Then you’ll have hard-working trainees who aren’t used to receiving everything on a plate
Gaining a training contract or vacation scheme at a City firm is tough, no doubt. And the recent growth in diversity schemes in the legal sector show there are definitely still diversity issues when it comes to recruitment. But I’m going to add one to the pot, something that doesn’t gain as much emphasis: ‘indirect nepotism’.
Everyone will agree that work experience is absolutely vital when it comes to training contract applications: it allows you to talk about your motivations for becoming a solicitor and shows recruiters you already have a pretty good idea of how the profession works before you start. Without it, you’re pretty much dead in the water.
But with vacation scheme applications at larger firms becoming more and more competitive, many applicants are stuck in the infamous cycle — they don’t have work experience to enable them get work experience.
This is where the ‘indirect nepotism’ comes in for the select few with contacts in the profession. Rather than go through a full vacation scheme application and interview, they use their contacts to gain ‘work experience’ at the firm.
Just browse through LinkedIn profiles and when you’ll know they’ve come in through the back door when you see profiles with ‘work experience’ at firms which will only officially accept vacation scheme applications from the general pool of aspiring solicitors.
Then there are those who gain their ‘work experience’ overseas, often at the international offices of major city firms, again, bypassing any kind of application and open-merit based process. I personally know several students who openly admitted they only turned up to the office for one day and got their contacts to sign them off for a month’s ‘placement’. At least those beneficiaries of ‘indirect nepotism’ in London actually have to come in to the firm for the duration of their placement.
This is bad all around. Firstly, it is simply unfair to those talented applicants who don’t have contacts and secondly, it’s bad for law firms as such work experience shows nothing about the applicant other than their daddy has contacts.
This isn’t just limited to law: a friend of mine managed to get into medical school after her doctor father organised four work experience placements for her, whilst another extremely talented and passionate friend (with 3 A*s mind you) couldn’t because he had no contacts in the medical field and so didn’t have anything concrete with which to convince interviewers of his interest in medicine.
I wouldn’t advocate an official ban by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), but I would urge them to advise larger commercial firms — who already have official vacation schemes and placements in place — to voluntary shun this practice. Not only should they not offer ad-hoc placements to students through the back door, but also refuse to accept work experience gained this way from their prospective applicants. Not only is it the right thing to do, but law firms will benefit by gaining a pool of truly resourceful, talented and hardworking trainees who aren’t used to receiving everything on a plate.