Philippa Wilson


Philippa Wilson

Norton Rose Fulbright

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What really stands out in an application form?

It takes a lot of time to get an application to the standard it needs to be to stand out. We receive around 3,000 applications a year, so it is very competitive. The stand out forms are the ones where the applicant has clearly undertaken a lot of research and tailored their application to demonstrate exactly why they are applying to Norton Rose Fulbright, and also taken their time to do this. We appreciate how long it takes to properly research and complete an application form, but it is definitely worth spending that time to ensure you give yourself the best chance of progressing to the next stage of the assessment process. It’s great to read about interactions that students have had with the firm at events as this shows pro-activity and enthusiasm to find out more information that might not be on our website.

What criteria do you mark candidates against in job applications?

There are various competencies that we are assessing when screening application forms. The application form is the first opportunity we get to assess a candidate’s written skills and we expect to see clear, concise, typo-free answers demonstrating excellent communication skills and attention to detail. We have intentionally kept the guidelines of what you need to answer vague, allowing candidates the opportunity to make the application their own, and really think about what they want to highlight to us. Don’t just tell us about the work we do or the clients we work with, tell us why that is important and interesting to you.

What kind of extracurricular activities really impress you on an application?
The great thing about Norton Rose Fulbright is that we have a really diverse range of people working at the firm, with various backgrounds, personalities, experiences and interests. We have no preference on what extra-curricular activities students get involved in, as long as you have passions and hobbies outside of the general university workload. We want to hire well-rounded trainees so activities demonstrating an interest in law are fantastic, but we also want to get to know you and what you enjoy doing in your free time as well.

What are the main reasons you reject a training contract or vacation scheme application?

There are the obvious reasons, such as spelling errors and lack of attention to detail. We know it may just be a small error, but silly mistakes like this can be the difference between putting you to the next stage or not. One of the main skills of a lawyer is attention to detail, so don’t waste all your hard work on a mistake like this! It is also really important to elaborate on not what we do, but why it is interesting to you. We know what areas we specialise in, so don’t just regurgitate the information on our website, reflect on why you are really interested in working in these areas, or with these clients, to really bring your application to life. Also, make sure you are calling us by the right name; we are not called Norton, and Fulbright only has one ‘L!

What makes the difference between a good application and an excellent one?

You can tell straight away when someone has taken the time to research the firm they are applying to and really reflected back on why they want to work there. My main piece of advice for students is, if you read your application back and you can replace our name with another firms, start again. We receive thousands of applications, so make it interesting and engaging. I always advise giving your covering letter to a friend or lecturer, someone who doesn’t work in law. If they read it and find it interesting, it is likely we will as well.

How can candidates get across their commercial awareness in an application?

Commercial awareness is quite tricky to demonstrate in an application form so it’s something that we test more rigorously further along in the assessment process. It’s important that candidates really understand the work we do, what we specialise in and the types of clients that we work with. A solicitor is no longer just a legal advisor but someone who is also very business-minded. You need to be aware of what is going on in the world and the impacts certain things have on the firm and our clients. We are not expecting candidates to be experts in the commercial world but a general understanding and genuine interest is needed. It’s also really important to remember that you could be asked about anything on your application form in an interview so ensure that if you mention a legal case/news story, you feel comfortable talking about it in further detail.

Vacation schemes and other work experience

What do the vac schemers who go on to get a training contract at your firm do on the scheme to show they’ve got what it takes to be a successful solicitor?

A vacation scheme is a great way for students to showcase their interest and enthusiasm for the firm. We put together a packed schedule of talks, training sessions, networking opportunities and social activities, so we want the schemers to really get stuck in and say yes to all opportunities that come their way. If you’re asked if you would like to be involved in client calls or other pieces of work, say yes! It’s a great opportunity to go outside of your comfort zone and experience what it is like to work at the firm. Our most successful vacation scheme students are the ones who ask questions in sessions, successfully work to deadlines, turn up to events on time and make the most of networking opportunities.

How do you assess vacation scheme students?

Since Covid, all of our assessment centres have been held virtually, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. We found that not only did it work well from a logistical perspective, but we actually got to know the candidates better throughout the day, and it made our whole assessment process more inclusive, knowing that students could join from any corner of the country without having to travel to London. The assessment centres are quite intimate, we only assess 8 candidates per day so it’s a great opportunity for people to relax and ask their questions, as well as be assessed. Candidates will be given an individual case study assessment, a group assessment, and an interview with two partners. Once you get a place on the vacation scheme there is another group exercise, as well as 3 individual practice group assessments, and finally an interview for a Training Contract.

How can people make up for the fact that they haven’t done any work experience at a law firm?

Legal work experience is not a prerequisite for a place on a vacation scheme, as we understand for a lot of people this is their work experience! Non-legal work experience is just as important. There are so many interpersonal and transferrable skills you can gain from a variety of jobs, and the key is being able to demonstrate how the skills you’ve gained are relevant to the role you are applying for, and essentially, why they would make you a good solicitor.

That being said, if you are applying for a direct Training Contract we do require some demonstrable legal experience, either through vacation schemes, working as a paralegal, or a legal administrator for example. Unlike the vacation scheme, we only have one day to meet and assess you so it is important we know this is a career path you are invested in, and have had exposure to the industry.

Law fairs

How can somebody make the right impression at a law fair?

Law fairs are fantastic ways to speak to multiple employers, and with the shift in these being virtual it makes it so much easier to interact with a wide range of firms. Before you attend, do your research on which firms you want to learn more about and make a beeline for them, otherwise you may get a bit overwhelmed with where to start and waste your own time. We have a mix of graduate recruitment and trainees representing Norton Rose Fulbright at our fairs, so come prepared with questions that are going to determine if you can see yourself working there, and it is always useful to ask for top tips around our application / assessment process. We recognise a lot of faces on our vacation schemes from interactions we have had at law fairs, so it is a great way to make a good first impression.

Assessment days and interviews

What skills and competencies do you look for candidates to demonstrate on assessment days?

There are various parts to the assessment day allowing candidates to demonstrate a variety of skills. Communication, teamwork, desire to learn, resilience, interpersonal skills and time management are just some of the competencies that we are assessing. Ultimately we are looking to see how you might perform as a trainee – we are looking for potential.

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

Communication, team working and time management are key to a successful group exercise. The group task is a great way to really understand how people like to work and it definitely highlights certain personality traits. The whole idea of a group exercise is to show that you can work with others effectively and we understand that everyone wants the chance to shine but you must respect other candidates – it’s a group effort. We are also not just looking for the loudest person in the room. The candidates who listen, encourage and suggest ideas are the ones who do well.

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

We understand how nerve-wracking attending an assessment centre can be, but it’s your opportunity to show to us why you would make a fantastic future trainee. Communication is a key part of being a successful solicitor and something that will become part of your day to day job. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, or asking questions. We can only assess what we see in the exercise so it’s vital that you engage as much as you can – this will not only help you, but your teammates as well.

What kind of questions should candidates ask at interview? What shouldn’t they ask?

Use the interviews as an opportunity as ask questions that will further your understanding of the firm and influence your decision as to whether Norton Rose Fulbright is the right firm for you. Partners are looking for enthusiastic and engaging candidates who want to know more - they are not looking to be asked technical questions that have no relevance.

STEM students

Law firms tell us that they try hard to encourage STEM students to apply for training contracts. The link between law and science may not be an obvious one. Why do scientists make good lawyers?

Scientists share many of the same skills and attributes that we see in lawyers. They are extremely analytical, can work with a large amount of data and are very research focused. Successful legal teams are made up of people with an array of skills – it’s great to have a range of perspectives.

How can non-law students show their commitment to a career in law when they haven’t necessarily been exposed to university law societies, law clinics and mooting events?

We recruit about a 50/50 law vs non-law split of candidates, so for any students interested in pursuing a career as a lawyer we would recommend visiting firms at law fairs, attending panel events for non-law students, or looking at what insight programmes firms offer so you can get that first hand exposure to how the industry works and what areas really interest and excite you. Talking about these interactions on your application demonstrates to us that you are curious about this field and that is a really great start.

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