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Top HSBC in-house lawyer tells students to ditch gap years and work at JD Sports instead

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Show us that you’re not reliant on mummy and daddy, says bar graduate-turned-banking lawyer Sandie Okoro

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A leading in-house lawyer at HSBC has caused a stir after urging graduates to opt for “old-fashioned Saturday jobs” over expensive gap years in order to stand out from the crowd.

Sandie Okoro, the general counsel for HSBC asset management, reckons that top employers have got bored with candidates “who’ve gone off to China and built an orphanage” and instead would prefer someone who has “worked at JD Sports at the weekend to earn some money”.

Speaking at the Girls’ Day School Trust conference in London yesterday, Okoro — who did the bar course in 1988 before switching to become a solicitor after apparently turning down two pupillages for financial reasons — told attendees that “in some professions everyone’s got the same academics, and they can speak five languages as well.”

She went on to link the idea of glittering CVs of the type that top law firms often look for with parental wealth, before suggesting that employers were increasingly seeking evidence that candidates are not reliant on mummy and daddy:

I see all these wonderful places, they’ve gone off to China and built an orphanage, they’ve done this and done that. OK so your daddy is rich. That’s great. But when you worked at JD Sports at the weekend to earn some money? When have you dealt with the public? They don’t care where you went to school.

Recalling her own Saturday job at Marks & Spencers, the Birmingham University law graduate emphasised the importance of “that old-fashioned supporting themselves bit”, adding:

Gap years have become the norm. You almost need that gap year on your CV now, it has almost become formulaic. I see lots of similar things of the gap years. I’d like to see the mundane and ordinary come back in … I don’t care how much you are overachieving … the real bit I like to see is people who have done that old-fashioned Saturday job.

Okoro’s comments, which have received widespread approval on Twitter, come as a handful of elite law firms takes steps to move away from traditional graduate recruitment models to offer more opportunities to candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In the last month Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills, Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst have all signed up to a new “contextual recruitment” tool that “hardwires social mobility metrics into firms’ existing graduate recruitment applicant tracking systems”.

Meanwhile, Mayer Brown has launched a new earn-while-you-learn scheme that will see school-leavers join the firm at 18 and study for their law degrees and Legal Practice Course while working full-time, before qualifying as a solicitor after six years.