Reed Smith is a dynamic international law firm, dedicated to helping clients move their businesses forward through speedy resolution of complex disputes, transactions, and regulatory matters. Reed Smith’s global footprint spans oceans and continents, with their largest office in London and more than 350 lawyers serving international and domestic clients. Reed Smith is also one of our partner organisations and coordinates a work experience programme in the summer for Year 12 students. 

 

Two employees from Reed Smith, Carole Mehigan and Terry Prempeh joined us for a live Q&A and answered questions on routes into law and top tips for interviews and applications. They also responded to questions on how the current situation is affecting work experience opportunities. 

 

Carole is the Responsible Business Manager for Reed Smith, in charge of managing, organising and hosting Reed Smith’s charitable activities.

Terry Prempeh is a Trainee Solicitor, having started his training contract with the banking and finance team. Terry has just finished two years of law school after graduating with a degree in Theology and Philosophy at the University of Durham. 

 

Advice from Reed Smith: Routes into Law

Terry gained experience as a paralegal and on internships before taking up a position with Reed Smith. What is a paralegal?

Terry: Within a firm, you have Trainees, Associates and Partners, but you also have Paralegals who assist with the work that everybody does. The only difference is their rates are slightly different, when a paralegal works on something for a client a firm might not necessarily charge the clients as much. You very much need people in the firm who can do the work and are well qualified but charged at a lower rate. You’ll also work in one department, you become highly skilled and learn a lot about the law. 

What extra activities should we do to show firms we have the potential to become a lawyer?

Terry: I get asked this question quite a lot, you don’t have to do anything above and beyond your general activities or interests, you just have to be able to express them in a way that shows that you have the skills required. For example, I’m quite sporty, so my extra activities included sporting activities like football, but I also used to write on my applications that I worked in Clarks and I used to do long shifts on the weekend. In interviews, I get asked about working in Clarks and I’d explain it was tough, and your interviewer can draw on what you’ve done and see if you have those transferrable skills i.e. working a long day under pressure.

Talk about your interests and passions, because they’re different for each of us. I think it’s important to sit down and think about what you like and what you do and unpick the skills they require, time management for example - if you like doing something time intensive, it shows you can manage your time. 

Carole: As a law firm, I’ve seen a considerable amount of trainees come in over the time I’ve been at Reed Smith and the journeys they have taken. I’ve watched a second seat trainee grow to a partner over the last 12 years, and it’s been amazing to see that growth.

Always come in with a very open mind with what you’re interested in. Too many people come in with a ‘decision making’ frame of mind before trying a few areas. I remember one trainee came in and said they were keen to be an entertainment lawyer in the future and he ended up qualifying in tax. And he said he was amazed by how much he enjoyed the area of tax. 

You’re lucky when you come in as a trainee at Reed Smith because you experience an intense rotation and you see many different parts of law and various parts of the company. You also get the opportunity to have an international secondment and experience pro-bono work. 

Take it all on board, soak it all up so you can be much more informed when you make your decision. 

How do we find an area of law we want to do?

Terry: The simple answer to that is at the moment you won’t. You won’t know until you do the job and it takes the day to day tasks you are given, to help you decide. 

 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a corporate lawyer or an entertainment lawyer. But at this stage, all you need to know is what you’re good at and what do I enjoy in terms of my studies. You’ll then start to see what transferrable skills you possess, which is different for everybody, and they’ll lend themselves to an area. It’s only once you begin to get experience and you’ve done your rotations that you’ll realise what you want to specialise in. 

How did you find the training application process?

Terry: I found the application process hard; it’s a hard and time-consuming process. I started the application process in my second year of university; that’s when I started doing my research. The researching is tough, trying to find out why each firm is different. I applied to around 20 firms at first and all rejected, which is not easy to take, but that is the reality of applying to corporate firms. Once you get better at applications though, you’ll start to get through to the interview stage, the vacation phase and the traineeship phase.

The first hurdle is the application; the next is the interview and then the vacation scheme. As you jump through all these hurdles, the employer is weighing you up. Is this someone we can invest in and welcome to our firm, and ultimately looking at whether this person will be profitable as a lawyer. 

I applied widely in my first year to practice the application process, and I’d recommend writing lots of applications because it’s not just about quality, it is about quantity too. Because the more you do, the better you become at writing applications.   

When start researching some of these firms, you’ll find that some of these firms will appeal to you more; the work they do, the practices they have, their values, their culture and so on. All of these things play a part. I applied to a few of the ‘Magic Circle’ firms, but I also looked at firms just below that where the work is still excellent, the financial incentive is still there, but the work-life balance is better and that was my approach. 

Is it better to go to a Russell Group University to get into Law?

Terry: My background means that my parents wanted me to study certain subjects. Luckily, my career choice fell into that category. But the subjects I studied at university, Theology and Philosophy, caused a few issues. But I felt that if I was going to go to university and study for three years, I want to enjoy the subject. I thought, I’m going to be a lawyer for the rest of my life, why not go and learn something new for a few years? 

You have to go to university and study something you enjoy, or it’s going to be a long three years. If law is your passion and you can study it for three years, then consider it. However, I had other interests. Every law firm wants a balance among its intake for traineeships, and they will bring in students that studied law and non-law subjects. In my opinion, studying a non-law subject makes you more balanced, so if you can go to university and study the course you have a passion for, the chances are you’ll do a lot better and have strong grades. It makes you a better candidate moving forward if you made the most of those three years at university. 

If you go to a Russell Group University, yes it looks good on your application. Still, if you can’t back that up with a real passion for learning, and you did it for the sake of looking good on the application, I think that’s harder to sell yourself to people who are assessing you. 

Carole: One thing I would emphasise is doing a subject that you like. We found that a lot of our trainees who come in haven’t done a straight law degree and it shows a person who is a lot more rounded. It’s something else you can talk about in your interviews and applications, it’s nice to find out about what inspires someone, what passions they have and what motivated them to get into law. 

Also, for many law firms now, where going to a Russell Group University is an achievement, I don’t think just because you didn’t go to one doesn’t mean you’re less likely to succeed on the traineeships or placements. We have so many trainees now who have gone to non-Russell Group Universities and have gone on to do well.

We’ve realised as a firm, and as an industry now, that the talent is widespread and everyone goes to different universities and comes with a diverse breadth of experience and talent. 

Why did you choose Reed Smith?

Terry: I was very fortunate to have done quite a few vacation schemes. I managed to get four in my final year of university. Once you’ve worked in different firms, you’ll experience the different cultures and learn what you like. The thing about Reed Smith is that I had a long-standing relationship with them. I had been a brand ambassador for the firm for some time; I then did a vacation scheme. Reed Smith is good at upskilling you, making you better at your job and making you a better person. During my vacation scheme, I was constantly challenged and pushed and given lots of opportunities to learn what lawyers do. I felt that, if a law firm is investing in me this much on a vacation scheme, imagine what a traineeship will be like. 

Carole: One thing I’d encourage students of your age group is to actively get involved in career open days and insight days. Obviously, at the moment this is all through webinars but any opportunities you have through The Brokerage in finding out more about law firms and what they do, the sort of people they have working there etc. I recommend you actively get involved, get on to the webinars, find out more because that will be the only way you can make informed decisions on law firms. It’s a bit harder because you’re not networking face to face as you might typically on a work experience placement or insight day, but this is still an excellent way for you to learn. Even it is just from a few individuals from the firm; you can learn about the culture, what the firm is like and it will give you an idea of whether you would like to work in somewhere like this in the future. 

Terry: Doing these open days, whether they are in person or as webinars, they will help you write a better application and a more personalised application. The moment you can mention the name of someone you met or something you learnt that makes you stand out. Not everybody can talk about doing work experience or joining webinars, whereas you can. It’s good to get these experiences, and it also helps you write a better application, you’re giving yourself a fighting chance to stand out in the crowd. 

What’s a typical task of a trainee solicitor? 

Terry: It depends on what department you find yourself in, I’m going to base my answers on my experience in banking and finance. A lot of the time what a trainee has to do revolves around the mechanics of how a law firm works, so you’ll have your partners that win all the business - the Harvey Spector’s of your law firm shall we say? And then the work filters down to the associates and the trainees. This could be amending agreements between parties, liaising with the law firm on the other side, managing all the documents (sometimes there can be hundreds of documents) and it’s your job often to know how many documents there are, where people need to sign and how many people need to sign. You’re helping to keep the deal on track and all of the auxiliary tasks that go along with it, for example making sure there are no typos! 

If you show initiative, you might get more work, which is always fun. But often its focussed, discrete tasks and your role is to support the associate.  

In terms of working from home, often we have to arrange for documents to be sent for signature. In lockdown we can’t do that, we can’t just send things in the post or invite people into the office, so we’re getting everything safely couriered. There can be a lot of logistical issues during this period! 

Routes into Law

Carole: If you want to go down the lawyer route, you go through the graduate recruitment. If you’re looking for a slightly different role, say business development or finance, you should get in contact with the HR team. 

How do you stay motivated and manage your workload during the lockdown? 

Terry: Making sure you still have a work-life balance, so I’m making video calls with friends, family and colleagues. These types of things raise your spirits and help things to feel as normal as they can. 

Find time to chill and watch Netflix, but also keep doing the extra professional things you’re doing. So the fact that you guys are at this webinar right now and you’re interested in your future career puts you ahead of the curve. You have an advantage, time! 

Carole: I encourage you to set yourself a routine so you can have a good work-life balance and still perform my job to the best of my ability! 

Setting an alarm, getting up at the same time - they sound like silly things, but they do make a difference. Don’t forget to take natural breaks, go for a walk or have a snack because it helps you feel balanced. 

Also, take this extra time to research different law firms, attend webinars, and check out what The Brokerage has to offer, really get involved in everything that they’re offering. Utilise your time well!