After (surprisingly!) good performances in our end of first year exams, we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to join a dozen other students and undertake a one-week placement at Allen & Overy LLP, one of the largest and most well-respected law firms in the world.
It was a daunting feeling walking into the Allen & Overy world and to be a small fish in such a large sea: getting lost in the corporate maze that is the A&O Bishops Square Office seemed inevitable. However – and we both reiterated this – everyone went out of their way to make us comfortable. Part of that is the imbedded 'friendliness': everyone was happy to talk to us about their job. The firm isn't hierarchically-minded which means we weren’t at any point patronised and the ‘open door’ policy has made us all feel very comfortable and at ease. On our part - given that we were essentially on the bottom rung of the ladder - we made a real effort to interact and network, which really made us feel like a cog in the wheel while we were there.
We were both somewhat concerned we'd spend the time doing activities like photocopying, making coffee etc; those tasks perhaps incorporated into the urban myth of such experiences. It was refreshing to get our teeth into some of the ‘meatier’ work that A&O does: big clients, big deals, big money. We were assigned trainers who delegated work to us and, where necessary, explained it through, meaning we have a much fuller understanding of what a firm like A&O does on a day-to-day basis.
‘Sponge’ was our keyword: we were happy to soak up any advice, information or suggestions we received. So we tried our best to sharpen up several important skills. We took part in a presentation game, where we were instructed to present to a group of other students, members from the Graduate Recruitment Team and one partner about particular A&O Departments. It required both real diligence in investigating what the firm did and how it did it, as well as stylishly presenting your findings. This was all the more tricky given tight time restrictions: in that sense the Mooting we had done in LLB1 proved invaluable. Furthermore, a negotiation game was a new and eye-opening experience (and even quite heated at times!), but some of those skills we’ve managed to incorporate into our daily lives.
Networking is a key ingredient in getting on the commercial ladder. Throughout the week we had opportunities to network with A&O employees: partners, associates and trainees. Frankly, we initially thought that networking was something generic, repetitive and even somewhat cumbersome. But by the end of it, we realised that networking – formal or informal – is really at the heart of the corporate process. We gained excellent insight into the firm; exposure to its practise: where it’s been, where it’s going and what it’s looking for in potential trainees. We had some really conversations with people who were more than happy to impart pearls of wisdom on our naive-selves, and something we both feel very privileged to have had.
The time we spent at Allen & Overy, albeit short, was something we’ve both taken a huge amount from. The week was an excellent learning-curve for us, and it’s something that has shaped the way we see the legal profession. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Graduate Recruitment Team for organising such a wonderful week, as well as City Law School for putting us forward to the scheme. It really epitomises why the School has such a strong reputation in employers’ eyes and how very much it values its students.
Ali Gokal & Matthew Toms
(October 2010 - just starting LLB2)