Created with Norton Rose Fulbright

How first year students can get ahead in the race for training contracts

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By Alex Aldridge on

Alex Aldridge meets the Manchester University trio who won the Norton Rose Fulbright GP Challenge


The old stereotype of the first year university student who lets their hair down and indulges in 12 months of booze-fuelled fun is fast becoming redundant. This is especially true for law students.

These days, three years after the trebling of undergraduate fees, law first years are more likely to be found agonising over their applications for open days — which increasingly target first years — than propping up the student union bar.

And this newfound careers focus may prove to be just the beginning. Last week, in one of the first examples of its kind, Norton Rose Fulbright ran a week-long work experience placement for three first year students. The firm will follow this up by launching extended, two-day “insight days” in May and June — with first-year students for the first time getting work placements alongside the traditional open days. Applications open on 1 March.

The first year students who spent the week at Norton Rose Fulbright last week did so by virtue of their victory in the GP Challenge competition in December, which is run in conjunction with the practice and its client McLaren Mercedes (since re-branded McLaren Honda). The GP Challenge requires students to combine with two to three other students to submit a joint response to the question: “What makes Norton Rose Fulbright and McLaren Mercedes such a great corporate partnership?”

Resisting the temptation to follow their mates down the pub, Manchester University law students Georgia Foulkes-Hartley and Ashley Thomas teamed up with French and business student James Ferguson and withdrew to the library to draft an answer to the question.

“The competition to secure training contracts is now so intense that you’ve got to be on the ball straightaway with an eye on the long term,” says Foulkes-Hartley of her motivation for getting involved.

Having had their response shortlisted as among the best, the trio then emerged victorious from the competition final at Norton Rose Fulbright’s London headquarters in December.

Their prize was the work experience: four days at Norton Rose Fulbright, split across the practice’s real estate, banking and corporate practices, and a day at McLaren’s Technology Centre in Surrey.

The students have done similar work to vac schemers and trainees, before dashing back to friends’ flats in the evenings to catch up on podcast versions of their lectures.

“It has been a fantastic and very busy week,” says Thomas. “Alongside the work experience we’ve had essay deadlines to deal with and lectures to keep up with, but the university has been very supportive because they recognise how valuable this practical experience is.”

Being able to observe how some of the basic elements of contract law function in real-life, while witnessing how a big corporate legal practice operates, has been easier for Thomas and Foulkes-Hartley than Ferguson, who has never studied law before. But like non-law vac scheme students, being thrown in at the deep end has forced him to get to grips with legal concepts.

“I’ve worked hard to understand the gist of the agreements I’ve been asked to look at and feel I have got the basics, having received a lot of support from my trainee buddy and supervisor,” he says.

Certainly, the exposure will give the group an edge when applying for vac schemes next year.

“The aim is to now apply for as many open days and vac schemes as possible so as to get further experience that will put me in the best position when it comes to applying for training contracts,” adds Thomas.

But what about having fun?

“It’s wrong to say that first year law students don’t go out and have a good time,” says Thomas. “What might have changed is that, being so busy with work experience, extra-curricular activities and of course uni work, they are more careful about when they do it.”

Norton Rose Fulbright firm profile [Legal Cheek]

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