Freshfields Bruckhauss Deringer LLP Trainee Insight
Caspar Everett graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2018 with a degree in International Relations and Modern History. He undertook a Vacation Scheme with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and subsequently secured a Training Contract. He then completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and Accelerated Legal Practice Course.
Caspar joined Freshfields as a trainee in August 2020. He has completed two dispute resolution seats; first in the environment, product and regulation team, and second in the corporate disputes group. He has also worked in the global transactions practice, assisting on a mixture of private Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) and secondary share issues. Caspar is currently sitting in the restructuring and insolvency team.
What was your experience at St Andrews? What kinds of societies were you a part of?
If I am being totally honest I did not do too much law-specific work at St Andrews. I was a member of the Law Society but in a peripheral role; I was just a general member and dipped in and out of that in my second and third years.
I spent the majority of my time away from studying, more on the sporting side. I played a lot of cricket and I was the Captain of the cricket club. I also played a lot of golf— I mean we are in St Andrews so I feel like half the town plays golf.
I think one of the most important things, and this was always stressed in interviews and when I would be chatting to people, is that while you are at university it is important to do the things that you are interested in. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to show that you were a member of societies, whether they be art, drama, law, sport, or anything else. My friendships are with people I played golf and cricket with at University and I think St Andrews is fantastic for making lifelong friends.
How did your International Relations and Modern History degrees prepare you for becoming a trainee solicitor?
I think my degree really did prepare me in some ways and I definitely learned a lot. I think one of the things I have always talked about at interviews, and, again, one of the things that has helped me throughout my training contract as well, is the level of research I had to do in my History and IR degree for essays. That does translate into work and life as a trainee.
At Freshfields, we do three-month seats instead of the typical six-month seats in each rotation, so I have done two dispute seats - one corporate seat and I am now in a finance seat. In the disputes seat, I did a fair bit of research and obviously, the basic skillset I had from University has really helped me in that experience. On the corporate side, it is more ad-hoc so you have to go away and research and formulate answers.
I think one of the distinguishing factors is that the writing style is very different between writing essays at University and writing either email summaries of your research or writing long briefing notes at Freshfields. In my first seat, I did two quite long pieces of research that went to the Partner and Counsel. You do need to write these in a different way as they have to be more on the nose and much more succinct. Law school teaches you more than your undergraduate degree does in this area but I would say that the skills are still there and you definitely develop them over time. The thing that law allows you to do is conduct research and then distill it in a completely different way. Rather than formatting it into a long essay, it has to be quick to read and be easily digestible by the client or Partner.
Another thing I have learned over time is working to a deadline. St Andrews is not the most deadline-heavy University but we all know those times in first and second year when everything comes around at the same time and you have three essays to do but you also want to go live your life. When I was there I was not only Captain of the Cricket Club but I also coordinated campaigns for the Labour Party. I really had to figure out how to fit all of my other commitments around work. The hours at Freshfields are sometimes challenging but everyone tries to live a life outside of work as well so University definitely taught me how to do that.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the Vacation Schemes you participated in while at University? How did you decide that commercial law was the right path for you?
The schemes definitely were really crucial in understanding I wanted to do commercial law. You get to meet other people your age who are going to go and become trainees and you also get wider exposure to the firm. The most important thing for me was the people and whether I could see myself working there and working long hours with them. The culture is what stuck with me the most. That fed into my decision on whether commercial law was right for me.
I was weighing up whether I wanted to be a solicitor or barrister, and the thing that stuck out was that I loved the concept of working in these teams together whether it is on a deal or in a case and I liked the environment of being stuck together working towards a common goal whereas being barrister entails being on your own to a greater extent.
What attracted you to Freshfields specifically?
On a personal level, it was the people. I had a fantastic time at my Vacation Scheme and I got on with my peers as well as the trainees who were so helpful with getting you involved and with the tasks and interviews you had coming up. They also ran really great social events for us so I came away having had a lot of fun and it was a great experience.
Secondly, Freshfields is an incredibly international firm and that excited me. The thing I enjoyed most about St Andrews was how international it was. I grew up in Essex and went to St Andrews where I had a ridiculously international group of friends who are now in New York, Washington DC, Boston, Hong Kong, to name a few. I really loved that so the ability to work with people around the world and with different cultures was really exciting for me. During my Vacation Scheme, I got the opportunity to go and work in the Washington DC office for a week in the arbitration team and I even stayed in contact with my supervisor. The culture at Freshfields is really fantastic for such links. More recently, I got to spend three weeks in Tbilisi, Georgia because we were working on a trial that had witnesses out there and it was a really good experience to represent the firm and have that responsibility as a trainee. I do not think you would get that in many other places.
The three-month training seats are also really challenging and exciting - you get to really push yourself and walk away with a better understanding of what the sub-teams do. You do not just come away after six months and four seats saying you want to be a disputes lawyer but you come away saying “I want to be a disputes lawyer and do this team because I like the client base or I like the type of work”. It gives you a real breadth of training and understanding of where you want to qualify two years down the line.
What does a regular day in your role look like?
I think it really varies depending on what seat you are in and how busy you are. Due to the pandemic, we have been completely virtual. My personal preference has been to not go into the office for a specific number of days but I do go in a couple times a week to see other trainees and members of the team.
I think a typical day mainly centers around catching up with your supervisor. There are also team training calls a few times a week and the firm has also set up team meeting calls during the pandemic to give you some scheduled time to chat to people about things other than work. I think that is so important because normally you would be able to go for a coffee or lunch together but this has obviously been disrupted by working from home.
On the work side, it really does change. Generally, I have a piece of work that is quite long-running that I can pick up. Other things may come in throughout the day like emails from your supervisor asking for help with various projects and capacity requests. The good thing is that there are no two days that are the same and it makes it very exciting.
What guidance would you offer for non-law students interested in going into law?
I think the first thing I would say is to get involved as early as you can. I did some first-year schemes, for example. Several firms offer open days for first and second years or two-day schemes to get people involved. I think the benefit of a four-year degree is that it gives you two bites of the apple in that you can do schemes in either your first or second year so I would definitely suggest looking into those. As a first-year, I thought that commercial law sounded interesting but realistically had no real experience in it so I think dipping your toe in the water through those schemes is the best thing to do.
I would also say make sure you explore other things as well, I would not sit there as a first-year and say “oh I’m going to be a commercial lawyer”. I think you need to go and explore other options. I changed so much from ages 18 to 22 at St Andrews and my interests shifted so I think it's important to make sure. Law is a big commitment and the work can be challenging at times so I think it is important that you know you really want to do it.
The final thing is to not fret about being a non-lawyer. Sometimes you go to a first-year day or an assessment center and you see law undergraduates there who obviously understand the law a lot more than you do but the thing is that is not what the test is or what applications are about. The firms take 50-50 non-lawyers to lawyers and it is just more about commercial thinking and commercial awareness.
Do you have any advice for university students who are looking to apply to be solicitors after they graduate?
Really be on top of the schemes I mentioned earlier and know when you can apply. For example, the application process for Freshfields' Summer 2022 Vacation Scheme will go live in October 2021 through to January 2022 for penultimate third-year students. For fourth years and graduates, you can apply straight for a training contract (which will be 2024). Freshfields also does a London-Asia training contract so if you have an interest in spending time in Hong Kong and you are a fluent speaker of an Asian language then you can apply for that as well. On the more junior end of the spectrum, Freshfields also has winter workshops. There is a non-law-specific workshop which is helpful because it does offer a broad scope of what commercial law is about and you can apply for that between October and November this year. I would really stress that by third year, people are getting a better idea of what they want to do when they graduate and that is when your vacation scheme applications need to be in full force which requires a bit of effort.
Also, stay on top of your commercial awareness. As an undergraduate I found myself asking “what is commercial awareness?” because every time I went to an event people were bringing it up. Part of it is staying on top of the news and another significant part is also understanding what commercial lawyers do, what the different teams do, what other industries' roles are (e.g. banking, private equity etc) and the ability to understand a client’s business. A lot of this comes from following the news. However, that does not mean you should go and read the Financial Times every single day. It simply means understanding what is going on, staying on top of BBC news and taking in the news that interests you. I am very politically active, for example, so I follow a load of political commentators on Twitter to help me understand what is going on in the world. Obviously, try to follow a bit of business news as well.
The other thing is to really try and get your head around what a commercial lawyer does, including the work and clients. Understand what different departments do. It is very easy to sit in an interview or write in an application that you want to be a commercial lawyer but if you really know what the job involves it definitely helps.
The key with applications is that there is no set cookie-cutter response - every application should be tailored and specific. The most important thing is looking and sounding genuinely passionate. At the end of the day, firms are looking for someone who is intelligent, dedicated and interested in law, but also someone with whom they would want to work long hours with and share a workspace. That goes a long way.