Philippa Wilson is the senior graduate recruitment adviser at Norton Rose Fulbright. She is based in the London office and has been at the firm for five years.
Launching the virtual vacation scheme during covid-19 was a memorable moment. Introducing virtual elements to our programme is something we had considered before, but the pandemic gave us the opportunity to really look at what we do well on our schemes and what could be improved. We receive great feedback from candidates regarding our in-person scheme, so it was a challenge for the firm to consider how we could replicate the scheme in a virtual capacity to enable us to assess candidates, while also giving them a fair and fun experience.
We have had a great time running the virtual scheme and a lot of pros, and of course challenges, have come with it too. The feedback from students has been really positive. It was a proud moment to be leading the team that developed and launched the virtual scheme.
We run four formal vacation schemes and one first-year programme.
One vacation scheme runs in winter and spring – both are for finalists and graduates of any subject – and then we run two more in the summer, which are for penultimate-year students (law or non-law). Our first-year programme is for first-year students or second-year students on a four-year course.
The difference between the two is that we assess candidates a lot more in the vacation scheme and there’s also a training contract interview at the end. Whereas during the first-year programme, First Steps, candidates will not be assessed – it is much more of an insight into Norton Rose Fulbright for people exploring whether this is the right area for them. Although there is no interview at the end of the first-year programme, we will get in touch with attendees and encourage them to make applications to our vacation schemes. We have had several students that joined on our First Steps programme, then applied to a vacation scheme and received a training contract offer, so it is a good stepping stone.
We are exploring at the moment what a hybrid scheme would look like. Even if we transitioned back to a fully in-person scheme, there are elements of the virtual one that we would take with us.
We have a direct training contract route because we appreciate that not all aspiring lawyers want to do a vacation scheme as they may have already done them with other firms or some may have graduated and been working as a paralegal, for example.
We will have only one intake this year, which opens in June 2022 to all finals and graduates, and penultimate-year law students.
Candidates who do the vacation scheme get a much greater insight into the firm and are better able to identify whether they want to work for us. The vacation scheme offers candidates the chance to speak to a range of people during the networking sessions. It also helps us get to know the candidates better and assess for a range of skills and competencies.
The benefit of doing the in-person scheme is that you shadow one department, so you do a multitude of work. The downside is that you sit only within that one department, which is an aspect that we wanted to amend for the virtual scheme.
On the virtual scheme you don’t get to do the work shadowing, but you are given three-practice group assessments; one banking, one corporate and one disputes. The assessments were developed and tested to give students an insight into trainee work – it was created by the associates and then tested by our trainees to ensure it was the right level, interesting and genuinely the type of work they’d be doing. There is also a group exercise and a training contract interview.
It was important to ensure that candidates on the virtual scheme had the chance to interact with people across the business. Before the students joined, we asked them to specify their top three departments. We then matched the vacation schemers with an associate mentor and a trainee buddy from a department of their choice.
We are looking for candidates who are tenacious and have a robust mentality to be adaptable. The nature of our work and the way we work has changed over the past 18 months, so it’s important that candidates can adapt to changes.
We have always put an emphasis on teamwork. Culture is very important to us and now that we are living in a virtual world, teamwork has become even more important.
Aside from that, we want candidates to have a go-getter attitude because we are an international firm with a huge range of opportunities throughout a lawyer’s career.
We are part of a consortium with several other city firms that will be integrating the SQE from 2023. Once we have more information about how this will work, we will update our website.
On both our virtual and in-person scheme, we run a Q&A session with our trainee development team who is leading the project on implementing the SQE. They will be on-hand to answer any questions that students might have.
Candidates let themselves down when they don’t tailor their application. It’s important that on a candidate’s cover letter they talk about any previous experience or encounters they’ve had with the firm, what resonated with them and why they can see themselves working here. If you can replace one firm name with another and your application reads the same, then you should probably just start the application again. You must make us want to read your application!
If you are applying for a vacation scheme it is not a prerequisite to have legal work experience. Instead, we ask that candidates make sure they think about the skills needed to be a successful lawyer and provide evidence that they possess or have developed these skills through their work experience.
If you’re applying for a direct training contract, we require demonstrable legal work experience, whether that’s through vacation schemes, paralegal work or in-house work. This is because we don’t have that longer period to assess these candidates, so we want to see that you know this is the industry and career you are interested in.
We are not expecting candidates to be experts, especially at the first stages of the assessment. In the written application a good knowledge is expected, on the telephone interview that knowledge should be pushed a little further, and if you’re invited to an assessment day this is when candidates should really increase their research and understanding of the firm.
We will not ask really technical questions but having an understanding of what the firm offers, its strongest practice areas and what sets it apart from its competitors is important. In an interview setting, partners will want to understand what it is about Norton Rose Fulbright that makes you want to work at the firm.
Commercial awareness is key and is assessed throughout all assessment stages. The technical side of being a lawyer will be taught to you, but having that genuine curiosity is something we really look for.
We won’t be attending any in-person law fairs this year. We found that attending the virtual fairs last year gave us the opportunity to speak to a range of students that we wouldn’t otherwise have the capacity to do because the university-specific fairs are just too far away. We will be taking the same approach this year in order to reach a wider demographic of students.
If you’re at the stage when you know a career in law is for you, come to as many events as you can with the firm – there will be a list of all our events on our website from September.
At our events, there are a range of people available to speak to, whether that’s graduate recruitment, trainees or partners. If you plan to make an application, these events are great ways to gain further insight into the firm.
I’m currently reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri and the book that I would always recommend is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – that’s my favourite book of all time.