Hazal Kirci graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in English Literature. Having just completed her Graduate Diploma in Law, she is due to start the Legal Practice Course in September 2020. Between 2018 and 2019 (two recruitment cycles), she completed 18 applications and was invited to seven interviews for vacation schemes and training contracts at various law firms. In July 2019, she completed a two-week vacation scheme with Simmons & Simmons which resulted in a training contract offer.
What made you decide to convert to law and how do you feel your degree in English Literature has supported your career path?
While there was not one moment which helped me decide, I was initially attracted to commercial law specifically. It seemed like it would be intellectually stimulating and fast-paced which I knew I was drawn to in particular. My degree supported my career path mainly due to the written skills it gave me. This was extremely useful when writing my applications but also in analytical exercises at assessment centres involving finding mistakes and discrepancies - my attention to detail was really refined by that point.
How did you find your GDL and how did it differ from your university degree?
The GDL was a challenge. There was a wealth of content and while this was not extremely difficult to understand, it was hard to consolidate and maintain all the facts we were given. It differed from my undergraduate because it was based on a lot more problem-solving whereas my degree was much more analytical and theoretical.
What was your experience in the Government Legal Department like? Did this differ from internships at commercial law firms, and if so, in what way?
My experience in the Government Legal Department was an interesting and varied one. It was more like a week of seminars and workshops than true legal work experience but beneficial nonetheless. We listened to talks by the Competition and Markets Authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department of Work and Pensions, amongst others. We also learnt how lawyers assisted policy makers in bringing a Bill to life. That would probably be the biggest difference to a commercial law firm – you are truly at the heart of the law and have more of a hand in shaping it. I would say working for the government is more like working in-house as you treat the government as if they were your only client.
What drew you to Simmons & Simmons and what was your vacation scheme experience like?
I was drawn to Simmons & Simmons for its friendly culture and its drive to grow in the field of technology law. The firm has a “FinTech Fund” and has recently acquired legal engineering firm “Wavelength” to add to its client offerings, which I think is really exciting as both these projects are unique in the legal market.
My vacation scheme experience was very enjoyable. I sat in the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) and Competition departments and both were so varied but kept me fairly busy with work. I was doing a lot of research, disseminating government reports, and proof-reading some lawyers' work. The firm also kept us entertained and networking at every opportunity with brunches and pasta making classes.
Having successfully completed several applications, what were the main takeaways from these experiences?
My main takeaways are:
Spend a fair amount of time researching a firm to draw out what it is about them that truly inspires you to work there. That motivation should then shine through in any written application
Utilise all the free resources available to you. I spent a lot of time on The Corporate Law Academy’s forum page, sharing and asking for advice from people that were in the same position as myself. That did wonders for my confidence
If you are pursuing commercial law, always keep abreast of business news. Commercial awareness is like a block of Legos: you need to keep adding to it and building to get better
Try and get used to interviews and assessment centre formats. If a friend or mentor is willing to help by watching you perform in a mock assessment format then that will do wonders for you. I benefited from a lot of practice as my confidence kept growing as I became more and more sure of myself and what I was saying. This is acquired with time so keep chipping away at it. I hate to say it but “fake it till you make it” is an important mantra when meeting firms because if you do not seem confident or sure of yourself, then the person opposite you will naturally think the same.
How did you discuss your non-legal background in applications and interviews?
I made sure to capitalise on it wherever I could because I honestly saw it as a strength. I spoke about my written ability a lot and how I cultivated it through my student newspaper. I also spoke about my analytical skills and how I got really handy with spotting minute details in the texts I was reading. Additionally, I used one module I took on media and fiction to discuss my interest in technology (beyond the law). Be sure to talk about your interests in a non-legal aspect if you can, before making a point about its relevance in the field because this makes you seem more human and relatable!
Do you have any tips for students on how to highlight work experience (both legal and non-legal) in law firm applications?
Make sure you type out your role and responsibilities in full detail when asked about your previous work experience. Avoid bullet points and really draw out the best parts of an experience. The best parts would be the tasks you undertook which allow you to demonstrate a skill that is also useful when practicing law, even if it is non-law related.
If you are ever asked about your motivation for pursuing law, your legal experience will be very important to highlight. Try and draw out something specific which led you to pursuing a legal career, such as working with clients to help them understand difficult legal concepts.
How can students deal with setbacks and rejections, and most importantly, learn from them?
I think it is important to say that you are allowed to be a little upset and put-off when a firm rejects you, especially if you invested a lot of time in them. But it is also important to not let that period last for too long. You have to be brutal with yourself, pick yourself back up, and get back out there. Remember that you could have been rejected because you are just not ready yet or even because a firm’s culture just doesn’t match who you are as a person. And that is not always in your control! Learn from rejections by seeking feedback. If it is a written form and the firm do not provide that, get a friend to read it for you. If it is an assessment centre, be diligent and ask for feedback. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you know what you need to focus on for next time and which parts of yourself to highlight.