I thoroughly enjoyed the Clifford Chance SPARK scheme for a number of different reasons. From learning about key practice areas, to hearing about the firm's commitment to Diversity & Inclusion and pro-bono, to socialising with the rest of the cohort, the virtual scheme provided me with a strong understanding of commercial law and how Clifford Chance operates as a leading global law firm. Despite the virtual format, I got a real sense of the firm's culture and this was testament to the level of attention to detail and effort which the graduate recruitment team put into the scheme. I enjoyed collaborating with other candidates, sharing ideas, building friendships and exploring Clifford Chance during such unprecedented times. I was impressed by the bespoke nature of the scheme and surprised by how much information I received in a relatively short amount of time. I enjoyed listening to partners speak so openly about their practice areas and appreciated that they all took the time to answer my questions and genuinely cared about my understanding of what I was learning. The virtual scheme has had a lasting impact on me as I've been paired up with a trainee buddy, developed friendships with students from other universities who are similarly passionate about Clifford Chance and I'm now more understanding of how the firm operates as a business, what challenges it faces and how it is prepared to continue providing an excellent client service in the future through materialising its vision and strategy.
I felt valued by Clifford Chance to a great extent during the scheme. The virtual format brought us closer than I could have ever imagined as we all had to navigate this new environment together. Clifford Chance continually impressed me with their unwavering commitment to making the scheme feel as collaborative as possible. This played out through the use of breakout rooms, virtual cooking classes, yoga sessions and networking lunches. Everyone from the firm was accessible via email during my time at the firm, willing to answer my follow up questions and I got a real sense that the lawyers I met genuinely cared about my understanding of what I was being taught. Since the virtual scheme, I've been able to arrange a number of networking calls which have reinforced my view that lawyers at Clifford Chance are willing to offer their time and contribute to the professional development of students hoping to join the firm. Another way Clifford Chance made me feel valued was their efforts to make the virtual scheme tailored to my particular interests. An example of this was when I could choose to learn more about Clifford Chance's practices in APAC, EMEA or Latin America which showed me that the firm had considered our individual preferences and this is an aspect of the virtual scheme which really stood out to me.
I received a high level of support during the virtual experience as the Clifford Chance graduate recruitment team were always available to answer our questions and were regularly asking for feedback on sessions. In terms of technical guidance, we were given a 'Guide to Groups' handout before the virtual experience which provided us with insights into the various groups at the firm and ensured that, as a SPARK candidate, I was well prepared to ask relevant and thoughtful questions to trainees, associates and partners from different practice areas. I still use this guide as a reference today before networking calls, as it offers deep insight into the role of a trainee solicitor and the variety of clients which each group works with. Another way in which I was supported during the virtual experience was being paired with a trainee buddy. I spoke to my trainee buddy before the virtual scheme about what to expect and how to perform well during the week. Since the scheme, I've been in regular contact with my trainee buddy and really invested into this relationship to learn as much about Clifford Chance as possible. My trainee buddy has offered her time to me in between handling complex, high pressure corporate matters and this really speaks to the down to earth nature of the firm where everyone is willing to help those who have less experience and want to learn. Overall, I have felt constantly supported by Clifford Chance and that there's always someone available to speak to if I have a question, from graduate recruitment to trainees to partners, this open-door culture runs throughout the whole firm and this has been a key takeaway from the virtual scheme for me.
A key skill which I developed during the virtual scheme with Clifford Chance was the ability to adapt. The virtual format challenged my ability to get used to a new way of learning and interacting with lawyers. Feeling comfortable speaking on camera, asking questions to partners over zoom and socialising with the rest of my cohort online was something I was sceptical about before the scheme. However, my scepticism was dispelled after the first day where I was able to adapt to the online platform quickly, because of the guidance and support which graduate recruitment offered. I never felt alone during the scheme, even though I was completing it from home. Developing my ability to adapt assisted me after the scheme when I conducted a virtual sponsorship tour as President of Bristol Law Club. Over the summer, I pitched to 25 law firms, raising over £30,000 for my law society which was assisted by my ability to adapt, which was developed during the Clifford Chance scheme. Pitching to law firms required me to be comfortable on zoom, think of new ways of running my law society during COVID-19 and negotiate to find solutions which would satisfy the sponsor firms and my law society members. The Clifford Chance scheme also improved my communication skills, which was vital to the negotiations I held during the sponsorship tour. Communication has been key to the success of the law society events I've run in first term, where I've interviewed partners, held panel discussions and a Diversity Series which Clifford Chance partnered with me on. Collaboration is another important skill which the scheme developed. We completed daily tasks and written exercises which I used as an opportunity to work with the rest of my cohort. We had phone calls during the evening to discuss the tasks and this installed a real sense of community and collaboration between us. This will assist me during my studies and beyond because having an appreciation of other people's ideas and sharing thoughts will inevitably contribute to a better end product or client service. In terms of the information I received during the scheme, I now have a much stronger understanding of what commercial law entails, the challenges which the industry faces and what drives Clifford Chance as a business. Something which surprised me during the scheme was the extent to which Clifford Chance focuses on business development and how it puts clients at the heart of everything it does. Prior to the scheme, I lacked an awareness of how often clients were contacted and the role which junior lawyers can play in client relationships. I've used this information from SPARK to learn more about law firm economics, client expectations and how relationships can be developed.
The virtual scheme was structured seamlessly and covered all aspects of Clifford Chance in an intense, but thoroughly enjoyable, schedule. For example, on the first day we received an introduction from the Regional Managing Partner, a 'Demystifying Corporate' session, partner insight into Finance and Capital Markets, a trainee learning fundamentals session, introduction to legal tech at Clifford Chance and then completed a daily challenge. This shows the level of detail and effort which the graduate recruitment put into the scheme. The days were structured very clearly and were packed with insight, variety and useful resources. However, if we missed anything during the sessions we were able to catch up after the scheme finished, as all the sessions were recorded. This was really useful because I could consolidate my learning in my own time after the scheme and watch the other optional sessions that I missed during the week. This was very innovative and a way in which the virtual format of the scheme had advantages over an in-person scheme.
The atmosphere of the scheme exceeded my expectations. Graduate recruitment provided a lot of positive energy and fostered a collegiate environment through a high level of communication, making us feel valued as individuals and by supporting us whenever we had questions. In terms of the cohort atmosphere, we spoke throughout the week on a WhatsApp group chat and this close-knit culture has continued ever since the scheme. I've met up with some of the students from the scheme which shows that despite the virtual format genuine friendships were still able to be made. Graduate recruitment did a fantastic job of bringing us together through virtual cooking classes, yoga sessions and networking lunches. I felt that I was able to connect to people as well as I could have done in the office. Whilst we were learning a lot about the firm in a short amount of time, we were also having fun and collaborating every step of the way. The atmosphere was never competitive (something which I expected before the scheme) and students were answering each other's questions and bouncing ideas off of each other. I'd also add that the atmosphere was elevated by the enthusiasm of all the speakers. An example of this being Dan Neidle's talk on Tax, Pensions and Employment or Ian Painter's session on Real Estate.
In terms of personal training and development, a significant way in which Clifford Chance invested in me was by pairing me with a trainee buddy who sits in the Corporate M&A group. My trainee buddy has helped me understand which skills are most important to being a valuable trainee, the types of deals I could expect to work on at the firm and the significance of setting your own personal boundaries in terms of workload. We've also had a number of interesting conversations surrounding commercial topics such as COVID-19, Brexit and ESG. It's been immensely valuable to have regular calls with someone who's recently been through the graduate recruitment process and can walk me through the on-boarding process which Clifford Chance has in place for its future trainee solicitors. Another way in which the firm has invested in my professional development has been through a 'Digital Awareness' course and a 'Demystifying the Training Contract' session with a partner. The firm has also introduced a set of Global Virtual Internships in 2020 to break down barriers to accessing the profession, which I've thoroughly enjoyed completing. The SPARK scheme itself was the biggest investment into my personal training and development as the graduate recruitment co-ordinated an intense schedule of practice area, diversity, pro-bono, legal tech and networking sessions. During the scheme we were also given access to the Clifford Chance Academy - a platform of almost 1,500 online courses which are focused on professional skills development. I used this opportunity to watch videos about AI, Climate Change and a number of other trends which are affecting the legal market. I also did training on self-awareness, resilience and communication.
I'm confident that, because of the SPARK scheme and the other professional development investments that Clifford Chance has made into my cohort this year, I have a strong understanding of what it would be like to train at the firm. I have a clear idea of the different opportunities which would be available to me, how the seat allocation and qualification process works and what the typical role of a trainee is in the main practice areas of the firm. The scheme gave me a much better understanding of the clients I would be working for, what they expect of Clifford Chance and how the firm utilises Legal Tech to deliver an unparalleled client service through Applied Solutions, tools such as CC Draft and the Best Delivery system. My trainee buddy has reinforced what I've learnt from the scheme as I speak with her about her full time role and how Clifford Chance operates in the Corporate M&A group specifically. I think that the inclusion of daily tasks really helped me to understand what it would be like to have a full time role at Clifford Chance as I had to complete research tasks and offer a fictitious client advice on an ICO Dawn Raid and another one a due diligence report on a possible human rights breach in part of the supply chain of the Target company in an M&A transaction.
Despite the virtual format of the scheme, I still gained a really strong insight into the Clifford Chance culture and which qualities are common amongst lawyers and trainees at the firm. Insight into the Clifford Chance culture started from day one of the scheme where we heard from Regional Managing Partner Michael Bates who spoke about how lockdown has brought the firm closer together as there's now a greater emphasis on listening to individual stories and checking in on each other. I know this is something which has been relaid in the Clifford Chance Responsible Business Report for 2020. The virtual experience helped me to better understand the firm's culture through exposing me to lots of different people who shared a similar 'can-do' attitude and enthusiasm for their colleagues, clients and legal work. I was struck by the down to earth nature of everyone who spoke to us on the virtual scheme and this translated into me asking more questions, being more interested in the firm and feeling that I could really fit in if I were to work at Clifford Chance. The schedule of the virtual scheme also reflected some of the firm's core values as we engaged with yoga sessions and virtual cooking classes in between sessions. This spoke to the firm's desire for its lawyers to work hard but also have interests and hobbies outside of work. I enjoyed the balance of relaxed networking opportunities with intense and content heavy practice area talks.
The content of the virtual scheme was certainly helpful in making me decide on my future career path. Admittedly, I was very interested in commercial law before the virtual scheme happened but it was still very useful in confirming my perceptions of the profession and Clifford Chance more specifically. The scheme was valuable because it brought to life the skills which are necessary to becoming a good commercial solicitor. For example, I was aware of the need for lawyers to have strong communication skills before the scheme, but listening to a partner speak in-depth about his relationship with Morgan Stanley and how he interacts with the client really demonstrated why communication is so vital.
Yes, I was paid adequately for this experience
Yes, there were a wide range of opportunities to interact and network with different employees of the firm. The use of breakout rooms was really effective at emulating the networking experience as we could ask questions in a small group and get to know other SPARK schemers whilst doing so. Clifford Chance arranged for us to have networking lunches on each day of the scheme and whilst this was optional, the majority of the cohort took the opportunity to get to know one another. In terms of meeting other employees, we were exposed to a huge variety of lawyers of differing seniority during the scheme which was important because reflecting the whole firm, rather than one portion of it, gave us a better perspective on what the firm is like in its entirety. I was impressed by the breadth of speakers and how they were all equally willing to answer our questions and interact.
The networking/social event opportunities available to us were effective in bringing the cohort closer together and giving us a release from the practice area sessions on Corporate, Finance and Capital Markets, Litigation and Dispute Resolution, TPE and Real Estate. We all participated in a live cooking class on the opening day which was a great ice-breaker activity and allowed us to connect outside of our mutual interest in commercial law and Clifford Chance. We also had the opportunity to do a live yoga class, which once again allowed us to have fun and focus on something different. I gained a lot from the networking lunches personally because I enjoyed hearing about the training which Clifford Chance offers to its future trainees. I was able to ask questions about LIFT, the LPC and living grants that Clifford Chance offers to relieve future trainees of financial pressure before starting their training contract. Another social aspect of the virtual scheme has been networking with the graduate recruitment team who have supported us throughout this whole process and made us feel like we can have an open dialogue about anything related to the firm.
During the virtual scheme we learnt a lot about the affinity groups which Clifford Chance offers to its employees. I was interested in the Diversity & Inclusion work which the firm does to such an extent that I've partnered with Clifford Chance on a Bristol Law Club event. I came away from the Diversity & Inclusion talk, during the scheme, motivated that this firm truly cares about its people and is committed to making everyone feel comfortable in the workplace. Through the added support offered by allies and the changes which reverse mentoring can make, affinity groups such as ARCUS and ACCELERATE host a range of activities which employees can get involved in outside of legal work. I invited a speaker from SPARK to talk to my university law society members about some of the pro-bono highlights which Clifford Chance has in relation to the LGBTQ+ community, such as the X-passport case. I also heard about other activities such as sports clubs, book clubs, community outreach and ESG initiatives during the scheme. I've come away from the scheme with a much better understanding of the positive impact Clifford Chance is making to the world through the Clifford Chance Foundation. It's been inspiring to learn that the firm doesn't just focus on client matters, but is also asking itself existential questions about what more it could be doing as a business in its own right.
Yes, I would certainly recommend this experience to any students interested in pursuing a career in commercial law or wanting to find out what it entails. Since the scheme, I have run webinars with three SPARK schemers and graduate recruitment specialist Yasmina Kone about the scheme. I've also written a piece with Yasmina and another graduate recruitment specialist, Zoe Jenkins, reflecting on the scheme. This was published on a Bristol student-lead commercial awareness website which was founded during lockdown.
Central London and City
25th November 2020