Frequently Asked Questions

You can view a selection of frequently asked questions about life at the firm and our range of opportunities below.

How can I get to know HSF?
When are HSF coming to my university?

We will be attending a number of university law fairs, arranging virtual and in person events, as well as live chats. So please check our events page to see what's coming up.

Does HSF offer open days?

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 LGBT+ 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 2022.

How can I become a campus ambassador for HSF?

First year students can apply to become a campus ambassador at their university during their second year of study. This invaluable experience gives further insight into the firm, preparing you for the vacation scheme application process.

How can I find out who the campus ambassador is at my university?

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 ([email protected]) and we’ll let you know!

What’s the best way to immerse myself in Herbert Smith Freehills’ culture as a candidate?

We would recommend being as proactive as possible. Meet us at events to speak to our people, listen to our podcasts and watch our videos – they’re all designed to give an insight into our world.

What if I can't attend any events or open days?

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 to visit our Insight 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 while providing you with valuable work experience.

Why HSF?
What’s unique about a lawyer working at Herbert Smith Freehills?

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.

The HSF disputes team has an excellent reputation, what makes it stand out?

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.

What differentiates Herbert Smith Freehills from other similarly large international law firms?

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.

Why should I choose to go into city practice rather than say, a more regional firm?

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
What opportunities do you offer for first year students?

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.

With regards to the campus ambassador role, what key attributes do you look for in an ambassador?

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.

As a first year, how can I add value to my future application form?

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 extracurricular activities, as we like to see well rounded individuals who are able to manage multiple commitments.

What do I do if I haven’t received any grades at university yet?

If you’re in your first year and haven’t received any grades yet, you can let us know on your application form. We’ll also take a look at your A level grades.

Diversity & Inclusion
What's the culture at HSF in terms of diversity?

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.

Which diversity organisations does HSF work?

For information on the organisations we work with, please visit our inclusive recruitment page here.

One of my motivations to work for HSF is the firm's inclusive nature. How would I show this on an application?

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 diversity and inclusion 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 inclusion 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.

What adjustments can HSF provide to those with a disability during the application process?

We're committed to ensuring our application is fair and equitable, including for those with disabilities or health conditions. We want to ensure our opportunities are accessible to everyone, and strive for a culture where people feel comfortable to tell us what they need.

We recognise that no two individuals are the same in terms of the adjustments they may require, 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 online 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.
How does HSF support those with a disability at work?

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-led diversity networks. We have a range of networks, including those focused on gender equity, ethnicity, religion and cultural background, social mobility, LGBT+, family and caring responsibilities, disability and veterans. 

Specifically on disability, our Ability network focuses on supporting those with a disability or who may be caring for someone who has. The network aims to raise awareness through events and training, promoting visible role models and supporting members to connect and network both internally with colleagues and with our clients. 

We also provide an optional 'passport' which is designed to make it easier for you to share information and discuss any adjustments that may be required with your supervisor or the colleagues you work closely with – it's about focusing on the positive aspects of what you can achieve with the appropriate support. 

Completion of the passport is encouraged but it’s not compulsory. It’s entirely up to you to decide how the passport is used, and how much information is shared and with whom.


What is HSF doing to improve gender and ethnicity equality at the firm?


Since 2014 when we first set our gender targets, we have 67% more female partners across our global network – 135 compared to 81, bringing the percentage of our women partners to 28%. The percentage of women partners in leadership roles is 25%. 

However, we are firmly focussed on increasing gender balance in our partner leadership roles and this is reflected in new targets announced on 1 May 2019, which is to have women comprising 35% of partners and partner leadership roles by 1 May 2023. 

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 our 10 Actions for Change to drive greater ethnic diversity globally, and to ensure we as an organisation, are proactively anti-racist, because we know there’s much more to do in our firm and our communities. Our commitment is to keep listening while 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 targets in our London office focus on improving ethnic minority representation across the London partnership, trainee retention and black representation across the office. Globally, thousands of our people have attended anti-racism workshops to understand the role we all play in improving culture both internally and in society more widely, and we've launched ground-breaking partnerships enabling our lawyers and clients to directly combat systemic racism: and we continue to audit processes and systems to ensure any biases are addressed. 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 career development, including through recruitment activities and business development activities.

33% of our current trainee population identify as minority ethnic.

Does HSF have an LGBT+ network?

Yes, 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 designed to create a safe and supportive space for everyone, regardless of where they are located. 

Recently, the network has been involved in:

  • Re-launching our trans and non-binary guidelines, with a focus on non-binary inclusion and enhancing the support available to individuals, including by offering 1:1 coaching;
  • The decriminalisation of homosexuality and LGBT+ rights across the world, through our pro bono work;
  • A global mobility project looking into the experiences of LGBT+ people who travel/relocate with business and the support needed;
  • Work to ensure that our medical providers are fully LGBT+ inclusive;
  • A legal battle to win the right to spousal visa for same-sex couples in Hong Kong; and
  • Supporting Open Doors Youth Service in Australia to deliver services to LGBT+ young people with a range of needs including, homelessness, mental health, alcohol and drug counselling and suicide prevention.
How can future joiners get involved with the firm before they join?

Future joiners can ask to have a mentor from one of our networks before they join. We also hold events for our future joiners, such as our summer party and future joiner quiz.

How does HSF ensure a fair interview process for all candidates?

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.

Do you have prayer room facilities in your office?

We have a prayer room in our London office which is accessible to all. You’re able to access this room at any time during your vacation scheme, and we can tailor your interviews around this at the assessment centre stage.

What support can you give to those observing religious holidays during the vacation scheme, for example?

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, and colleagues across the firm share the diverse ways in which they mark key cultural dates, 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. 

How does HSF support mental health?

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.

Vacation scheme
When can I apply for a vacation scheme?

Our applications are open from 1 September 2022 and for our 2022 winter vacation scheme will close on 30 September 2022, and on 2 December 2022 for our 2023 spring and summer schemes. To apply, please visit our website from 1 September.

Do you recruit on a rolling basis?

We do not recruit on a rolling basis and review all applications once the deadline has passed. You also do not need to complete the online test within the deadline and it can be completed after the deadline within the 7 days.

Who is eligible to apply for a vacation scheme?

We accept applications from students in their penultimate year and onwards, including graduates. We recruit from all degree backgrounds, and international students can also apply. You’ll need to be able to work for a minimum of 35 hours per week.

Are vacation scheme students paid?

Yes! Our vacation scheme students receive £450 a week while on the scheme.

Do you accept direct training contract applications?

We only recruit Trainees from our vacation schemes. This is because a vacation scheme enables you to build stronger connections with our team and hit the ground running when you start your career.

How are vacation scheme students assessed?

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. When making our decision, we look at a combination of those things before making offers for our Trainee Associate Programme.

How to prepare/make the most out of a vacation scheme with HSF?

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 an offer on our Trainee Associate Programme with us, they’ll be your colleagues for several years and invaluable people to share your experiences with over the years.


How should a non-law student to prepare for the vacation scheme?

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!

If I’m successful on the vacation scheme and offered a place on the Trainee Associate Programme, when will I start?

We recruit two years in advance so if you are part of our 2022/23 vacation scheme intake, you would start your Trainee Associate Programme in 2025.

I have previously attended an assessment centre/vacation scheme, can I reapply?

Our policy is for you to wait 1 recruitment cycles before re-applying if you have previously reached the assessment centre stage or taken part in a vacation scheme.

Life as a trainee
How are trainees evaluated?

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.

What qualities make for a successful career at HSF?

Looking primarily at the stage of your career that you’re about to embark on, the three most impressive traits in trainees are:

  1. Being intellectually curious about resolving unfamiliar issues outside your comfort zone;
  2. Showing a genuine interest in the bigger picture and how your task fits into it; and
  3. Delivering work that is thoughtful, answers the question, is on time (even if you have to manage expectations regarding timing) and is presented in the way that will most assist the person instructing you.

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.

What kind of training can I expect to receive at HSF?

There 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 Trainee Associate Programme 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. 

Through our Business Skills Academy, you’ll be supported to develop the business knowledge, skills and mind-sets required to succeed and thrive at every stage of your career. During your Trainee Associate Programme you’ll attend level 1 of the Academy: Launch which is specifically designed for trainees. You’ll work your way through five modules, including active listening and effective questioning,emotional intelligence and self-awareness, time management, creating, developing and evidencing objectives, and personal resilience and wellbeing, In addition, the Launch programme includes sessions relating to commerciality and key business skills such as financial management, business development, client experience, legal operations and other business critical topics which support innovation and drive efficiencies. 

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. You’ll attend further levels of the Academy as your career develops as a newly qualified lawyer, mid-level associate and senior associate. The training doesn't stop! The firm also puts on regular lectures with external speakers, including refreshers on key aspects of contract law.

What can I expect from a client secondment?

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!

How many trainees does HSF recruit each year?

We recruit 65 trainees each year.

How many seats are there during the trainee associate programme?

Our Trainee Associate Programme consists of four six-month seats.

What initiatives can I get involved in once I join the firm?

From the start of the Trainee Associate Programme, 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, Trainee Social Mobility Committee 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.

Can I choose my seats for my Trainee Associate Programme?

Yes, you’ll be able to tailor your Trainee Associate Programme by sector interest and we offer flexibility around seat selection. 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.

What secondment opportunities does HSF offer?

HSF offers a number of client and international secondments. Over 84% of our trainees go on either a client or international secondment.

Any Questions?

You can view a selection of frequently asked questions about life at the firm and our range of opportunities via the button below.