“Everything you want in life is a relationship away.”
Everyone knows that applying for first year opportunities, vacation schemes or training contracts can be a competitive process. As a result, taking opportunities to speak to and connect with the firms you’re interested in or applying to is of paramount importance. Typically, this has involved visiting law fairs, conferences or other networking events.
A new approach to connect with firms allows you to network from your bedroom! Vantage, a free online platform launched last year, has been designed to help you do exactly that. This post details what it is and how you can get started.
How it works
As detailed on their website:
“Vantage matches candidates to fantastic opportunities at law firms in a much smarter way than ever before. Using contextual recruitment, Vantage showcases people from every demographic, searches for top performers from every institution and puts your grades into context.”
By completing an online profile, which takes less than 10 minutes to complete, firms can search for you based on a number of factors including your subject of study, year of graduation or area of interest. This means that, when a firm contacts you through Vantage, you know that they are genuinely interested in engaging with you specifically. This is hugely different to other options such as law fairs, that can often lack that ‘personal’ element.
Who you connect with
Vantage boasts an impressive cohort of recruiters. You’re able to connect with an impressive array of leading firms, including:
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
Clyde & Co, Dechert
Herbert Smith Freehills
Slaughter and May
So if you want to hear about vacation schemes, training contracts, insight days, work experience and much more, check out Vantage at the link below. You can also follow Vantage on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at the handle @vantage_app to keep up to date with news from Vantage and the firms they partner with.
“Find something you’re passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it.”
The rapid development of the internet throughout the dawn of the 21st Century has revolutionised how we now consider something to be ‘accessible’. Everything from food to freelancers and TV to taxis are now almost instantly available from your pocket via a smartphone, or from the comfort of your sofa with a laptop. A new start-up based in Australia, InsideSherpa, is aiming to add one more item to that list – work experience. InsideSherpa has partnered with a multitude of industry-leading legal, tech and financial companies (to name a few) to allow individuals to try their hand at tailor-made ‘virtual work experience programmes’ (VWEPs), regardless of your physical location, financial status or current career role. This week, I spoke with Jeremy Grunfeld, Head of Product and Student Success, about how the company’s VWEPs work and, in particular, how they’re manifesting themselves in the legal industry.
So, how does a VWEP help individuals develop their employability?
JG: “During my 5 years at university, I learned a heap of theory that was incredibly valuable for my personal and professional development. It helped me to build my attention to detail, my communication skills, my advocacy skills, my confidence and the list goes on.
However, it wasn’t until I first stepped foot into a commercial law firm that I realised how important practical skills are. Being able to write clear and concise emails, calling clients, writing memos, to name a few. ‘Issue, law, application and conclusion’ is a great tool to learn, but it isn’t a completely accurate reflection of how work is actually done in a law firm.
Our VWEPs aim to give law students a genuine insight into what it’s really like to work at some of the world’s leading firms. They are the actual tasks that interns and graduates do day-to-day at leading firms. Once you’ve finished, you’ll have up-skilled in those aforementioned valuable practical areas – e.g. writing emails, drafting letters, legal research, leaving voicemails, conducting due diligence etc.
Equally though, while building those practical skills, you may come to realise that you don’t actually like being a commercial lawyer! And there is nothing wrong with that at all! It is much better to work that out whilst you’re still at university and experimenting with different career options.”
Using your experiences to gauge your interest in any career path is vital. My own time spent in family law firms, whilst enjoyable, made me realise it wasn’t the area of law for me. By putting yourself out there to new experiences and seizing the opportunities that may arise, you will have the chance to learn more about a profession and, at the same time, yourself.
“I don’t know if you’re like me, but when it came time for me to apply for vacation schemes, I was overcome by this really strange feeling. I realised suddenly that I didn’t know anything about any of the leading firms that I was about to apply to join. So all of a sudden you start going through dozens of search results on Google trying to understand what it’s all about.
From that, you’ll read the standard recruitment information and you’ll probably find yourself with plenty more questions! I remember thinking ‘there are 30 firms and they all seem the exact same. They all say the same thing and work on similar deals/projects’.”
Jeremy speaks to a wider point, which is the importance of having your own in-person experiences and sourcing your information about a firm from as many avenues as possible – law fairs, 1-1 networking, LinkedIn and other 3rd party websites. In an ideal world, it is best to source your thoughts and feelings about a firm from as diverse a number of sources as possible – though this is sometimes easier said than done!
“Something that no-one tells you at law school: clients don’t really care about legal information. They really don’t. They don’t want a lawyer to just tell them legal information – if they did, they would look it up on Google themselves.
What clients want is a trusted advisor. They don’t want you to rattle off pieces of legislation and names of cases. They want commercial, concise advice. Our VWEPs aim to get you used to that feeling of working with clients. You get a feeling for what they care about and what good, trusted advice looks like.”
Commercial awareness is vital in our increasingly connected and global world, but knowing how and why to develop it can often be confusing. If you’d like to read more about commercial awareness, you can check out my posts on it here.
“I studied a combined degree in finance and law. When it came time to pick a path, I chose law, but the reason I chose it was more or less based on a gut feeling. That’s not the best way to make a big decision like which career to pursue! I do wish that I could have participated in a digital internship to better understand what different career options existed and make a more informed decision.
As a more general insight into my own career path – you don’t have to follow the standard path. Forge your own and ask those around you for support. People generally want to help other people. Use digital internships as a tool to discover what it is that you are truly passionate about and what it is that you want to do with your career.”
How similar are the VWEPs to the work of a trainee solicitor?
“We want these digital internships to replicate what it’s like to work at one of our partner firms. To ensure that the experience is as accurate and true to life as possible, the content is designed by and created by the partner firms themselves. We help to guide this process to ensure that the digital internships are highly engaging, but ultimately, they are a direct insight into what life is like at that particular firm.
Alongside simply replicating work, we want participants to be engaged and inspired in completing these programmes. We also equally want them to have learned brand new practical skills that will help them in their careers and we want to provide an insight into the firm’s culture. When digital internships are being built, we (and our partner firms) are constantly thinking about the user experience. As much as law is often viewed as a conservative industry, it’s ever-changing and exciting! New technologies like AI are being used across the industry and we want people to get a taste of that, especially if they may not have had the opportunity before.”
InsideSherpa’s VWEPs are open to anyone and everyone to try. If you’d like to find out more about InsideSherpa or Jeremy, you can do so at the links below. Many thanks again to Jeremy for his contribution!
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
The legal profession is undergoing a revolutionary change right before our very eyes. The once conservative and traditional industry is being forced to rethink everything from qualification routes to fee earner structures, as a the ongoing march of digitalisation and automation continues. Clients can now be instantly contacted anywhere in the world through a smartphone. Lawyers are expected to keep up with global developments and anticipate how it will impact their clientele. Cloud-based collaborative working has promised greater flexibility and collaborative opportunities. Even entirely new roles, such as Legal Tech Managers and in-house freelance paralegals, are being created as a result of such changes.
Amongst these changes are a new appreciation for the broadening skillset that lawyers now require. Clients have always expected their lawyers to have excellent negotiation, advocacy and interviewing skills, but it has not always been clear where this development should take place in the legal education ‘timeline’ of an aspiring legal professional. The recent Bellwether Report echoed the importance of such skills, with 9 out of 10 solicitors agreeing they are of increasing importance if lawyers are to be successful. In his article for Forbes, Mark Cohen surmises perfectly that “[legal] practice is once again becoming the province of those lawyers best equipped to engage in it.”
Despite the above demands, legal education has remained somewhat resistant to change. The overwhelming majority of UK universities teach law via the historical lecture-focused approach to learning, with mooting and practical skills-based opportunities often only offered via optional societies and student-run events. Essential legal and personal skills, like negotiating, interviewing and researching, can therefore easily fail to receive the equal treatment they deserve alongside knowing what the letter of the law is. Interpersonal and group skills are more likely to be underdeveloped in a solely independent, private study style. One university, however, is aiming to change just that.
The University of York’s unique problem-based learning (‘PBL’) approach to teaching law is designed to teach students through life-like simulations of the legal problems that lawyers are tasked with solving. It aims to create a holistic approach to legal education, wherein future lawyers both know the law and have experience in how they can use it to solve client needs. In their own words:
“This is a modern, dynamic learning method that ensures you experience and understand law in its social and theoretical contexts, and helps to develop the skills and techniques you will need to work as a professional.”
York Law School Website.
So how does it work? I spoke with Dr Laurence Etherington, Admissions Tutor at York Law School (and ex-lecturer of mine) about PBL learning and how it translates to the world of law.
So, what exactly is PBL?
PBL established itself in the world of medicine before it made its way to legal education. Its structure is something like this, all guided with an academic mentor and complimentary lectures/reading throughout:
You and your group (Student Law Firm) will be presented with a legal problem, often in the form of a client’s email or similar
As a group, utilise a legal, solution-based approach to analyse the problem and identify its key parties, interests and facts
Brainstorm the legal questions that need answering, as well as any broader ‘normative’ academic concepts
In private or group study, research the answers to your self-generated ‘Learning Outcomes’
Present your feedback and complete your solution to the problem, before beginning the cycle again by picking up a new problem
I personally found that the result of this process means you not only finish the process fully satisfied with your legal knowledge, but can now apply it to future situations through the (often memorable) ‘non-legal’ details of the scenario you’ve just tackled. You generate vital legal research skills, an ability to work with others and fantastic opportunities to develop your interpersonal and legal skills along the way. For those of you more visually inclined, you can check out the Law School’s own explanatory videos below – with a familiar face featuring too…
How does this PBL process then help develop a student’s knowledge beyond simply ‘knowing what the law is’?
LE: “PBL involves a lot of research, still with support but less direction than more traditional approaches. So a key skill is the student learning how to research effectively and how to identify what they need to learn. There can sometimes be a misconception that PBL results in a focus solely on practical issues. There is no reason why this should be the case as the aim is to understand Problems, not (simply) solve, or provide answers to, these. In fact, the collaborative approach to learning should provide a great foundation for more critical perspectives, with a variety of views in the regular debates and discussions. The depth of analysis of problem scenarios also provides a deep understanding of the context within which the legal questions arise – why they matter, as well as how they come about.
Regular, intense, small group sessions mean that students should be able to develop their team-working, and related, skills. Really importantly, effective collaboration should become second-nature with the roles and responsibilities required for approaching Problems being identified and allocated to group members. Students also have the opportunity to learn more about themselves, what they like doing and what they are good at (which are usually the same things). I think that there is also less opportunity to shy away from things and so students can be stretched out of their comfort zone (hopefully in a supportive environment).”
Why should a law student consider PBL over more traditional teaching methods?
“That’s an interesting one because I wouldn’t say that all students should choose PBL. It’s really a matter of thinking about whether this style of learning is right for them (and it won’t be for everyone). I would also say that, although there are certain features which I think are very different and which may provide some advantages, that isn’t saying that PBL is automatically ‘better’ than other styles of learning for all students. However, with those caveats, I think that these are three of some of those potentially advantageous differences.
The social nature of PBL study means that students might find that they are more involved in the subject and their studies. That can be in a general sense of individually and collectively having to take more responsibility for their own learning and development, but also in quite specific ways, such as having to share research and debate complex issues. Explaining is a great way of developing deeper understanding, of course. Debate and discussion is obviously a part of most (possibly all) Law programmes. But I think that PBL demands more regular and deeper engagement with this aspect of study, making it a particularly rich experience.
On the ‘responsibility’ point, the degree to which PBL involves guidance can vary significantly but this is more limited than most other approaches. As well as encouraging more independent research, requiring students to identify their own question puts them in charge of the exploration – with flexibility around the specific issues and areas that are covered. This also helps students to develop ‘legal awareness’ in the sense of being able to see the world through the ‘lawyer’s lens’ – being able to identify where and how the legal issues arise for themselves.
Again, this can vary according to the format used, but with law it is natural to approach PBL through a less rigid frame than might be the case elsewhere. Problem scenarios raise ‘messy’ sets of issues and these are not always limited to single-subject areas. That approach should help students understand that traditional subject areas overlap in many ways – with property law being an important aspect of some theft cases, and tort and criminal liability arising out of the same acts, for example.
Finally, I also think that PBL is really engaging – students are generally very enthusiastic about their learning. It is usually a lot of fun, despite being very serious, which is fantastic for students and staff.”
How can PBL experiences help applicants stand out in application processes, for both law and non-law careers?
“I guess that this flows from the features that have already been mentioned. Independence and willingness to take responsibility are obviously really important for employers. Less obviously, that can also include understanding when guidance is needed – being self-aware enough to know the limits of your current knowledge and skills.
Problem-solving is often mentioned by employers as a key skill. PBL can help with recognising the different perspectives and approaches that might be taken, so that a variety of options might be developed and evaluated. The ability to deconstruct problems, breaking them down into manageable and meaningful components within complex scenarios, and to then develop a strategy for addressing the issues raised by these, is tremendously helpful.
Most obviously, the team-working skills and (very importantly) extensive experience of working in different groups, should be invaluable. Of course, there is a question of how much PBL actually develops students in this way, rather than attracting students who are already well-equipped and interested in PBL’s style. I’m not sure how much that is the case, but a PBL student should be more likely to have these abilities and they will also have had extensive opportunities to further develop them.”
I’d like to thank Dr Etherington for his comments on PBL in law, as well as the University of York for allowing me to use their photos. If you’d like to learn more about PBL, feel free to get in touch with me or the Law School at the links below.