Freshfields: a day in the life of a trainee
We spoke to Sonam Cheema, a trainee at Freshfields, about her experience working at the firm so far.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
I usually check my emails on my commute into work to see if anything urgent has come in overnight and once I’m in the office, I log on to check my calendar and see what I have scheduled for that day; we have quite a few training sessions, workshops, and seminars on interesting topics running daily at Freshfields. I always take some time to plan which of those I will attend, what meetings I have, and what my “to do” tasks are for the day—this always changes and it’s sometimes difficult to stick to my list!
I also use the morning to grab a smoothie—we have a restaurant here at the office, and it’s always very social as quite a few trainees tend to eat breakfast in the restaurant together.
What seat are you currently in? Can you give us a brief overview of what happens in this area of law?
I’m in my fifth seat in the Freshfields training system, which is equivalent to the third seat in the traditional four-seat training contract. I am currently sitting in Freshfields’ transactions team, where I work on private M&A deals for some of the largest private equity houses in the world. We advise our clients on the structuring of their deals and help them implement the legal steps. It is quite a busy time at the moment.
As a trainee, I help with negotiations, due diligence and report drafting, and the first drafts of core legal documents. Trainees also help with the organisation of board meetings, and the drafting of corporate authorisations. As I’m coming towards the end of my training contract, I’ve been getting a lot more drafting experience and responsibility.
Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend an average day?
After checking my emails and diary, and prioritising the most important tasks, I touch base with my supervisor, and then any other associates I’m working with—it’s rare that you work purely with your supervisor, and you could be working on several matters which span the entire firm globally.
Part of my day involves fielding inquiries from various people, such as trainees and associates from other firms, or from clients themselves. Sometimes these inquiries can be complex and you have to think on your feet, ensuring that you provide the correct advice or that you can direct them to someone who is in a position to help them better. We also work very closely with leading law firms in jurisdictions where Freshfields doesn’t have offices, and trainees often take the lead in coordinating the day-to-day logistics of these relationships.
Part of my day will also involve training events. There’s often a learning opportunity that you can take advantage of at breakfasts or over lunch. At the moment there is a seminar series on financial statements led by Global Transactions partners, providing a practical context for what we have learned on the LPC, and we’ve just ended a series on contract law for trainees, which was a good refresher as it has been several years since most of us studied contract law.
It may be that I have offsite commitments—trainees often attend board meetings with clients, attend court or deliver documents to clients or other firms. I could also be doing pro bono work. The trainees at Freshfields run housing advice sessions at the Tower Hamlets Law Centre, and can spend Fridays volunteering at Fair Trials International.
How much do you communicate with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?
In my current practice, trainees get a lot of contact with clients, because it is so transactional and fast-paced. We also sit directly with our supervisors who tend to be quite senior. We tend to work for everyone from newly qualified associates to partners—there is a collegiate, open-door culture at the firm and everyone is keen to help you understand your work.
I imagine that interacting with clients is a good skill to learn early on?
What is the company culture like at Freshfields—do you have regular social events and the chance to mingle with other trainees?
It’s a very collegiate culture—people are very approachable, and I have never felt at any point that I couldn’t ask certain questions.
There’s an ethos here that promotes a healthy work-life balance, which is great as it gives you the chance to develop your hobbies and other commitments.
Freshfields trainees undertake the LPC together, so you get to know your intake very well during those seven months. We would organise regular social events, so when I joined the firm on day one there were already 40 people who I knew and could reach out to for all of my first-day questions. Now that we’re trainees we still meet up regularly, such as for weekly drinks.
As you get further into the training contract, you also socialise with the teams in which you sit: I’ve found myself taking part in a lot more team socials at the minute. The firm also organises socials throughout the year. We have really cool summer and autumn parties at trendy places, and our annual ski trips are a very big deal; the Wimbledon viewing room is always fun as well every summer, with strawberries and cream and Magnum ice creams!
What has been a highlight of your experience as a trainee so far?
One of the consistent highlights is that I get to work on some of the biggest deals in the market. It’s exciting to see the role you’re playing every single day; I think that’s one of the reasons you would choose to work at a firm like Freshfields.
There’s also ample opportunity to travel—it’s common for trainees to get emails saying things like “we need a trainee to urgently go to Oman” or “we need somebody to go to Geneva”! It’s an opportunity to combine work with really unique travel opportunities, and to understand the international scope of the firm’s work early on in your training contract.
On the social side of things, the highlight was definitely doing a client event, which involved attending an NFL game at Wembley.
What advice would you give to someone considering applying for a training contract at Freshfields?
Do your research online and offline. While firms may look similar on paper and may provide similar work opportunities, they each have a unique culture. The best way to understand that culture is by attending events and coming to open days at the firm.
The trainee market is a very competitive one, with people having very similar grades and accomplishments. Knowing all of this, you really do need to try to find something that sets you apart from other applicants—there’s room for many different personalities at Freshfields, and not everyone is a carbon copy of each other.
Before I joined the firm, I worked for the civil service in Canada, as well as working on political campaigns, including a presidential re-election campaign in America. Whatever specific passions you have, it’s important to embrace and emphasise those when applying for training contracts. pa Commercial awareness is also a good skill to have—setting up news updates on your mobile phone, for example, is a great and easy way to keep on top of what’s going on in business, politics and world events, and gain an understanding of how these different things interplay.
The legal market is changing drastically– clients are diverse, so lawyers, too, need to be diverse. For this reason, there’s a lot of space within law to be who you are, and Freshfields is a place full of people who are very different and very interesting.
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