1. Congratulations on your training contract with Clifford Chance, one of the first Indians to do so. How did you feel after securing the contract?
Hi! Thank you so much.
The feeling is unreal, to say the least. I still get goosebumps at the thought of working with one of the largest pre-eminent law firms in the world. Clifford Chance is a pioneer in the field and I am grateful for the opportunity to become an integral part of such an innovative, diverse and ambitious team.
It is an incredible feeling to be a trailblazer on this path, which I am positive, is only a start for many more to follow. Having had the experience of working with multiple magic circle law firms, I am ecstatic to venture forward as a future trainee at Clifford Chance, London.
2. You have also done a vacation scheme with Allen & Overy, Singapore. What are the things one should keep in mind before applying for the vacation scheme or direct training contract application procedure? Any constraints and interests you can shed light on?
I think self-introspection becomes crucial when planning to apply for a vacation scheme or a training contract. An honest assessment must be undertaken of having a clear interest in commercial law, aspiration to work in a global setting and of your own skills and values before considering a career working for a city law firm. A city law firm is essentially a large commercial law firm based in the City of London with Pan global offices.
It is also important to have an understanding of the framework of how various city law firms recruit. There are some firms which offer vacation schemes specifically to Indian law students, making their selection cohort relatively smaller, increasing the chances of an Indian law student to bag a TC. The non-traditional route, so to say, is applying for firms which have an international pool of candidates who all apply from the same route. For instance, Clifford Chance revealed that it received a whopping 5804 applications during its last recruitment cycle, out of which it offers 100 training contracts (TC) in toto i.e. roughly a 1.7% acceptance rate.
While in no way should this dissuade you from applying, it is important to know that multiple factors come into play while writing an application and it is pertinent for you to have the passion and desire to undergo the rigorous process.
3. What is the procedure of applying for the vacation scheme?
Most city law firms have a fairly rigorous process of recruitment as a trainee solicitor.
The first stage usually encompasses of filling out the application form including personal details, academic records, work experiences and subjective questions. Clifford Chance asked us to write a 600-word essay, while Allen & Overy (A&O) had 3 specific questions to get an insight on the candidate’s interests, skills, commercial knowledge, amongst other parameters. Most firms have very detailed resources available on their website explaining each stage in detail. I began my applications at the beginning of my penultimate year of law school.
This is usually followed by a psychometric test or a Watson Glaser test to test your reasoning aptitude and to better understand your personality. Upon qualification of these stages, shortlisted candidates are invited for an assessment centre (AC) with the firm.
The structure of the AC differs amongst firms, however it is roughly split between a technical interview with partners and senior associates of the firm where you are thoroughly tested on your commercial awareness, including a written component or a case study for most firms. Further, there is an HR-based interview by a member of the graduate recruitment team or a senior associate/partner at the firm where your working style, strengths, weaknesses, interests, expectations from a trainee solicitor role and deliverables are tested.
It is common to hear shortly after the AC, wherein you are either given a direct TC or invited to be a part of the firm’s vacation scheme (VS). Post the completion of a 3-4 week vacation scheme, based on their assessment criteria during the VS, you are offered a TC with the firm. Official paperwork is signed in the weeks that follow. I am grateful to have received acceptances from two magic circle law firms.
One has to complete UK Solicitor qualifications, usually completely sponsored by the firm, before they begin their training contract. This usually includes doing a PGDL, followed by the SQE 1 and 2, depending on the firm’s qualification requirements from international candidates.
This is usually the process to qualify as a commercial solicitor in the UK. One can also engage as a barrister in the UK, however the route to qualify is vastly different from the one I have adopted.
4. What was your preparatory stage for the interview like? What are the types of questions asked and what, in your opinion, are the standard replies?
In short, it was long nights of gaining a deep understanding of various topics within commercial law ranging from merger and acquisition (M&A), international capital markets, international arbitration to banking and finance amongst other key areas. My suggestion would be to begin by reading Mergers & Acquisitions for Dummies by John Snow as a good starting point to get a strong hold of basic concepts. This can be further substantiated by practising mock case studies, easily found on the internet.
The second part of the preparation was getting acquainted with commercial awareness i.e. keeping abreast with world affairs, international deals, policy changes and critically analysing their effect on businesses across the world. I would highly suggest resources and podcasts such as the Corporate Law Academy, Financial Times and Investopedia to further build an understanding.
The final part was to prepare for the HR-based questions such as why XYZ firm? What makes you a fit candidate for the role? What is a change you see in the legal industry in the next 5 years?, etc. My recommendation would be to use every experience you have had, legal or non-legal, to show transferable skills in a trainee solicitor role. It is important to have a passion about what you do, be that climbing the Everest Base Camp or living off-beat in the Amazon Rainforest. Avoid getting sucked into the trap of “CV building” with meaningless experiences. Firms appreciate an original and unique answer.
5. You have been an ADR Champion at NUJS, the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Host of Ex Curia International, and one of the brightest scholars at your university. How do you think these accolades and achievements add to your success?
The role of a solicitor is one which requires multiple skills and qualities. There is simply no one “type” of person who can succeed in this role and profession.
For me, I believe my strongest attributes of being a resilient team worker with an eagerness to learn makes me well suited to this career. My skills can be comprehended from my response to the pandemic. Although the pandemic was taxing for most of us both physically and mentally, I looked for opportunity in adversity.
Not only did I try to resolve an unfamiliar issue by pursuing my passion project of Ex Curia International (www.excuriainternational.com) where I picked up on how to innovate by harnessing different ways of thinking and working with multiple different people across borders, but I also utilised the time to do a long-term internship with who is considered the godfather of mediation, Mr Sriram Panchu. Herein, I learned how to articulate and share my perception in a team of mostly senior members of the legal fraternity. I also lead the cybersecurity division at Women’s Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
From lobbying with government officials on key policies to learning how to encapsulate various ideas from each team member in a virtual setting, each experience equipped me with skills no textbook could teach.
I took up several speaking and adjudication engagements (on topics ranging from human rights and movies to ADR and cybersecurity) where I was opportune to work with the American Bar Association, United Nations Girl Up, ICC Bucerius, Global Nature Film Festival along with a number of individuals who I hosted podcasts with. This was all while balancing academics and other personal commitments.
These experiences gave me the confidence to say I have tremendous resilience and self-motivation making me the right fit at a global law firm to be effectively be able to manage a demanding trainee role.
6. Your college has provided enriching academic exposure by means of SCC-EBC databases in order to hone researching skills and cultivating academic interests. What according to you has been the importance of smart and precise legal research?
In my opinion, the database provided by SCC Online has been of utmost importance throughout my law school journey and personal endeavours with ECI and internships, amongst other things to carry out smart and precise legal research. It has been a great tool to assist with competitions in ADR and mooting, not to mention my stints in editorial boards or drafting research papers.
As a commercial lawyer, the skill of conducting good legal research is perhaps one of the most important ones to hone, as it develops one’s analytical ability, attention to detail and quick-thinking. It is quintessential for a law student to build on these skills, through drafting papers, internships and editorial roles.
7. What did you look for while applying at foreign firms and why? Who would you recommend taking a chance for a Clifford Chance training contract?
I strongly believe that the tenets which I grew up with, those of working in a global set-up with diverse mindsets and ways of thinking are values which I wished to emulate further in my career.
Even at Ex Curia International, my global charity initiative, I lead a team of editors and interact with advisors placed in over 25 different countries – this makes cross-cultural communication and collaboration a daily affair. To be able to work on multi-jurisdictional deals at a global law firm like Clifford Chance (or A&O) with such a wide international presence was very attractive to me.
What made CC stand out to multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) its innovative outlook which streamlines work, aligning with my solution-driven outlook. On a more personal note, post countless interactions with ambassadors of CC across the chain, I firsthand witnessed CC’s values of inclusivity, nurturing ambition and complete honesty, tenets which I am sure will allow me to put my personality into my work. As an international student, this was very important for me, knowing instantaneously that Clifford Chance is the place for me.
Anyone with out of the box thinking, a deep passion and endless ambition should take a chance at the Clifford Chance training contract.
8. What are your plans at Clifford Chance with their very diverse networks and programs? Do you plan on pursuing higher studies?
With Clifford Chance’s extremely inclusive and interesting initiatives, I have just completed a secondment on behalf of the firm wherein I worked with the Refugee Employment Network (REN), London. REN brings together non-profits, local authorities and businesses to ensure refugees in the UK have access to paid work or self-employment. As the REN coordinator, I was grateful for the opportunity to be directly working with His Majesty King Charles’ Business in the Community (BITC), amongst multiple other REN partnerships and projects, supported by organisations like EY, Deloitte, Freshfields, amongst others.
I, presently, will be pursuing my PGDL, followed by the Clifford Chance SQE-LLM program at the University of Law, London before beginning my training contract with Clifford Chance.
9. What advice would you want to give for students dreaming like you, to work at an international magic circle law firm, such as Clifford Chance, in the coming years?
Every experience counts. Like I said, make any skill transferable and relevant to the current role you aim to pursue. Seek out these experiences in your early years of law school. Working with a startup may teach you more than working in a well-oiled firm. Textbook learning can only teach you so much, it is only when you get your hands dirty, do you really learn.
My advice is simple. Be relentless with your dreams and goals. Do not give up because it has not been done before. There is a first time for everything, believe in your own journey, take that first step.
10. Do you have a source of inspiration you would like to share with us?
None of what I do would be possible without the endless encouragement and support from my family and mentors. To be a constant reminder that no feat is too big for one to accomplish, if the heart remains in the right place. I am eternally grateful to have such a strong support system guiding me every step of the way.
Thank you for joining in, I really appreciate you taking your time out and answering these questions. I am sure a lot of students will be inspired by your achievements, and that you will continue outshining yourself, every step of the way.
Thank you, Ananya.