After doing a first year vacation scheme at global law firm Hogan Lovells, Durham University fresher Rachel Metcalf is on track for a graduate position at a top commercial law firm.
Law wasn't always her first choice of career, however. "I grew up on a farm and I wanted to be a vet," she says. "Then I spent a week at a small regional law firm and that really clinched it for me that I wanted to be a lawyer instead."
"I had always been good at writing (and arguing!) and there I realised that I would also enjoy other parts of the job, like helping clients and working with other people."
Here she explains how she came to do her vacation scheme at Hogan Lovells, how she found the week, and how it's helped her get closer to reaching her goal of becoming a commercial lawyer.
What made you decide to do a first year vacation scheme?
I always thought working at a commercial law firm in London would be incredible, but I never thought it would be within my reach. Before I went to university in Durham I didn't know much about them and I thought I didn't have the right connections to work at one.
But when I went to a CV drop-in advice session at my university careers service I spoke to a Hogan Lovells graduate recruiter, and she was very encouraging and suggested the firm's first year spring vacation scheme to me.
What was the application process like?
All it involved was filling out a form, but it was quite detailed. They wanted to know my grades, work experience so far, and why I wanted to do the first year spring vacation scheme.
I also had to write about why I thought I'd be good as a commercial lawyer and why I was particularly interested in gaining an insight into this area of the legal profession.
For any students who don't have experience of commercial law, I would say you can definitely apply, but you need to do as much research as possible beforehand.
I read up about the legal profession, and also went to my university's law fair and spoke to some firms there to build my knowledge.
What did you do during the week?
During my week at Hogan Lovells I met people from all levels of the firm, including the co-CEO.
There were also workshops on negotiation skills and commercial case studies, and I got to see negotiation skills in practice when a supervisor invited me to a client meeting. I had ten minutes to skim through the files on a negotiation that had been going on for a couple of years - there was a lot of paper!
I worked in Insurance and Corporate/Commercial. I had the chance to help with research for the trainee who was mentoring me, and I also did some work in connection with a new EU directive where I had to figure out what had changed and how it was going to affect our clients.
I realised I was doing real work that would have an impact on clients, and I suddenly felt a sense of responsibility that you don't feel when you're just studying for exams.
What are the benefits of doing a first year vacation scheme?
My time at Hogan Lovells gave me a taste of what it's like to work in a commercial law firm, and gave me a much better view of a firm than I would have got through just going for an interview.
First year vacation schemes also put you ahead when you're applying for longer second year vacation schemes because you'll know much more about how a commercial law firm works than someone who hasn't done one, and that will come across in your application. I've now got a place on a second year vacation scheme at Hogan Lovells in June, and I'm also doing one at another global firm.
First year schemes also help you build relationships in the legal profession. I've kept in contact with the other first year vacation schemers, and also the mentor that I had during the week. I get the feeling that people at the firm really care about how we're doing.
Why do a first year vacation scheme at Hogan Lovells?
It's an unusual opportunity
When I applied, Hogan Lovells was one of the only firms offering a week-long first year vacation scheme. That really attracted me to them.
It's well-balanced with plenty of variety
The scheme was really varied and gave me a lot of hands-on, practical experience that was completely different to what I do at university.
You get to buddy up
While I was there everyone was assigned a trainee mentor for the week. The firm tried to make sure our mentors were graduates from our universities so we'd have something in common right away. Mine was a really good guide who always took the time to talk through what they were doing with me.
Before my first year spring vacation scheme at Hogan Lovells I didn't think commercial law was accessible. Then I realised that lawyers at the firm had come from all kinds of different backgrounds and some hadn't even done an undergraduate law degree.