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The best bits from the Legal Cheek-ULaw Summer 2024 Virtual Vac Scheme

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By The Careers Team on

A handy summary of the week’s workshops and presentations

Legal Cheek’s Summer Virtual Vacation Scheme and Law Fair 2024 in partnership with The University of Law, saw over 2,000 students participate in workshops, presentations, an Employability Expo and law fair with more than 25 leading law firms in attendance.

The scheme took place over five days last week and students heard from lawyers in a range of practice areas, from energy to Islamic finance. Attendees received an insight into how various legal scenarios are approached in practice, through a combination of speaker presentations and discussions on case studies provided by ULaw.

Here is everything that went down…

Day 1

Session 1: Deals

The speakers

  • Georgia Bridgen, Corporate associate at Jones Day
  • Oliver Hewitt, Corporate associate at Jones Day

 What went down…

The session started with Georgia and Oliver presenting a 40-minute talk. The speakers discussed their career paths and their motivations for pursuing a career in law, with Georgia having studied law and Oliver having pursued a non-law route. They also spoke about the non-rotational structure of the Jones Day training contract and what drew them to a transactional practice at the firm. Next, the speakers explained the typical stages of a transaction and discussed deals that they had worked on in the past, exploring the key issues that arose during the transaction and the timescales involved.

The presentation was followed by a two-part Q&A, firstly considering questions that the audience had for the speakers. These addressed advice on how to build and maintain commercial awareness, including useful resources to facilitate this, as well as the balance between independence and support on Jones Day’s non-rotational training contract. Finally, the speakers offered their thoughts on the case study set for the session, discussing the range of practice areas involved in a single transaction and how communication is key to managing client expectations.

Session 2: Disputes

The speakers

What went down…

Following the opening session on deals, students turned to look at the world of disputes. Offering an insight into litigation were Willkie, Farr & Gallagher associate Kristjana Nikolls, and trainee solicitor Emilia Demetriades. The duo kicked off by discussing the varying roles that trainees, associates, and partners have in a dispute, before moving to a case study covering a recent record-breaking dispute overseen by the firm.

This gave the opportunity to explore and explain the process of a dispute and its challenging yet rewarding nature, emphasising the significant role that trainees and junior lawyers play alongside senior leaders.

The panel then moved to answer questions submitted by the audience. On the agenda was the impact of AI and legal tech on litigation, methods for handling stressful situations, and the perks of working at an elite US firm. Budding litigation lawyers were also given advice on key skills for success at Willkie, centring on a can-do attitude, time management, and being considerate of other lawyers and their individual demands.

Day 2

Session 1: Energy

 The speakers

  •  Kevin Atkins, Energy, environment & infrastructure partner at BCLP
  • Hansy Shore, Energy, environment & infrastructure associate at BCLP

What went down…

 The third day of the scheme kicked off with a masterclass on energy from two lawyers in BCLP’s energy, environment & infrastructure team, partner Kevin Atkins and associate Hansy Shore.

Both panellists spoke about their career journeys to date, with Kevin recollecting issues sparked by the Arab Spring, and Hansy noting her recent work on electric air taxis in Dubai. Novel challenges, innovation, and variety were all frequently used by the pair to describe why they entered into the energy field, and also the most enjoyable aspects of their work.

The speakers went on to offer their insights on issues surrounding renewable energy, energy security, and advising clients in tumultuous social and political circumstances. They rounded off by touching on the potential for moral dilemmas in an energy practice, whilst recognising the need for patience in a time of transition.

SQE Prep: Prepare to take the plunge with these revision tips and assessment advice

Finally, the panel discussed a case study surrounding the need for law firms to focus on ESG, taking a client-focussed approach, and emphasising the need to meet clients’ sustainability and environmental goals and attitudes in order to compete in a busy market.

 Session 2: Employability Expo

 The speakers

  • Karen Watts, LPC and SQE programme and student lead at ULaw
  • Amy Baulcombe, Student recruitment manager at ULaw Leeds
  • Steven Joesbury, Student recruitment manager at ULaw Birmingham
  • Hannah Coe, Senior student recruitment manager at ULaw
  • Sophie Threlfall, Student recruitment manager at ULaw

What went down…

The SQE Explained

Karen Watts, Associate Professor at the University of Law, conducted an in-depth session on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). She began by discussing the various routes into legal practice, highlighting the traditional and new pathways available for aspiring solicitors.

Watts then focused on the solicitor route to practice, introducing the SQE as a key component. She explained that the SQE is a two-stage exam required for qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales. SQE1 tests legal knowledge through multiple-choice questions, while SQE 2 assesses practical legal skills via written and oral tasks.

She elaborated on who the SQE affects, noting its relevance for all new entrants to the legal profession. Watts also detailed the assessment format, explaining that SQE1 consists of 360 questions divided into two exams, while SQE2 includes 16 practical exercises. Lastly, Watts discussed the benefits of the SQE, such as the flexibility that comes with the qualifying work experience (QWE) route and potentially providing more opportunities to study and work together to gain the qualification.

Firm Research and Applications

Student recruitment manager at ULaw Birmingham Steven Joesbury gave a comprehensive overview of law firm research and applications, covering everything from scouting out practice areas to firm culture and interview technique.

Throughout the session Steven emphasised the need to adopt an individual and personalised approach, both when determining which practice areas or firms best suit a candidate, and when considering the quantity of applications. The talk rounded off with interview advice, offering some help on how to approach the daunting “do you have any questions for us” question.

Ace your Interviews Workshop

ULaw student recruitment manager, Amy Baulcombe, took attendees through her top tips on how to succeed at interviews, whether virtual, in- person or over the telephone. Amy covered all stages of the interview process, from essential pre-interview preparation to calming nerves during the interview itself. She also considered how students might follow up after the interview to leave a lasting impression. Amy rounded off the session by discussing a framework that is particularly useful for more unpredictable questions, to make sure this session’s attendees are never caught off guard!

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Writing Effective CVs and Cover Letters

During this session, ULaw senior student recruitment manager Hannah Coe and student recruitment manager Sophie Threlfall shared their top tips for writing effective CVs and cover letters. Both talks began by outlining the recommended structure to follow on a CV, with sections covering personal details, education, work experience, extra-curricular activities and skills. Coe and Threlfall emphasised the importance of keeping these documents simple, formal and concise, by avoiding bold colours and artistic fonts, as well as maintaining a consistent style throughout. Students were also advised to pay close attention to detail, using terminology to emphasise their strengths, as well as proofreading thoroughly to avoid silly mistakes.

Day 3

Session 1: Islamic Finance

The speakers

  • Imam Qazi, Partner and head of Islamic finance at Foot Anstey
  • Lingxi Wang, Islamic finance managing associate at Foot Anstey

What went down…

Imam Qazi and Lingxi Wang from Foot Anstey’s Islamic Finance team introduced the session by detailing the scope and importance of their work. Qazi began by explaining what Islamic Finance entails, highlighting its core principles such as the prohibition of interest, risk-sharing, and ethical investments. Wang further elaborated on the specific services their team provides, including Sharia-compliant financing and investment solutions tailored for clients seeking ethical and equitable financial products.

The session also included a compelling case study that illustrated a successful Islamic Finance investment project. This example underscored the practical applications and benefits of Islamic Finance, showcasing how it can meet client needs while adhering to Sharia principles. Through their insights, Qazi and Wang emphasized the growing relevance of Islamic Finance in the global financial landscape and Foot Anstey’s expertise in this specialised field.

The session concluded with questions from the audience on different topics such as qualities needed by a trainee in the practice area, memorable aspects of working in Islamic Finance and how to keep up to date with industry trends. The speakers also discussed the rise of Islamic Finance as an alternative finance structure and its potential for future growth in Fintech.

 Day 4

Session 1: Fraud

The speakers

  • Robert Hunter, Former Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills partner, and founder and trustee at City Disabilities

 What went down…

Day 4 of the Scheme kicked off with a session on fraud and asset tracing featuring Robert Hunter, former Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills partner, and founder and trustee at City Disabilities.

Hunter began the session by reflecting on his career journey from psychology student through to partner and head of fraud at two top City firms, all whilst coming to terms with his profound deafness.

SQE Prep: Prepare to take the plunge with these revision tips and assessment advice

During his talk, Hunter offered an insight into the work involved in his area of practice, and outlined the different injunction orders that can be brought against fraudsters to recover stolen assets. He also emphasised the perils of dealing with professional fraudsters, who were often vindictive criminals, and shared numerous tales from his 35-year career. Despite these challenges, and the long hours he worked, Hunter emphasised that he never lost sight of his desire to bringing fraudsters to justice.

To round off the session, Hunter urged aspiring lawyers not to feel disheartened if their career journeys don’t immediately go to plan – from personal experience, he emphasised that it often takes time to find your niche.

Session 2: Commercial Awareness Masterclass

 The speakers

  • Alex Aldridge, Founder and publisher of Legal Cheek
  • Ellen Marsh, Careers manager at ULaw

What went down…

Legal Cheek founder and publisher Alex Aldridge conducted a whistle-stop tour of the key commercial awareness issues that students need to focus on as they prepare for the next training contract application cycle. Starting with the current generative artificial intelligence (AI) boom, Aldridge looked at some of the different waves of innovation that have driven economic growth over recent years. He then moved on to consider the impact of rising inflation, and the accompanying increases in interest rates, that the world has seen over the last few years. Higher rates mean fewer mergers & acquisitions (M&A) and more restructurings and insolvencies as companies face a squeeze on their cashflow and ability to borrow money. Law firms have to respond accordingly, he noted.

Also on the agenda was geopolitical instability and trade wars, which Aldridge explained are threatening to usher in a new era of protectionism, where governments support national industries at the expense of the wider global economy. This trend ties in to politics in a year with many crucial elections taking place, including in the UK and the US. And finally, Aldridge looked at the trend for companies to focus not only on profit but consider wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors as they make strategic decisions. Could definitions of ESG shift over time, he asked, as governments of different persuasions take power?

In all of the above Aldridge identified opportunities and challenges for law firms — whether that be an uptick in commercial contracts and data privacy instructions for AI rollout, a decline in M&A activity or a renewed premium on local legal expertise in an ever more complex global trade environment. “Law firms are famously well-hedged when it comes to changing economic weather, which is one of the things that makes law such a stable profession relative to other industries,” he said.

 Day 5

Session 1: Training in-house

 The speakers

  •  Elizabeth Hutchinson, trainee solicitor at Accutrainee
  •  Grace Golding, senior legal counsel at HSBC

 What went down…

Elizabeth kicked off this session by guiding the audience through her legal training to date, as a secondee in-house at several financial services companies. Elizabeth gave an honest insight into what steered her away from private practice, reflecting on the greater autonomy offered in-house. She covered the differences between these two pathways, before succinctly detailing the nature of the work she has recently been involved in. She ended her presentation by discussing the hard and soft skills an in-house role requires, reassuring the audience that whilst communication and good research is key, knowing every area of the law is not!

Grace commenced her presentation by discussing her progression from paralegal to senior legal counsel at HSBC. Grace described the varied opportunities which have kept her in-house, despite dipping her toe into private practice early on in her career. She went on to explain how an in-house legal team fits into the wider company structure, being both a cost to the business but also an integral player in safeguarding the company’s profit and position. Grace also touched on how the legal team at HSBC forges relationships with its panel of law firms, before concluding with advice for students considering this alternative route to qualification.

 Session 2: Alternatives to Corporate Law

The speakers

  • Isaac Abraham, Immigration, asylum and human rights lawyer at Wilson Solicitors
  • Myriam Naoual, Family law trainee at Family Rights Group
  • Josie Hicklin, Housing and public law solicitor at Lawstop

What went down…

Issac Abraham kicked off the session explaining that his interest in immigration law stemmed from his involvement with campaigning groups at university. Becoming an immigration lawyer allowed him to help people navigate through inherently unjust systems.

Next up, Myriam Naoual delved into her own career journey. Training as a solicitor at the Family Rights Group, she advocates for kinship care through policy work, while simultaneously carrying out legal work focused on child welfare law. This practice area is different, she explained, in that there is constant interaction with professionals such as social workers and psychologists.

Josie Hicklin followed by discussing her work with homeless people who are denied housing assistance, which requires her to ‘play around with the edges of the law’. Hicklin emphasised the importance of volunteering at law centres and legal clinics as it led to future opportunities in her experience.

The session concluded with a Q&A session, during which Abraham noted, ‘A career in welfare law is possible, it is achievable, and you shouldn’t let the relatively narrow focus of legal education and law school dictate the career you go into.’ Naoual and Hicklin nodded in agreement.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

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