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Winter vac schemes are coming — so relax and get stuck in

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Norton Rose Fulbright trainee-to-be Constantine Markides shares the wisdom he gleaned from doing a December placement last year

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At the end of the programme the firm took us out to Searcys Champagne Bar. After an intense week, which culminated in an even more intense day where we were each interviewed for a training contract, it was nice to relax. A few days later, I got a phone call from Norton Rose Fulbright informing me that I had secured the training contract. A high proportion of other students on the scheme were also successful.

During the training contract interview, which was with two partners and lasted about 45 minutes, I was asked questions based largely on what I had done the previous days on the scheme. They wanted to know what interested me and why I had enjoyed it, and what I had learned about the culture of the practice. At one point a question about my opinion of super-injunctions came up, which I responded to by using both my knowledge of current affairs and information I’d learned while studying the separation of powers doctrine as part of my degree (in Land Economy at Cambridge). It was helpful that I had studied this but I understood that the question was asked to see how I thought through a problem and how well I thought on my feet.

Looking back on the substantive part of the scheme itself — which only lasted five days but has been increased to eight this year — there are times when I could have been a little more assertive. We were given a lot of access to very senior members of the practice — with one day, for example, the various global heads of Norton Rose Fulbright coming to talk to us. I had a couple of questions that I really wanted to ask, but I hesitated, other people put their hands up first, and that was all there was time for. At the end of the day, although you are working together with the other students, you are always competing slightly — although it’s not exactly The Apprentice.

Mostly, though, I think I was pretty positive — and that approach paid off. I was in the tax department and, being a particularly complex, black letter area of law, some of the work I was assigned was challenging. So it helped that I had done some reading on tax-related business news in the week before the programme to at least provide some broader context to the work.

At other times the work you do is less engaging. But as a lawyer you’re not always going to be working on ground-breaking cases, and even when you’re just filing documents it’s important to be enthusiastic. That contributes to a nice atmosphere in the office. The partner who I was sitting with set the tone in this respect, making time to have general conversations with me in a down-to-earth way that were on my level, despite being involved in a lot of hard, pressing work. I could see how focused she was, but even when she was, for example, preparing for a really important conference call, she made time to speak to me.

Amongst all the hard work there were some perks too: such as drinks with lawyers in other departments, which are really important on a winter vac scheme as you have less time than summer students to gain work experience in more than one of the firm’s multiple departments. On the Wednesday evening the firm took the vac schemers and some trainees to the Underground London Cookery School, where we made spaghetti and stuffed turkey. Another perk was just walking to work every day along the south bank of the Thames from my friend’s flat in Bermondsey where I was staying during the scheme.

To those who are preparing for winter vac schemes this year, I’d just say to be enthusiastic and prepared to get stuck into whatever is asked of you. Oh, and don’t forget that during that week you’re a professional rather than a student, which means things like remembering to respond to emails quickly. Good luck.

Constantine Markides is a Graduate Diploma in Law student who will commence his training contract at Norton Rose Fulbright in 2016.

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