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Your official rundown of the Legal Cheek-ULaw Spring 2024 Virtual Vacation Scheme

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By The Careers Team on

Leading lawyers talk deals, projects, private equity and more

The Legal Cheek Spring 2024 Virtual Vacation Scheme, run in partnership with The University of Law, saw more than 2,000 students participate in a series of talks, workshops and an Employability Expo, with more than 30 leading law firms in attendance. 

Over the three days of the Scheme, students got to flavour a range of practice areas, from real estate to disputes, through case studies set by ULaw. These were discussed by speakers in the various workshops, giving attendees an insight into how key legal scenarios are navigated in practice. Here’s what went down.

Day 1

Session 1: Deals

The speakers:

  • Sidrah Shah, international banking and finance associate at Hogan Lovells
  • Jade Rigby, corporate and finance associate at Hogan Lovells

The lowdown:

The Spring Vacation Scheme commenced with a session centred on the role of a deal lawyer, featuring Hogan Lovells associates Jade Rigby and Sidrah Shah. Rigby provided insights from the perspective of a pensions lawyer, discussing the circumstances under which they may be involved in a corporate transaction. She revealed that her passion for all-things pensions stemmed from her interest in delving into the “nitty gritty” of people’s lives.

Shah, on the other hand, examined the broader framework of a typical deal from a banking and finance perspective. She noted that a deal typically commences with a terms sheet, outlining key transactional terms agreed upon in principle by the involved parties. Additionally, she highlighted a common trainee task involving the drafting of ‘condition precedent items,’ which are events that must take place before the parties are bound to fulfil their obligations.

The deals sessions concluded with a brief Q&A session and an examination of a case study focused on the acquisition of a milk production company by a family-founded dairy manufacturer.

Session 2: Employability Expo

The speakers:

  • Helen Avis, programme and student lead at ULaw
  • Rose Parkinson, student recruitment manager at ULaw
  • John McKeown, careers consultant at ULaw
  • Anne Petrie, employability/careers manager at ULaw
  • Clare Stapleton, employability group & Birmingham careers manager at ULaw
  • Catherine Morgan, employability group manager at ULaw

The lowdown:

The SQE Explained

ULaw Programme and Student Lead, Helen Avis, took attendees through an explainer session on the SQE. She covered what the SQE is, a breakdown of its structure and the fees and costs associated with the new scheme. As well as answering plenty of student questions with a lengthy 30-minute Q&A at the end of the session, she explained in detail the various routes to qualification still in place, as well as giving advice on accumulating Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).

Firm Research and Applications

ULaw student recruitment manager Rose Parkinson started the session by explaining the importance of researching law firms well. It is this factor which allows firms to differentiate between applicants who are motivated for a career in law and those who are just fixated on obtaining a training contract.

She highlighted the usefulness of having a set of criteria while doing this research to help applicants justify their reasoning for choosing a particular firm. Some deciding factors include practice area or sector focus of the firm, firm size and values and training structure.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Parkinson also emphasised the importance of knowing which skills are required by trainees and reflecting on how an applicant has gained these skills through any non-legal work experience they have done. She recommended using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to answer the application questions and making tailored applications, focusing on quality rather than quantity.

Interviews Workshop

ULaw careers consultant, John McKeown, and ULaw Employability/Careers Manager, Anne Petrie, shared their top tips on how to impress at interviews, whether they are in-person, virtual or over the telephone. John and Anne delved into preparation techniques, types of interview questions and how answers can be structured. They also gave advice on the more nuanced aspects, such as body language and voice – a smile can make a huge difference!

CVs and Cover Letters

During the first hour of the session, we heard from Stapleton, who discussed the importance of the structure and content within CVs and cover letters. Stapleton noted the importance of attention to detail and consistency on both documents, warning that failing to do so may cause you to fall at the first hurdle.

During the second hour of the session we heard from Morgan, who also provided her top tips on CVs and cover letters. Morgan emphasised the importance of keeping contact details on these documents up to date – with Morgan discussing how not doing so can lead to missed opportunities!

Day 2

Session 3: Real Estate 

The speakers:

  • Ruth Clare, real estate partner at Shoosmiths 
  • Ashona Chakraborty, real estate litigation associate at Shoosmiths
  • Alexandra Kinsey, real estate associate at Shoosmiths 

The lowdown:

Clare, Chakraborty and Kinsey discussed what it’s like, day-to-day, to work in real estate. The trio discussed the life cycle of a property transaction, with Clare discussing the differences between core and value-add real estate. Clare also discussed the challenges the increase in costs has caused the sector — and what this means for the firm’s clients.

The use of AI in the sector was also discussed, with the group observing that it has helped to improve the team’s efficiency, in particularly when drafting documents.

The firm’s key values were also discussed, with drive and personality being described as key attributes in its future trainees. Finally, the group went on to provide advice to other aspiring solicitors, with the trio highlighting the importance of being authentic and confident in the workplace.

Day 3

Session 4: Projects 

The speakers:

The lowdown:

Smith kicked off the session by breaking down his career path to date, explaining in detail the work he did in each seat while training at Pinsent Masons, as well as his experience at his client secondment.

In the main presentation, Smith dived into the nature of infrastructure, using examples of projects both international and national. This was followed by an introduction to the different types of contracting, including what is known as PFI (Private Finance Initiative)/ PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) Contracts. A technical analysis of the typical PFI/ PPP structure revealed the relationships between stakeholders, which, together with a breakdown of the key phases of these projects, really helped the audience understand what clients need at each stage. Smith laid out the day-to-day tasks conducted by trainees and associates, explaining how they feed into the bigger picture, before rounding off the presentation with key commercial awareness topics.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Smith provided further insight into these topics in the Q&A, when he gave an overview of recent and upcoming infrastructure projects in the UK and described how ESG goals influence their funding. Before the session wrapped up, Harry advised aspiring lawyers to “take as many opportunities as [they] can”, so they can expand their worldview and stand out amongst applicants.

Session 5: Private Equity 

The speakers:

The lowdown:

Harry Buchanan, associate at the London office of US law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher explored private equity matters in this session. He started off by outlining the process of completing due diligence, its key objectives as well as the typical structure of a private equity transaction. He went on to explain that his day-to-day could include anything from employment contracts to deal closures and highlighted the importance of organisation, communication and project management skills to keep tabs on this varied workload.

At the end of the session, Buchanan emphasised to attendees that in order to gain an insight into the profession prior to applying for vacation schemes and training contracts, they should aim to attend as many presentations and firm-run events as they can.

Session 6: Disputes 

The speakers:

  • Andrew Street, business and commercial disputes partner at BCLP
  • Ryan Hocking, commercial and insolvency barrister at Gatehouse Chambers 
  • Frederick Price, senior lecturer at ULaw

The lowdown:

The final session of this year’s Spring Vacation Scheme saw ULaw senior lecturer Frederick Price head up a lively discussion on working in disputes between Ryan Hocking, barrister at Gatehouse Chambers, and BCLP partner, Andrew Street.

Hocking and Street began the session by discussing their careers journeys to date. They touched upon why they chose to specialise in contentious work, how they chose between working at the bar and working in a law firm, and how they built upon their work experience previous to qualification to secure their training.

In the Q&A chaired by Price, the lawyers also discussed the more granular differences between the role of a solicitor and the role of a barrister in disputes. This included the difference in both clients and client interactions, the difference between daily tasks, and the different employment structures of both roles. Before the close of the session, Price posed a number of final questions to the panel. This included the increasing role of mediation in disputes, the qualities of a great contentious lawyer, and commercial awareness tips for those aspiring to a career in disputes.

In the ULaw case study discussed, students were asked to put themselves in the shoes of a restaurant owner who had incurred serious loss in relation to a potential breach of contract by a supplier. The case study asked students to advise the restaurant owner on his legal position and outline some key points that the client should consider before issuing legal proceedings.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

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