Frequently Asked Questions
You can view a selection of frequently asked questions about life at the firm and our range of opportunities button below.
You can view a selection of frequently asked questions about life at the firm and our range of opportunities button below.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we’re unable to deliver on campus events this year. However, we’ll be arranging virtual events, live chats and attending a number of virtual university law fairs. So please check our events page to see what’s coming up.
At HSF we run open days on IP, Cyber & Technology (open to STEM and computer science students and those involved in technology-driven projects in any year), Innovation (open to all disciplines and students in any year, as well as graduates) and Disputes (open to students of any discipline in any year). We also run an Ability open day with MyPlus Consulting, a Social Mobility open day with the Social Mobility Foundation and an LGBTQ+ open day with our Inclusion Respecting Identity and Sexuality (IRIS) network.
Our open days will give you the opportunity to meet our lawyers and discuss their experiences.
Applications are open from September 2020.
If there’s a HSF campus ambassador at your university, they should have a Facebook and Instagram page – try searching HSF and your university name. Otherwise, do get in touch with us (Graduates.UK@HSF.com) and we’ll let you know!
If you're not able to join us when we visit your university or when we're hosting events, don't worry - you won't be at a disadvantage! A great way to get to know us is visit our Content Hub where we have lots of videos and podcasts on different topics. We also have a virtual internship which provides you with an insight into the work we do whilst providing you with valuable work experience.
One of our strengths is that we don't have a type of lawyer at HSF; everyone’s valued for their individual skills and personality. It's important that people feel that they can be themselves at work and be comfortable expressing their opinions and engaging with their colleagues and clients professionally but ultimately as individuals. That makes the relationships we have more authentic and creates trust between people. We want our lawyers to take an interest in our clients' businesses and to understand the broader context into which our advice fits – the sector focus of our strategy helps with that. Hopefully, as a result, our people can develop genuine and deep connections with clients rather than just being service providers.
HSF has always been known as the pre-eminent disputes firm in the UK, and one of the best in the world. We’re involved in the most high-profile cases going through the English courts, as well as the most significant investigations and arbitrations. Trainees are a huge part of all of these cases, and they’re encouraged to take an active role. However, one of the best things about HSF is that the strength of the disputes team is also matched across the rest of the firm – such as corporate, finance, real estate, employment – and we often work with them to get the best results for our clients.
There are two things that are crucial: the work and the people. For disputes, there’s no other firm in the City which deals with the same quality of disputes or where the practice has the prominence within the firm that it does at HSF. Quite a few large international firms use the fact that trainees could do a course as opposed to a litigation seat as a selling point. But even as a transactional lawyer, seeing first-hand how disputes work can only help you put together better deals. In addition, one of the best things about HSF is that the strength of the disputes team is also matched across the rest of the firm by our corporate, finance, real estate, and employment teams, and we often work with them to get the best results for our clients. In terms of the people, although there are undoubtedly very good lawyers at other City firms, HSF has a reputation for encouraging individuals to be themselves and express themselves, rather than conforming to a stereotype.
If you have a desire to see the best and most complex work possible and receive the best training then a city practice is probably the best idea. The quality of work in an international city firm is second to none. This is alongside the fact that London is an amazing place to live. Life in a city firm is not for everyone, but the experiences you can have from a work and social perspective would be much harder to come across in a regional firm. For example, the opportunity to go on client or international secondment.
First year students can apply to all of our open day opportunities. We also have the following opportunities that are specific to first year students or those who are in the second year of a four year degree: the Roger Leyland Memorial Scholarship, first year workshops and campus ambassador position (which you would undertake in your second year). You can see more information here.
We’re looking for students who demonstrate a strong academic performance and have shown initiative by getting involved in lots of different things at university. At interview we want to understand why you’re interested in the firm, what you can bring to the role and how you’ll work with us to promote our activities on campus. We also want you to have strong interpersonal skills and be confident promoting the firm to your peers, as well as good organisational skills to assist us with coordinating events.
In your first year, you should start your research early and use the year to find out about the different types of law firm, what they specialise in and what they’re looking for. Then you can hone in on your top five or so, and do further research (using websites, brochures, live chats etc) in your second year when you’ll be able to apply. You should also use your first year to explore your interests at university and get involved in extra-curricular activities, as we like to see well rounded individuals who are able to manage multiple commitments.
At Herbert Smith Freehills, we celebrate the differences that make us unique. We understand the importance of building a culture that reflects and embraces the diversity of our people, our clients and the communities in which we do business. Embracing a diversity of backgrounds allows us to attract and retain the best talent. When our people bring their authentic selves to work and our teams harness diverse perspectives, we can provide the most considered and innovative advice to clients.
There are many ways to talk about the firm and your motivation to work here. You can demonstrate that you’ve done your research by mentioning examples of our inclusive initiatives and explain why they’re important to you. It may also be worth linking this to an example where you’ve been involved in encouraging inclusivity if you can. However, it’s important that you talk about your interest in the work that we do as well, not just our culture.
Talent goes across the board, whether you’ve got a disability or not. It’s about making opportunities accessible to whoever is the best person for a particular role and then making sure we create an environment where people feel comfortable to tell us what they need.
We recognise that different people need different types of adjustments and we encourage you to speak to us about your individual needs. You may find it useful to take a look at our webpage on our assessment process, including the test and the assessment day, here.
Here are some examples of adjustments that we’ve made in the past:
Extra time: We can provide additional time for our verbal reasoning tests and extended preparation time for other parts of the assessment process.
Separate room for preparation: We can provide a private room for preparation away from other candidates.
Software: We can accommodate particular software if it’s required to help read documents.
Our success depends on your skills, knowledge and ideas. That’s why we’ll invest heavily in your development. Through formal training, pro bono opportunities and the chance to work with inspiring people who are leaders in their fields, we’ll help you grow personally and professionally. You’ll be part of a working environment that’s supportive, open and allows you to be yourself.
A key element to supporting our people are our employee networks. We have a range of networks, including our Women Lawyers network, Women in Business Services network, Multiculturalism network (which celebrates diverse ethnicity, religion and faith and cultures), Inclusion Respecting Identity and Sexuality (IRIS) our LGBT+ network (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), Social Mobility network, Family network and Ability network.
Our Ability network focuses on making the entire firm more confident in its understanding of disability. We run awareness-raising events, socials and provide networking opportunities both internally and with our clients. For example, we recently hosted a panel session on dyslexia in the work place.
In 2014, we introduced our first set of gender targets. Since then the number of women in the partnership has increased by over 63%. Our current target is that by 1 May 2023 women will comprise 35% of partners and partner leaderships roles. We currently have 27% women partners and 25% women in partner leadership roles.
In addition to our targets, we’ve undertaken a range of initiatives to increase gender balance in our partnership – these include: addressing unconscious bias and developing inclusive leadership capability; scrutiny of our talent pipeline to ensure we’re developing all of our talent to success through development support, mentoring and sponsorship; agile and flexible working and encouraging greater accountability across our partnership for driving change.
Recently we launched a series of initiatives to drive greater ethnic diversity globally because we know there’s much more to do in our firm and our communities. Our commitment is to keep listening whilst taking action, and we encourage our people to continue challenging us in this area.
Our work includes developing our approach through diversity data and insights from our people; developing greater fluency and confidence in having conversations about race; sponsorship and mentoring; recruitment and engagement with our communities.
Our Multiculturalism network aims to create and foster a community of people from all ethnic, religious, faith and cultural backgrounds. The networks aims to facilitate communication, networking and carer development, including through recruitment activities and business development activities.
33% of our current trainee population are from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Our global Inclusion Respecting Identity and Sexuality (IRIS) network aims to promote and advocate for LGBT+ diversity and inclusion with the firm, to enhance our culture and client relationships. It connects people across the firm and is chaired by executive sponsor and our CEO, Justin D’Agostino.
In the last year, the network has been involved in:
All our interviewers and vacation scheme supervisors receive unconscious bias training. We can provide adjustments for candidates that require them throughout the application process. Our recruitment process is also designed to be fair for both law and non-law students.
Our Multiculturalism network celebrates a number of religious holidays such as Eid and Chinese New Year. Our firm leaders also communicate key religious/cultural dates by email throughout the year to promote greater awareness and understanding.
Our spring vacation scheme often takes place during Ramadan, so this is something we consider when organising the programme of events. Candidates are not required to join the evening social events and we try and make sure that these events are not centred around food or drink.
In October 2019, we launched our first global mental health strategy – Thrive. This strategy will drive our activity throughout the firm, with a focus on culture, prevention and access to support to enable optimal mental health for everyone.
Our award winning global Mental Health Champions programme exists across the firm, with over 500 people who receive ongoing training to support colleagues with mental health and provide effective sign-posting to internal and external resources. Our champions also lie at the heart of creating a more inclusive culture in respect of mental health and wellbeing.
We’ve developed an internal set of guidelines – How We Work, to promote more balanced and sustainable ways of working, and creating an explicit link between high performance culture and individual wellbeing.
At Herbert Smith Freehills we make use of an optional 'passport' system as a way to explore, log and review at different periods, what our people may need by way of adjustments and support. The passport is intended to make it easier for employees to discuss any potential adjustments with their supervisor and HR contact. The aim of the passport is to focus on the positive aspects of what employees can achieve with the appropriate support.
Completion of the passport is encouraged but it’s not compulsory. It’s entirely up to employees to decide how the passport is used, and how much information is shared and with whom, or if it’s kept confidential to HR. The passport is intended to be a live document that’s updated on a regular basis as required.
Our applications are open from 14 September 2020 and for our 2020 winter vacation scheme will close on the 2 October 2020, and on the 4 December 2020 for our 2021 spring and summer schemes. To apply, please visit our website from the 14 September.
Vacation scheme students are assessed by their supervisors and also given an assessed piece of work by their supervisors in each of the two seats. At the end of the scheme, all students have a training contract interview with a partner. When making our decision, we look at a combination of those things.
Before the vacation scheme you should research the firm to find out what areas interest you. This is different to the research you may have done for your interview in that you should try to find areas that you would like to know more about. For instance, you might want to find out more about our Corporate Crime practice, or our Public Law practice or our pro bono work for the Sierra Leone Government. The point of this research is not to dazzle us with your knowledge of the firm (you are already here!) – it’s for you to know what you want to ask us questions about. Remember: the vacation scheme is an opportunity for you to get to know us better, as well as vice versa – so you should make the most of it.
Once you’re on the vacation scheme, try to take the opportunity to speak to as many people as possible and find out more about how the things you've read about really work. No-one will mind you asking them focused, well-directed questions (which is where your pre-scheme research becomes useful) and taking an interest in their work, so don't be shy. The trainees, your supervisors and other associates/partners will all give you different perspectives about the job and so are worth talking to and having questions for. Be open-minded about your experiences here – you may have a view of what area you think you’ll find interesting but, once you find out more about other areas, you might find that they (pleasantly) surprise you.
Finally, it’s important to get to know your fellow vacation schemers well and invest in those relationships. A vacation scheme is not a competition. If you accept a training contract with us, they’ll be your colleagues for several years and invaluable people to share your experiences with over the years.
We bear in mind that you haven't done a law degree and give you instructions and tasks through which you can show your ability without knowing any law before you start.
Whatever subject you studied, you’ll have learnt valuable skills which you can show us – so we look forward to seeing them!
You’re evaluated after the first three months as part of a mid-seat review but this conversation is also to find out how you’re settling in and is an opportunity to express your interest in doing certain pieces of work.
Going forwards, you then have a mid-seat review and end of seat review for each of your seats.
Looking primarily at the stage of your career that you’re about to embark on, the three most impressive traits in trainees are:
These are three important things to bear in mind throughout your career – and they’re not easy things to master – but if you can start doing them as a trainee it will set you up for a successful career as a lawyer.
There’s a large amount of training that goes on at HSF. Some is compulsory and some isn't, and this also depends on your seniority and practice area. When trainees first join the firm, they spend a week or so on a dedicated induction course to get better acquainted with the firm and life as a trainee. Throughout your training contract you’ll then participate in various training sessions and courses covering soft skills, such as presenting and time management as well as legal workshops, which will vary in content depending on where you're sitting.
A similar picture continues once you qualify, with inductions for junior associates into their respective groups followed by mid and senior level courses, some of which involve days away from the office. The training doesn't stop! The firm also puts on regular lectures with external speakers, including refreshers on key aspects of contract law.
When you’re on a client secondment, the aim is for you to become embedded as a member of the client's team for those six months and become a resource for them to use. It can be highly rewarding as, within a large company whose business is not giving legal advice, you can see the impact of your legal knowledge more clearly. You can also get more responsibility because you’re a member of a smaller team. The level of responsibility for a trainee on client secondment is more similar to what you’d expect from a newly qualified solicitor.
However, throughout that time you remain a member of the HSF team so you'll continue to be on the mailing list of the group that was responsible for your secondment (which is often one you’ve previously sat in for one of your seats) and be invited to group social events, such as Christmas parties and so on.
In addition, because of your (growing) relationship with the client, you’ll be a key member of HSF's client relationship team. Partners and senior associates will want to get your insight into how they can win work from the client.
You can rest assured that, as a secondee to a key HSF client, you won't be forgotten!
From the start of the training contract, trainees are encouraged to get involved in the various pro bono initiatives such as the Whitechapel Legal Advice Clinic. As well as helping a good cause, the pro bono initiatives enable trainees to further develop their key legal skills.
The firm also has multiple diversity networks that trainees can join, including the Inclusion Respecting Identity and Sexuality (IRIS) network (LGBT+), the Multiculturalism Network and the Women Trainee Lawyers Network. Each of the networks regularly hold events such as workshops and panel discussions.
Another initiative trainees can join is the Trainee Business Development Committee (TBDC). The TDBC is focused on increasing trainees’ exposure to business development activities and also holds client-facing events that allow networking skills to be practiced in a safe environment.
From a social aspect, there are various sports teams and other groups that trainees can join such as the football team, netball team and the HSF choir aptly named Choral Testimony.
Yes, you’ll submit your preferences before each seat rotation along with supporting comments as to why you’ve selected those preferences (e.g. you might have a particular sector interest that you want to explore). It’s compulsory to undertake one dispute and two transactional seats during your training contract.