CMS Cameron McKenna trainee solicitor Matthew Clark says that to shine at interview requires you to research firms and apply to those best suited to you.
Name: Matthew Clark
Firm: CMS Cameron McKenna
Position: Trainee Solicitor
University: University of Sheffield
GDL or LPC: LPC
Hobbies: Sport (football, skiing, snowboarding, scuba diving), music, socialising
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
It is a demanding and challenging career and I thrive on taking on challenges and being pushed. The matters you can get involved in can require a lot of careful thought and can be extremely interesting. It is also a financially rewarding career.
Why did you choose your firm?
CMS is a full service international firm, which offers the opportunity to get involved in high profile, cross-border work and also the option to go on international secondments. Every trainee is guaranteed the opportunity to spend one of their seats outside of their home office, whether that be on secondment with a client or in one of the CMS international offices, such as Prague, Moscow or Rio de Janeiro.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?
In my previous seat (Real Estate) I attended several client meetings regarding the management of the Gherkin building at a very high level, several of which took place in the private lounge on the top floor of the Gherkin.
What does your typical day involve?
A trainee’s typical day changes from department to department. In my previous seat in Real Estate, I had primary responsibility for many of the files I was working on. There was always a matter requiring attention, whether it was responding to comments from the other side on the drafting of a document, or contacting the client to update them as to the status of the matter. I would also liaise regularly with lawyers on the other side of our matters, and attend client meetings. At other times I would assist my supervisor undertaking research or drafting advice, or develop presentations for group training or client pitches.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department?
I am currently on secondment at the CMS Moscow office, and have been involved in international deals such as joint ventures and mergers, generally conducted under English law and involving parties based overseas and in Russia.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
Completing a transaction for a client and having them thank you for all your hard work is a very satisfying feeling. You can work yourself very hard in the course of getting a matter completed, and it is reassuring that the clients, as well as the more senior lawyers delegating work to you, really do appreciate your hard work.
What are the worst aspects of your job?
The unpredictable hours can be difficult at times – I have had days when I have been relatively quiet all day and then had a significant amount of work come in late in the day which needs to be completed by morning. This can be frustrating, but generally means that I’m working on a complex, cross-border transaction
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession?
That lawyers spend all of their time in court – I have been in my training contract for almost a year now and have not been to court yet, nor have I drafted a court document or instructed counsel. This is largely due to the transactional nature of the two seats I have done so far, and I am looking forward to undertaking some contentious work later in my training contract.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
You must be very committed in order to secure a training contract. It requires a lot of effort to research the most appropriate firm, and then to go through the application and interview process. Make sure you apply to suitable firms, as an application to a firm you are not suited to is a waste – you cannot be as sincere in your answers on the application forms and more importantly in interviews, and this will be noticed. Apply for vacation schemes – they are the best way to secure a training contract. And do as many as possible in order to give you as many options as possible.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?
Using a scatter-gun approach and sending hundreds of applications to every firm out there. Due to the in-depth nature of the questions on training contract application forms it is impossible to tailor your application perfectly to a large number of firms. It is much more effective to research the firms properly and apply to several that you are best suited to. Once you get to the interview stage this will shine through, as you will feel much more relaxed and confident knowing that you are interviewing at a firm which is a good fit for you.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?
The daunting task of trying to identify the distinguishing features of each firm, all of which at the outset seem identical. Each firm has its particular strengths, and it can take a lot of research to realise firstly which areas of law you are most interested in and secondly which firm can best offer you the best training in your areas of interest.
How is law in practice different from studying law?
It is extremely different. Being a good lawyer in practice involves much more than legal skills and knowledge. You need to understand the commercial realities that your clients are facing, and be able to communicate effectively both with clients and lawyers acting for the other side. You also need to be organised enough to stay on top of a number of different matters that you will be running alongside each other and be familiar enough with the facts of each one to switch quickly between them.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates?
Confidence, not only in your technical ability but also in social situations; so much of the job is about communicating and this is an absolutely vital skill. Good organisation is essential, and a willingness to get involved, whether it is involvement in work or other events being organised within the firm (these can be so important in raising your profile in the firm).