Future Jones Day Trainee Insight
Serena Dwerryhouse graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2021 with a degree in Modern History. She undertook a Vacation Scheme with Jones Day and obtained a training contract offer from both the firm and Pennington Manches Cooper.
Having accepted a training contract from the former, Serena will be joining Jones Day in 2023. She is currently undertaking the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) at BBP University and has just finished her first set of exams. Alongside her legal studies, she has undertaken an internship in international law and human rights.
What was your experience like at St Andrews? Do you think your Modern History degree has supported your legal career?
I loved my time at St Andrews. I was a member of the University of St Andrews Law Society and attended their Law Networking Dinners, which offered a great opportunity to speak with trainees from different firms. I also went to the Law Open Days organised by the Careers Center. I was also a writer for the St Andrews Law Review and covered a range of topics including the use of rape as a genocidal weapon and the current persecution of Uyghurs.
Despite St Andrews not offering law as a degree, there are multiple ways to develop your interest in law. I chose modules within my Modern History degree that complimented this passion. My degree helped me when undertaking Assessment Centers as well as my Vacation Scheme with Jones Day since a lot of the tasks involved in-depth research and presenting a variety of arguments in a coherent way. The essays I had to write, including my dissertation, also helped during interviews, because those interviewing me showed a real interest in my degree and the modules I had chosen in my final year. Since starting the PGDL at BPP it’s become clearer that because of the historic rulings that underpin the legal sector, History is incredibly relevant to law.
What other legal internships and experience have you undertaken, and how has this supported your understanding of the industry?
I had an interest in law prior to starting at St Andrews and so from a young age, I tried to gain experience of any kind in the legal sector. When I was sixteen, I interned with a Judge at Reading Crown Court during the summer. Observing a criminal law case from the beginning was eye-opening and sparked my interest in a career in law. Since then, I tried to use the holidays at University to gain more experience and to decide whether I wanted to be a barrister or a solicitor.
I have worked at a local family law firm near home, which was useful to help me understand the day-to-day complexities of being a lawyer as I was able to help with a variety of tasks including client meetings, sorting out case files and helping to organise important client documentation.
More recently, I worked as a legal researcher for a project focused on gendered crimes committed by the Islamic State. It was important in this project to have a clear focus and it has since helped when undertaking other legal work experience. While at university research does not have to be as succinct, this is crucial when explaining legal concepts. Having a variety of legal work experience was really useful when applying later on for Vacation Schemes and Training Contracts.
Tell me a little bit about some of the Vacation Schemes in which you participated. Did they affect your career trajectory and what were some of the most important things you took away from them?
My Vacation Scheme at Jones Day was fantastic but also very challenging. As I had not done a law degree, it was at times intimidating hearing other candidates using legal skills from their law degrees to undertake the tasks during the scheme. However, your degree background honestly did not matter.
Together with other students, we were assessed on different tasks including a negotiation workshop and various work tasks which we chose. The work tasks were composed of different areas of law, ranging from property law to international disputes, and gave us a taste of the kind of work one might have to undertake as a trainee at the firm.
I was able to use my research skills from my History degree and ensured that I used my time wisely in-between talks and speaking with lawyers at the firm. The structure of the scheme mirrored Jones Day’s non-rotation training contract and how trainees are required manage their time independently.
How has your experience doing the PGDL at BPP and how has it compared to your undergraduate studies?
There have been some similarities particularly because of the face-to-face teaching during workshops with BPP tutors. These workshops clarify that week’s content and we also go through the weekly online tasks. These mirror the kinds of client queries you would get as a trainee.
However, the work is relatively independent especially in preparation for the exams. Every week there is a specific topic for each module which we learn independently and do relevant readings. This is then consolidated and discussed further in the workshops.
It helps that at BPP they split you into groups and, in my group, I am learning alongside other future trainee solicitors joining Jones Day and other similar firms. The content has been incredibly interesting but it is great being in a group where you can all ask questions and study together as the sheer amount of new information every week can sometimes be overwhelming.
How did you get involved with international criminal law and human rights work and what advice would you give to a younger student looking to follow a similar path?
The main piece of advice is to reach out to people. There are a lot of opportunities but you have to spend a lot of time undertaking research on the kind of jobs you might interested in and the organisations that might offer volunteering or internships.
I spent a lot of time at University sending my CV to different organisations and meeting with people just to get their advice and to hear about their careers as everyone has taken a different path to get where they currently are. People have always been happy to speak with me which I am grateful for because having mentors to reach out to has really helped me gain more experience.
I managed to get involved with human rights work by contacting organisations and offering to undertake research for them; from there I was able to branch out. My first piece of research experience was more history-based but involved researching locations of genocidal acts during World War Two across Europe. Nevertheless, it allowed me to practice the skill of juggling lots of new information which has been incredibly useful since.
The final thing is not to worry about being a non-lawyer, there are lots of ways to keep up to date with the key legal developments and at Assessment Centers although it might be intimidating that others have done law as their Undergraduate degrees, firms usually take 50-50 non-law students to law students. During interviews, it is more about commercial awareness and the way that you think rather than your technical knowledge of law.