My First Experience Of The Legal Industry

As a non-law student with no previous legal work experience, my vacation placement at Pinsent Masons – my first of two schemes this summer – has been like nothing I’ve ever done before. I remember becoming interested in a commercial law career back in sixth form, but I wasn’t sure by any means. I attended a conference in London on becoming a solicitor and then spoke to a lawyer back home about the process, including the option of taking the Graduate Diploma in Law after studying something different as an undergraduate. I decided that this option was best for me: the GDL seemed a solid foundation for going into commercial law. I also knew that I would never regret my four years spent studying French and German, gaining valuable language skills to complement almost any career path.

Since starting university in 2013, I served on several committees, mainly helping organise events, and interned with the BBC for a month, but these experiences – while brilliant – did little for making up my mind. Then, last winter, I decided to properly look into commercial law firms and their work. I soon realised that this was what I wanted to do.

Panoramic picture of St. Paul's Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and the Financial District at twilight.

Panoramic picture of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and the Financial District at twilight.

As the application process is notoriously competitive I couldn’t have been happier when I received the news I had been accepted onto the Vacation Placement with Pinsent Masons. Although I didn’t take a traditional route into law it was evident my passion for the placement had helped my application.

I arrived for my first day at Pinsent Masons slightly apprehensive as I hadn’t even been to the office before (unlike other candidates, I was assessed over the phone back in February, being unable to travel over during my Year Abroad in Paris). As preparation for the scheme, I’d done some reading and had been keeping up with the business news, but I had no idea what type of work I’d be asked to carry out. When given my first task, I panicked slightly – it turned out to be relatively simple, and require next to no legal knowledge, but it had a complicated name that meant nothing to me. What’s great about the Pinsent Masons scheme, though, is that they don’t assume that you know anything about the law already. You just have to show that you truly want to learn. They also pair you up with a trainee buddy who, if you’re as lucky as me (which I think most people are), understands that you’ll need tasks explained slowly and clearly, and will always take the time to do so, however busy he/she is.

The 2 weeks spent within the firm are such a steep learning curve. It’s one of the plus points of the programme that you stay with the same department throughout, not the case in many other firms, meaning you get to know your team well and can really get involved with their current projects. In just a fortnight, I’ve gone from being pretty much clueless about banking from a lawyer’s perspective to knowing all about the major stages and documents involved in big transactions (and, believe me, there are far more than I ever thought beforehand). Being involved with several completions has been so exciting, as was helping host a games night for a client (complete with a high-speed last-minute mission to Sports Direct in my suit, feeling like an Apprentice candidate) – and, of course, seeing the immediate reaction to, and impact of, the Brexit vote on a City law firm. There have been stressful moments, of course, but I can honestly say there hasn’t been a dull one.

For me, the best thing about this experience, even beyond the great people I’ve shared my time on the scheme with (both at social events and in the office), has been the confirmation that this is the career for me. Research can only tell you so much: you never really know what a job is like until you try it out. I leave Pinsent Masons surer than ever of my goals for the future, and incredibly grateful to have been given this invaluable opportunity.

Sarah McCullagh completed her Vacation Placement in London with Pinsent Masons in June 2016. If you are looking to find out more on the Vacation Placement Scheme click here.