Interview: Charlie Davies, Vacation Schemer at Ashfords
We sat down with Charlie Davies, a Bristol University law student who completed a vacation scheme last year at Ashfords, to get his lowdown on what the vacation scheme was like and why you should think about applying to a regional firm.
What made you decide to do a vacation scheme with a regional firm?
Having come from the region I was familiar with the Ashfords brand and had heard first-hand about their work. In addition, from talking to employees from national/international firms, I was told the horror stories of work in the City and how a regional firm would allow me a much better work/life balance.
What sets a vacation scheme with a regional firm apart from, for instance, City firms?
Ashfords' vacation scheme allows you a lot more responsibility as you are typically in a smaller office/team where you can see the outcomes of your own work. Furthermore, as you are in such a small environment it is a lot more amiable, and you get a real insight into what life is actually like at the firm.
Similarly, you get to interact with the whole office, from paralegals to partners, across a number of different areas of law, giving yourself a much more holistic overview of how the firm operated.
How did you find out about the vacation scheme at Ashfords?
As already mentioned, with the firm operating in my local area, I was familiar with its work so had been tempted to apply from the start. This was followed up at the University Law Fair, where I asked a few questions about the scheme.
What did the application process involve?
The application for Ashfords was a relatively simple one, filling out an application form with personal and academic details and a personal statement.
Was there anything you did differently that you think may have helped you to stand out?
I think the main attribute that helped me is the diversity of my CV. Most applicants have strong academic skills but it is surprising how many of them have not had a part-time job or experienced much outside of school/university.
Having had the experience of starting my own business and then being employed for most of my young adult life has therefore given me the skills that are attractive to employers and provides concrete evidence of the attributes I could bring to the firm.
How was the vacation scheme structured at Ashfords?
The vacation scheme consisted of a week at the firm, with four days spent working with two different departments, and the final day consisting of an assessment day. In the two departments I was placed in, I gained a real hands-on experience of life at the firm.
What was nice was that allocation of the departments was completely random, so I got to know about different areas of law which I would otherwise not have chosen myself but am now interested in professionally. Otherwise, we spent the time being allocated tasks of varying responsibility/difficulty.
It was especially beneficial that, given your close proximity, if you completed a task and wanted more work, or had any queries, there were associates or partners nearby with whom you could actively engage with and therefore be rewarded for your own initiative.
What kind of responsibilities were you given at Ashfords?
The level of responsibility varied between departments, as it was the prerogative of the partner in charge of that particular area. If they had some work that was relevant and within the scope of a vacation schemer's ability, then most partners were happy to give it to you.
This was rewarding as you could see your work going to use in real cases. Admittedly, these tasks were sometimes menial, such as searching through case notes and compiling folders, but it was really up to yourself to ask for more/different work.
How much contact did you have with senior colleagues and with other interns?
As mentioned, there was plenty of contact with senior colleagues if you had the initiative to go to them personally and ask questions. Ashfords has a really good scheme where all interns were treated well and looked after by some current trainees. This meant we had lunch together and there were after-work opportunities organised too.
What was your most memorable experience at Ashfords? And what was the most valuable?
My most memorable experience was working in the Business Risk and Regulation department. I personally had never heard of this area of law and had no real desire to learn more.
However, as I spent more time I learnt more about the department and was presented with cases that they had worked on, including the M5 crash by Taunton Rugby Club, which I had seen in the news and so forth, which really influenced my opinion on the utility of that area of law.
The most valuable experience, I found, was just gaining an insight into the firm and developing with my fellow interns and the overseeing trainees. I developed skills ready for the assessment at the end of the week by talking to the trainees and the other interns. The whole experience made me feel confident and prepared for the ultimate assessment.
Would you recommend doing a vacation scheme with a regional firm to other students?
As already mentioned, the experience you get at a regional firm gives you far more responsibility than you might expect at ‘larger’ institutions. Furthermore, if, like me, you are from that region, it feels rewarding to be dealing with cases and issues in your local area than international correspondence that has no real relevance to yourself.
What piece of advice would you give to any budding vacation schemers?
I think my main piece of advice would be to diversify your CV to make your application as interesting as possible for your potential employer. I don’t think that it is sufficient to have exemplary academic results because that is simply the norm for a lot of applicants.
Having interesting hobbies, skills and experiences make your application stand out and helps you sound less robotic come interview. Whilst you might not think that working at Tesco provides skills relevant to a law firm, it proves that you have employable skills and professional experience.
- Talking vacation schemes and training contracts with White & Case
- What is life like as a legal trainee within the Government Legal Department?
- "All are equal under the law"
- "People are at the heart of everything that we do" : diversity and inclusion at RPC
- 'A Day in the Life' with Mills & Reeve Trainee, Inderpreet Heire