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Leon Culot - Herbert Smith Freehils

Our ‘A Week in the Life’ series focuses on industry insights from Cantabs as they intern in numerous sectors. Make sure you stay updated either via Facebook or our mailing list.



Hi, I’m Leon and I’m going into my third year of Law at Jesus College. A few weeks ago I finished a vacation scheme (lawyer lingo for a 2/3 week summer internship) at Herbert Freehills, a commercial law firm headquartered in London with a focus on litigation and disputes. In the weeks prior I also did schemes at Taylor Wessing and Simmons & Simmons.



What does a typical day look like? I got into the office around 09:00 and finished around 18:00, apart from a few evenings where I stayed late to help with particular tasks – for one of the weeks I was there we were in court at a hearing so it was a busy time and all hands on deck! Tasks varied depending on which seat (department) you were in – I spent time in the general litigation group and the general commercial group so got involved with a mix of things. Tasks included commercial and legal research, writing case notes, attending meetings and (luckily for me) going to court. The graduate recruitment team also hosted whole group events explaining aspects of the firm, such as diversity and inclusion, as well as the work of the different departments. There were also several social events after work. How did you hear about this internship? As a law student, I found myself inundated with information on vacation schemes and the firms that offer them, through events organised by the Law Society, as well as the Cambridge solicitor careers fair in October. I first learnt about HSF through a conversation with a trainee at this fair – if you want to learn more about the differences between law firms, I would definitely recommend going along and actually talking to the trainees, rather than just grabbing the free mugs and phone chargers (but still make sure to grab some merch afterwards!). HSF also ran a recruiting event in the form of a black-tie poker evening at the Cambridge Union, which instantly won me over. I learnt more about the scheme online, using websites such as Legal Cheek and Chambers Student. Talk through the application process. What did you find difficult or perhaps surprising about it? The application process for vacation schemes is long and can appear daunting at first – it certainly put me off applying for schemes during my first year! But, once you know what to expect, the process is doable. It varies by firm but for HSF there was an online application and online reasoning test, followed by an assessment day in London with two interviews (one on yourself, one assessing your legal reasoning skills) and a group discussion exercise. Success here gets you onto the vacation scheme, which is essentially a 3-week interview for a training contract! The application for some firms can be difficult, with several questions demanding 500+ word answers, but HSF just had a single fairly general question of around 1000 words. The assessment day was surprising in that it focussed a lot more on the application of the law than other assessment days I had done, which tended to be more commercially-oriented. They did know I was a law student though, so the experience may be different for non-lawyers! Did you need any particular skills for the placement? The skills needed for the placement are largely the same as those needed for your degree – an analytical mind, attention to detail and a positive attitude. You should also be able to manage your time well and not overburden yourself with work in an effort to show off. I would emphasise the importance of showing enthusiasm for the work of those you are shadowing or sitting with and asking genuine, insightful questions. Lawyers love talking about themselves and their work so this is a sure-fire way to get on the right side of the people who will be recommending you (or not) for a long-term position! What was the highlight of your week/internship so far? My highlight was definitely spending four days in the High Court, sitting at the solicitor’s table with my colleagues and following along with the hearing. It was fascinating to watch the interplay between solicitor, barrister and judge and to see cross-examination of witnesses. Some legal trainees don’t experience a trial in 6 months sitting in a litigation seat so I was extremely fortunate to spend a whole week at trial out of only 3 spent at the firm! How many networking/socialising opportunities are there? HSF had fewer social events than other firms put on, but there were still ample opportunities to nab a few free glasses of champagne and some canapes! The main group social was pizza making but there were drinks evenings with trainees and partners, a summer party with future joiners and a nice meal with just the vacation scheme interns. HSF was good in that it provided a lot of opportunities to meet people at all levels of the firm, buddying you with several trainees to hear their perspective, as well as organising a partner drinks evening. What have you learnt from your internship? The most important thing I have learnt is what a commercial solicitor actually does all day! As a law student, it can be hard to imagine the day-to-day tasks of a solicitor and they can seem far-detached from the academic work we do. Shadowing solicitors for several weeks and helping with their workloads shed a great deal of light on this. I also learnt a lot about working in a City office generally and I saw how much collaboration there is between the different departments of the firm. As I was commuting in London during the heatwave, I also learnt what the tube feels like when it’s 36ºC outside. The answer? Not pleasant. What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector (or get a place on your internship)? Early on it’s important to do your research – research the areas of law you might be interested in and research firms that are strong in those areas. It’s important that you know a decent amount about a firm before writing an application for it and don’t just churn out identical application answers to different firms – they will notice! Having said that, once you’ve written one application you can reuse certain ideas or passages across multiple application forms. For interviews and assessment centres, be confident but not overbearing and amicable but not obsequious. Know your stuff and make interviews a conversation, particular by having some good questions ready to ask your interviewers at the end. In terms of experience, it is always useful to start early and wannabe solicitors should look into first-year schemes. However, the bulk of schemes are targeted at second years (or final year non-lawyers), so this is when you need to be on it. Good luck!

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