Freshfields' "first-year focus" programme is a two-day workshop at the law firm's London office for first year students who want to find out more about a career in commercial law at a City firm.
Here Alison Peacock, a student at the University of Glasgow who participated in the programme last year, and Jessica Booker, Freshfields' trainee recruitment manager, tell us more.
The student: Alison Peacock
Alison is studying Law with French at the University of Glasgow. She participated in Freshfields' "first-year focus" programme in London in April 2012.
"I didn't start university with the dream of becoming a commercial lawyer. I decided to study law because it's a vocational degree, but I wasn't certain I wanted a career in the field.
My course involved some business-related law modules and, although I hadn't studied anything similar before, I found them really interesting and challenging."
"I began to have a look at the career options in commercial law and found some information about opportunities for first year students.
I applied to Freshfields' programme because the firm has a very good reputation and belongs to the magic circle. But I'd already received a couple of rejections from other firms, so I didn't expect anything to come of my application.
I sent a cover letter and my CV to Freshfields last February, then I received an email inviting me to do a telephone interview. The interview lasted around half an hour and was about me, my interests, and why I wanted to participate.
Shortly after my interview I found out I had been successful, and was invited onto the programme."
On the programme
"The programme is a two-day workshop in London. I travelled down to London the day before it started and Freshfields organised my accommodation for three nights, which was great.
Over the course of the two days we did a huge range of activities. The programme started with a meet-and-greet and some team-building games so we could all get to know each other and overcome our nervousness.
We then had some skills workshops - on the first day they focused on application advice, including networking and interview techniques, and on the second day they introduced us to some practical legal skills, such as drafting contracts and negotiation.
I found the workshops really useful, especially because we had the chance to put our new skills into practice. At lunchtime, for instance, we could network with the trainees and associates at the firm in a relaxed and friendly environment.
We also had a session about all the different departments at Freshfields, which was really interesting. It was like speed-dating - some representatives from each department sat at a different table and we had 15 minutes with each one.
They told us what they were working on, why they liked the area, and why they qualified into that department. It opened my eyes to the variety of work you can do at Freshfields and gave me a really clear understanding of the structure of the firm.
On the second day, we met some of the partners and had a Q&A session with them, which was a great opportunity to find out more about Freshfields. Then, in the afternoon we did some work-shadowing.
I spent time with a trainee in dispute resolution who showed me what he was working on and explained everything he was doing. It was fantastic to be able to sit down with someone and see how everything works first-hand.
The experience helped me understand how some of the things we'd learned, such as negotiation, come into play in real-life circumstances.
"The programme is enjoyable and you get lots of information to help you decide whether commercial law is right for you.
I learned so much at Freshfields, but I think the most important things I gained were the confidence to apply for a vacation scheme and the reassurance that City law firms are open to everybody.
I expected everyone at the firm to be very serious and intimidating, but that wasn't the case at all. I enjoyed getting to know the people at Freshfields and found that the trainees were similar to me - they're hard-working, but genuinely friendly and share my interests. As a result, I can see myself working at Freshfields in the future, all being well.
After I participated on the programme I became a campus ambassador for Freshfields at my university and I've now been accepted onto a summer vacation scheme at the firm. I think my experience on the programme helped my application because I had a good understanding of the firm.
Also, my interview was less daunting because I'd been to the office before and my interviewers already knew me, which is a huge advantage."
The recruiter: Jessica Booker
Jessica Booker is Freshfields' trainee recruitment manager. Here she explains how the Freshfields' "first-year focus" programme can boost your CV.
Why has the programme been set up?
Students are becoming much more inquisitive about careers and trying to build up their CVs from an early stage, and we wanted to form relationships with them and give them an opportunity to come to Freshfields and find out what life at a commercial law firm is like.
We've designed the programme to give students training and skills advice to help prepare them for future applications and vacation schemes. We deliver some of the sessions we give to our trainees in their induction, but tailor them for a first-year audience.
Who can apply for the programme?
It's open to law and non-law students in their first year of university. We don't expect people to have done work experience in the sector or to have an in-depth knowledge of the firm and what we do.
What do you look for in applicants?
We're looking for people who've been active on campus by joining clubs and societies and seeking out opportunities to gain responsibility.
We also look for students who can clearly explain or demonstrate why they may be interested in a career in law in the future.
How can participating in a first year programme help students when they apply for vacation schemes?
It shows their inquisitiveness and that they're proactively seeking out opportunities to learn more about the career, and that's the most important thing on a vacation scheme application.
What else can students do to help themselves stand out when they apply for vacation schemes?
First year programmes and workshops are great additions to your CV, but they are very competitive so you shouldn't feel disheartened if you're unsuccessful in getting a place.
You should continue to look out for opportunities, such as on-campus events run by law firms.
You could also try to get some work experience over the summer at a high street firm or local practice. You can also show your skills, qualities and interest in law in many other ways, including your extracurricular activities.
Freshfields is also running an international workshop, which involves one day in London and one day in one of our European offices, and is open to all students who are not in their first year of study.
Image: Timothy Krause (https://www.flickr.com/photos/timothykrause/)