Ollie Elgie, Herbert Smith

I did a law degree because when I was applying to university I wasn’t really sure where studying Maths or Chemistry, for example, would take me. I was vaguely interested in being either a solicitor or barrister and the degree was something a bit different.

Name: Ollie Elgie

Firm: Herbert Smith
Position: Trainee
Degree: Law
University: Cambridge
Where did you study the GDL and/or the LPC? BPP Law School, Holborn, London
Hobbies: Sport, meeting up with friends, going out for drinks/dinner
Department: Private wealth and charities

Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?  
I did a law degree because when I was applying to university I wasn’t really sure where studying Maths or Chemistry, for example, would take me. I was vaguely interested in being either a solicitor or barrister and the degree was something a bit different. I didn’t apply for training contracts until immediately after university because I wasn’t totally sure until after the third year that I wanted to be a solicitor, but through vacation schemes and generally chatting to those already practising, at open days, drinks events, etc, it seemed like a pretty decent career. Basically I took my time and tried to find out as much as I could as to what it was actually like, day in, day out.

Why did you choose commercial law?
I chose to work in London because I’m from London and it was the best and most natural place to start my career. I looked at the most highly-ranked firms because, again, it’s a great place to start my career and I wanted to be surrounded by top-draw people who could help me develop into as good a lawyer as possible. This brought me to predominantly commercial firms. From there I chose my firm based largely on the people that I met and the breadth of practice.

What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?
One of the best bits was the three-day trainee development centre: it was good to get out of the office and spend three days having fun with the other trainees. Is it bad that my highlight has nothing to do with work? I’ve been involved in some great bits of work but, none of them beats a day of playing games in the sun.

What does your typical day involve?
It’s clichéd but there is no such thing as a typical day. It can really depend on which department you’re in, who your supervisor is and what kind of work there is on at that particular moment. An average week usually has a bit of research, some drafting/amending documents, meetings, some training. Coffee breaks and lunch are about the only consistent ingredients, but you get those anywhere.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
I like the people I work with – that’s always important. I also like the range of opportunities that I’m offered – the pro bono, sport, Christmas pantomime – there’s always plenty of extra things to get involved in and, as a trainee at least, there’s plenty of time to do so.

What are the worst aspects of your job?
Like all office jobs, it’s a bit sedentary but I guess I’ve got to get over the fact that my professional football career might just have passed me by.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
You don’t need to rush into it if you’re not sure. Take your time, get some experience and see the world. Apply when you’re ready. If you’re really interested, then find out about the area of law that interests you. Do work experience, vacation schemes, go to open days and events hosted by law firms. As well as impressing potential employers with your keenness, you need to know yourself whether you are actually interested in law, or merely interested in your conception of what a legal career might be like.

What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?
Don’t try to blag it – in conversations, on application forms or in interviews. Give smart answers and intelligent guesses where needs be, but don’t try to act like you know something
you don’t or have done something you haven’t. It would be sickening to think that you’ve lost a job offer that would otherwise have been yours by trying to showboat a bit. The partners at law firms know more than you – that’s a given. Now just show them how much you do know and how bright and personable you are.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?
Some of the questions on some of the application forms are frustrating. “Think of a time when…” <yawn>. It’s hard to maintain the enthusiasm for that sort of thing. My approach was to go for a smaller number of applications to firms I was genuinely interested in, but do them well. Quality, not quantity.

How is law in practice different from studying law?
Law as degree (I didn’t do the A-level) is an academic subject. You pursue a lot more of the “what ifs”, study how the law has evolved to see how it might evolve, comment on the bits that are a bit dodgy or grey, study more specialised areas of law. In practice you just want the answer and you want it now.

What are the common attributes of successful candidates?
Different law firms will look for different attributes, and vastly different people secure training contracts at a range of firms based on different grounds. On the whole I’d say a mixture of being bright, good interpersonal skills and being driven will stand you in good stead.