Lucie Rees is the graduate recruitment and development manager at Watson Farley & Williams. She is based in the London office and has been at the firm for seven years.
I began my career on the shop floor of Harvey Nichols and soon made my way into the HR department, based in the head office. However, I knew that this was not what I wanted to do long term – I was looking to make the move into professional services. My first opportunity to do so was with a law firm and I have since been working in the legal profession for almost 19 years. I have worked at a few different firms of varying types and size, and was also the head of careers at a university before I came to Watson Farley & Williams seven years ago.
I love seeing the excitement of people as they embark on their legal careers. As I have been doing this for a while, I have also been able to watch people who I first met at assessment centres grow and flourish as trainees, and then qualified solicitors. I’m proud to say that many of the trainees I have recruited across the firms I have worked at have stayed there and eventually become partners.
As many of my peers at other firms would agree, the hardest part of the job is the inevitable fact that every year there will be candidates who get so close, but there are not enough spaces to offer them a vacation scheme place or training contract. There are always good candidates who don’t make it through and I hate being the one to dash their hopes, even when I know that they will go on to secure a training contract elsewhere.
The environment is as competitive for firms as it is for candidates. As recruiters, we have to ensure that we get the firm’s name out there and that we engage with prospective candidates in the right way. We are a small team, so we are always planning ahead to ensure that we get the most out of events such as law fairs, where we get the opportunity to meet people in person.
The times that are really memorable are when I have been able to make a real difference to someone. That could be giving constructive telephone feedback to candidates who have attended one of our assessment centres – hearing them take on board that feedback and knowing they will use it is rewarding – or mentoring a candidate through the application process at another firm. It is also extremely fulfilling to support our trainee intake through challenges they may be facing.
I do – our firm’s culture is very friendly and down to earth; there is always something going on, be that social events, sports competitions or CSR activities, which people can get as much or as little involved in as they want.
In terms of our vacation scheme, we don’t overload the two weeks with formal social activities because we don’t feel that this would accurately reflect life at the firm – many people have great nights out on a more impromptu, “shall we go for a quick drink?” sort of basis.
Our aims are to give people who have possibly not yet encountered the firm the chance to come and find out a bit more about us, and give those students who already know something about us the opportunity to gain insights beyond what they can read online.
Law fairs also provide us with the chance to start to get to know students in person and build a rapport with them. The best way for both students and firms to find out about each other is to start a dialogue.
There isn’t any one question that I would highlight as a ‘silver bullet’. The ones that make a candidate stand out are those that are well-thought through, insightful and genuine as they tend to lead to a more interesting and memorable conversation. At the very least, I would say that it helps to find out a couple of the basic facts about a firm before you start the conversation, even if that is just reading the programme and web searching a few of the firms on your way into the law fair. For example, it is useful to know where a firm is based, what type of firm it is – City, magic circle, US – and so on.
Our vacation schemes are important for us, but I almost feel that they are more important for the candidates because experiencing the firm’s working environment first-hand enables them to make informed choices about their careers.
We make a lot of our training contract offers to those who attend our vacation scheme, because it is a great way to assess candidates in a more natural environment than an assessment centre or an interview, as well as a great way for them to assess us. Many of our vacation scheme attendees accept training contract offers from us, which I think is down to them being able to make an evidence-based decision about the firm, the work they will be doing and our culture.
However, we recognise that not everyone is able to attend our vacation scheme, so there are always some vacancies which we fill later on in the year from direct training contract applications.
Candidates taking their achievements as a given and not working to distinguish themselves from all the other strong applicants that we see. There are a lot of good people out there who have achieved great things in all sorts of areas of life, but at the application stage, in an interview and during a vacation scheme, candidates must remember the need to make a good impression and work to make themselves stand out. Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet, but in a way that doesn’t come across as arrogant.
“What makes a good trainee?” is probably the question that I’m most asked by candidates and the hardest one to answer. Good trainees are all different and we value individuality, so it is important to focus on showing what you have to offer, rather than what you think we want to see.
There are obvious things that all firms look for, including us – academic achievement, evidence that the candidate is well organised and a good team player – but no one person has everything, so use the recruitment process to show what makes you a strong candidate.
Yes. I find it a real shame when a candidate says “I have only done X” or “I have just been Y” – don’t dismiss your experiences or think that some are less relevant than others. All the experiences you have had go into what makes you the person you are and you can use almost anything to demonstrate the transferable skills that would be useful as a lawyer.
The number of decisions that have to be made early on in the application process which will inevitably shape someone’s career. There are very different firms out there in terms of location, culture and types of work and it can be overwhelming when you first start to think about where you might want to train. Take the time to think about what is important to you and what you want to get out of your career, because you are likely to be working in the same area for a long time, so ending up in the right place to begin with is a good start!
Start to think about what is important to you first, then do your research. If you have an idea of the type of law you want to work in and the kind of working culture that suits you, you will naturally start to form a shortlist of firms that you might want to apply to. Then when it comes to submitting a strong, tailored application which takes a lot of time to produce if done right, you will be more focused.
We are a truly integrated international firm. Many of our offices regularly work together on multijurisdictional matters and many of our lawyers spend time working overseas, either on qualification or later in their careers. This integration starts during the training contract – all of our trainees do one of their six seats in an overseas office, which is a fantastic opportunity to get to know colleagues and start to build important, long-standing working relationships.
Anyone who knows me knows I love animals, so in another career I would probably be a zoo keeper. My husband and I even spent our 20th wedding anniversary last year being keepers for the day at Whipsnade Zoo, cleaning up after the elephants!