Think as much about what you can offer the firm as what the firm can offer you, advises trainee Gillian Jaravaza ahead of Norton Rose Fulbright’s TC application deadline on Sunday
We’ve all been there — “submitting applications to lots of law firms and crossing fingers that someone will get back to you”, as Gillian Jaravaza, a second seat trainee at Norton Rose Fulbright’s banking team, remembers it. For the many students who have faced rejections, Gillian has some tips to help put you back on track:
Explore what appeals to you, and find a firm that does it very well. Once you have made that connection, think about what you can contribute to the firm, and, how you can better yourself through a training contract with the firm. There’s got to be something beneficial for both parties.
Gillian, who moved from Zimbabwe to the UK to study law at the University of Birmingham, says that she applied to Norton Rose Fulbright because “the workplace embraces different cultures — there are so many internationals working together in the office, that was really important to me”.
We asked Gillian what surprised her about the firm on her first day: “I knew it would be friendly, but I was surprised by how supportive the partners actually are”, she responds. She says that the support extends to the “associates and other trainees, and the secretaries; you feel very well taken care of”, adding that there’s “no hierarchy”.
No doubt the ‘partner mentor programme’, which sees each trainee given a partner mentor reaffirms the supportive structure. You get two years worth of direct “knowledge and wisdom” through the programme and you can have “as many meetings as you need” with them.
Gillian says her supervising partner “takes the role very seriously”. This particular partner remains in contact with her previous and current mentees, each year hosting a Christmas dinner for all of them, many of whom are now partners themselves.
Beyond the work culture, Gillian also applied to the global giant for its “international makeup and cross-border work”. To the envy of many, she’s jetting off to Dubai in autumn to do her next six-month seat in arbitration.
Norton Rose Fulbright, which has 59 offices globally, has recently become even more international, merging with US law firm Chadbourne & Parke this year. Gillian says this is “great news for students seeking international work”. It’s a “good sign when you see a firm actively getting bigger and getting into new markets, it’s a testament to its commitment to growth, and to breaking international barriers” she adds. The firm offers amongst the most international secondments in the industry, scoring A* in this category in The Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.
So there are clear reasons why you might apply to a law firm such as Norton Rose Fulbright. But what can you offer the firm?
Sitting in her current banking seat, Gillian says that the key to her work is meticulous organisation. “You have to be very organised. Banking is based on conditions precedent, so you’ll be sending a lot of documents to the bank, and getting comments across,” she explains. Document management is a crucial skill: “You’ve got to track the status of each document — a client can call at any moment and you’ve got to have it at hand”. This extends to “planning your day” wisely.
Communication is another big one: “Don’t be shy” and “ask questions” because you won’t be expected to know everything. When you make a mistake, “be honest about it. Equally, if you have the time “don’t twiddle your thumbs — get involved in graduate recruitment, business development or other aspects of the business,” says Gillian.
But the key thing to remember is that “a trainee is like a sponge — absorb as much as you can and take on work from as many people as possible, where possible”, to “experience every department”. Gillian recalls a piece of advice that a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright gave her early on:
Even if you feel like you can’t contribute in a meeting, try to attend anyway to observe what’s going on.
“Being a lawyer is more than just knowing the black letter law”, she adds. Crucially, “don’t be afraid to take on more responsibility”.
Gillian shouldered a lot of responsibility when she was asked to draft a share purchase agreement in her first corporate seat. Later on, she compared the final agreed draft with her own and saw that there were no major changes so far as legal issues go. She says this was a “huge confidence boost”.
As a final tip, instead of dreading your interview, “don’t forget to enjoy it”, she urges. Gillian certainly did! She recalls the “interesting hypothetical questions” that she was asked, such as “if your client does this or that what would you do” typed mind-teasers. She says the partners will build on your answers and will “explore your rationale as far as possible”.
So, remember to “stick to your guns” when they ask probing questions — because “it keeps your interviewer engaged.” When it was time to end the interview, she says “the partner even asked for an extra five minutes because the conversation was so interesting”.
Find out more about training contracts at Norton Rose Fulbright ahead of the firm’s application deadline on Sunday 16 July.
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