Two PwC trainee solicitors reveal how to maximise your experiences on your application forms and give an insider’s view on a Big Four training contract — ahead of the firm’s application deadline next week
PwC has offices in a staggering 158 different countries: that’s about 80% of the globe. No wonder then that the competencies required for a PwC lawyer include a strong international business acumen and adaptability. Do not be discouraged, however, as there are many ways for candidates to impress ahead of the firm’s vacation scheme deadline on the 30th January.
PwC trainee solicitors, Belinda Sweeney and Timothy Neo, clearly have the right skills for PwC in spades: to start with they had both studied abroad. Belinda spent a year in Seville studying Spain’s legal system and had to quickly pick up the language. Timothy, who moved from Singapore to study law at King’s College London, found that he became “more adaptable” as he grew “more open to different views and perspectives.” Having had these experiences gave Belinda and Timothy a competitive edge that was attractive to global player PwC.
“In order to tailor a solution to a client’s problem, you need to understand their commercial, cultural and social perspective,” Timothy believes. In the workplace, Belinda adds, this can be as simple as being aware of the varying time zones and working days of their clients.
Having international work experience can also work in your favour, says Timothy. Completing legal internships in India and Singapore enabled Timothy to leverage his exposure to international work. “Part of being a good lawyer is knowing how one set of skills you learn in one environment can then be applied in another,” he says.
But work experience doesn’t need to be international or even legal to be relevant. Although Belinda had experience with in-house legal teams, it was her non-legal experience, as a ballet teacher, that PwC interviewers quizzed her most about. As part of her application, Belinda identified leadership skills that she had gained from her part-time stint as a dance teacher — even if she didn’t realise it at the time. The trainee advises applicants to really look at PwC’s competencies, expected of all their lawyers, and evaluate their own broad skills and experience in relation to each competency.
After striking application gold, Belinda and Timothy each completed a three-week summer vacation scheme. There wasn’t a formal training contract application process, nor a partner interview neatly arranged for the end of their placement, so the pressure was high for the would-be trainees. After a series of assessments throughout the vac scheme, designed to test their lawyer skills and their compatibility with the firm, the duo were offered training contracts at PwC in London.
Compared with the sheer scale of PwC’s global operations, the firm has a relatively small but still substantial legal trainee intake — offering 25 training contracts each year. Yet, according to Belinda, this small cohort ensures all trainees build a good support network with each other — the strength of which is reflected in PwC’s A* rating for peer support in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. The firm also emphasises personal development — trainees receive plenty of one-to-one support from their supervisors, and each trainee is further assigned a career coach who focuses on their personal development:
“You not only receive feedback on every project you have, but every three months you have a catch up with your career coach to help set your own resolutions to meet — allowing you to improve over time,” says Belinda.
A starting point for any successful candidate is to understand the culture of their chosen firm. In the case of PwC, this means fully grasping what it means to be a multi-disciplinary practice. It is helpful for applicants to think of PwC as a standalone law firm within a larger organisation that provides a whole range of services, Timothy explains, and law is just one of the many specialisms offered by the ‘Big Four’ professional services giant. Whereas a typical law firm would approach a client’s problem by trying to find a legal solution, PwC is able to offer integrated solutions — with lawyers being only a part of the larger picture.
Timothy recalls witnessing this collaborative environment in action shortly after starting his seat in PwC’s Data Protection team. During the early stages of a client workshop on data protection, the team realised the scope of the client’s problem required more than just a legal solution, so the team quickly arranged a meeting with forensic and data discovery experts — much to the client’s delight.
Where applicants often go wrong is not knowing how PwC’s legal arm fits into its wider business model. “A common mistake is thinking we are in-house lawyers — we are a client facing service and being an multi-disciplinary practice means we offer so much more value to our clients,” Belinda stresses.
This cross-discipline culture is made all the easier by, what Timothy describes as a, “flat hierarchy”. This is especially seen in the firm’s hot desking system, which means that where lawyers work in the office changes each day. As a result, trainees can often find themselves sitting with senior associates and partners from different practice areas. As Timothy neatly puts it: “Even in firms where you have an open-door policy, it’s not the same as sharing a table with a partner”.