In conversation with Chaitanya Shah on the Application Process for Training Contracts with International Law Firms

Chaitanya Shah is a final year law student at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai and a future trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance LLP. He has a keen interest in commercial law and global financial markets. He is also passionate about mooting and has received a Hon’ble mention for the Neil Kaplan Award for Best Individual Oralist at the 18th Vis East International Commercial Arbitration Moot, 2020-2021, where his team was adjudged quarter-finalist. Apart from this, Chaitanya loves reading, playing cricket and following his favourite sports.

He has been interviewed by Shruti Dhonde, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from MNLU, Mumbai.

1.     I would like to begin by asking what it is that drove you towards applying for a training contract rather than a vacation scheme ?

It is true that the vacation scheme route is the more popular route, however, I realised that many firms were a little hesitant when entertaining international students for their vacation schemes as they have to undertake a lot of pain in sponsoring visas, etc. While attending one of the law fairs, I came across Clifford Chance and learned about a recent decision they took to discontinue their vacation schemes in order to attract a larger, more diverse and international pool of applicants. The ethos of the decision and the firm’s commitment towards being international and diverse really stuck with me and was a major quality that I was attracted to. Apart from this, the kind of cutting-edge work and clients that Clifford Chance works with really drew me towards the firm, it is probably why Clifford Chance was the only firm I applied to.

 

2.     Could you briefly describe the application process and your experience?

Firstly, the application process and contents of the form differ for every firm and there is a lot of information available either on the firm websites, or third-party organisations such as “The Corporate Law Academy” and “The Student Lawyer” about the preparation process. For Clifford Chance, the application asked for a 600 word personal statement along with a work experience section, apart from the general information about the applicant and their education. The application form is largely centred around you as an applicant, simply trying to know more about you. The application form is followed by the Watson Glaser test, where you need to attain a minimum score to proceed to the next stage. The next stage is the assessment day which has two components, a 30-minute written assignment followed by a 75-minute interview with a partner and a senior associate. My experience while preparing for the process was very fulfilling, for two reasons. Firstly, the process requires immense amounts of research/reading to hone your commercial awareness which is particularly tested in the interview. Secondly, the entire process is very personal and it makes you ask yourself certain important questions like why you chose law, or why you want to work in an international law firm. Personally, the process helped me realise a lot of things I like or dislike and helped me understand the reason I wanted to become a lawyer.

3.     What were the key things that you kept in mind while filling the application form?

 I think there were two things that I kept in mind particularly. First, was to being honest throughout the application and not exaggerating or downplaying any successes or failures in my story. The purpose of the application is for the firm to get to know more about you and assess whether you as an applicant would be a good fit in the firm. So being honest and truthful about who you are, your experiences and most importantly what you learned from those experiences is the best way to go about these applications. The second thing is the writing style of the application, especially when it comes to the long questions. The writing style of the application is unique as it is important to sell yourself in the application while stitching a story from your individual experiences. Thankfully, there is ample material available online to help applicants with this such as weekly newsletters, podcasts and online forums.

4.     How did you prepare for the assessment day and how was your experience?

The assessment day primarily pivots on the skill of commercial awareness and the ability to express it in the writing assignment and the interview. Honing the skill of commercial awareness takes a lot of time and can come across as something new for a typical Indian law student, simply because our method of education does not account for the commercial skills of a lawyer. Very simply put commercial awareness is just the ability to put yourself into your client’s shoes and tailoring legal advice that accounts for the commercial context in which it is to be implemented. It involves keeping yourself abreast with all the current affairs around the world that have the potential to affect a law firm’s working. Additionally, it also involves your ability to realise that a law firm itself is a business and applicants need to appreciate their commercial context too. One other thing I would like to share is the best advice that I got while preparing for the interview. The advice was to firstly be confident and think out loud in the interview. The interviewers primarily want to gauge and understand your thought process behind the answers.

 

5.     What is the firm looking for in future trainee solicitors?

I believe that the firm is simply looking for two things. Firstly, if you are really interested in the firm and whether you would fit into their culture. It is very important for the applicant to show their commitment to the firm, especially when it comes to direct training contract applications. This can be shown through various ways, for instance by showing your knowledge about the firm and giving some very strong reasons as to why you applied to the firm, usually the more honest and personal the answer is, the better.

 

6.     What would your message to future applicants be?

My advice to future applicants would be to make sure they go into this process with a growth mindset. What I mean is, the entire process is very demanding in terms of your time commitment and the depth of your research about commercial news, law firms, etc. Now, you may not be able to appreciate the value of these things, while you are in the process or if, for some reason, you are not able to attain a training contract. But, in the long term, you will look back at this process and understand how it has made you capable of inter alia feeling confident about your communication skills, your ability to discuss case studies and appreciate the commercial realities of a news story. Hence, my advice would be to keep believing in yourself and all preparation should begin with the premise that you are capable of anything that you put your mind to.

7.     On a concluding note, how important is doing proper legal research and how should law students equip themselves with legal research skills? Could you throw some light on “exhaustion of research” and its importance in law?

Legal research is a key part of every lawyer’s typical day. I think it is very important that the purpose of the research dictate the aspects of the research which are most focused on. For instance, if the research is from the point of view of a client query, then understanding the purpose behind the query and then focusing on the presentation of the research in a way that suits the client is very important. Whereas, if the research is purely academic in nature, I believe that it is crucial to focus on the jurisprudential aspect of any argument. Especially while critiquing judgments or using case laws, it is important to appreciate the contextual matrix within which the legal reasoning of the Judge or her decisions are analysed. For students, I believe that moot courts are an amazing opportunity to hone your legal research skills. Because firstly, it helps you understand the method of applying case laws to a certain factual scenario and secondly, the competitive spirit of a moot court further motivates students to push their limits and better their legal research as well as presentation skills. For example, I participated in the Willem C. Vis Moot Court Competition which is based around international sales and arbitration law. The competition’s unique structure helped me to develop the ability to appreciate the commercial aspects of a legal problem along with honing my research and communication skills. The international nature of the competition also allows for great exposure to diverse people and their experiences.

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