This post was originally published as ‘City Scholars, Leaders and Memories’ on the 7th February 2016 via the wordpress account of the QUB Young City Leaders Society.
As I enter my final semester of my Law degree at Queen’s University Belfast, I find myself thinking back on wonderful moments and memories from my time at university. Most especially, as a Final year student I reflect often on my time in my first year. The year that I made the transition into university education, student life and realised that I desired to pursue a career in the legal profession. This desire was merely enhanced after I received a City Scholarship from my university to undertake work experience in a London law firm.
I cannot stress just how important this experience was for me. It marked the first time I visited London, and the first time I undertook work experience in a law firm. And what a law firm I was placed in: Linklaters! The week of work experience at the firm enabled me to see the actual practice of law, what a working day for a lawyer truly looks like, and how fascinating the legal profession is. Moreover, I feel I grew in knowledge and confidence that week: I realised that asking questions, requesting advice and paying close attention whilst shadowing was essential. I initially felt daunted at working in such a reputable firm, fearful to ask questions lest I was considered ignorant. I realised however that no one expects you to be all-knowing, rather they simply expect you to be eager to learn. Hence asking questions was actually welcomed, contrary to my original fears.
I simply cannot believe this experience transpired in the summer of 2013, nearly three years ago. For those interested in the process, and in gaining an insight into my placement, here follows my ‘testimonial’ if you will of my time as a City Scholar.
Whenever I received the email regarding the application process for the City Scholarships in the first semester of first year law, I was very impressed by the scale of the programme and the prestigious firms that participate in it. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, providing the experience of a week’s placement with renowned financial and legal firms in the thriving metropolis of London. Such work experience would promise to be challenging and interesting, I thought, and would prove to be invaluable. I knew that the application process would undoubtedly be competitive but I decided that I had to apply. I would rather be informed that I was unsuccessful in obtaining a scholarship rather than ponder over ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’ in the summer when I knew fellow students were in London! So, I promptly completed and emailed the application form and tried to focus on finishing several tutorials due for that week – not an easy task when your thoughts are stuck in a loop around London, law firms and interviews, let me assure you.
The process was extremely efficient and organised. Within two days of the deadline, I received an email – which I opened with a very tense click – informing me that I was successful in being called to interview. I was at once both thrilled and nervous, but eventually the excitement won and I threw myself into legal and financial research in preparation for the forthcoming interview. The interview was two days later, and I kid you not: I almost missed going due to the extremely heavy and constantly falling snow. After waking up to the Northern Irish equivalent of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ that morning and fretting I may not be even be able to open the front door, let alone drive into Belfast, thankfully I managed to arrive at the Riddel Hall in one piece. The atmosphere in my interview was relaxed and friendly, and I was encouraged to enter into discussion and debate with my answers; not just go through a routine of answering one question after another. I thought this interview style was interesting, thus I might have been a bit too enthusiastic with answering and indeed asking questions myself at the end of the interview. To this day I am fairly certain that my interview went over the allocated time!
Every day for the following week I carefully scrutinised my emails, anxiously awaiting the outcome of my interview. So when the day came where I logged into to discover the email that informed me of my success in securing a Scholarship place, I was ecstatic. This was an unparalleled opportunity to experience the competitive environment of Commercial Law. I would witness Commercial Law as a living entity; no longer would this field of Law be confined to the theory read in textbooks or to the articles contained in the media. My excitement increased whenever I was informed in early April 2013 that I had been chosen to undertake work experience at Linklaters. To be placed in such a prestigious and renowned Magic Circle firm was amazing and I could not believe that that was where I was going. It certainly acted as a prime motivational tool during the dark days of revision leading up to my exams in May!
Linklaters promptly provided me with a contact to liaise with regarding arrangements for my week’s placement; he very kindly emailed me in advance and informed me of my starting time for Monday morning, which was reassuring. I was also provided with a detailed map of the location where the office was based and the surrounding tube stations which proved to be both practical and invaluable.
My work experience was to be of a week’s duration, from the 10th June to the 14th and I would be sitting in the Corporate department. I would soon establish the routine of being in the office for nine in the morning and most evenings left at half past five, although there were several days when I did not leave until half past seven. The work was fascinating though, so it was actually a case of me volunteering to remain behind.
That Monday morning I arrived at the office for the arranged time of ten o’clock, and met a secretary came to collect me and bring me up to the fifth floor where the Corporate department is situated. She was very friendly which helped to put me at ease, for obviously I felt nervous on my first day. I was soon introduced to the associate I would be shadowing and whose office would be my second home for the week. Yu Xian was very welcoming, approachable and right away offered to take me to the cafeteria and buy us coffee so we could chat. She talked to me about her career pathway and what her job entailed which was fascinating, and she discussed the firm and especially the corporate department which provided me with an insight into a career in commercial law as well as what it was like to work for such a large, global and international firm, especially in London. Once we returned to the fifth floor, I was introduced to the trainee who would be my ‘buddy’ for the week. Rupert kindly gave me a tour of the floor and insisted on making sure I was introduced to the occupants of every single office. Everyone was friendly and only too happy to answer my questions; there were also many jokes about how they would send all their work for the week in my direction!
Shortly before lunch, I was able to sit in on a meeting Yu Xian had organised that focused on problems and surprise delays that had occurred in several of her group’s current on-going deals. It proved to be very interesting, especially as many multi-jurisdictional issues were involved. I soon realised however that in Corporate Law, acronyms are the real currency of the day. It is almost like a new language that one must be fluent in to be able to comprehend what is going on.
My trainee buddy appeared to take me to lunch and I joined the table of his friends who are also trainees but are sitting in a variety of different seats. This became the norm throughout the week: it was great as I hope to be a trainee in the future, so to be able to sit and talk to the trainees at lunch was a relaxed and informal way of finding out just what it is like to be a trainee at Linklaters.
After lunch and for the remainder of my first day, it was straight into work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rupert presented me with a veritable forest of pages, and said that I would be undertaking verification in order to make a prospectus for a company and its shareholders. Basically, I had to carefully proofread all the statements in the aforementioned forest of pages and then ensure there was sufficient evidence such as statistics etc that confirmed these statements. Then, I would have to print all the evidence out, carefully number and label them and create a file from which the prospectus would be created. To undertake such important work and to start it on my first day was exciting, especially after Rupert explained why verification was so important and that were was a deadline that would need to be met. Rupert later invited me for a coffee break and happily answered my questions about what it was like to be a trainee at Linklaters, and explained his motivation for applying for a training contact with the firm.
On Tuesday morning I was invited to attend ‘prayers’; essentially this is the weekly meeting for all on the fifth floor and enables them to be kept up to date regarding recent news or deals that have been completed. I confess I was initially confused about the term; being from Northern Ireland I instinctively thought it would be a morning of religious instruction, which clearly made no sense given I was in a law firm in London. When I told my trainee buddy about this, he found it hilarious: “you wouldn’t half know you’re Irish, Leah.”
Afterwards, it was back to the office for me and working on my own Herculean labour of verification. Whenever I spotted a mistake or missing evidence, it was great to know that I was actually doing work of import and that I was helping to create a prospectus for a company. I was also delegated some proofreading and Excel spread sheet work by Yu Xian, who very kindly offered me her notes from when she was a trainee so I could read them. I made my own notes from hers there and then, and they were really informative – I was now at least at intermediate level for the language of acronyms! After lunch, Rupert sent more work around to me whereby I had to work on narrative summaries, essentially the billing of companies that require Linklaters’ services.
On Wednesday, between verification, proofreading and research, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar that was held at lunchtime regarding a very important merger of companies Linklaters had advised on. It was fascinating to see how the merger was initiated and developed from the point of view of a participating firm, and not just reading about it online or in a newspaper. Lawyers who had led in discussions for their client firm spoke at the seminar, and again I greatly enjoyed hearing their insightful point of view.
Afterwards, I was informed a Partner wanted to see me in her office, cue Rupert joking I must be in very serious trouble. When I arrived at her office, the Partner was very approachable, friendly and wished to know how I was finding my work experience and the firm as a whole. We discussed career pathways, vacation schemes and training contacts and she kindly offered to get me the contact details of a lady who works in Graduate Recruitment so I could arrange to meet with her. To be able to talk to a Partner of the firm was a wonderful experience and the information she provided me with was very useful indeed.
By Thursday, it was now the running joke with Yu Xian and Rupert that they had to gently cajole me into leaving the office every evening as I was so engrossed with what I was doing and enjoying myself that I did not want to leave!
I was provided the opportunity to attend a seminar on Thursday lunchtime that focused on the Bank of England, the incoming new Governor and changes/news relating in the area of insurance, especially after the mis-selling of PPI scandal. It was informative, and it was interesting to see something that I read about in the newspapers as a matter of interest to the general public be discussed in legal and financial terms.
Thursday was also the day that my verification was finally completed; it had reached the stage where if I closed my eyes I could rattle off statement numbers and statistics. Rupert excitedly emailed me on Friday morning, saying he had something to show me, and to see him arrive at Yu Xian’s office with the neatly bound prospectus and newly printed table of contents for the prospectus was amazing. To know that I had actually participated in ‘real’ work alongside a trainee was a thrilling feeling and certainly something to remember.
Friday was, sadly, my last day and Yu Xian organised a lovely leaving lunch for me which was amazing. I knew I would miss sitting in the office and seeing everyone; I had been made to feel so welcome and at ease. I joked that I would happily sit in a cupboard if it meant that I could stay a little longer – at least, I think I was joking.
To attempt to summarise how amazing my week at Linklaters was, the work I participated in and the warm, welcoming atmosphere that was provided – it is hard to do. All I can say is that I had a wonderful time, and I did not wish to leave. It was truly an unparalleled opportunity and I believe my work experience to be invaluable and that it will stand me in good stead for the future. The City Scholarship programme created this fantastic opportunity for which I am most grateful, and I cannot thank the QUB DARO office or the Careers department enough for creating this opportunity and their support. I am so glad that I decided to go ahead and enter the application process; I would definitely recommend the programme to any first years interested in Law and, most importantly, who are willing to be challenged and inspired.