How students can turn Brexit to their advantage when applying for training contracts

There’s never been a better time to impress with your commercial awareness

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Ahead of ‘Brexit and the future: how global law firms deal with political uncertainty – with Norton Rose Fulbright’, Legal Cheek Careers caught up with two of the associates who will be appearing on the panel.

Competition lawyer Jamie Cooke and corporate lawyer Tessa Svennevik talked through their thoughts about the challenges facing students applying for training contracts this year and shared some tips based on their own relatively recent experience of the graduate recruitment process.

Legal Cheek Careers: How much do you think that the uncertainty that has been generated by the Brexit vote will affect students?

Tessa Svennevik (TS): “I wouldn’t worry too much about changes in the market. Jamie and I were both recruited in 2010, when London was just coming out of the financial crisis. There were some quite gloomy predictions around, many of which proved unfounded. Ultimately no one knows what Brexit will look like or how it will impact the market so the only thing students can do is focus on presenting themselves in the best possible way.”

Jamie Cooke (JC): “One thing that we do know is that Brexit, in whatever form it takes, will generate a lot of legal work. So for students this could actually be an opportunity.”

Are there any other potential upsides for students that you can see flowing from Brexit?

JC: “Students who are on top of the issues will have an advantage and there is a lot to read about – both in the national and trade press. It’s a great idea to attend news-themed events like the one Norton Rose Fulbright and Legal Cheek are hosting on Wednesday.”

TS: “I’d agree with that. What I’d add is that students are not expected to be experts on Brexit. It’s enough to keep up to date with the key themes in the press and then go into greater depth for aspects that might particularly interest you in particular sectors, for example by using the Brexit briefings which we publish on our website.”

Looking to the future, are there any key traits that you believe the next generation of lawyers will need?

JC: “I think an international mindset will be helpful. It currently seems likely that the UK will forge trade deals farther afield in the wake of Brexit.”

TS: “I agree – Jamie and I both did seats abroad during our training contracts. I spent six months in Singapore and he did six months in Perth. That experience was certainly informative for me in that sense that I was able to see how a global organisation functioned and how technology is making the world seem smaller.”

If you knew when you were a student what you know now, how would your approach to securing a training contract have differed, and is there anything you would do differently when you started?

TS: “The best thing I did was to get involved in the process early – I’d recommend this approach. I was fortunate enough to be recruited in my second year, and, for me, going into my final year knowing that I had a training contract lined up was a great position to be in. What I’d change, looking back, is that I’d have been a little bit more confident once I started my training contract. The fact that you have been recruited shows the firm believes you have something to contribute. In that vein, I’d have been willing to speak up a bit more.”

JC: “I learnt along the way that if you are honest, and talk about the commercial areas that genuinely interest you, you will come across much better. That’s a far preferable approach to trying to second guess the things you suspect interviewers are interested to hear.”

Do you have any other top tips for wannabe lawyers?

TS: “To a degree people have similar CVs, so I always think it’s interesting when someone has something a bit different on there that makes them memorable. Back when I was applying in 2009-10, the deal everyone was talking about was the Cadbury Kraft merger. One way to have stood out would have been to choose something else to concentrate on in your applications. The other tip is not to worry too much if you don’t know something at interview.

“I was once asked about a topic I was unsure about so the interviewers explained the background and then asked me what I thought. Having managed not to panic – just about – I was able to come up with a reasonably coherent response.”

JC: “I’d recommend speaking to people at different types of firms to find out what they are actually like, rather than just relying on graduate recruitment brochures. Then having done all your homework I’d maintain as positive an attitude as you can, and remember that, to an extent, you are assessing the firm as well as the firm assessing you.”

Jamie Cooke and Tessa Svennevik will be speaking at ‘Brexit and the future: how global law firms deal with political uncertainty – with Norton Rose Fulbright’ this Wednesday.