DLA partner Tim Lake presenting about Corporate Sectors, Synergy and Deals

On Wednesday 7th December CEPLER Director of Employability, Emily Carroll, co-ordinated Birmingham Law in the City 2016.  This day-long law careers event, designed to give insight into the Birmingham legal market, was hosted by Gowling WLG exclusively for University of Birmingham law students.  Sessions included a corporate case study focusing on the industry sectors in Birmingham, a focus on negotiation skills, top tips for applying for vacation schemes, interview advice and a chance to ask questions of current lawyers and trainees from top tier firms based in Birmingham, including: DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Shoosmiths and Squire Patton Boggs. Here are some highlights from this insightful day.

Commercial Awareness Skills Sessions – delivered by Pinsent Masons

What is commercial awareness & why is it important?

There is a fundamental link between law and business, so commercial awareness is a critical skill for lawyers. You must be able to view situations from a commercial perspective and understand how businesses work. You need commercial awareness in order to be a trusted advisor for your clients, understand their business needs, and come up with solutions.

How can you improve your commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is much more than just reading the Financial Times 5 minutes before an interview. It is also more than making sweeping statements about the economy. Rather, you should focus on a couple of stories, and get to know the details. Recommendations of what to read included:

You can gain commercial awareness from law and non-law work experience

While firms do recruit students from vacation schemes, they always have other places left. If you don’t have law experience, think about the commercial awareness you gained from other jobs / work experience. Consider the organisation’s structure, customer needs, marketing, competitors, and any legal issues facing them.

Answering questions about commercial awareness

When answering questions, think about the commercial awareness gained from work experience, as well as extra-curricular activities – perhaps you managed the marketing or finances for a society. Explain what you were responsible for and relate this to the skills required by that specific law firm. Be proud of what you have done and don’t be shy about your achievements. Use ‘I’, rather than ‘we’ in your responses, and structure your answer using the STAR approach:


Details about Pinsent Mason’s work experience programme, 2 week vacation schemes and training contracts can be found here

Sectors, Synergy and Deals – delivered by DLA Piper

A sector-focused approach

DLA Piper stressed that many law firms, traditionally organised by practice areas, are now moving towards a sector-focused approach. By marketing their sector specialisms (e.g. manufacturing, energy, healthcare), law firms can promote cross-practice and attract new businesses. Clients value the understanding that advisors have of their industry and their ability to talk the same language.

“Showcasing deep industry and sector knowledge is a differentiator”.

What are clients looking for from their legal advisors?

 Some of the top qualities which clients value in their lawyers include:

  • A solution-oriented approach
  • Transferrable commercial awareness, which is made relevant/understandable to the client
  • An understanding of the client’s needs, business and sector
  • Personality – coming across as human and portraying an image of support
  • Value for money

Details about DLA Piper’s insight events, 2 week vacation schemes and training contracts can be found here

Making a Great First Impression at Interview – delivered by Shoosmiths

Samantha Hope, Shoosmiths’ Graduate Recruitment Manager, stressed that the most important part of the interview process is the preparation. You should feel confident that you have got this far, so take that attitude into the interview, and deliver your answers in an engaging way and enthusiastic way. First impressions are also crucial: “you have less than 10 seconds to make a first impression, so make sure it is a good one”.


Before Interview

 1. Research

  • The law firm through their website, social media accounts, law fair events/ insight days, and any secondary sources, such as published articles in ChambersStudent, Law Careers Net and The Lex 100. You can also gain information from networking and having a mentor. Think about what differentiates this firm and if your values match theirs
  • Your interviewer – if you can find out who this will be
  • Your potential clients – see if you have previously worked for any of the law firm’s clients before – e.g. retailers in part-time jobs.

2. Prepare 

Prepare to answer these questions:

 Do you have the right attitude for the job?

  • Are you intellectually capable of the job?
  • How has your past experience prepared you and what can you bring to the firm?
  • Do you really want a career in law?
  • Are you personable and do you have a good, client-ready manner?
  • Are you a good communicator?
  • Why are you suited to a career in law?
  • Why did you choose your degree?
  • Tell me about you

“Be genuine and yourself. Don’t just give us answers that you think we want to hear as it’s so transparent”.

Think about why the employer is asking you each question. Show that your skills and experiences tie in with the employer’s values. In questions about team-work, Duke of Edinburgh and examples about family are over-used, so think outside the box to differentiate yourself from other candidates! Prove that you can add value to the firm. You should always ask at least one question at the end of an interview, so prepare a minimum of 4 beforehand.


At Interview

 Dress more smartly than you think you need to and prepare your outfit the night before

  • Plan your travel route ahead of time
  • Exude confidence (even if you are nervous inside, fake it!)
  • Have professional etiquette: make eye contact and shake hands firmly
  • If offered a drink of water, accept it
  • At assessment centres, be friendly and polite towards the other candidates

 After Interview

  • Follow up with an email to remind the recruiter/partner who you are and that you really want the job
  • Even is unsuccessful, ask for feedback (which you deserve after spent time on the application process)


Top tips from current trainees

The day ended with a Q & A panel session which allowed students the chance to ask current trainees, at various Birmingham law firms, questions about the application process and their professional experiences so far. These were a selection of the answers given:

  • In your application form pay attention to detail, checking capital letters and character limits. You can make use of the university’s careers service to check it for you
  • Don’t just look at the law firm’s website, but make use of LinkedIn, trainee blogs and webpages. You can also interact with the firm at networking events and insight days.
  • Be quite selective in terms of how many applications you make. Better to spend more time on fewer applications and perfect them.
  • Organise your time – plan ahead, log deadlines and schedule time for researching, writing, editing and checking applications, as well as preparing for interview.
  • Every time you hear a piece of news that affects the legal world, think about how this would affect you as a lawyer
  • Set up an everyday briefing from The Lawyer, which will condense down useful information and expand your knowledge.
  • You will need a coherent story at interview about why you want to go into the legal profession
  • Think about where you want to work, including practicalities such as cost of living. Partners will ask you why you have chosen their regional office.
  • Know what type of person you are and your values, so that during work experience and vacation schemes you can see if you fit into a firm.

– Ruth Millington, Internship Officer, College of Arts and Law