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Meet the recruiter

Vanessa Harvey

Vanessa Harvey

Vanessa Harvey (she/her) is the senior recruitment manager at Milbank LLP. She joined the firm in February 2019 and has five years’ experience in the legal graduate recruitment industry.

What is your favourite part of working at Milbank?

From a recruiting perspective, the best part of the job is meeting a candidate right from the start (at a law fair or event) and watching them progress through to a vacation scheme, training contract and eventually qualifying as a solicitor. It’s very rewarding being able to identify early talent, provide support and be part of their journey!

Does your firm run a vacation scheme?

Milbank is running two in-person vacation schemes in spring and summer 2024 at our London Liverpool Street office. We recruit from a wide range of backgrounds and we’re happy to consider candidates from their second year onwards. For first years, we’re also running a first-year specific open day in December 2023.

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

I favour recruiting trainees via the vacation scheme because it gives us a chance to get to know the prospective trainees. More importantly, however, it gives prospective trainees an opportunity to get to know the firm and work out whether we’re the right fit for them.

By spending a full week or two at a firm, candidates get to see the work they’ll be doing, meet partners, associates, trainees, HR and business service areas, get a sense of the culture, the working environment, the quality of the work and the firm’s clients. This exposure enables aspiring lawyers to make a more informed decision when it comes to training contract applications.

It also gives the firm an opportunity to see the vacation schemes in various scenarios. We appreciate that some students will be good at drafting documents but might hate the idea of doing a presentation in a room full of strangers. There are so many different qualities and attributes that make a successful trainee lawyer and a full vacation scheme allows us to see trainees in different environments, which makes the recruitment process a lot more effective.

What key skills does your firm look for in candidates when they apply?

We’re looking for candidates with excellent academics, strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work in teams and contribute to their teams and the office as a whole. The combination of intellectual capability, coupled with skills learnt from participating in extracurricular activities is invaluable. I’m looking for an all-rounder!

From sports societies to law societies or part-time jobs ­– we’re looking for people who can handle the academic vigour of their degree while balancing other commitments, hobbies and interests.

Other factors we look for in our future trainees include collaborative, genuine and empathetic behaviours; we want people who’ll contribute to a positive working environment.

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

From September 2023, all of our future trainees will commence studying via the SQE route. We’re collaborating with our preferred provider, The University of Law in London.

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

You’d be surprised at how often I see typos and grammatical errors in applications, which is a real shame. A candidate can have every box ticked but if that attention to detail is missing from an application, it really does let an application down. These simple mistakes can range from putting the wrong law firm name on the application to incomplete sentences. In short, typos and grammatical errors are a no!

What makes a strong application?

The best applications are well researched, candidates delve into the questions asked and pay real attention to the practice areas, deals we’ve done and they show they’ve really researched Milbank well and understand our firm and culture. The best applications are detailed and thorough.

Do Millbank recruit non-law students?

Yes, absolutely. Many of our trainees come from non-law backgrounds such as history, geography and chemistry. We recruit students from all different disciplines, and it’s more important to be on track for a 2:1 or first than to be studying a particular subject. Roughly half of our main lawyer base at Milbank studied non-law degrees. Once you’ve completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Law and SQE, you’ll be on the same footing as those who’ve chosen to study law.

How important is commercial awareness and how can candidates show they have this skill in their applications?

It’s important, but it’s just one of many skills we’re looking for in a candidate. Candidates can evidence their commercial awareness by having an understanding of and opinion on economic and business affairs. Especially around the time that they’re interviewing or attending assessment centres.

We’re looking for a curiosity about the wider world and the wider business context that a law firm operates within. It’s great if a student can demonstrate how law firms, as a business, can be affected by what’s going on in the wider world.

Does your firm run an assessment centre?

Yes, we’ll be running our assessment centres in January 2024. This will involve a combination of individual and group exercises, followed by a lunch with trainees and an interview with a partner and HR.

Does your firm attend university law fairs in the autumn term? What is your main objective when you go to a law fair?

Milbank attends a range of university law fairs across the UK. The purpose of this is for the graduate recruitment team, alumni of that university (associates or trainees) to connect in person with students aspiring to become trainees in a US law firm.

It’s also an opportunity for Milbank to educate students on a career in law but more specifically get to know them. It’s about helping students understand the culture at Milbank and navigate whether we’re the right fit for them. 

What advice would you give to anyone interested in a career at your firm?

My advice for aspiring lawyers is to aim to get as much work experience as possible, this doesn’t necessarily have to be legal. In terms of legal work experience, finding out what type of firm is right for them is key. Some individuals will thrive in a larger intake and that’ll suit their personality and style. Others will succeed most in a smaller intake, with greater responsibility and a more collaborative atmosphere.

This experience doesn’t have to always be vacation schemes. It can come in the form of retail, hospitality or anything really! Recruiters and partners can draw out the transferable skills from non-law experience and see how those fit in the world of law.

What book are you currently reading?

Can you see me? By Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott. I’ve recently developed an interest in neurodiversity, specifically autism. A friend recently recommended this book and I’m really enjoying it.