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5 Minutes with Future Trainee, Matthew Rees

What University did you attend?
Oxford University (Trinity College).

What subject are you studying?
Law, undergraduate and postgraduate.

When do you join as a trainee?
August 2020.

How did you hear about Shearman & Sterling?
During University I participated in the Shearman & Sterling Moot, where a number of the judges were lawyers from the firm. I found out more about the firm subsequently via word of mouth, industry news and websites, as well as from the firm’s strong social media presence and its comprehensive Graduate Recruitment website.

What made you apply?
Initially I had intended to join the Bar, but after working as a paralegal it quickly became clear that training as a solicitor would offer me the rewarding career that I wanted. This experience also made me realise I would enjoy working as part of a smaller trainee intake, as this would present the opportunity for more responsibility earlier on and a more collegiate environment than law firms with larger intakes could offer.

The possibility of doing a seat abroad in a core practice area was also key to my decision to apply to Shearman & Sterling, as was the chance to collaborate with teams across the world on truly global matters.

How did you approach the initial application form?
It’s difficult to make a convincing case in only 250 words, so I tried to avoid being generic.

I aimed to illustrate all of my points with specific examples which I would be prepared to explain, in detail, in an interview.

Importantly, whether answering a question about my competencies, motivations or the firm, I found it better to make one point (or explain one example) really well, than to make several less informed points. Not only did this help make my answers concise, it allowed me to show off the depth of my research and my understanding of the firm, its practice areas, and life as a lawyer more generally.

In terms of research, while websites such as RollOnFriday and Chambers & Partners were helpful, I made sure to read the Graduate Recruitment website from wall to wall and took the time to watch the various “Whiteboard Wednesdays” videos (especially when few other firms provided information like this - another thing that set Shearman & Sterling apart for me).

What made Shearman & Sterling different to other firms?
Having worked as a paralegal at a large law firm, with high calibre work and lawyers, I realised that I nevertheless wanted to train at a firm where I felt valued as an individual, which is why I found a relatively small intake appealing.

I also wanted to avoid the “sharp-elbow” culture that can develop in very small intakes, so Shearman & Sterling felt like a perfect fit.

When combined with the well-established training contract (in comparison to many other US firms in London), early responsibility and quality of high profile work across a number of practice areas, this factor made applying for the firm an easy decision.

Did you do a Vacation Scheme and if so, what did you learn/enjoy?
I did the Winter Vacation Scheme, which allowed me to participate in an office-wide Christmas Jumper Day and office-wide Christmas lunch, as well as a suitably merry department-wide Christmas party (which, as an invitee from a Vacation Scheme intake, quickly opened my eyes to the inclusive nature of the firm).

In addition to the social side - of which the cooking class on Day 1 was another ice-breaking highlight - the Vacation Scheme made very clear how much Shearman & Sterling invests in its training programme, offering daily introductory presentations to all of its core practice areas over a morning coffee and plenty of chances for us to talk to the trainees about their experiences.

The ‘open-door’ ethos was evident throughout the entire two weeks, as I found that lawyers of all seniority from other departments were more than happy to answer my questions about their day-to-day work.

What made you accept?
The Vacation Scheme confirmed all of the positive things I had heard about the firm when I first applied.

Importantly, I felt that both of my supervisors were conscious that I enjoyed my time at the firm and made sure to involve me in varied and interesting work despite their busy schedules, which - in addition to the points mentioned above - reaffirmed that I wanted to train here.

When applying for training contracts you often see references in publications or on websites to a firm’s “fit”; sometimes it’s difficult to know what that means until you’ve worked there and so, fortunately, I ended up with no doubts about accepting the offer.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in Shearman & Sterling?
Be clear about your motivations for wanting to become a solicitor and for wanting to join Shearman & Sterling. This is where your research is most valuable, as it will help you demonstrate your understanding of the firm, the role of a lawyer (at all stages) and the wider legal industry.

Another tip (which is trite but for good reason) is to proofread your application multiple times. If you have time, save and close your application when you have completed it and come back to it the next day with fresh eyes - like in other aspects of life, you may be surprised by the avoidable mistakes you made the previous evening.

Lastly, when it comes to interviews, “commercial awareness” is not something that can be learned or demonstrated by only reading the FT the weekend before. If you are at University, do not pass up the opportunity to take on relevant responsibilities (e.g. Treasurer of a society); if you are working, take a minute out of your day to observe how the workplace is being run as a business. Real-life experiences will help you be more persuasive in an interview.

by Matthew Rees

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