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How my US firm vac scheme set me up for TC success

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By The Careers Team on

You can’t beat dinner with the trainees at Duck and Waffle as a way to gain insight into a firm, recalls Hannah Drake ahead of Shearman & Sterling’s vac scheme application deadline later this month


For law students up and down the country, the New Year period can be a particularly stressful time.

With impending January assessments, it can be easy to sweep work experience and training contract applications under the carpet. But there is a way to juggle both. Take it from Hannah Drake, who last year completed a spring vac scheme at US giant Shearman & Sterling.

The key, she tells Legal Cheek Careers, is to take care:

I do think some students and graduates are tempted to complete a mass of ‘copy and paste’ vac scheme applications. Firms can really tell; it’s definitely evident when you’ve spent time on an application. It’s far better to focus your efforts on a few firms you really want to apply to and to take care with these applications.

Though Drake had already completed a number of work experience stints at other big corporate players, Shearman & Sterling was top of her list when it came to vac scheme applications. She explains:

I’d narrowed my choices down to international firms, as that’s important to me. The work Shearman & Sterling does is cross-border, which is exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. I also wanted a firm with a strong corporate presence.

Punting for a few firms you really care about is a tactic that not only makes your applications more focused; it’s a far more efficient use of time and therefore perfect for students on the infamous Christmas deadline dash. University of Nottingham graduate Drake, who interned for a US judge as part of a year abroad at the University of Texas, recalls spending about four hours completing her form, and then there were the few hours of research she undertook in preparation for this. It’s not a huge amount of time, and the benefits she’s reaped from her vac scheme have been incredible.

The experience, Drake tells us, provided an invaluable insight into life as a solicitor at the global giant.

She had the opportunity to sit in different seats each week — first in M&A and then in finance — and each morning vac schemers would be treated to an overview presentation of a particular department. This, she recalls, helped her “understand the core departments at the firm”, as well as its culture. Heading into the firm gives you the chance to assess it for yourself. And having dinner with the trainees definitely throws up the opportunity for insightful conversations.

And, of course, any vac scheme wouldn’t be complete without some statement flashy socials. Pasta making classes in Shoreditch and dinner at Duck and Waffle rounded off an excellent two weeks.


Jollies aside, it was well worth Drake taking time out to work at Shearman & Sterling for one very important reason: as a direct result of her performance on the scheme, she was offered a training contract with the firm.

Now in her first seat in the M&A department, she believes going via this vac scheme route is a “more informed” way to secure a training contract:

Doing a vac scheme is the best, if not the only, way to find out if you’d like to work at a firm. When the interviewer asks ‘why Shearman?’, you have an abundance to say.

As for the procedure, she recalls the training contract exercises were spread out throughout the scheme, largely circumventing the curse of pre-assessment day nerves. Even the dreaded partner interview was “very informal” and “felt like a chat”.

Now — having obtained a distinction in her LPC from The University of Law — she’s very much enjoying the Shearman & Sterling experience. She reports:

The horror stories about long days at US firms, this firm at least, are not true. The hours are definitely not worse than at the magic circle. The firm is very sociable, and there is not a strong hierarchy. I’ve had a lot of training and I really like the size of the firm. I have friends at larger firms and over there there’s more scope to get lost in the crowd. I’m in one of the bigger departments at Shearman & Sterling but it’s still small enough that the trainees feel like valued members of the team. I’m very happy with the whole experience overall.

Applications for Shearman & Sterling’s spring and summer vac schemes close on 20 January. Apply here.

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