Two RPC trainees share their insider knowledge
It’s never too early for students to get in on this year’s graduate recruitment round action, but RPC trainees Umut Bektas and Emily Rome appreciate it can be a tough process to navigate. To help, Bektas and Rome recently joined us below the line in a training contract-themed open thread. Today, they distil the answers to your questions in a helpful open thread write-up.
First year students
We had a couple of questions specifically about first year law student opportunities and what first year students can do to help themselves stand out from the crowd. We also had a question about first year results and their importance on applications.
In terms of opportunities within law firms, first year workshops and mini vacation schemes are very common now with most firms offering at least one event to capture the interest of first year students. At RPC we have the Spring Workshop in February, which all first year law students can get involved in. It is a really useful tool to gain insight into a firm and also enables you to get a feel for a career in law. Workshops are looked at very positively by recruiters as they demonstrate a high level of interest and capability in the law. They are usually highly competitive.
In terms of what students can do to stand out, getting involved with their university’s Law Society is a good first step. Whether that’s taking on a position in the committee or just involving yourself with the activities and events that they host, it’s a good exercise. If you have the spare time it might be good to attend a local court and sit in on some trials — courts post lists of their cases for any particular day and with a quick Google search you can get a feel for the case and decide which case you want to go watch.
First year results, whilst incredibly important (particularly for vacation schemes as they tend to be the only university results students have when applying), are not the be all and end all of an application. If your first year results did not go as planned, fear not, every application has a mitigating circumstances box for applicants to complete if they feel they have a reason for not performing their best. It is more important to focus on really bringing up the results in second and third year as they are also very crucial to success.
Some people asked questions regarding extra-curricular activities such as running for positions within the Law Society. These roles offer a wealth of experience and are also great to talk about both in your applications and later down the line in interviews. The key here is to manage your time effectively to ensure you don’t neglect your studies as your grades are just as (if not more) important to success.
Remember it is not just the Law Society that is important — a position on any society committee demonstrates a range of traits that lawyers rely on — it shows commitment and dedication and also an ability to be organised and time effective. You can use your time at university to build a range of skills and networks that can later be relied on.
Life as a trainee at RPC
Many people asked what RPC was all about and how RPC is different to other law firms.
Overall RPC has many differences to traditional law firms. The atmosphere is highly collegiate — the open plan office breaks down hierarchical barriers between everyone ranging from trainees to partners. I personally sit next to a legal director and opposite a partner meaning that I have a plethora of experience to learn from. The idea behind it is learning through osmosis — just being able to hear people speaking about a matter automatically helps you understand a case more. It creates a general awareness of what everyone in your team is working on — so if you’re ever pulled onto a matter you usually have a brief understanding of what is occurring.
We mentioned the Harry Potter-esque house system whereby we are all sorted (unfortunately not with a speaking leather hat) into one of the three houses: Reynolds, Porter or Chamberlain. The motive of this is to enable people to meet others from different sides of the firm who they would not normally be exposed to. We have inter-house events and entertainment and it’s usually just for a bit of fun for everyone to get involved in.
Making the most of law fairs
In order to get the most out of law fairs it is important to find out what it is the firm does and if it is of interest to you. Also, understand what the firm offers you in terms of beginning your legal career. Does it have open days or vacation schemes or just take training contract applications? It is also useful to know whether a firm reviews its applications on a rolling basis or waits for the deadline as this can help you prioritise the order in which you submit your applications.
We were asked a number of questions about commercial awareness, split broadly into categories: the challenges law firms are facing and which commercial topics are relevant right now.
The challenges facing commercial law firms currently include increased competition from alternative providers, such as consulting firms (EY Legal and PwC, for example). Firms are evolving to offer their clients a fuller service. For example, at RPC we have RPC Consulting and The Centre for Legal Leadership. The former is a consultancy service for the insurance market, while the latter seeks to help in-house lawyers navigate issues they face running large teams. It is important to be attuned to the challenges that your clients face on a day-to-day basis and how changes in the law or market conditions can affect their legal needs. Adapting to these changes is the one of the ways a firm can stay ahead of the game in today’s competitive market.
Commercial topics relevant right now include data protection. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Bill are due within the next year and the GDPR in particular is set to change the way every single business manages its data.
It is important to read the business press regularly to find stories that apply to law firms and make sure you stay up to date with developments. When discussing commercial topics at an interview you must have an opinion on them and understand how your chosen topic will affect the legal industry and a firm’s client. It is not enough to regurgitate the articles you have read.
An example of a topic that is relevant to law firms at the moment is the impact of technology on the legal landscape and how firms have to adapt and incorporate technology to remain the most competitive. RPC recently worked on the Pyrrho case where predictive coding for disclosure was used for the first time to complete a ‘technology assisted review’ or TAR.
Coming to law from non-traditional backgrounds
People asked about coming to law as a mature student or from other non-traditional backgrounds. We highlighted that any graduate at any age can apply for vacation schemes and workshops. At RPC we have trainees who are a range of ages and come from a variety of previous career backgrounds. The key part of applying is being able to use the experience you have gathered and show how you have developed the skillset needed to succeed in a career in law. For those who are coming to law after a previous career, and so cannot attend university law fairs, you can stay on top of events happening at law firms through publications like Legal Cheek and following firms recruitment social media accounts or checking websites.
Being a trainee
Being a trainee is an exciting role, it is fast-paced and no day is ever the same. However, it does come with its challenges. One of the biggest challenges, especially in your first seat, is knowing when to take on work and when to say you are at capacity. You want to be eager but you do not want to let people down. Also it can be challenging having competing deadlines and managing time appropriately. The environment is a steep learning curve but you do get the hang of it quite quickly and it all eventually becomes second nature.
When writing applications it’s all about ensuring your application is highly tailored to each firm. If when writing an application, you are able to substitute any law firm name into your answer and it still makes sense, something is not quite right.
When making applications, weave in finer details about the firm that you’ve learned either from direct contact i.e. law fairs or from your research (use resources such as Legal Cheek and Chambers Student) to really make your application stand out. The recruitment team love reading a carefully written and considered application instead of a generic form that could be sent anywhere. Use the questions in the application as an opportunity to demonstrate the various skills you’ve gained from part-time employment, university sports and societies as well as your wider social life.
Overall just ensure that you market yourself in the best possible way — highlight your achievements and any positions of responsibility you have held. Write your applications again and again scrutinising every detail to make sure it is perfect to send off.
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