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How my time at the CMS Academy led straight to a training contract

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Future CMS trainee Inshaal Ahmad shares his insight into the global firm’s innovative internship programme

Students completing an exercise as part of the CMS Academy’s ‘Business of Law’ week

If you want to take a glimpse into the future, only a few companies spring to mind. Apple changed mobile phones forever when they introduced the iPhone in 2007 and ten years later, Tesla has been grabbing the headlines with self-driving cars. Whilst our mobile phones have changed and our cars have evolved, some things have hardly changed at all. Law firms are typically considered traditional organisations and the way they assess candidates through vacation schemes has hardly changed over the years.

However, there is one firm that has bucked the trend and reinvented the vacation scheme, creating the ‘next generation’ vacation scheme. In 2017, CMS pulled off a one-of-a-kind three-way merger and in the same year, they launched a one-of-a-kind vacation scheme — the CMS Academy.

If the CMS Academy were a car, it would be an electric self-driving Tesla. The CMS Academy features a two-week internship, similar to many other firms, however this is preceded by a ‘Business of Law’ week. This first week is what makes the three-week CMS Academy a ‘next-generation’ vacation scheme.

I took part in the CMS Academy in July this year and it was even more innovative than I had imagined. The sheer scale of the Academy was impressive with around 80 students from CMS’ offices all over the UK from Aberdeen to Bristol taking part in the ‘Business of Law’ week in London. The first week was packed with networking, presentations, client contact and activities ranging from painting to forming a makeshift orchestra.

CMS prides itself on being a future-facing law firm, and the Business of Law week definitely proved this. One of the main activities of the week was a digital simulation task. The simulation involved being in a room with five other students and working together to keep a group of virtual stakeholders on a digital platform as happy as possible through communication and decision-making. For many students on the scheme, the simulation was a highlight of the week as it involved actors, surprises and working under pressure with new people.

Apply now for the CMS Academy next generation vacation scheme

The use of technology at CMS was also evident throughout the three weeks. During the first week, a dedicated camera crew captured the activities and highlights, which were then promptly added to CMS’ social media sites at the end of each day. At times it felt like we were on The Apprentice, as we were filmed and interviewed during various activities, both inside and outside the CMS offices. Another technological highlight of the first week was the ‘Catchbox’. This is a soft, wireless, box-shaped microphone that can be thrown to and amongst the audience for questions and comments. In theory, it was a very simple and useful piece of kit, but if you add tables, chairs, glass bottles and some questionable throwing skills, it becomes a very different story!

The use of novel technology was ramped up even further in the two-week internship. On the first day of the internship, every student on the CMS Academy is given a Microsoft Surface Pro to carry out work, providing greater flexibility and mobility in comparison to the traditional desktop computer. In reality, there is very little that is traditional about CMS. Even the taps in the kitchens are digital, featuring touchscreens, which give you a choice of four different types of water! Furthermore, the office space is all open plan, meaning CMS Academy students, trainees, associates, partners and support staff all sit in the same space. So there is definitely an open-door policy — mainly because there is no door!

One of the most impressive and unique features of the Business of Law week was the great amount of real-world exposure we were given. We listened to guest speakers from companies such as the General Electric Company (GE), who delivered insightful speeches on topics ranging from blockchain technology to diversity. Perhaps one of the greatest parts of the week was running our own meeting at the London offices of some of the world’s largest companies. My group took a short walk to the Aon offices, located in one of the City’s most iconic buildings — ‘The Cheesegrater’. As we stood in the glass elevator, the butterflies in our stomachs grew as quickly as the lift ascended. However, when the meeting actually began, any butterflies subsided and the smiling faces at Aon made for a highly enjoyable, engaging and stimulating meeting. Asking questions and learning more about the legal sector and business from the lawyers at Aon was one of my personal highlights of the week.

The finale of the Business of Law week on the Friday afternoon was dedicated to presentations on diversity and inclusion. Every participant presented their best idea on how to make CMS the most diverse law firm on the planet. Presentations took place in small groups and students had to invest in the best ideas in their group using fake money. The ideas and presentations that received the most ‘Dollars’ were advanced to the final eight. The final eight then presented their innovative ideas to the rest of the participants, partners, graduate recruitment and a diversity and inclusion panel. The participants were able to come up with lots of creative ideas across various strands of diversity and the session really highlighted CMS’ commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The Business of Law week was one of the most insightful, interesting and intense weeks of my life — and I would happily do it all over again. As we descended the escalators and filed out of the glass doors of 78 Cannon Street, we left enriched with a greater understanding of CMS, the legal industry and business in general.

Can you imagine running your own meeting at a client office? Can you present an idea in front of a room of over one hundred students, graduate recruitment representatives and partners? Can you imagine doing all of this and much more in one week?

Well if you’re someone who can, then the CMS Academy may be for you! Forget getting the new iPhone or saving up for a Tesla, if you really want a taste of the future, apply for the CMS Academy.

Inshaal Ahmad is a management with German graduate from the University of Nottingham. Following this, he completed an MA at UCL and is currently studying the GDL at the University of Law. He has a training contract lined up with CMS which he will commence after completing the LPC in 2020.

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