Tom Jackson, Covington & Burling

Name: Tom Jackson

Firm: Covington & Burling

Position: Trainee solicitor

Degree: History

University: University of Oxford

Hobbies: Playing football, tennis, golf; running and cycling

Current department: Client secondment

Number of TC applications made and interviews attended: 3/3

Tom Jackson, Covington

Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?

I saw a career in law as a natural continuation of the things that I enjoyed most at university – crafting arguments, solving problems, and carrying out detailed research. I was also interested in the City and the inner workings of large businesses, so a career as a solicitor seemed a good way to marry the two.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?

I found it tricky to distinguish firms from one another, and consequently struggled to decide which type of firm to apply to.  As an applicant, there are a bewildering variety of firms vying for your attention, and it can be difficult to hone in on those that you think will suit you best.  Eventually, through a combination of research and vacation schemes, I decided that I wanted to work in the London office of a large US firm, and this is what guided my applications.

What was the toughest training contract interview question you were asked (at any firm) and how did you answer?

“Describe the game of football to an alien”. This was certainly not something that I had covered in my interview preparation!  However, it was really an interesting question, as it required me to explain surprisingly complicated ideas in a clear and concise way, an important skill as a lawyer.

As for my answer, I took a few minutes to think about reducing the game of football – something very familiar to me – to its most basic elements. This, hopefully, allowed me to explain it more clearly to my interviewers.

Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by the department you’re in at the moment…

I am currently on secondment at one of Covington’s large pharmaceutical clients. My work typically involves drafting agreements with university and early-stage biotech companies. These can be agreements funding postdoctoral students, or more complicated collaboration agreements between a number of parties. It has been a fantastic opportunity to see how clients work in-house, to practice my drafting, and to take greater responsibility for my work.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?

Somewhat strangely, I enjoy that my job is often difficult. Whether completing a complicated research task or drafting sections of an agreement, my work is invariably challenging, stimulating, and requires me to really think about what I am doing.

As a trainee, you can be pulled in to work on a variety of matters, and you have to be prepared to tackle these diverse tasks. This certainly keeps you on your toes, but it is also reassuring to be surrounded by capable and creative lawyers who can help you on your way.

The end result is that, as I near the end of my training contract, I have gained a really wide range of experience and taken on real responsibility, which has only helped me to become a better lawyer.

What about your job didn’t you expect before you started?

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy each seat of my training contract as much as I have. Covington offers a great range of seats – from tech & media, to life sciences, to varied dispute resolution and corporate seats – with each presenting its own challenges and opportunities. With this in mind, I expected that I would take to certain seats far better than others, but this didn’t prove to be the case. I enjoyed each equally and learned a great deal in every seat, which ultimately makes it difficult to choose which practice area to join once I finish my training contract.

Who’s the most recent email in your inbox from, and what’s it about?

An email from my training principal, checking how I am getting on during my secondment. Even though I am out of the office working for a client for six months, I keep in regular contact with my Covington colleagues, and they are always on hand to help me with any issues that arise while I’m away.

Where’s the best place to go to get your office’s gossip?

At a drinks trolley, held regularly at our office breakfast bar on a Thursday evening.

Describe your training partner in three words.

Approachable; supportive; down-to-earth

Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself (in any order).

  • I have never eaten an egg
  • My grandmother’s name is “Janet Jackson”
  • I am allergic to carrots

If you had not decided to become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?


What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?

Be selective when applying to firms. Avoid the temptation to “copy and paste” your responses to a large number of application forms.  Take the time to research firms, select those that appeal most to you, and ensure that you focus on being as prepared as possible when completing application forms and, hopefully, attending interviews at those firms.

Take care to tailor your application to the specific practice areas and specialisms of each firm, and remember that you will be applying along with hundreds of other candidates. Give yourself an edge by including small details that show you have done your research; this is a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants.