31 October 2012
Shearman & Sterling trainee Amilia Rappak believes that seeing the deals you’ve worked on hit the headlines makes for a rewarding job
Name: Amilia Rappak
Firm: Shearman & Sterling
Position: Trainee solicitor
Degree: Politics and French
Universities: University of Exeter
GDL or LPC: GDL and LPC at BPP
Hobbies: Travelling, languages, skiing
Department: International litigation and arbitration
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
Studying French as part of my degree meant that I was lucky enough to spend some time living in Paris. Rather than studying in France, I chose to complete a six-month placement at a law firm. Although very different to the English legal system, I enjoyed the team work and focus on learning and development that takes place throughout a legal career so decided to pursue it.
Why did you choose your firm?
I knew early on that I wanted to be part of an international firm. While English law is exciting in itself, there is something really appealing about working on deals that span borders and cross jurisdictions.
Having said that, I didn’t want to apply to firms with a large intake. It was important to me that I would feel valued, and be part of the team, right from the word go. Shearman & Sterling fitted this bill perfectly; it has a fantastic international reputation and with an intake of around 13 trainees each year, I knew it would be the right firm for me.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?
Without doubt, the opportunity to live and work in Singapore. As the only trainee in the Singapore office I worked on various deals and was given a broad range of high-level tasks which really developed my skills and confidence.
It was also a great place to live and to travel from – I had some amazing experiences while I was there and I would love to go back again.
What does your typical day involve?
There really is no typical day in the life of a trainee. I am currently in my third seat, working in international arbitration and litigation, which is very different to the seats I have done before (global finance in London and project development and finance in Singapore).
Being organised is really important as a trainee, whichever group you are in. The first thing I do when I get to the office is go through my emails and order my to-do list for the day so I know what is a priority and what can wait until the afternoon. The last thing I do each day is organise my desk and complete my timesheet and training log so I don’t get behind on these; what happens between these times changes every day.
In arbitration and litigation, the work I do can involve everything from reading through cases and drafting advice, to going to court or attending witness interviews – it really varies from day to day depending on what stage we are at with a case. I work closely with my supervisor and other members of the team, so there are always plenty of people around to answer questions – particularly when it’s my first time doing a lot of these things.
People are really sociable here so at lunchtime I can usually be found with the other trainees, or once a week at a yoga class that is run in the office. Although you can work long hours in the City, it’s really important to have some downtime and catch up with your friends at the firm.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department?
The work in international arbitration and litigation is, of course, all dispute-based. It typically involves international companies engaged in cross-border disputes and is multi-faceted. Often the work will need the input of our other offices, so we can regularly be found on conference calls.
The work done by the group is really interesting. For example, just before I joined the department, we won one of the biggest arbitral awards ever given for a client.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
Day to day, I enjoy being part of a large international firm, working on the headline-making deals while also being part of an office where everyone knows each other. I am working with people who have an active interest in my training, who are pushing me to achieve more than I thought possible.
Working with some of the biggest companies in the world and seeing this on the front page of the financial press never fails to make you feel good about your job.
What are the worst aspects of your job?
In line with everyone else working in the City - the unpredictable hours. They are always difficult to contend with but impossible to avoid.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession?
That lawyers are overworked and miserable. Working in a US-origin firm, I have found that while people do work long hours, they are no worse than anywhere else in the City. And if you do find yourself working late with colleagues, it is generally done with a sense of good humour.
For me, I really enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere at Shearman & Sterling – there is an open door policy and business casual dress code. I never thought it would be like this when I was at university, and I was really glad when I discovered that these well-respected partners also like to chat and have a cup of tea like everyone else.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
Working as a lawyer is not just a job, it’s a career, so get experience before you sign up. Securing vacation schemes and open days are an invaluable way of getting to know what law is like in practice and the type of firms you want to apply to.
Professional experience aside, keep doing things you enjoy and write about them on your applications. Law is a client-facing industry and it’s really important that well-rounded people come into the sector. So don’t just focus on professional experience - try a new hobby, visit a new country, do a language course, help in a soup kitchen. Whatever you enjoy, take the time to keep doing this, it will be a great talking point at interviews.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?
Blanket applications to as many law firms as possible are not a good idea. It is tempting to do this, given the stiff competition for training contracts, but don’t forget that this is where you will be working for at least two years and hopefully longer. By carefully selecting the type of firm that you want to work in and spending more time on the application form, there is no doubt that the quality of the end product will be much higher. So research the type of law you want to do, as well as the type of firm and the environment in which you would like to train and you will end up with an offer from a firm that is right for you.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?
I found it hard to balance my time between focusing on my academic grades and writing good quality application forms. Having not studied law, the GDL and the LPC required a different type of learning compared to my undergraduate degree so it took some time to get used to this. On top of this, I was learning about the range of practice areas and types of firms that I could apply to. By staying focused and organised, I maintained the right balance between the two but at times it was challenging.
How is law in practice different from studying law?
Studying something in the abstract will always be different when you start putting it into practice in real life situations. Add to that the pressure of working to a strict (and often tight) deadline, and you soon realise that you cannot go through the very structured process of how to solve problems that you were taught at law school.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates?
Aside from a strong academic record and an interest in commercial issues, being able to keep a cool head in a stressful situation and approaching hard work and long hours with a positive attitude are essential. Being organised and working effectively in a team are also important qualities to have. Having said that, when I look around at the other Shearman & Sterling trainees, it is with relief that I see there is no particular ‘type’ of trainee.