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Meet the recruiter

Gemma Barns

Gemma Barns

Gemma Barns is the graduate resourcing and development manager at White & Case. She is based at the London office and has been at the firm for two years and has worked in legal graduate recruitment for over 10 years. 

What has been your most memorable moment in the job?

Since joining White & Case I have really enjoyed the close link we have with the diversity and inclusion team and being a part of some forward-thinking initiatives and events. We recently ran a development programme for black men alongside Business in The Community (BITC) and in association with the Black Men in Law Network, and the feedback from the attendees was incredible.

Does your firm run a vacation scheme?

We run vacation schemes every winter, spring and summer, with up to 25 students taking part in each placement. Our winter scheme is targeted at final-year undergraduates and graduates, and our spring and summer schemes are open to penultimate-year undergraduates as well.

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

Choosing whether to commit to a training contract with a firm is a big decision and a vacation scheme, whether virtual or physical, gives both the candidate and the firm a chance to see if they are the right fit for each other. For that reason, we usually recruit the majority of our trainees from the winter, spring and summer schemes, but we also have a direct training contract recruitment process for candidates who are unable to attend a scheme with us.

What kind of work can candidates expect to experience during the vacation scheme?

It is an action-packed two weeks, kicking off with an induction before candidates join their supervisors and experience what working at the firm is really like. In addition to live transactions and cases and real trainee-level work, there are sessions throughout the fortnight on everything from our different practice areas to diversity at the firm. Candidates also have lots of opportunities to network and socialise with partners, associates, trainees and the graduate resourcing and development team. On the assessment side, there is a written exercise to undertake and an interactive (and fun!) group exercise, followed by a formal training contract interview with two partners, including a commercial element.

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

We ask candidates to submit a cover letter as part of the online application form, which is a brilliant opportunity for applicants to concisely explain their interest in law, their relevant skills, and – crucially – that they have an understanding of the firm and how we are different to our competitors. Unfortunately, not all candidates understand the importance of the cover letter and we still see too many generic letters. If you can replace ‘White & Case’ with the name of one our competitors in a cover letter and it still works, you are not tailoring your application enough and are missing out on the chance to set out why you are interested in White & Case specifically.

Should candidates use examples of non-legal work experience in their applications?

Yes, all experience is relevant and we encourage candidates to talk about the jobs and placements they have done – we are interested in the journey you have been on to get to where you are now. The attributes we are looking for are not exclusive to law, so there are lots of ways that candidates can demonstrate their transferable skills.

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

When it comes to demonstrating commercial awareness in an application form or interview, this isn’t something that you can prepare for overnight or in a couple of weeks of cramming. It is about having a real interest in the business world in which we as a law firm operate. This involves keeping up to date with the news and thinking about how wider issues may impact the firm and our clients, and being able to convey that understanding in a conversation with partners during an interview.

Does your firm run an assessment centre?

We run an assessment centre for direct training contract applicants only. Successful candidates reach this stage after the online application form, a video interview and telephone interview. During the assessment centre candidates undertake a written assessment, face-to-face interview with a member of the graduate resourcing and development team and an associate, plus an interactive group exercise. There is an opportunity to relax and get to know our trainees and the other candidates during lunch – a perfect opportunity to get to know our trainees and to ask plenty of questions. Successful candidates are then invited to  an interview with two partners, incorporating a commercial element.

For the vacation scheme, the assessment process begins with the online application, followed by a video interview, face-to-face interview and written task. Assessment of candidates is then ongoing during the vacation scheme, with the same tasks undertaken as a direct applicant would during an assessment centre, and the interview with two partners taking place during the second week of the scheme.

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

Yes, you will be able to meet us at approximately 25 law fairs over October and November. We will also be putting on over 60 virtual events during the autumn term – we’re trying to speak to as many students at as many universities as possible so that candidates can benefit from those initial interactions with our trainees, as well as the graduate resourcing and development team.

Before speaking to you at a law fair, how much should a candidate have researched the firm? Is it different for first years compared to second and third years?

One of the questions we are often asked is “how do I make my application stand out?” This is fine to ask, but it is also explained clearly on our website and other recruitment resources. That kind of generic question will get a fairly generic answer from one of the firm’s representatives, but a student will get much more from a law fair if they have a tailored question to ask, such as about a certain practice area, one of our diversity networks or our guaranteed overseas seat that forms part of the training programme. More specific questions are also more memorable for the recruiter further down the line when you come to apply.

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

There is an element of self-selection that all candidates should do. Individuals first need to thoroughly research the profession and decide that it’s the right career for them. The next stage should be to research firms individually, as we are all different. For example, the guaranteed overseas seat at White & Case is hugely appealing to many people, but it is not necessarily right for everyone. The best way to find the right fit for you is to attend events, whether virtual or physical, such as law fairs and insight days to have meaningful conversations with people from law firms – if you can picture yourself working alongside them, that is a really positive sign. We offer opportunities to do just that from a candidate’s first year at university, through every stage to graduate level.

What is your dream job (other than this one!)?

Running a small hotel on a remote Greek island. Sunshine and Mediterranean food – heaven!