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Vanessa Harvey is recruitment manager at Milbank LLP. She joined the firm in February 2019 and has several years’ experience in the legal graduate recruitment industry.
How did you end up in law?
I watched Legally Blonde when I was younger and thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. But after studying a law degree, interning at Harvard Law School and doing some work experience, I realised that whilst I like the environment of a law firm, I am far more suited to HR and recruitment. I went to BPP Law School and studied the CIPD in HR Management, then moved into recruitment from there.
Having been through a law degree, two vacation schemes in a magic circle and a US firm and the training contract process successfully myself, I have a better insight into the candidate journey and process of recruitment. I understand how nervous students are and have more empathy for them because I’ve been in their shoes.
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
Making an offer to an excited, happy candidate is without a doubt the most satisfying part of the job! In my role at Milbank, I also really enjoy the international element of the role, as I sometimes I find myself interviewing candidates abroad. This year I interviewed a candidate at Harvard Law School, based in Boston. It’s great to be attracting candidates from all over. I love the variety!
The least enjoyable aspect is the rejection side. Of course, there’s the initial mass volume of rejections, but the tough bit is the people who make it all the way through to the assessment centre but don’t quite get an offer. Having to call them up and explain that they’ve not been successful is difficult. You can tell that they want it very badly and nobody likes being the bearer of bad news.
What is the biggest challenge of the job?
The quality pool of candidates that apply to Milbank is so exceptionally high, that it’s really difficult to rule people out, because they are all so amazing. We have 10 places on our summer vacation scheme, but we receive hundreds of high-calibre applications so it is very competitive.
Do you socialise with your trainees/vac scheme students?
Yes, absolutely! I attend all of the trainee socials and events. It’s a great way to understand the different personalities within the group and get a feel for who would fit in well with the team. Plus, it’s great fun!
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
It’s a great way to speak to students on an individual basis and fully explain the benefits of a training contract at Milbank. For me, it’s about building engagement and answering any questions students have about our firm and culture. I like to find out what else they are interested in, so that we’re getting to know them, as they are getting to know us.
What's the best question you’ve been asked at a fair?
A great candidate knows who we are, what practice areas we specialise in and comes prepared to have a deeper discussion. It’s about doing your research beforehand on the website and online, then using the law fair as an opportunity to engage further and build your personal reputation in front of the partners/recruitment team.
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
Our vacation scheme is a great way for us to get to know the future trainees at the firm and work out which areas they are interested in. It’s also a chance for candidates to get to know our current trainees and build early relationships with associates and partners.
Coming in and spending time at the firm helps the students to visualise themselves in our working environment and work out culturally if it’s the right fit for them. Students might not know what size of trainee intake works for them until they are on a vacation scheme and it’s not until you do work experience that you realise how different firms really are.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
I’ve had a lot of candidates put cheesy quotes in their applications over the years! Be yourself. Tell us about you, as you are your best-selling point and you should be using the cover letter to articulate yourself in a coherent and concise way that shows off your ability to practice law. The candidates that do well can also illustrate examples through non-legal work experience, such as working in a pub or McDonalds, showing their commercial awareness, collaborative and customer service skills. You can get that all out in a really engaging way through your own experiences – you don’t need to impress us with a Shakespeare quote!
Your cover letter is about you; it’s your chance to shine. Too many students fail to make the most of that piece of paper and don’t write enough about themselves.
What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?
Quietly confident. Collaborative and curious. Exceptionally bright. Someone who is driven, self-motivated and enjoys challenging work.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
Identify your USP. It’s an increasingly competitive market with thousands of applicants to hundreds of places. You need to stand out and be brave enough to bring your personality across in applications and on vacation schemes. Too often candidates try to be what they think the law firm wants them to be. I once had an applicant who said they played golf and then when I asked them at interview what their handicap was, they looked at me with a blank face. It turns out they only wrote that on their CV because they thought it would look impressive!
As a senior lawyer you have to win business and build client relationships, and that can only be done if you can be yourself at work and you’re comfortable and confident. Be consistent and be yourself as there’s nowhere to hide at a smaller law firm.
I’m hugely passionate about diversity and inclusion and always excited to see what other interests people list on their CVs. I don’t want people to be robots; I want them to be themselves.
What is one key fact that you expect candidates to know about your firm?
The Milbank @Harvard Programme is one of our key selling points, that no other US law firm offers at this level internationally. I’m always impressed when candidates ask me questions around career development opportunities at Milbank and the journey after the training contract, as it shows their thinking long-term. If someone hadn’t heard about Milbank @Harvard at all, I would be a bit worried!
What's your guilty pleasure?
The X Factor. I am absolutely obsessed, particularly with the audition process – it’s like an interview process in the music industry! I look forward to it every year and watch it with my kids.View Milbank LLP's details