Summer in the Capitol

Craig O'Callaghan finds out how Freshfields' vacation scheme took one student from London to Washington

As well as providing students with invaluable work experience, summer vacation schemes are an important step on the road to becoming a lawyer, with many commercial law firms recruiting trainees directly from their vacation schemes. Rebecca King, a law student at Durham University, was selected for a place on Freshfields' summer vacation scheme and has now been offered a training contract by the firm. We spoke to her to find out more about her experience, which included a week working in Freshfields' Washington office.

Working in the City

I initially decided I wanted to work in law after doing some work experience at a small, regional firm in Cambridge. Although I found working there interesting, I felt I wanted to work on bigger, more exciting deals. In my first year of university I did a one week vacation scheme with a City firm and really enjoyed it there. The following year I applied for Freshfields' summer vacation scheme and was fortunate enough to be selected.

The first two days in the London office acted as an introduction to the firm. Together with the other vacation scheme students, I worked on a mock transaction that taught us some of the basics. We were then split into different departments and spent a full two and a half weeks in one department. I was placed in dispute resolution, working with an associate lawyer and a trainee.

While in dispute resolution I did quite a lot of research work, some of which concerned tort law (laws in place to remedy civil wrongs) in various jurisdictions. I found this particularly interesting as I'd enjoyed studying tort law in my first year at university. When I'd completed a piece of work, I was able to talk it over with one of the partners who was overseeing the projects I worked on. He made a lot of effort to talk to me about how I was doing and to suggest any improvements I needed to make to my work.

Throughout my time in London, I felt like I was very much part of the firm. Everybody was really inclusive and made an effort to get to know me. One of the partners had studied at Durham as well and they took me out for coffee to talk about their experiences, as well as about how much our university has changed since they were there! I was pleasantly surprised by how much people went out of their way to make sure I was happy and comfortable.

A week stateside

The experience of working in Washington was amazing. It was a bit nerve-racking travelling alone to the States, but once I was there it was absolutely incredible. Although I was mostly working in arbitration I also got the opportunity to do some pro bono work related to the US federal jail system. As I didn't know much about the American criminal system, it gave me a chance to see how it differs from our own. I was given the responsibility of drafting a letter to an inmate at one of the federal jails who was being represented by the firm.

Working in the two different offices was really useful as it showed me how much the firm's culture translates from one place to another. It made me realise that I hadn't just been lucky with who I'd sat with in London; that level of friendliness and openness existed throughout the whole firm.

I think some of the research skills I've learnt will be useful when I'm doing my dissertation later this year as I'll have to cover areas of law I'm less familiar with. On a personal level, the experience has also given me a bit of an idea of what moving to London is going to be like. I rented accommodation while I was there for three weeks and it wasn't as daunting as I thought it would be, especially as I normally live in the countryside!

I'm looking forward to returning to Freshfields for my training contract after I've finished my degree and the LPC. I haven't given too much thought yet to what seats I'd like to go into, though one of the good things about Freshfields is that they offer eight-seat training contracts so I'll get to try lots of different areas of law. I really enjoyed my time sitting in dispute resolution so hopefully I'll get the chance to work there again, but beyond that I'm trying to keep an open mind for now.