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Vac scheme interviews demystified: A guide for City law hopefuls

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By The Careers Team on

Shearman & Sterling reveal how they assess wannabe lawyers


The London office of elite US firm Shearman & Sterling has sought to cast light on the sometimes mysterious vacation scheme interview process by producing a frank video revealing exactly what it looks for in aspiring solicitors.

Breaking down assessment into three key criteria — competence, commitment and compatibility — the firm’s recruitment officer, Katie Makey, unpicks the HR jargon to explain to training contract hopefuls what they have to focus on in order to secure a work experience placement.


Competence, explains Makey in the video above, is broken down into “academic ability”, “commercial awareness”, “written skill”, “potential” and “interest in the law”.

Stressing that assessors deliberately avoid technical legal concepts so as to be fair to both law and non-law students, she then runs though a host of example competency questions, such as

Can you tell me about a time when you have managed conflict in a team? What would you do differently next time?

The best candidates, it is noted, deliver answers that show they have what the firm is seeking, presented in an orderly — but natural — way. Makey recommends loose adherence to the ‘STAR technique’, where description of a situation is followed by an account of the task, before the action and then the result is reported.

“It’s a good way to tell a story that gives us all the information we need,” she says.


Makey details several different types of commitment that Shearman & Sterling looks for.

These include a long term commitment to a career as an associate, and hopefully as a partner, at the firm. This requires students to signal a wider commitment to the prospect of becoming an expert in their field, perhaps by showing an interest in the careers of the senior members of the panel interviewing them.

Evidence of a commitment to being a trainee is also important. So interviewees need to indicate their ability to handle the early responsibility they are given at the firm, alongside a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get on with the diet of proof reading, cross-checking, due diligence, legal research and bundling that is a staple for any law firm rookie.

Related to this is a commitment to being a trusted adviser, which requires demonstration of the sort of mettle that often sees lawyers stay late to assist clients while juggling various different tasks from different supervisors across different time zones.

Finally, Makey explains how she and her colleagues want to see commitment to work-life balance. Amid the troughs and peaks of corporate legal work, it can be hard to switch off, and firms are keen on the well-rounded types who are able to maintain a life outside work that helps them keep perspective.


With the London office of Shearman & Sterling taking on just 17 trainees a year, it is particular concerned to recruit people who are a good fit. That doesn’t mean to say the firm is looking for a certain type of person. Makey explains:

We have all sorts of backgrounds, ages and personalities. What they have in common is that they are all quite easy going and flexible. So even though they are different, they get on.

In making this assessment, Makey says that little things can go a long way, such as arriving on time, being smartly dressed, having a firm handshake, making eye contact and remembering names.

More advice on how to secure vacation schemes and training contracts can be found on Shearman & Sterling’s Facebook page

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