Law solicitors
Jane Croft-Baker, graduate recruitment specialist, Clifford Chance

Five minutes with… Jane Croft-Baker, graduate recruitment specialist, Clifford Chance

Make sure you keep in mind a law firm's list of skills and competencies at every stage of the training contract or vacation scheme application process, advises Jane Croft-Baker at Clifford Chance.
Vacation schemers who go on to get a training contract offer have shown enthusiasm and interest in the work at every opportunity during their time at the firm.

Read what Jane has to say about: applications | academic results | assessment days | vacation schemes

Can you tell me about your application process for vacation schemes and training contracts?

We get between 800 and 900 applications for our 60 vacation scheme places – more for vacation placements than for training contracts. Applicants submit their online application form and then we automatically send them an SHL online verbal reasoning test to complete. We always recommended that students take online practice tests to prepare for that part of the process.

What criteria do you mark applicants against in applications and interviews?

The list of competencies we assess people against throughout the whole application process is the same list that trainees, solicitors and partners at the firm are assessed against during their performance appraisals. The competencies are detailed on our website and we encourage students to look back at those competencies and use them as a checklist to make sure they’ve included evidence of all those skills somewhere in their application.

What are the main reasons you reject an application?

Candidates who haven’t taken the time to sell themselves properly in their application tend to be rejected: they have simply listed their experience rather than bringing it back to our list of competencies and showing how they've developed and learnt. They have stated, for instance, ‘I am captain of the netball team’ rather than explain that that position involves a commitment of a certain number of hours each week and putting a squad together, booking a netball court weekly – all of which demonstrate their time management and leadership skills.

We appreciate how long it takes to fill out applications but I always advise the students I meet at law fairs and skills workshops to make sure they’ve filled out all sections of the application form properly; you’d be surprised how many students forget to include their degree details.

What’s your view on the importance of A level grades versus a good degree grade?

We’re looking for consistency in academic results (at least 340 UCAS points at A level and an overall 2.1 degree) as being a lawyer is intellectually challenging. We don’t expect a 2.1 result in every course module though.

Do you think good candidates self-select themselves out of applying to Clifford Chance because they underrate their chances of getting a magic circle training contract?

I think they do. There’s a perception that magic circle firms recruit from Oxbridge only but that’s not the case; we’ve got 44 different universities represented among our trainees at the moment. We want every student to consider us and only self-select themselves out based on their research. We want the best candidates, whenever and whatever the may have studied.

How are your assessment days structured?

The assessment days for vacation schemes and training contracts are identical. Candidates do a second verbal reasoning test; a Watson-Glaser critical reasoning test; a case study interview; and a competency-based interview – there are no group exercises. There’s a lunch with fellow candidates (typically 20 people per assessment day), followed by an informal tour of the offices by trainee solicitors. We have designed the assessment days very specifically to gain evidence of the competencies we look for; we don’t mark candidates against each other.

Our application forms are reviewed by the graduate recruitment team and are not seen by the interviewers for the case study and competency-based interviews. Our interviewers – typically a partner and an associate (or a HR team member who hasn’t assessed that candidate’s form) only know the name of the candidate, so it’s up to the individual to shine and make sure that they draw on their experiences as evidence of the various competencies we look for. The interviewer won’t ask questions such as ‘So we see you’re the captain of the netball team, tell us more about that leadership role’. We would expect candidates to be prepared to provide a strong narrative around your experiences to date.

Can you tell me more about the case study interview?

Candidates are given the case study 15 minutes before the interview. They use that time to prepare and then go into the interview and present on the salient points. We are looking for candidates to decide on a certain course of action. The interviewers then ask them additional questions about the case study.

We’re not expecting any legal knowledge to answer the question. The case study has a commercial, rather than law, focus so as not to put non-law students at a disadvantage – candidates need to put themselves in the mind set of working for a law firm, however, and ask themselves about the client’s and the firm’s needs and priorities in that situation. They shouldn’t be afraid of making a recommendation though.

What advice can you give candidates about preparing for the case study interview?

We’re looking for the way aspiring trainees present their ideas – their communication and listening skills – and how they structure their responses when interviewers probe further. Mock interviews, offered by university careers services, are useful preparation. It’s about understanding the importance of a timed exercise – how to gather their thoughts together in a logical and organised way and then present those ideas to the interviewer in a convincing and creative way.

Can you tell me about some good questions you've heard candidates ask at the end of the competency-based interview?

The interesting questions are those that can’t easily be answered by looking at our website. They demonstrate thorough research and a motivation to be part of a global law firm, such as: ‘I’ve noticed you’ve opened offices in Korea – what is the firm’s strategy for India or other emerging markets?'.

Remember that anyone who has been offered a place on an assessment day at a law firm has done very well to get there – you’ve got a partner’s undivided attention, so ask him or her the questions you’d really like the answers to such as: ‘Why do you think clients instruct you?’ or ‘Why have you stayed at the firm so long?’.

What stands out about your vacation scheme?

We offer a two-week scheme at Easter and a four-week summer scheme, with the option to spend a further two weeks in one of our international offices – usually in Europe or Dubai. The vacation placement is designed to give aspiring trainees a sense of who we are as a firm and is unique in this sector.

What do the vac schemers who go on to get a training contract with Clifford Chance do on the scheme to show you they’ve got what it takes to be a successful solicitor?

Each vac schemer is given a trainee buddy, a supervisor and a partner to work with. At the end of the scheme, the supervisor gives the student feedback, which is based on the firm’s competencies. Vacation schemers who go on to get a training contract offer have shown enthusiasm and interest in the work at every opportunity during their time at the firm – they are able to gauge a situation well and actively seek out work. They show the potential to be business advisers as well as lawyers. We would like them to show that they can take the initiative, be personable and show that they are driven and motivated.

What sort of other work experience or extra curricular activities impress you?

I’m keen for students to know that, while vacation schemes are important, they are not all we look for in training contract applications. Graduate recruiters appreciate that some students have to work to support themselves through university and any experience that demonstrates commercial knowledge is interesting to us. Law recruiters put a lot of time and effort into vacation schemes but there are a myriad of ways to prove you have the right transferable skills to be a solicitor, such as your part-time job at university.