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Careers advice from law graduate recruiter

Five minutes with… Sarah Harte, graduate talent manager at Taylor Wessing

Sarah Harte's tips on tailoring your training contract application form and shining in a group exercise.

Don’t be put off if you haven’t done a vacation scheme.

Tell us about the training contract application process at Taylor Wessing.

Our application process starts with an online application form, which is screened on a balanced scorecard reviewing your academic, personal and professional achievements. There are career focus questions to test your understanding of the career path of law and your motivation for working at the firm. Following that, successful candidates are invited to a half-day assessment centre. The day consists of a group exercise and a competency-based interview with a partner and a member of HR – the interview also includes a commercial awareness exercise.

What criteria do you mark applicants against?

We look for people who have invested time in researching the firm and have a clear interest in Taylor Wessing. We want to see that you’ve really considered what it’s like to be a commercial lawyer and show that you have that passion and drive in your application form; we need to know that you clearly understand the challenges you will face in the role. To get top marks in the activities and interest sections it is all about maximising your opportunities to be creative and include your best examples so we are able to find out more about you outside educational and working experiences. We are looking for variety in these examples to demonstrate your ability to be agile as this is an important attribute we look for in our trainees.

How can candidates make sure they tailor their application appropriately?

Successful candidates are those who have risen to the challenge of tailoring their application to our firm. You should use the firm’s main website and graduate site in conjunction with other websites such as to research the firm and compare us to other commercial firms. This will be useful when answering questions on the application form such as ‘Why Taylor Wessing?’ and ‘What makes us different from other law firms?’

How can candidates demonstrate their commercial awareness in a training contract application?

The role of a solicitor, while still providing legal advice, now very much requires sensitivity to wider commercial issues. When reading application forms we will look to see whether the candidate has a general understanding of the business market as well and demonstrate this critical thinking. You’ll have to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of how businesses work, and how to apply it in real life.

How are vacation scheme students assessed?

On our summer vacation scheme we base our decisions on the students’ performance throughout the two weeks and their performance at their vacation scheme assessment centre. Students spend each week in a different department and at the end of each seat they have an appraisal with their supervisor, in which they receive feedback and advice to help them improve. The supervisor will ask everyone who has come into contact with the student to provide feedback, all of which contributes to their appraisal. Also during the summer vacation scheme students work on a group presentation throughout the scheme and will present on their last day. Around 70% of our training contracts come from the vacation scheme programme.

How important is it for aspiring solicitors to do a vacation scheme?

Vacation schemes are an excellent way for a student to get to know a law firm and vice versa. Students need to get experience wherever possible, but that can include any kind of work experience. Don’t be put off if you haven’t done a vacation scheme because we know how competitive these placements are. Any legal experience or relevant commercial experience in a working environment where you can develop transferable skills will help your application. You do need to show that you understand the environment of a law firm so go to firm presentations and open days, and get to know what the culture is like. A training contract is a big commitment and we need to know that you’re prepared.

Thinking about your assessment day, what skills are you looking for from the group exercise?

The group exercise tests your ability to work in a team and your communication skills. You’ll be given a scenario to work through and we look for your commercial awareness and whether you are able to bring in any external knowledge to assist with the task. Don’t be afraid to bring up any similar cases that you’ve read about, and make use of the supporting documents that we provide in the exercise. It is all about using your time wisely and collaborating well as a group to achieve task objectives.

What’s your advice to those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in group exercises?

During the group exercise you have to be mindful that to be successful you have to suggest ideas and contribute, simply because we need evidence for discussions in feedback sessions.  Assessors are looking for quality interactions and during the group exercise, therefore, it is not about the amount you say during the task it is how effectively you approach about working with others. Therefore, if any candidate is too overbearing during the task and does not allow others to speak up then they will not get very far in the process. 

What are the other reasons somebody might fail to impress in a group exercise?

Not reading the briefing instructions provided and therefore, misunderstanding key information and task objectives.  If you struggle to understand the topic then you can use the supporting documents to help you and clarify information with your group, but if it’s down to a failure to follow the instructions then that will really be a negative.

How can someone prepare for the partner interview?

Re-read your application form before you come in for the interview and consider what the firm is looking for. You can’t predict the questions that are going to come up, but you can look at the competencies required by the firm and be able to get a sense of what we will look for in the interview. Think of examples of when you have been, for example, an effective communicator or team player. Researching the firm is crucial. Know who Taylor Wessing are, what we offer and what our position is in the market. You will be sitting across from a partner and you have to convince them that you know about the firm. Asking questions is one way you can demonstrate your knowledge of the firm; for example, discussing key deals or office locations to demonstrate that you understand the resulting challenges and opportunities.

Tell us a bit more about the commercial exercise in the interview.

Candidates will be given a scenario to read on the day shortly before the interview and the aim will be to provide advice for a client. The exercise is designed to test a candidate’s commercial awareness and is not a test of our legal understanding. You’ll need to show that you have understood the scenario and must tailor your advice accordingly. It will be very similar to the role a solicitor would play. The partner may ask questions to get you to expand on your points – don’t be put off by that because it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting it wrong; it just means they want to hear more of your thoughts. However, if you are being asked the same question over and over then you might be missing something.