Are you interested in a vacation scheme at Slaughter and May?
Sofia Gymer interviews Robert Byk, one of the partners actively involved in trainee recruitment.
With a name that begins with Slaughter, a word that denotes terrifyingly efficient annihilation, it’s unsurprising that Slaughter and May is one of the most conspicuous firms in the law undergraduate psyche. The Magic Circle firm’s reputation for success precedes it; having achieved a somewhat epic status, competition for training contracts is increasingly fierce and therefore preparation is key. At some firms, completing a vacation scheme is integral to gaining a training contract. Nabarro, for example, recruits 98% of its trainees from its schemes and states openly that the chances of applicants who have not completed one are “non-existent”. But what are vacation work experience schemes like at Slaughter and May? If you’ve not been on one, does that mean you shouldn’t bother applying for a training contract? AllAboutLaw.co.uk thought we ought to find out. So after a few calls, off I trundled down to One Bunhill Row with my camera, to get the lowdown.
In the reception, upon the dark grey marble floor below a curved glass-walled staircase, lay an expansive and placid water feature. Understated, beautiful, but strangely formidable, the dark, still pool challenged observers who would never know its depth and reflected the stone around it. I couldn’t help but find it somehow symbolic. Soon after we arrived I was escorted up to a boardroom in a noiseless glass lift. Around the large table were 12 black leather chairs and the blinds were closed to protect the privacy of any clients who might be in the building.
Robert Byk, one of the partners actively involved in trainee recruitment, and Janine Arnold, senior manager - trainee recruitment, entered the room. Both Robert and Janine were warm and approachable, while exuding energy and an undeniable air of intelligence. After setting up the shot and partaking in a bit of banter about home-life, we began.
What do you look for in a CV and covering letter?
“A clear CV and a short covering letter – we recommend half a page to a page. For you to describe your experience – who you are – remember, we’ve never met you before. We need to understand what makes you tick; what you find interesting; what you find enthusing and exciting. Also, any interests, societies and work experience – it doesn’t have to be legal work experience. We don’t sit here and say that to get legal work experience, you have to have had legal work experience. We think that’s rather illogical,” Robert concluded with a half-smile. “A good application is one that says: ‘This is who I am.’ It’s clear, it’s understandable, it’s focused; there aren’t any large gaps or errors and we can see from it why you’re interested in law and why you’re interested in the vacation scheme.”
What degree of commercial awareness do you expect?
Frowning, he said: “The question of commercial awareness and what it means troubles me. We expect a level of interest in business, and people who are able to exhibit interest in commercial law, but also just commerciality; how business works, how the world works. We don’t expect detailed knowledge of the stock market, or of products such as Bermudan flip-flop derivatives. That is stuff that we can teach or train. “What we’re looking for is people who are interested in the business world and its effects nationally and globally, because the truth is that those are the clients we deal with. If you don’t have an interest, it’s challenging for the rest of your career.”
How important is a tailored application?
“We know and expect that candidates will be applying to other firms. However, we sort of like to feel as though the application is really to us. “Why? Well because we want people to have thought about who they are applying to. Critically, we think that tailored applications - fewer but better applications – are the way forward.” He continued: “Having said that, we will get applications that contain other firm’s names or express a desire to work in our Moscow office (we don’t have one). None of those applications are rejected automatically; all of them are read by a team of people, including partners. We know that people make mistakes… we would just love them not to.”
What's the difference between a vacation scheme interview and a training contract interview?
“The principle difference is that a training contract interview will be with two partners and a vacation scheme interview with a partner and an associate... Generally we try to hold vacation scheme interviews on campus so that we don’t disrupt term time. We don’t do a written exercise in that interview either. “Broadly speaking, the themes being discussed, the way we approach the interviews, the material we provide for it are very similar for vacation scheme and training contract. So, another benefit of the vacation scheme process is actually interview practice. “For that reason, we recommend that you apply to us. Not everyone who applies to us for a training contract has done a vacation scheme. Not everyone who is successful has done a vacation scheme and not everyone who does a vacation scheme with us is successful. The bottom line is that even if you were unsuccessful, you should not be put off applying for a training contract.” Slaughter and May runs vacation schemes, or work experience schemes as they are called at the firm, over Easter and the summer.
The Easter work experience scheme is for penultimate year law students and non-law students. The scheme runs for one week, from Monday 8 to Friday 12 April 2019. The summer schemes are much longer, lasting three weeks, and run in June,July and August. During a work experience scheme, a student will join one of the firm’s legal groups and share an office with an associate. Here they will be involved in, and gain exposure to, the associate’s work. In addition to legal work, the scheme involves training sessions, workshops and interactive case studies. Furthermore, each student will be assigned a trainee solicitor who effectively acts as a buddy. The trainee is on hand to assist with work, answer any questions and help the student settle in. It’s not all work and no play though. Arranged social and networking events supplement the hard graft, giving students a chance to chat informally to other employees. Oh, and Slaughter and May also pay students £450 a week to keep them afloat, so that’s quite nice.
Apply to Slaughter and May here.
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