What are you studying?
Walid Hakem and Valerie Achebe, have gained a Scholarship Programme at Thursfields Solicitors. They spent one day a week working at Thursfields Solicitors for two years, gaining valuable experience and knowledge from the sector. Below, Walid and Valerie offer some advice on how you can gain a scholarship.
Take every opportunity given by the university. After that, I guess I’d take it back to my interview: it’s good to stand out, but it's even better to show what you know… in a creative way.
Congratulations on gaining a scholarship programme, can you tell us a little about the application process?
Valerie: Thank you so much! Well first, we had to write a letter of interest, basically discussing why we wanted to pursue a legal career and what we would gain from the scholarship. At that point I had also researched the firm and included some details. After that, I got invited to the group assessment. Then I got invited to the interview. The questions asked were mainly linked to the presentation but there were also some competency- based questions.
Walid: It was a two-stage process. First, there was a group activity where some members from the firm met with us and placed us into groups. They then gave us the task to organise an event, with certain elements such as cost and numbers had to be taken into account. We then had to present our idea to the other groups. I think the aim of this was to see how we would work within the groups, as well as how well we would present the plan. After this stage, there was a shortlist of students who went onto the interview stage. For this stage, we were told to present any topic to the interviewers for no more than 5 minutes. I chose to present the topic of “Identity”. Mostly because it was a topic that I could link to a lot of aspects that I wanted to project.
What is your role at Thursfields Solicitors?
Walid: I am an intern. I’m currently placed on the corporate team, mostly helping with case filing, paperwork, and communications.
Valerie: I’m an intern on the residential property team. Mainly shadowing and administrative work.
In what way do you think that this experience will help your future career?
Valerie: It’s mainly the opportunity to learn about the legal sector and gain an insight into different areas. Hopefully it will help me decide where I would like to specialise. I also think it will develop some key professional skills to help secure a training contract and become successful in the field. But at the moment, it is really encouraging to be able use my legal knowledge and concepts in my degree and put it into practice.
Walid: Well even at this entry level point, I’ve been doing training with the case management and fees system, familiarising myself with the structure of the firm as well as seeing the application of the law that we spend so much time studying. It’s very entertaining seeing case precedents and principles being played out (though a lot of the time it’s not so straight forward, especially in commercial and corporate). A lot of the work being done, builds on things covered in Legal Skills, such as procedure and corporate vehicles and structure. Hopefully all of this will lead me to become an efficient and successful legal practitioner.
The scholarship addresses the under-representation of BAME communities and low socio-economic backgrounds in legal careers. What are your views on the legal scene being unrepresentative and do you think it is improving?
Walid: Of course. In the economic and political atmosphere that firms exist in, many who can socially interact with game-changers and high standing individuals place themselves comfortably at the centre. Often making it tough to give others who aren’t close (let alone someone who’s different), a chance to seize opportunity. So unfortunately, it is more difficult for those of differing cultural heritage to be selected in many of the initial short- listing procedures. It’s a sociological fact that in CVs and online-applications, “foreign-names” (like mine) often get overlooked or ignored.
However, as the representative personnel within firms and companies increase, especially in management and board-room positions, this becomes less likely to happen. It becomes easier to “get your foot in the door” as more opportunities like the one I’ve been given, are made available to amend the years of neglect and discrimination.
Valerie: Yes, I really agree with Walid. It has long been uncomfortable and delicate to discuss these issues, even though it’s important. For this reason, change has been slow to implement.
Its demotivating to have your ethnicity or socio-economic background be a barrier to achieving your dream. Initiatives like these are vital in addressing the issue of under-representation. It inspires more of the many talented individuals to apply and achieve their full potential. Initiatives like these are a wake-up call to other firms and alerts them to the issue of under-representation. It encourages a strong precedent and pushes firms to take similar steps to be a part of the change.
What advice could you give to students who are seeking scholarships and tips for the application process?
Walid: Take every opportunity given by the university. After that, I guess I’d take it back to my interview: it’s good to stand out, but it's even better to show what you know… in a creative way. Firms want to know how well you understand the legal environment (especially at an early stage in your education), not just what the law is. Talk about current events, be informed, and then find a way to make it personal.
Valerie: Regularly check emails and sites such as Aston Futures, so that you don’t miss out on opportunities. In terms of applying, research the company/firm as it demonstrates interest and enthusiasm. I would also advise to engage with the company on social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter/Instagram. This keeps you updated on the activities of the firm and helps demonstrate commercial awareness. It also gives you things to discuss at your interviews.
Try not to overthink your application. You want to be memorable, but you also want to be clear and concise so that the interviewer can see who you are and what you can bring to the firm. Try not to hide behind terminology and over complicate answers.