From telephone interviews to virtual vacation schemes – How are law firms and candidates adapting to new modes of trainee recruitment?

  • Last updated Nov 26, 2020 10:26:01 AM
  • By Raphael Jucobin
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As the legal profession has looked to adapt its working methods to the current restrictions put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19, so have its recruitment methods. In accordance with social distancing, the process of hiring trainees has moved to more remote methods, starting from this year.

There are various methods which have been adopted by firms, each accommodating a different stage of the recruitment process. Whether you’re embarking on your first long-term experience at a law firm through a training contract or getting a taste of the job through a vacation scheme, there will undoubtedly be some element of adaptation. 

One firm that has adapted quickly has been Hogan Lovells. “Over the summer we have been able to implement a number of initiatives in a virtual setting. We launched a virtual internship through Forage, ran our First Year Insight Days through Webinars, and have replicated our assessment days through the digital platform TopScore. We have found that students have adapted amazingly, making the most of virtual internships, open days, and events, which have really strengthened applications”, explains Jen Baird, Graduate Recruitment Manager at Hogan Lovells. “We have also seen students navigate virtual assessment days incredibly well. This is ordinarily a stressful time and we have been impressed with how well students have adjusted.”

As the future of working environments becomes increasingly virtual, it seems that these will be here to stay, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with them as soon as possible!

The interview stage

Although most stages of the application process already took place online – from the initial application form to any online tests required by the recruiter – this is now also the case with what is usually an in-person interview. Often a component of an assessment centre day, under normal circumstances the interview would have provided the employer with the opportunity to meet you face to face and get a better idea of who you are, as a potential employee and as a person to work with.

Nevertheless, as social distancing has effectively shut down offices across the country, they are now conducted virtually. This means that instead of facing your recruiter across the desk, you’ll be on your webcam, speaking to them through one of the various video conferencing software which have seen their day in the last few months.

Alternatively, recruiters might choose to conduct a telephone interview as the final stage. Although these are usually reserved for initial screening purposes, under current conditions the convenience of a phone call has proven useful to firms as a means of conducting a final interview.

It might not be in-person, but a video interview can be just as nerve-wracking on the side of the applicant. In any case, you are tested on the same basis – as long as you can project yourself well, show off knowledge of the specific firm itself and display commercial awareness, you’ll be going along the right lines.

Virtual vacation schemes

Although the fate of law graduates with training contracts may have been the main focus for law firms, the importance of vacation schemes in a law student’s training is not to be overlooked. Firms will have been attentive in how they adapt their vacation scheme offering, keeping in mind that many offer training contracts primarily to their past scheme intakes.

There are two main ways in which firms have adapted the schemes. Although some have altogether cancelled their on-site scheme, others have sought to move forward and have integrated the students into their remote working environment, involving them in real projects as they would under normal circumstances.

As of the summer of 2020, this alternative has been offered to those who have already been offered or are in the process of completing training contracts, although it’s likely that this becomes the norm from the outset of a contract moving forwards.

Other firms have set up shorter schemes, often last less than a day, consisting of an online course open to all which touches on some of the key practical insight into a law firm as well as tests, all delivered through a virtual learning environment. This means that although you’ll have limited direct contact with a member of the firm itself, firms which have opted for this alternative have sought to make this course as enriching and as close a simulation to the real thing as possible, meaning you’ll develop many of the same skills and receive a certificate of participation at the end.

Virtual networking

Law firms have realised that one of the key components of any experience at a law firm is the opportunities for networking as trainees move throughout the various departments and meet colleagues from across the office. This is especially true of the vacation scheme, where students try to make a good impression in order to be taken on a training contract later on.

With the placements now carried out from home, trainees from this year onwards will invariably miss out on the opportunity to come across experts in different fields as they navigate the office, meaning they will not be able to accumulate contacts. In fact, in many cases, beyond team meetings their only points of contact will be a supervisor and other trainees.

In order to make up for this, many firms have integrated virtual networking sessions into the skills development aspect of their schemes. This will often consist of a panel of experts in different legal areas from across the company taking questions from trainees, as they look to make the experience valuable in terms of the insight interns gain.

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