Created with Shearman & Sterling

This is what you do on a London vacation scheme at a US-based international firm

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By The Careers Team on

It’s more hands-on than the magic circle


Ahead of Shearman & Sterling’s spring and summer vacation scheme application deadline on 15 January, Legal Cheek Careers headed down to the London office of the US-headquartered giant to meet its graduate recruitment partner, James Webber (pictured below), and some of the students doing placements at the firm.


J Webber high res

Legal Cheek Careers: How does a vacation scheme at Shearman & Sterling differ from other firms?

James Webber: We take on roughly 15 trainees a year in London, so our vacation scheme is sufficiently large to be well organised, but at the same it is not so large that you cannot obtain significant access to interesting work.

Although Shearman & Sterling has been in London since 1972, and our London office could largely be seen as an English law business, the flat structure of the firm follows the model typical of top end US firms. So whereas many firms have a large pyramid structure, we are much less hierarchical. That means that partners have greater visibility of whatever vacation scheme students are working on.

Legal Cheek Careers: What sort of stuff do your vacation scheme students work on?

Webber: We make sure that for each seat they spend time in, they get at least one solid piece of work. It will usually have elements of legal research and writing, and also require oral communication skills. It is basically reminiscent of what you do as a trainee.

For example, in my team, which is antitrust and EU law, the students are often presented with a competition issue facing a particular company. Most importantly this requires them to conduct research with the aim of understanding the market dynamics of a particular industry. This week it was producers of fine chemicals. .

Legal Cheek Careers: What else do they do?

Webber: Ultimately it is all about seeing and experiencing the role of a lawyer. Students get to sit in on phone calls and listen to lawyers discussing deals. They observe everyone in the office. They get a flavour of how teams work together and develop a sense of what clients expect from their law firm.

Alongside this, they get to participate in a structured programme of talks and workshops to allow them to get to know the firm from the inside — representatives from practice groups, our pro bono manager and clients take the time to come and talk to them. We also have a number of socials to allow them to get to know us on a less formal basis.

Legal Cheek Careers: We hear lots of stories about vacation schemers being more switched on since the financial crisis. Is this true?

Webber: I’d say that the standard of applicant has gone up over the last three to four years. What we are seeing, in particular, is students who have a better understanding of the legal market, which means they are more discerning. So they are increasingly aware of the differences between US firms. The big international franchise firms, the premium New York headquarted firms with international businesses, and those US firms of varying size and business models but with only a small presence outside the US, including in London.


Hugo Meredith, Cambridge University land economy graduate who has recently completed a masters in finance at the LSE


The biggest thing I learnt during the vacation scheme has been the importance of taking the initiative. The private equity department has been very busy this week, so in order to be given work I have had to be proactive. Having put myself forward I have been given challenging and fulfilling tasks on which I received excellent support.

The tone was set on the first day, when the graduate recruitment team arranged a social for the participants alone; this allowed the diverse group of people on the scheme to get to know each other. We have developed a comradeship and that gives you confidence in the office.

Natalie Batra, Leicester University law graduate who us currently doing the LPC at Kaplan Law School


The most important thing I learnt has been that although Shearman & Sterling in London is full service, the teams — being relatively small — are very integrated. So even though I was in the asset management group, I dealt with lawyers in employment, real estate, finance and Islamic finance. And they were all 100 per cent down to earth.

Matthew Roberts, BPP Law School GDL student who graduated from Aston University with a degree in business and management


The main thing I learnt during the week has been not to judge practice areas on how you know them to be as an academic discipline. Land law is the classic example, which seems to be one of the most interesting commercial practice areas with lots of client contact. Each morning during the scheme we had a talk and Q&A session from a different practice area within the firm. The sessions gave a whole different dimension to what I am learning on the GDL.

Casual Friday on the Shearman & Sterling winter vac scheme in London

A video posted by Legal Cheek (@legalcheek) on

Applications for Shearman & Sterling’s spring and summer vacation schemes close on 15 January. You can apply here.