Ceej Ntsiu is a future trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths LLP. He studied law at Cardiff University and is one of the founders of ComAware.
1. Tell us about your route into Shoosmiths.
My first experience with Shoosmiths was at NationalLawLive in Manchester in 2016, which is a law careers conference. As cliché as it might sound, I was impressed by the way in which the team representing the firm at the event were so approachable and helpful in answering my questions and providing tips on how to make my training contact applications standout. Following this, I attended the insight evening at the firm’s Thames Valley (Reading) office, where I was able to network with some of the firm’s partners, associates, and trainees. This was extremely helpful as it gave me a real understanding of the firm’s culture, which I later referred to in my vacation scheme and training contract application. While I was unsuccessful in my vacation scheme application, I succeeded in earning the opportunity to attend one of the firm’s training contract assessment centres in Birmingham. After a tough, but very rewarding, assessment centre in 2017, I was offered a training contract which will start in 2019.
2. Why did you decide you wanted a career in law?
There are a lot of reasons why I decided to pursue a career in law. I will give you the first three that pop into my head:
- Most of the aspects which I enjoyed in my previous roles directly transfer into the role of a commercial solicitor. For example, I have always enjoyed problem solving on behalf of customers, whether it be through helping customers save money on purchases during my time as a sales consultant or helping customers win money back from the government during my time as a paralegal. My interest in problem solving transitions perfectly as a solicitor’s role, whether transitional, advisory, or in litigation, focuses on solving problems for clients.
- I have always enjoyed working in teams for the purpose of achieving a shared goal. I enjoyed it when I played basketball for Cardiff university, I enjoyed it in my work with Cardiff Law School’s Innocence Project, and I am sure to enjoy it as a part of my role as a trainee and beyond.
- I wanted to join a highly respected profession which not only gives me the chance of building a rewarding career, it also gives me the chance to work with some of the world’s leading technology, media, and sport companies.
3. What attracted you most to Shoosmiths?
I do not want to take up too much of your time so I will only name a few of the things which most attracted me to Shoosmiths:
- The approachability of the people who work at the firm. Some of my most enjoyable conversations with people who work at Shoosmiths have been with some of the firm’s partners. This motivated me to apply to the firm as it made it pretty clear that the people at the higher levels of the firm’s hierarchy are just as friendly and willing to help as the firm’s trainees and graduate recruitment team.
- When I was deciding which firms to apply to, I made the decision not to focus on the City as I knew I did not want to live in London or commute from outside of London. Shoosmiths offered the opportunity of working with high value clients like Thomas Cook, Hewlett-Packard, and Krispy Kreme, without having to sacrifice my desire to live near where I grew up.
- The firm offers its trainees a really good chance of participating in a client secondment, something which I am attracted to as it gives you the opportunity of gaining an internal understanding of how some of the leading companies in the world operate.
4. What was the most challenging part of the recruitment process and how did you tackle it?
As I focused on my training contract applications following my graduation, the most challenging part of the recruitment process was having to find a balance between working a full-time job, playing sport, and dedicating five or more hours to each application I sent to recruiters. I tackled this by staying organised. I knew that this would be challenging from the outset so I planned ahead and made sure that I dedicated a certain amount of hours every week into researching firms, attending networking events, or filling out application forms. While it was not easy, it definitely helped keep me focused on achieving my goal of getting a training contract at a firm I wanted to work for.
5. How important was commercial awareness in the application process?
Developing and maintaining my commercial awareness was extremely important. Each firm or company which I applied to assessed my commercial awareness in some way during their recruitment process. Some firms did this by expressly asking me a commercial awareness question (e.g. what business story in the news have you found most interesting these last few months & how does that story impact our clients?), others did this by testing my understanding of their values (i.e. their business model and how they expect to grow over a certain period in contrast to the goals of their competitors).
No law firm or company is expecting you to be an expert in understanding the ins and outs of businesses. What they do expect is for you to have an interest in business news developments as a prospective commercial solicitor, and for you to be able to discuss those developments in an educated manner. For example, if an interviewer was to ask you – ‘what do you think about the government’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040?’ – You should be able to engage with that question by considering factors such as the impact the ban would have on electric car sales and the car manufacturing industry.
6. What is your top application tip for prospective trainees?
Make yourself standout!
A partner at a law firm once told me that the candidates who do the best are those whose applications stand out. She made this comment not in reference to a candidate’s grades or the university which a candidate graduated from. Rather, she meant that each candidate which is applying to the firm which you are applying to will meet the same requirements which you are required to meet. In other words, each person you are competing against will be on track or will already have achieved a 2:1 and they will have already met their A-level requirements. With this in mind, do whatever you can to make yourself stand out at university (e.g. take on a leadership role in a society, partake in extra-curricular events such as the innocence project or law firm clinics, etc.) and outside of university (start a blog about business topics that interest you, work part-time, ask local law firms for work experience, etc.). Not only will this make your application standout, it will also give you some interesting topics to talk about at interviews. Samantha Hope is the graduate recruitment manager at Shoosmiths, and has just published a really useful blog post about how you can enhance your employability through developing your personality. You can read it here.
Wild Card Questions – Unorthodox questions that candidates have been asked in real interviews
7. Wildcard Interview Question: What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
Well, as an avid Walking Dead watcher, I already know the rules of surviving in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I will share a few of them with you:
- Only travel in daylight – unless you eat a lot of carrots
- Join a group and play your part in that group – do not try to be the hero that saves the day, unless you’re John McClane, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or Kanye West
- Arm yourself – Luckily for me, my love for Chinese food has made me an expert in using a knife and fork
- Don’t trust anybody – Especially people named Eugene, Merle, or people nicknamed The Governor
- Take some time to work on improving your cardio. While I’ve never experienced a zombie apocalypse, my intuition tells me that the non-zombie population during a zombie apocalypse does a lot of running.
I won’t share anymore as I do not want to miss out on a book publishing deal if the circumstances arise. And whilst I think I would have aced it, Shoosmiths didn’t ask me any wildcard questions like this in my interview!
I hope my advice will help you secure your training contract!