Graduate Recruitment Partner
Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP
What do you look for in graduates who apply to work at your organisation?
Applying for training contracts at the top law firms is incredibly competitive and so the standards that we are all looking for are consistently high. Good academic grades – meaning at least a 2:1 degree and 340 UCAS points – is a given (although for good candidates who do not meet this requirement we will consider any compelling extenuating circumstances).
We are looking for a range of qualities including:
the ability to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues
the ability to work effectively in a team
and the focus and drive to sustain a long and successful career at the BLP
Also the culture of the firm is different to most other places and so we are looking for people who share our values and will thrive in the environment.
How important is the subject a graduate has studied? Do you employ graduates who have studied a subject not directly related to your industry? If so, why is this?
Not important at all, we are much more interested in the skills that a candidate can display and the application of those skills to a legal career. We do not stipulate what subject a candidate should have studied and (unlike some firms) we do not have a fixed quota of non-law graduates for our trainees. Many of our trainees did study law, but I would say that at any one time the proportion of trainees who studied non-law vs. law can be anything from 40-60%. I sometimes recount that one of the more unusual degree courses studied by a candidate I offered a training contract to was Oceanography! Was that an obvious route into a legal career? No. Was she nevertheless a good trainee (and upon qualification with us a good associate)? Definitely.
Obviously one implication of the choice of degree is that non-law graduates are required to study the Graduate Diploma in law – a one-year conversion course – in addition to the Legal Practice Course that all future trainee solicitors have to study. This basically means an extra year’s study, but if that means you can study the subject you love at university rather than feeling grudgingly obliged to study law then that may be a small price to pay.
How can graduates prepare themselves for the graduate job market?
The most important thing of all is to be well informed about what a legal career will entail and whether you are suited to it. The decision to embark on a legal career is one thing; deciding what type of legal career is quite another. There are many different ways in which law can be practised, from the Bar to City law firms to regional firms to high street firms. The only truly reliable way of finding out what type of law you are best suited to is to experience it first-hand, so try and make sure you are best placed to win a place on a vacation scheme or open day at the firms you might be interested in. In addition to that, as a Nottingham student you have access to a great careers service
. Take full advantage of the advice the careers officers can give you and the many resources that are available to help you make an informed decision.
What sorts of skills should graduates seek to gain while at university that will prepare them for the graduate job market?
First and foremost you will need a good degree. With anything less than a 2:1 you are going to struggle getting into any of the top firms, so focus enough on your studies to ensure a good result.
Other than that you will do well to gain practical experience of dealing with people and their problems. As a lawyer you will quickly realise that a good knowledge of the law will only get you so far and that an ability to relate to people is just as important, if not more so. For this reason candidates who have volunteered at pro bono advice centres that many universities sponsor will have a head start when it comes to interviewing clients and applying their legal knowledge sensibly to real life situations.
What kind of work experience and extracurricular activities would you recommend students get involved in?
One thing that any legal employer will want to see is evidence of a genuine commitment to a legal career. This means, ideally, some form of practical experience of working in a law firm. For me it is not an absolute pre-requisite but I will say that if I see a candidate who has no legal work experience on their CV I am bound to ask why that is and how they can therefore be confident that life as a trainee at BLP is for them. Vacation placements are becoming difficult to come by but there are still opportunities out there.
Beyond relevant work experience we are looking for candidates who can work well in teams, so any activities which demonstrate this (for example sports teams, mooting, negotiation skills competitions, volunteering etc) will be valuable.