Intelligent Aid: write an essay to win a vacation scheme at Clifford Chance

If you’ve realised that your strengths lie in critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, this route to a vacation scheme place may suit you best.

Clifford Chance is the only law firm that allows you to apply for a vac scheme place by entering an essay competition. Clifford Chance’s Intelligent Aid competition, now in its sixth year, is open until 21 February 2016. If you impress with your essay on a chosen topic (it was 'growth economies' in 2014; 'the rule of law' last year and this year it's 'ethics in business'), you’ll win one of 20 vacation scheme places (plus £5,000 towards student fees for the overall winner).

'The scheme is looking to attract people able to think more creatively and commercially about a career in law, or who may have self-selected out of applying to a firm like Clifford Chance,' explained Jackie Trench, graduate recruitment manager at Clifford Chance in an interview with TARGETjobs.

Using your intellectual prowess to get a vacation scheme

This competition suits those looking for an intellectual challenge – although the firm is keen to stress that applicants can be 'as creative, thoughtful, challenging and innovative as they like,' said Bethany Foote, graduate recruitment specialist at Clifford Chance, when we spoke to her about the competition.  If – after some soul-searching – you’ve realised that your strengths lie in critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, this route to a vacation scheme place may well suit you best. Clifford Chance looks for these two attributes in your initial essay rather than waiting to test them in an assessment centre, as it would normally do in the final stages of vacation placement or training contract recruitment.

Winning the competition could lead to a training contract with Clifford Chance

Jackie was keen to point out that the scheme is a genuine path to a training contract: 'One of the reasons I'm so passionate about this competition is that it provides a real alternative pipeline through to training contracts for students,’ explained Jackie. ‘In fact,of the 20 finalists for the 2013/14 competition, 9 went on to have offers of training contracts from the firm and of the 19 finalists in 2014/15 competition, 8 went on to secure training contracts.'

Why the Intelligent Aid competition suits creative thinkers

The competition opened on 1 October 2015 and closes on 21 February 2016. This year’s topic is ethics in business. To enter, you’ll need to submit a 600-word answer to the following question: 'An ethical business culture can only be created with strong regulation. Discuss with reference to one or more industry sectors of your choice.'

How to answer the Intelligent Aid essay:


  • Forget to get your essay proofread before you submit it. Attention to detail and excellent communication skills are always important to law firms – they are key skills for any trainee or qualified solicitor.
  • Forget that Clifford Chance prides itself on being innovative; make sure your essay answer is original and creative.
  • Waste the word count discussing the pros and cons of your approach, as you might in an academic essay. 
  • 'Forget this is your opportunity to really impress with your intelligence,' said Bethany. 'This could ultimately lead to a training contract interview so apply the same level of attention to this as you would a job application.' 


  • Make sure your essay conveys your critical reasoning, intellectual curiosity and genuine interest in the topic. The firm is looking for the quality of your thinking and your ability to persuade in these essays. Decide on your central idea and commit to it. ‘This opportunity is designed to find bright, commercially astute individuals who can demonstrate creative thinking and innovative problem-solving skills,’ said Jackie.
  • Choose a perspective that you are genuinely fired up about and be prepared to expand on your answer if shortlisted for the final in April. The firm’s website advises that you can ‘approach the question from a number of different perspectives, whether your interests lie in economics, current affairs, psychology or legal theory'.
  • Think commercially: be mindful of how the compliance affects the decision-making of Clifford Chance’s clients. In the introduction to this essay question on the Clifford Chance website, you are told that: ‘From a business perspective, our clients are very interested in understanding what is expected and how they can ensure compliance in an increasingly complex and changing environment.’ Remember that an important skill for a commercial lawyer is translating current case law and legislation into practical commercial solutions for the client: keep a commercial head on your shoulders when planning your essay.     
  • Make sure you research and structure your essay. Focus your argument – you’ve only got 600 words and the firm will want to see that you can persuade it in a succinct and convincing way. 
  • Show your research, where appropriate. 'Submit a bibliography along with your submission where relevant,' advised Bethany. 'This will not count towards the overall word count.' The firm's website showcases previous essay submissions; all entries inlcude a bibliography. 

What happens next?

A shortlist of 40 entrants are invited to a two-day event at the firm’s offices in April to take part in a challenging case study, which in Jackie's words ‘removes the artificiality of an assessment centre.’ You’ll also be asked to develop your ideas and present your solution to the panel of experts. The top 20 performers will be offered a summer vacation scheme with the firm and will bypass the standard application process for vacation schemes.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.