YOU DON’T NEED A LAW DEGREE – JUST INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY
Want to work at a top law firm that’s welcoming and inclusive? Where you’ll have the chance to travel all around the world and learn from the best in the business? The Allen & Overy Training Contract is one of the most popular and prestigious graduate opportunities around.
Allen & Overy is one of the UK’s five leading law firms (sometimes referred to as the ‘Magic Circle’), and they’re keen to hear from graduates like you. But how can you make sure your application for the Allen & Overy Training Contract hits the mark with the people who read it? We asked Alix Shepherd, Graduate Recruitment and LL.M Specialist at Allen & Overy, for the inside scoop on exactly what she and her team are looking for – and we also hear from a successful candidate now working at Allen & Overy…
Graduate Fog: First, the basics. What does Allen & Overy actually do?
Alix Shepherd, Allen & Overy: “We’re an international commercial law firm, which means we advise firms of all sizes, around the world on some of the most significant matters affecting their business. Doing that well means delivering technically excellent and commercially astute advice – so all our lawyers really know their stuff. But the job isn’t just about having knowledge. In today’s economy, clients demand better value, even greater expertise and lower costs. Meanwhile, the issues on which they need advice are becoming more complex and international. That means the role of our lawyers – and the range of skills we require – is constantly evolving. We’re always on the look-out for people who are excited by that challenge.”
What sort of applicants are you most keen to hear from for graduate positions at Allen & Overy?
“There isn’t a typical Allen & Overy candidate. We look for intellectually curious people who are driven and motivated to have a career in commercial law, looking to challenge the status quo and innovate in their field. A strong academic performance is important, but we also place a lot of value in resilience, commercial awareness, teamwork and leadership.
“These days, we need lawyers who are not only able to deal with the increasing complexity of issues that our clients face, but who are also able to apply a range skills to a variety of situations. Advising a Chinese client on an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) transaction in the telecoms sector requires a different style and tone to working with an Australian mining firm. As a lawyer, that ability to switch seamlessly between different transaction types and client cultures is key to developing trust and building credibility.”
Is it true that big law firms only want to hear from posh people with law degrees from top universities?
“No! Just under 50% of our trainees are from a non-law background and our current trainee pool is composed of people from 42 universities. Our objective is simple: to attract and retain the most talented people; to benefit from the varied talents a diverse workforce brings, and allow our people to achieve their potential and fulfil their ambitions, within a supportive working environment. At Allen & Overy we recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion – it’s essential to our business and enables us to continue to be a successful practice in today’s competitive global market. If anyone reading this is hesitant about applying to us for any reason, or you’d like to discuss your application, you can always get in touch with our team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Can graduates sample life at Allen & Overy, before applying for a full-time job?
“Yes – for people in their penultimate year of their undergraduate degree or beyond and looking for a taste of what it’s like to work at A&O, we run three Vacation Schemes which coincide with university holidays. In each of these, you will assist your trainer – a partner or associate – on real deals sitting in one department. (We try our best to place you in the area you’re most interested in). Alongside your day-to-day work within the departments, you’ll be teamed up with fellow vacation students on a client pitch project designed to sharpen your team, research and presentation skills and expose you to our broad range of clients and offerings. In addition, other events will be coordinated for you to learn more about the firm’s business and what life is like as a trainee. You will also be compensated for your work, as our vacation students are paid £400 per week.”
How about graduates who are ready to apply for a full-time job at A&O?
“For them, there is the two-year Allen & Overy Training Contract. The first year consists of a series of three- and six-month ‘seats’ (rotations, or placements) in a variety of areas in our UK business. In the second year, you’ll have the opportunity to undertake international and client secondments. By the end of the Training Contract, you’ll have experienced the breadth of our work, whilst ensuring you gain the depth of knowledge to help you make informed decisions about your next steps. You don’t need to have completed a Vacation Scheme with us in order to secure a Training Contract. Around half of A&O’s trainees did not undertake work experience with us prior to applying for a Training Contract.”
Which is better?
“We’re often asked that, but truthfully each route has its benefits and it is down to the individual to decide if they want to experience A&O before applying, or to apply directly and spend their university holidays doing something new and learning new skills to equip them for starting the LPC. You don’t need to have done one of our Vacation Schemes to be considered for our Training Contract.”
What salary does Allen & Overy offer its trainees?
“The current salary for first year trainees is £42,000 rising to £47,000 in the second year of Training. The current salary on qualification is £78,500.”
Do most of your trainees stay with Allen & Overy, once they’ve qualified?
“We have a fantastic retention rates – 93% in 2015. We train our lawyers with the future in mind and want you to succeed and develop a long-term career with Allen & Overy.”
Do you expect graduates to know exactly which area they want to work in long-term, before they apply for the A&O Training Contract?
“No – the whole idea of the ‘seats’ system is to give graduates a taste of the options available. Soon after you start your Training Contract (where you will have had the chance to choose your first seat) you’ll meet with our HR Manager for Trainees, to create your own individual seat plan. As well as picking your remaining seats, you’ll discuss their length, and explore the possibilities of international or client secondments (which happen in your second year). Seats are available in all our practice areas, allowing trainees to experience the full range of work we do, with a ‘priority seat’ system guaranteeing that you’ll spend time in at least one area that is of particular interest to you. Our core areas of expertise are Banking, Corporate and International Capital Markets and as a trainee you will spend at least twelve months of your Training Contract gaining experience in at least two of these areas. The other four practices are Litigation and Dispute Resolution, Employment and Benefits, Tax and Real Estate.”
What does an Allen and Overy trainee do, day to day? Is it real work?
“Yes, it’s real work! Joining the firm as a trainee, you will have an important role to play. Most tasks you handle will not only add significant value to our clients, but will also help you to place the legal advice we give in a commercial context. You may, for example, be asked to set up the companies required for a transaction structure, to liaise with the other offices advising on a deal or to have a first stab at drafting transaction documents. In addition, there’s always research to be done to support the work of the team.”
What supervision and feedback can graduate trainees expect?
“You will have a designated supervisor – a partner or senior associate – who will always be willing to answer questions so that you have everything you need to contribute in a meaningful way. Furthermore, your supervisor will set high standards and expect you to exceed them. They will recognise your successes and highlight where you can improve.”
Let’s return to the recruitment process. When and how should graduates apply? What stages does the application process involve?
“We open for applications in the autumn and the link to the application form can be found on our website (aograduate.com). There is a simple application form, which asks you to complete your education and work history, plus there are five 250-word questions to complete. I’d encourage candidates to complete all parts of the form even if the system allows them to click through to the next section of the form (e.g. their modular grades). Otherwise we’ll have to chase you for this information later, which could delay your form being reviewed. We don’t run an assessment centre at Allen & Overy so if your application is successful the next stage will be two face-to-face interview. The first is a case study interview with a partner, which involves reviewing documents in a legal case, forming your own opinions and then presenting these to the partner, with questions at the end. Don’t worry that you need to have a lot of legal knowledge in order to pass this part of the interview process – remember, half of our trainees are from a non-law background! The second interview is with a member of our HR team (or perhaps a senior associate) and tests your commercial awareness, commitment to a career in the legal sector and also key competencies we look for in our trainees. After this, we’ll introduce you to a current trainee for an informal chat so you can ask them any other questions you have. If all goes well, we’ll offer you a Vacation Scheme or Training Contract.”
Are there any minimum academic requirements for graduates wishing to apply to A&O?
“We ask for a minimum of AAB (340 UCAS points or equivalent) and to have gained (or be on track for) a 2.1 at university. Your degree can be in any subject. If you have not achieved these grades but still want to apply there is a space on the application form to fill out any mitigating circumstances (for example, if you or a close family member experienced a period of illness). We realise that there are a times when someone might miss out on the grades they were predicted and so picking up the phone to speak to us is the best way to talk through your circumstances. Or you can email the graduate recruitment inbox if you prefer.”
Do you respond to all applications, whether successful or unsuccessful?
“Yes, all of our candidates receive an email to inform them whether they are being progressed to interview or not, as we feel it’s important to keep candidates informed about the progress of their application. In addition, we offer a feedback phone call to all candidates we meet at interview (irrespective of whether they were made an offer or not), in which we’ll go over their performance. We find candidates really appreciate this, as this conversation provides invaluable insight to help them improve their interview technique as they continue their job search.”
Any tips for standing out at application stage?
“Be yourself. We read hundreds of forms and can always tell when someone isn’t being genuine. It’s important to see some clear links between the candidate and their rationale for applying to the firm. For example, if I read that one of the reasons someone is applying is because of the 32,286 hours of pro bono work our lawyers do, but nowhere on their form can I see that charity work or volunteering are important to them, it loses some of its integrity. Make sure that the reasons you are listing resonate with you and aren’t just stats from the website.”
What makes an application go into the Yes pile?
“One in which the applicant has shown some genuine interest in the firm, has considered why they want to work at A&O over other firms and can articulate their drive and motivation for a career in international commercial law.”
What wows you in a graduate interview?
“When a candidate is really engaged in the interview and asks questions as well as answering them, it shows me that they are confident and relaxed. Interviews are nerve-racking for everyone but someone who can use that to their advantage and sometimes even directs the conversation is really impressive (as long as they listen, too!). It shows me that they would be able to question associates and partners and feel comfortable talking with clients.”
What’s more important in an interview – knowing the right answers or handling the questions well?
“Handling the questions well. We don’t expect everyone to know all of the answers all of the time – that’s not real life! Having the confidence and the gravitas to explain why you don’t have the answer or why it might not be the right one can be more valuable than having all of the information.”
What is a great question for graduates to ask at the end of their interview?
“Something they genuinely want to know instead of something they think I would like to hear. And no, I’m not going to give an example – for obvious reasons!”
What is the most common mistake graduates make when applying for jobs at Allen & Overy?
“Reeling off a million facts from our website or Annual Report and not providing compelling reasons why they are interested in working for us. On the face of it, Magic Circle firms can all seem very similar, so candidates need to not just do the research but find opportunities to engage with us either on campus or at one of our office events. That way, they can learn more about what sets us apart and the people who work here.”
With business becoming increasingly international, will Allen & Overy trainees have the chance to travel?
“Yes, we offer opportunities to work at our global offices during the second year of the two-year Training Contract, and there will be more once graduates have completed their Training and qualified. Transactions are increasingly cross-border, and we now have 45 offices in 32 countries around the world, having most recently opened offices in Belfast, Washington DC, Jakarta, Casablanca, Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Myanmar, Barcelona, Toronto, Johannesburg and Seoul.
“International travel is now commonplace and the mobility of our people – whether working on a deal or on an international secondment – has become increasingly important. Having an international mind-set is not just a useful quality – it has become, and will remain, an essential part of the job. For aspiring lawyers thinking about joining Allen & Overy, that means one thing: opportunity.”
“MY TOP TIP? SHOW YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES ALLEN & OVERY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER MAGIC CIRLCLE LAW FIRMS”
NAME: Marcus Chaplin
JOB: Trainee solicitor at Allen & Overy
STUDIED: Law, at University College London
GRADUATED: September 2014
STARTED AT ALLEN & OVERY: March 2015
When and why did you apply to Allen & Overy? What particularly appealed to you about the firm?
“I applied to A&O in November 2012 following a presentation for prospective applicants at the London office. It confirmed everything I’d read in the brochure about the firm being a great place to start my career. I had a brilliant chat that evening with a number of A&O people including Sarah Cockburn (Graduate Recruitment Senior Manager). The culture of the firm particularly appealed. I liked the fact that everyone I met was friendly and approachable, and spoke so passionately about their work.”
What does your day to day role involve?
“There is lots of variety. Research, drafting documents, organising signings, visiting embassies… No two days are the same and, together with the formal and informal training, that is part of what makes A&O a great place to train. The first year of my Training Contract involved seats (placements) in Banking and ICM (International Capital Markets). I’m spending my third seat in Corporate before flying to Hong Kong for my international secondment in Banking.”
What do you like most about working at Allen & Overy?
“The people – they’re are genuinely a great bunch to work with and for. That makes such a difference on a daily basis. I feel like I can ask questions and when working late it is key that your colleagues are people you can talk to.”
How did you find Allen & Overy’s selection process?
“Surprisingly simple! It’s an application and then two interviews followed by an informal (and not assessed) chat with a trainee. I prepared for the interviews by doing three things. First, by re-reading my application. Second, by continuing to ensure I was ‘commercially aware’ (things change so fast and you really have to keep up!) And third, by thinking about the questions which I might well be asked at interview, to make sure I was ready.”
What advice would you give to graduates considering applying to Allen and Overy?
“Speak to us. There is only so much you can tell about a firm by reading its website and brochure. Whether on social media, at a law fair or another event, it’s well worth taking the time to interact with the firm and try to work out how A&O differs from other Magic Circle law firms. Showing that you understand that will really help you to stand out during the recruitment process.”
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