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This is what students learn on first year open days

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Students who attended Shearman & Sterling’s ‘Head Start’ first year programme tell Legal Cheek what they found out about the legal profession

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Open days for first year students are currently all the rage among City law firms. The trend is being driven by the students themselves, whose mindset has been altered from generations past by the £9,000-a-year fees they have been slapped with.

As such, booze-fuelled abandon has been replaced with an anxiety to secure a top job at the end of it all.

“The students have changed,” says Shearman & Sterling graduate recruitment adviser Monika Ciereszko. “Now they are so on it, and at a much earlier stage. They come into the firm well-prepared and inquisitive.”

Certainly, in the good old days it was rare to hear the term “commercial awareness” mentioned by rookie undergraduate law students, let alone reflected upon in the confident manner of LSE first year Kiki Ifalaye (pictured below), who attended Shearman & Sterling’s Head Start day last Thursday.

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Still, expectations remain fairly low, with the students not formally assessed beyond an online application form at this stage.

Neither Orestis Sherman nor Anna Diaz Sanchez (pictured below) — both law first years at UCL — know if they will one day end up in corporate law, with Sanchez unsure if she will pursue a legal career and Sherman tentatively considering the bar. But from the Head Start day each had gleaned information about the different cultures of City law firms and how to approach interviews and applications.

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That’s the whole idea says Ciereszko’s colleague, Katie Meer:

“Head Start is not a recruitment tool, but rather a chance for students to educate themselves in order to make an informed decision.

“So we start by giving them an introduction to the industry, showing them all the differences between firms where they could do training contracts. If this means students think Shearman is wrong for them and opt out of our recruitment process then we think that’s a good thing — it’s all about the informed decision.”

Alongside Ifalaye, Sherman and Sanchez at the day last week were 17 other students, with a total of ten universities represented: Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, LSE, UCL, KCL and Queen Mary. Each student had been chosen to attend on the basis of the quality of their CV to date.

Following the introductory talk about the corporate legal sector, the youngsters spent the day in workshops with associates and partners in different practice areas, including an in-depth session on a finance deal that is designed to help students talk about the work lawyers do in future vac scheme interviews.

“Second year students who have no legal work experience just don’t know this stuff otherwise,” says Meer.

There was also a group session with trainees where the Head Starters were given a series of financial news articles to read, and on the basis of the knowledge they had gleaned asked to decide how they would invest in the FTSE 100. Finally, there were talks on “personal branding” and the etiquette of working in professional services firms.

Nick Qiu (pictured below), another attendee from LSE, summed up what he had learned:

“I’ve had a really good chance to see the firm and what it’s like working here, as well as meet some of the trainees, vac schemers and partners.”

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With first year open days still in their infancy, it’s too early to tell what effect they will have on City law firm graduate recruitment practices. Indeed, if Labour come to power at the election and implement their pledge to cut university tuition fees to £6,000-a-year it’s possible that students’ mindset towards getting ahead in their first year could change.

For now, though, the chance to get inside a big law firm right at the start of uni looks like a decent opportunity that growing numbers of switched-on students are likely to take.

Further reading

How first year students can get ahead in the race for training contracts [Legal Cheek Careers]

Firm profile: Shearman & Sterling [Legal Cheek]

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