firm’s legal recruitment, but the most challenging aspect of the graduate side of my role is ensuring that we reach all the talented and driven students who would be a great fit for our firm and making sure that they understand our firm and the fantastic opportunities that are on offer here.
What has been your most memorable moment in the job?
Seeing someone I recruited as a trainee at another firm make it to a partner. I’m looking forward to that brilliant moment repeating itself at Kirkland & Ellis! Given our short track to partner (just six years qualified), it won’t be long!
Do you socialise with your trainees/vac scheme students?
Absolutely, our trainees are in and out of my office all the time – often just for a chat about how they are getting on, but our firm is very sociable generally – from pumpkin carving competitions to quiz nights to our summer party! The office is still of a size where everyone knows everyone else on the whole – also as our trainee intake is just 10 a year, so everyone knows the trainees individually and they are included in team events and socials.
We always ensure that our vacation scheme students have a busy social calendar and that we make it to those social events too – it’s important to spend time with candidates socially, as you can often see a different side to potential recruits when they are in a more relaxed, social environment and can help assess the fit better. It’s also a good way for us to answer their questions and for them to meet as many of our associates and partners (and trainees, of course) as possible.
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
For us, law fairs serve a dual purpose. First, they are a great way for us to raise awareness of the firm’s name, brand and values to students – and get the message out about what we are looking for in our trainees. Second, we hope to meet some talented and driven candidates who might be right for us.
My advice to students is to do at least a little preparation before attending, even if it’s just reading the law fair attendee brochure to learn the names of the firms, where they are based and what their practice areas are. This means that you don’t have to ask these basic questions when you get the chance to talk to a lawyer or recruiter – you can focus on having a more interesting conversation, which will make a much better impression. For example, as soon as you approach the Kirkland & Ellis stand, make us aware that you know we are a leading international firm which operates primarily in the private equity sector and has a focus on transactional work. This indicates that you might be genuinely interested in a career with us and that you are serious about your future.
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
Our vacation scheme is a crucial part of our recruitment programme – we recruit the majority of our trainees in this way. This doesn’t mean that if you have not done a vacation scheme with us, you shouldn’t apply for a training contract; we do also recruit outside of the scheme where necessary, but I highly recommend applying for a place.
Vacation schemes are great because they give firms and students two weeks to take a good look at each other – it is not a one-way assessment process and candidates should certainly be using the vacation scheme to make sure that this is a place in which they can thrive. I know the temptation is there to find a training contract – any training contract – due to the competition, but I personally feel very strongly that this is not the right way to proceed. I went through my own law degree and training contract without ever really thinking about what I wanted to do, and ended up in a job that I wasn’t enjoying – that’s why I think it is so important to make informed, conscious decisions about your career.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
Increasingly, candidates use colloquial language in their applications which just does not sound professional. Saying “I would really love to do this” is fine in an informal situation, but it is not appropriate language for an application form or other professional correspondence. Some people aren’t sure how to set out a cover letter, so if you are unfamiliar with the format of professional letter writing, I would advise brushing up on this before applying.
What do you look for in a candidate?
Our trainee intakes are relatively small, so we are particularly looking for candidates who are confident and personable as well as intelligent and commercial. Our smaller environment means that there is no place to hide, but it also means that there are abundant opportunities to shine – our clients are entrepreneurial and we want our lawyers to show that same drive and enthusiasm.
Have you got examples of candidates citing improbable activities or experiences to demonstrate skills relevant to becoming a lawyer?
I don’t have an improbable example, but we offered a training contract to a candidate whose non-legal work experience was in the private equity field, which is perfect for us as it is our key sector focus. This shows that the next best thing to legal work experience is gaining some experience in a sector where the clients of the law firms you are interested in operate.
What is the biggest challenge facing would-be lawyers today?
Differentiating between firms and actually deciding where to apply is something that most candidates find difficult. It is also tough to find the right balance between submitting a number of applications and making sure that each of those applications is of high quality.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
Go back to basics – think about what sort of lawyer you want to be. Do you want to act for individuals who are buying houses, making wills, getting divorced and so on? Do you want to act for companies and commercial organisations? Or do you want a mixture of both? Once you have answered that, think about what size of firm you want to join – and if you are attracted to commercial law, whether you want to work on big-ticket corporate deals or something smaller.
The most exciting thing I worked on as a trainee was a contract for a Premier League football club. Although it wasn’t my team – Newcastle United, I enjoyed it because I love football – so working for a firm that acted on nearly all the legal work for the club really appealed. Think about what motivates you before rushing into any applications and be honest with yourself; don’t pursue a career in banking law if that kind of thing leaves you cold.
Which practice areas are the real core of the firm’s business and will this change?
As I have mentioned, transactional work for the private equity sector is at the heart of what Kirkland & Ellis does, so any candidate should know that if they are interested in a career with us.
What's your desert island disc?
“Altogether Now” by The Farm – takes me back to my university days!View Kirkland & Ellis International LLP's details