In this article our partners The Student Lawyer interview Hafsah Nawaz, a future trainee solicitor at Allen & Overy. Hafsah shares her tips as a brand ambassador, why she chose her firm and her extra-curricular experiences.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and discuss your legal journey thus far?
I’m Hafsah, I’m 20 and I’ve just finished studying Law at the University of Manchester. Having secured a training contract with Allen & Overy early on in second year, I’ll be starting the LPC/LLM in January 2022 in anticipation of starting at the firm in September 2022.
Why did you decide you wanted to become a solicitor?
A lot of people pick to study Law at university because they want to be a lawyer of some sort later down the line. For me, I originally chose to study Law because I had a genuine academic interest in the subject. It was only through work experience and exposure to firms via external mentoring programmes and networking events that I started considering a legal career.
In my first year, I got involved in a lot of things across the legal profession so that I could figure out what I enjoyed and what I was suited to the most. Having participated in a moot and a mock trial, I quickly wrote off becoming a barrister- I enjoyed the thrill of the moment involved in oral advocacy, but the career itself wasn’t something I saw myself enjoying. The solicitor route was then my main focus, reaffirmed through networking, first year schemes, and open days.
What made you decide to go into commercial law?
As someone who likes to make informed choices, I engaged with many types of firms before deciding to pursue commercial law. The biggest factor contributing to this decision was that commercial law involves aspects of business, economics, and current affairs. These topics fall into my area of interest and therefore commercial law struck a good balance.
Why have you chosen to complete your training contract at Allen & Overy?
I’d say there’s 3 key aspects that stood out to me about A&O. First, they’re a firm that emphasise their trainees having a “future facing” mindset. This personally resonated with me as I’m very much someone who makes decisions today, having thought about the tomorrow. In my interactions with people from the firm, this mindset was really transparent and you could tell that it made for a good culture at the firm.
Secondly, A&O’s practice areas align with my interests. They’re known as one of the best firms for banking and finance- I really enjoyed modules related to these areas during my degree. Thirdly, I think A&O is a law firm that is well adapted to react to challenges posed by the changing nature of the legal sector, which means that they’ll be around as a firm for a long time.
Their focus on innovation really shows this, and the integration of their tech work within trainee tasks means that I can look forward to a better training experience that is more in touch with the demands of clients and the profession.
How did you use extra-curriculars, such as being on the committee for Manchester University Law Society, to your advantage on applications?
When I was making applications, I was the Careers Officer at MULS. My biggest task was organising our Annual Careers Dinner and with this came a wealth of application material.
I was able to talk about skills that I developed in carrying out my role, for example, managing responsibility, demonstrating effective communication skills when liaising with vendors and sponsors, and showcasing effective time management/organisational skills by managing my role around coursework deadlines and part-time work.
I think extra-curricular roles are a fantastic way of demonstrating the competencies that employees are looking for, as well as showing to them that one has a life outside one’s degree.
For students who may lack legal work experience at this stage, how do you think they could use say a part-time job to their advantage on applications to show relevant work experience?
It is always worth emphasising that legal work experience is not a prerequisite for applying for law-related schemes or jobs. If you are able to hold down a part-time job whilst at university, whilst maintaining a social life, and having extra-curricular interests this shows that you are a committed individual capable of managing time and handling a lot of responsibility.
These skills, amongst others, are all competencies that can be applied to the legal profession. In this respect, it is about how you talk about your experiences that matters- not what the experience is.
What was your experience working as a Brand Ambassador for Allen & Overy, and would you recommend working as a campus ambassador to other students?
I had a great time working as a Brand Ambassador and would thoroughly recommend others to do so. Not only does the role help to provide you with skills that will be of value in an application or an interview, but if you are representing a law firm in particular then you can utilise the role in order to get your foot in the door.
For instance, in my role I was able to visit the firm’s offices, talk to people from across the firm, and most importantly, find out directly from the graduate recruitment team what they’re looking for. Most brand ambassador roles can be worked flexibly around your studies and the extra money is useful in any event!
Do you have any advice for someone applying to a magic circle firm in particular about the application process?
For any firm, not just Magic Circle, demonstrating your interest in the firm persuasively is important. When you consider that most applicants‘ first port of call when it comes to firm research is the firm’s website, it can become difficult to stand out. Going beyond the internet is crucial if you want to convince whoever is reading your application that you want to pursue a career with their firm.
You want to showcase that you know the firm, and that you can articulate why they’re the firm for you. Using inside insight is a good way of going about this because it is less generic. Attend events with firms and ask questions to firm representatives when you network!
A common application/interview question is to ask about a challenge a candidate has overcome. How would you go about answering this and what advice would you give someone on answering this style of question?
Good question. The STAR technique instantly comes to mind. What you would want to do is create a narrative. Highlight the context – where is this challenge coming from? Why is it a challenge? What is the impact of this challenge? This sets the scene for the reader. You would then want to explain the actions that you took in order to overcome that challenge.
They should be done in detail, whilst implicitly entwining in competencies that the firm is looking for. You want to show that you are committed and ready to take the initiative and think outside of the box in order to meet whatever objective was set. Importantly, you should wrap up the answer by stating the impact of your actions in overcoming the challenge.
Did things go better than you expected? What did you learn from the experience? How did dealing with the challenge improve your skills? Finishing in this way allows the reader to get the full picture about how you think and react when things don’t go as expected.
Finally, what is a piece of advice you wish you had known and think students who are about to start applying for vacation schemes / training contracts should know?
There is no deadline by which you must secure a vacation scheme or training contract. Try your hardest during application season, but don’t let it take over your life!