More top firms throw open doors to freshers

An increasing number of top 20 law firms are rolling out opportunities for first-year undergraduates in a further bid to attract the best talent.

Clare Harris
Clare Harris

Hogan Lovells plans to follow in Simmons & ­Simmons’ footsteps by launching a dedicated week-long paid vacation scheme for first years.

But the vast majority of firms surveyed by The Lawyer’s sister title Lawyer 2B remain cautious about pouring too many resources into students who are still trying to find their feet on campus, opting instead for shorter schemes.

Slaughter and May is the most recent law firm to announce that it will be introducing an open day for first year students from next year. Graduate recruitment partner Robert Byk said: “The real reason not to offer a week is that it’s a very early stage in people’s university careers: not only is it, therefore, very difficult to select a small number of people, but we believe that it’s important to allow as many as ­possible to benefit from the experience provided.”

He said Slaughters hopes the open day will encourage students to apply for longer work experience schemes in the following years.

Simmons graduate recruitment partner Alexander Brown, meanwhile, insisted that although open days have their place in ­giving students a certain insight, a fair chunk of their experience is taken up ­sitting in a room and hearing about the organisation.

“I guess it’s a bit of a trade off as there’s certainly truth in that by just doing open days you get more people through the door,” he said. “But the reality for the firm and the student is that there’s a very thin slice of experience on offer.”

Simmons introduced its groundbreaking scheme two years ago, rolling out two one-week programmes for first-year law students and second-year non-law students, who are paid £250, in March and April each year.

“Although they’re that much earlier in their university career, we’re still dealing with engaged and bright people,” said Brown. “It’s a level playing field, as they’re all at the same level of inexperience, and so I don’t see that as a reason not to do it.”

Brown conceded that he does not see first-year vacation schemes becoming the norm throughout the legal sector because of the level of additional resources and administration needed.

In agreement, Pinsent Masons graduate recruitment manager Edward Walker acknowledged that the level of resources required may hinder it from expanding the firm’s work experience, which it has been piloting exclusively for first years at Birmingham University and University College London, into a more formal scheme.

“It’s really a personal call for each individual law firm,” said Clare Harris, head of resourcing at Hogan Lovells. “It depends on the firm and how they wish to respond to the issues. I’m hearing from academics, careers advisers and organisations such as High Fliers, that first years want a greater insight into law firms.”

Harris explained that Hogan Lovells’ programme aims to bridge the gap between an open day and the firm’s full vacation scheme by providing more work-shadowing opportunities to give freshers a ­better understanding of what the work involves.

Several firms, however, have taken a halfway option by offering a two-day event. Herbert Smith, which has gone down this route, claimed this is enough time to give students sufficient experience and enables the firm to get twice as many people through the door than a week would permit.

“We’re comfortable that the two-day workshops will give students enough of an insight into the firm,” said Peter Chater, head of resourcing at Herbert Smith. “It covers the basics, giving them an experience of what it’s like to work here through work shadowing and workshops.”

Linklaters also ran a ­similar project called Pathfinder, which invited students to help shape the scheme. It consisted of a mixture of business games, networking and team-­building workshops.

The only other top 20 firms to offer longer work experience for freshers are Ashurst, which provides ad hoc work experience for first years, and CMS Cameron McKenna, which does not discourage first years from applying to its formal two-week vacation schemes.