James is a future trainee solicitor at Osborne Clarke. He recently graduated from the University of Exeter.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m James, a recent Exeter law graduate and future trainee at Osborne Clarke! I feel very privileged and grateful to be in this position.
Funny story. I reluctantly stumbled into choosing law 2 weeks late at college after my A-Level maths teacher told me I wasn’t good enough for her class. I guess I owe her some sort of thank you, because I fell in love with the subject.
My specific interests change constantly, but they mostly revolve around creative passions of mine. I spend a lot of my spare time making art, for example.
I’ve also recently rekindled participation in sport, now I have a nice break from writing essays and stressing about job applications! I’m getting back into football and tennis, and I’ve started taking golf lessons too.
Probably for my sins, but I’m a huge Tottenham Hotspur fan, too. My dad and I have season tickets. Although cutting out unhealthy relationships is definitely for the better, unfortunately I’m stuck with the renowned perennial bottlers for life. At least they have taught me a strong sense of loyalty!
2. What attracted you to Osborne Clarke?
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but everyone says it for a reason – the culture! Although I could get a taste for the people at OC from various talks and interactions I’d had before my vacation scheme, being at the firm for two weeks confirmed all my thoughts and more. Everyone was so welcoming, friendly and open to answering any questions I had. I’d only been there for a short amount of time but I felt at home almost straight away, which is something I hadn’t experienced elsewhere. It was this great impression that prompted me to design a mock website for my final interview, where I envisaged a social hub for everyone at the firm (Facebook-style, if you will).
I found OC placed great importance into their Bristol office, meaning I could benefit from training involved with city-level work whilst still being close to friends and family, as I live nearby. The investment into the exciting new Halo office development epitomises this commitment to my area. The firm’s overall growth in the past few years has been amazing too, so I thought OC was a perfect match for my ambitions.
3. How did you make yourself stand out during your vacation scheme?
Developing relationships with people is important. I valued my time with my trainee ‘buddies’ and supervisors very highly. They are the people you spend the most time with and will be giving a lot of feedback, but at the same time, try not to think of experiences like this as tests. They’re just normal people at the end of the day! Be yourself and they will admire your authenticity, as plenty of candidates will try and act like someone they’re not. My 15-minute-max scheduled catch-ups regularly doubled and tripled in length, which exemplifies the friendly atmosphere at OC.
As for something more niche, I always made sure that during our talks I asked questions specific to what I’d heard or based on prior research I’d conducted on the speaker. I think this not only adds a personal touch but the subsequent answers give you a better feel for the firm, as opposed to asking more generic questions applicable to any corporate environment.
Finally, make sure you produce work to the best of your capabilities. Really push yourself, because it’s worth it!
4. What did you find most challenging about your vacation scheme?
Saying ‘no’. It’s so easy to want to do anything possible to impress the firm, naturally. However, equally as important is managing your time effectively. Produce quality over quantity, as the saying goes. I think maturity in handling that side of things comes across well, even if on a superficial level it seems odd describing the act of not doing work as a positive.
I’m sure most would highlight the virtual aspect, but I hadn’t experienced an in-person vacation scheme, so having nothing to compare it to was a blessing in disguise. It forces you to take more initiative, whether it be getting involved with work or organising ‘coffee’ chats, which I liked as it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
5. Tell us about recent legal issue you found interesting
The newly enacted National Security and Investment Act is fascinating. Excuse my horrendous oversimplification, but in essence, the UK Government can now intervene in any foreign transaction on national security grounds. If you’re thinking that sounds incredibly open-ended, you’d be right. No clear definition has been outlined, and rough estimates suggest over 2,000 M&A’s will be affected each year. For the legal industry, to say it’s a bit of a conundrum would be an understatement. Not only do businesses need to plan ahead and incorporate ways of dealing with this into their practices, but they might even have to dig out old paperwork – the Act requires an assessment of transactions dating back to November 2020, when they’d have had little to no knowledge of this legislative change.
Over in South Africa, a recent transaction was prevented on similar grounds because of a public interest risk to cultural heritage, likely decided given South Africa’s drive to champion black businesses through their ‘economic empowerment’ scheme. I hadn’t even considered examples like this falling under the scope of ‘national security’, so it will be really interesting to see how the UK legal industry adapts.
6. What’s your top piece of advice for prospective applicants?
It’s such a cliché, but be yourself! It’s extremely surprising how many people aren’t. A training contract is a big commitment, both for you and the firm. Ensuring you’re the right fit is paramount and being yourself is key in assessing that.
Of course, the route to succeeding as a candidate is a multi-faceted process, but ultimately, firms want to assess whether you’d be a colleague they’d enjoy working alongside and would feel comfortable letting you represent them. Personability is probably the only thing a training contract can’t teach you.
This is especially important given some of the perceived challenges in applying. We will have all probably felt some form of ‘imposter syndrome’ before – unfortunately law in general hasn’t quite shaken off that stuffy reputation. However, being yourself will help you, not hold you back. Now more than ever the backgrounds of people entering the legal sphere are becoming increasingly diverse, which is great to see, so any prospective applicant should have confidence that they can follow suit!
7. Wildcard: Would you rather be able to talk to animals or speak all human languages? Why?
100% animals. How cool would that be!? I’m not sure what I’d do with my new-found talent, though. I could recruit animals to help with all sorts of things, like disaster rescue missions, or having a literal fly on the wall reporting back to me! Maybe I’d host some form of Animal Olympics. Cheetahs or Peregrine Falcons for the 100m crown – who’s your money on?
On a more serious note, I love wildlife and it’s always upsetting reading stories of extinction, poaching and deteriorating habitats, amongst more. I’d probably utilise my skill to educate animals and help them navigate these challenges somehow. Being able to ask animals what’s wrong would be extremely helpful for vets, too.
Some might say speaking every language is more practical. Although, the lawyer in me would say that if you could speak to all animals, that includes humans, so I’d be able to speak all of our languages too!