For aspiring lawyers, securing a vacation scheme is almost sure to be an arduous task. Often, a vicious and competitive application cycle in December and January during which some students submit dozens of applications, can yield only one, or perhaps zero, secured vacation schemes. Places on these schemes can also offer routes into training contracts and so are law students' gold dust. From covering the cost of the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course to the training contract itself, law firms invest thousands into each trainee. So the selection process for vacation schemes and these contracts is rigorous.
My vacation scheme with Farrer & Co was secured after an application in January 2021 followed by an open day in March which involved assessed written and group tasks. A successful application requires candidates to prove their passion for the firm. Graduate recruitment teams recognise falsity from miles away and so it is important to apply to firms that speak to what you desire in a legal career. Farrer & Co is a full-service firm that takes pride in providing the best service possible. The firm has been serving its clients, which include the likes of Charles Dickens and the Queen, since the 18th Century. Although they are based in a single office in London’s Lincoln's Inn, their work has an international outlook as many of their clients operate abroad. This aspect of the firm’s work, combined with the small-team structure and close client-facing opportunities, means they provide high-quality legal advice on cases that are varied and interesting.
This client-focused, collaborative atmosphere of the firm was emphasised throughout the scheme. They search for commercially aware lawyers with drive, ambition and the ability to collaborate and perform as part of a team. When speaking to Senior Partner Anne-Marie Piper, we learned that the firm’s goals for the future are to build upon existing, and forge new, client relationships, as the practice evolves to meet the needs of these clients. Their mantra, “Grace under Pressure”, ensures that the team culture is one of generosity and kindness. This culture was emphasised each day of the scheme as lawyers spoke to the inclusive, friendly atmosphere. Although the firm’s international scope does mean that emails often arrive overnight, there is no culture of staying late at the office just to show face.
During the scheme all students completed individual research tasks for two supervisors. My first involved researching and drafting a recommendation document for employers surrounding Islamophobia in the workplace. This was the second of a two-part series published under Farrer & Co's new racial equality task force which was set up in 2020 as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. This, along with a Diversity & Inclusion talk we received, confirmed Farrer & Co’s commitment to ensuring that access to the legal profession is widened and that everyone within the industry is treated fairly. For example, the firm appoints certain members in each practice group to be “Diversity Champions”. After receiving external training to ensure best practice, these champions implement and communicate the firm’s D&I strategy and act as listeners with whom Farrer & Co’s employees can discuss ideas surrounding D&I.
On top of appointing the firm’s first female Senior Partner in 2017, the firm boasts a large 42 percent figure for female partners, which is well above the national average of 33 percent. Every woman I spoke to referred to the firm’s culture of enforcing female empowerment through various initiatives and referenced how most other firms are lagging behind in this respect. The firm’s variety of internal networks, from the Working Parents' Network to Agender (which aims to support an inclusive working environment for women), are a large part of female employees' work lives.
When speaking to a recent St Andrews graduate who qualified into Farrer & Co’s Private Client practice, I developed my understanding of the firm’s social culture too. This is partly since the team remains on the smaller side for a law firm, allowing teams to really get to know one another. When asking them why they chose their practice area to qualify into, every solicitor I spoke to answered that they got the feeling that they fitted in with the people from their teams and the work was enjoyable as a result of this. I did not feel this was the case at larger Magic Circle firms. Another element also missing from the latter firms is the personal nature of much of the work they do. Farrer & Co’s focus will always be on putting the client first. A Farrer’s solicitor spends much of their time collaborating with colleagues in other practice areas to service the full needs of their client as they work together to find solutions for their clients’ problems. Thus, the firm seeks trainees with individuality but also with a flair for collaboration and problem-solving.
To conclude, the vacation scheme balanced talks, tasks, and individual conversations with Associates and Partners. Though carried out remotely, the firm conveyed what they were looking for in applicants and provided us with an insight into whether it is the firm for us. While it is exceedingly important to perform well on the scheme in order to secure a training contract interview, I learned that finding the right firm for you is the single most important thing to consider at this early stage. The variety of firms out there is seemingly endless and ending up at one which does not suit your needs or resonate with you as an individual does not foster a sustainable working environment, and will make your journey to your dream firm even harder. Vacation schemes are a great way to find your "perfect" firm. When considering applications, your passion for this exact firm comes through clearly to those assessing and interviewing you and makes their decisions between the thousands of applicants easier. If this can be done, you are already halfway there.