In this article our partners The Student Lawyer interviews Natasha Parsons, a future trainee solicitor at White & Case.
Natasha explains how as a non-law graduate she obtained a vacation scheme and a training contract at an International law firm. Natasha expresses her valuable advice on how to best make use of opportunities and use your experience to stand out.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and explain a little bit about your legal journey thus far?
Hey! I’m Natasha, I recently graduated from the University of Manchester, where I studied History. I’m a Future Trainee solicitor at White & Case and I’ll be starting at the firm in March 2024.
I have always been interested in the intersection between economics and society and love current affairs, so when I started looking into a legal career, I found it to be a brilliant match. My legal journey officially began through the Bright Network. I attended the ‘Virtual Commercial Law Internship Experience’ last summer and loved absolutely everything about it. I can’t recommend the Bright Network enough! It was also here that I interacted with White & Case for the first time.
I completed some work experience at a high-street law firm last summer to gain a broader understanding of what it is that a solicitor actually does. I completed nearly every virtual internship on ‘forage’ that I could possibly do, to learn more about the work of a commercial lawyer.
Why have you decided to go into commercial law, particularly as a non-law student?
I studied History and I have always been very interested in current affairs. Having worked part-time at a shoe shop for the last five years, I’ve also learnt how fulfilling customer relationships can be. I wanted a career which was first of all exciting and second of all allowed me to form long-term relationships, both with colleagues and clients.
One of the reasons that I chose a history degree, is because I’m inquisitive and have always been interested in the mechanisms that make the world work. It therefore naturally follows that I’d be interested in law, as law is arguably one of the factors most influencing society. Although, it was by attending presentations and events that my interest in commercial law was solidified.
I had to do a lot of research into what the role of a commercial solicitor does before I knew it was the career that I wanted to pursue. I can’t recommend the Legal Cheek presentations enough – they are on weekly and give you a brilliant chance to get to know different firms and different areas of law.
Leading on from the last question, how did you manage to show an interest in law on applications, especially since you were studying a non-law degree?
I think that there are so many ways of showing an interest in law on applications. No interviewer will expect you to have known that you wanted to be a solicitor since the age of 10. What they’re more interested in, is how you, as a non-law student, have come to want to be a solicitor. I cited things that I had studied in my degree that had spurred on my interest in law and economics.
But just being interested in law is not enough to secure a TC. You need to prove that you have really thought through a career in law and are certain that you want to be a solicitor. I actually don’t think that there is much difference here for law students and non-law students, as just doing a law degree isn’t enough to prove commitment to being a solicitor.
The most obvious way is to attend open days, presentations, and events. All of these are direct ways that you can demonstrate an interest. You can also show an interest in law by demonstrating that you are in touch with developments in the legal world. I’m really interested in sustainability, so I often spoke in applications about how the transition to a more sustainable world is impacting the legal industry. Showing that you have a genuine interest in the legal industry is a sure way to demonstrate your commitment to law.
Why have you decided to complete your training contract with White & Case?
White & Case appeals to me for two main reasons. Firstly, the international approach of the firm. This was apparent to me through every interaction with the firm. The work that White & Case do is extremely exciting. I have a personal interest in the growing renewable energy sector and the fact that White & Case are effectively leading the transition is incredible.
The second reason is the culture. During my Vacation Scheme, I interacted with many lovely, welcoming and inspiring individuals. Everyone was more than happy to have a chat with me. Diversity is also important to me, and I spoke to some wonderful people from the affinity groups which confirmed that it was the firm for me
As I mentioned previously, I attended many different virtual presentations, and in every presentation put on by White & Case, the firm really stood out to me. I think it is also important to speak to people at the firm. I remember someone once saying, the worst that could happen is they will just ignore you, so why not give it a go!
I had so many great interactions, many of which were on LinkedIn, with Future Trainee Solicitors and Trainee Solicitors from White & Case. Everyone was so genuine, friendly, and willing to help. It really proved GR’s claims about the culture being friendly and collaborative.
Do you have any advice for students applying to US law firms in particular?
I think that there’s a preconception that U.S firms are more inaccessible. In my experience, this is anything but the truth. As I previously mentioned, I think that speaking to people who work at the firm is the best way to gain an insight of the firm. Like any law firm, U.S firms want to make sure that you are committed to the firm, and the best way of doing this, in essence, is to make reference to useful conversations that you’ve had with members of the firm.
In addition, White & Case is extremely focused on international work. It’s something that they pride themselves on. So, showing that you are internationally minded is super important. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have spent 3 years living abroad! Showing that you are genuinely interested and engaged with international affairs should be enough.
I also think that US firms love to see candidates who have a range of experiences outside of law. I would recommend anyone to centralise things they are truly passionate about on their application form and link it back to the firm. For example, if you’re passionate about social justice, you could highlight that a firm’s excellent Diversity and Inclusion initiatives prove that you would be a great fit.
For students who may lack legal experience, what advice would you give them on how to use, say a part-time job, to their advantage on applications to show transferable skills?
I would say that personally, non-legal work experience is even more valuable than legal experience. The main experience that I drew on throughout the entire application process was the part-time job that I have had for the last five years. This job had taught me so much about interpersonal skills, teamwork, dealing with difficult customers, and making mistakes.
It was the number one thing I kept coming back to in applications and interviews, and I think recruiters also find it a good sign of commitment. Tailoring non-legal work experience to a firm is something that you get better at over time. My best advice is to compile a list of all of the best experiences you had at your part time job.
Having about six that you can apply to different competencies is perfect. Write down experiences that show things like teamwork, perseverance, making a mistake. Look at the key competencies that the firm is looking for, and match these to your experiences.
Another tip: be funny!
Another tip: be funny! If you are asked to explain a time that you have made a mistake in a part-time job, or similar, try and see the lighter side of it. It is much more plausible to tell a story about a genuine mistake that you made and remedied, than to pretend the only mistake that you have ever made is ‘working too hard’ (we have all been there).
Did you find that completing the White & Case virtual learning programme was helpful in gaining a better understanding of the firm before your vacation scheme?
Certainly. The learning programme gives a super useful insight into the sort of work that White & Case does. Ultimately, if you are going to apply for a firm, you need to enjoy the work that they do. Doing the virtual programme can provide a useful opportunity to really think about whether this is the sort of work you want to do.
But what I would recommend even more than the virtual learning programme, would be attending an open day. I don’t think enough people talk about how valuable open days are. They allow you to have conversations with people who work at the firm, which you can then refer to in interviews or applications. The White & Case open day also gave me lots of useful tips about applications which certainly came in handy.
What did you find was the most difficult part during the application process for vacation schemes and how did you overcome this?
I think one of the most difficult parts of the application process is keeping up a positive mindset. Rejections can be tiring and often can lead you to questioning whether you’re good enough. It is so important to make sure that you build up resilience – everyone experiences rejections, but what not everybody does is pick themselves back up. Remember to ask for feedback!
I also want to pass on a bit of advice for university students; treat applications as another module. I can’t recommend enough spending some time every few days looking over applications. Time management is one of the most important skills a solicitor needs, and it is equally important for ensuring success in this process.
What advice would you give to students about turning their vacation scheme into a training contract offer?
Get involved with as much as you can and give yourself the best opportunity to do this by managing your time effectively. I’ll be honest, you’ll be working hard. But speaking to different people in the firm is the best way to understand more about the culture. I’ve seen online multiple times that firms don’t appreciate candidates citing ‘culture’ as a reason for application unless they’ve actually got things to back it up with. Attending an open day or vac scheme gives you the perfect way of learning more about the culture and be able to back up your claims.
Speak to as many people as you can. Arrange chats with people from all different areas of the firm. Before the vacation scheme, I did some research about the areas that I wasn’t going to be sitting in, but was still interested in. I spoke to many people throughout the weeks, and they gave me an invaluable insight. Similarly, if you are passionate about a certain D&I initiative arrange a chat with people who can tell you more. I did this and it honestly made me 100% confident that it was the firm for me.
Finally, what is one piece of advice you wish you had known before beginning the application cycle for vacation schemes and training contracts, that you think others should know?
Sounds unbelievably cliché but be yourself. At the start of the process, I was so determined to come across as ‘professional’ that I did not let any of my personality shine through. I got feedback that said I was too uptight and that sort of shocked me and led me to try a new, more natural approach. You need to remember that ultimately, you are being assessed on likeability – if someone had to work 8+ hours in an office with you, would they enjoy it?
Partners don’t want to be talking to a brick wall! Email every person you interact with on a VS or open day and say thank you. Strike up a conversation if there’s an awkward silence. If I was going to advise candidates to do one thing, I would say, don’t take yourself too seriously. Of course, be professional and ambitious, but also be kind, caring, funny and friendly.