What happens on a vacation scheme at CMS Cameron McKenna?

Finbarr Bermingham speaks to Lindsay Farey, who completed a vacation scheme at CMS Cameron McKenna last year that helped her get a training contract at the firm

How and why did you end up doing the CMS Cameron McKenna vacation scheme?

I studied law at the University of Edinburgh and am now requalifying in English law at the College of Law in London. While in Edinburgh, I attended the university's law fair and was impressed by just how visible CMS Cameron McKenna were there.

They made a massive first impression and I applied successfully to be a brand ambassador on campus. Through this role, I got to know a lot about the firm, including the fact that they are highly rated for energy law, which is the area in which I would like to eventually specialise.

I did an online application form, an online verbal reasoning test and an assessment centre examination and found out the next day that I had been successful.

What preparation did you do before you started the vacation scheme?

Because I've been interested in the corporate sphere for a while, I've always kept up to date with current affairs. I read the Economist regularly and watch the news every day. Being commercially aware is essential in corporate law.

Social media tools also proved very useful. If you follow the Financial Times on Twitter, for instance, you can dip in throughout the day for updates on what's happening in the corporate world.

I also researched the firm itself thoroughly. I looked at its structure and key clients. I tried to understand what made the firm different. For this, I read CMS Cameron McKenna's own website extensively, as well as articles about the firm.

I found that several of my lectures were good preparation too – particularly ones on contract and trusts.

Which seats did you do and what kind of work did you do within them?

The scheme lasted two weeks and I sat in two different departments: EPC, which is energy, projects and construction, my preferred seat; and pensions. I was given really interesting work in both teams, but the most memorable project I worked on was while I sat in EPC.

At that time, the reforms to the NHS were being proposed. I was tasked with writing a report briefing a senior partner on how the restructuring of NHS trusts would impact the financing of its infrastructure.

First, I needed to get a clear understanding of all the projects underway, which involved a lot of sifting through paperwork. I was assigned a buddy on the first day and she was very helpful.

I then needed to get to the crux of the NHS reforms: which of them were relevant to us? I spent a lot of time reading relevant newspaper articles and on local council websites before writing the report.

When I finished, the work was passed to the partner who was very happy with it. He was leading client meetings all week, advising them on how the NHS changes would affect them. I think the project gave him ammunition with which to brief them. It also gave me a sense of how quickly the business world works and how important it is for the firm to keep abreast of it.

Describe an average day on the vacation scheme.

The day started at about 9am, at which point I would check my inbox to see if anything needed to be chased up, or if any new tasks had been set.

I had a company email address and my own phone line while I was there, which made me feel like part of the team.

After following up on email tasks, there was a presentation from a different department, then another one after lunch. These outlined exactly what each department does so by the time I left, I had a grasp of the whole firm.

In the afternoon, I would again pick up any tasks I'd been set and then work on a group presentation task. The days were quite varied, though; at the beginning, I was given a timetable of different events which shaped my commitments throughout the fortnight. Home time was usually, for me, about 6.30pm.

What networking and social events were organised?

There were lots of opportunities to speak to trainees, which was useful, as that's the role I'll be doing when I start at the firm. On the first night we had some drinks with first, second, third and fourth seat trainees and you could see how they'd become more confident as they'd progressed.

The partners also joined us for drinks, which was a great chance to ask some questions and introduce yourself. Graduate recruitment also organised some memorable events.

One day, we took a cycle-bus around London – including over Tower Bridge. It was great fun. All the networking events combined gave you a good cross section of the firm.

The social occasions were excellent opportunities to bend people's ears on anything I was unsure of. I would often ask my buddy about questions that I thought might seem silly, but which I felt I needed to know the answers to.

There were some terms I heard in the office that I had no idea about, but she cleared them up. She also helped me with practical things, like how long a report should be.

How did you end up receiving a job offer?

On the last Friday of the scheme, there was an assessment centre, after which you could be offered a training contract. It involved a group exercise, in which we had to speak on behalf of the firm as though we were at an event. Then there was a partner interview which lasted for an hour and was quite challenging.

A nerve-racking weekend followed, but I received a job offer on the Monday and was delighted to get the good news.

On the day before the assessment centre a colleague gave me some excellent advice: "Law firms are like boyfriends and girlfriends. They might look pretty, but you don't know until you get to them whether they're the right one for you." It really rang true – I came away from CMS Cameron McKenna knowing that I wanted to work there.

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