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An Insight into Trainee Life with Holly Smith

Q. Which seat of your training contract are you in and which department do you sit in?

I am in my first seat and I sit in the Financial Institutions Advisory & Financial Regulatory Group.

Q. What is a typical trainee task in your department?

There are numerous tasks so far, but a typical one could be reviewing and analysing a particular law so it can be referenced in a client memo or an email of advice. This involves a thorough understanding of what the law is actually saying and effectively applying it to the facts. This is excellent for developing technical skills that can be applied to any seat done on the training contract.

Q. Do you feel like your training so far has given you a clear idea of what direction you would like to take your career in?

It’s difficult to say at this point as I still have three rotations to go. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to experiencing Shearman’s other practice groups throughout the remainder of my training contract. Shearman is a fantastic melting pot of specialisms and expertise, and there are always opportunities to chat to people across the firm.

Q. What’s the support system like in your current seat—is it easy to develop a working relationship with partners, associates and fellow trainees?

All of the trainees have mentors who are newly qualified. These mentors are available to have a coffee with and generally chat to whenever there is the need. My team has also been great at welcoming me into the group and making sure I’m settled.

Q. If you won £10 million on the lottery, what’s the first thing would you do?

Probably an extraordinarily indulgent Tesco order!

Q. What is your favourite weekend activity?

I have a few: I love going for brunch on a weekend, hitting a gym class and going for dinner with friends!

Q. Can you talk us through an average day at work?

I tend to arrive at the office just before 9.30am so I can get myself settled before logging onto my computer. I begin by checking my emails and then filing them into their correct folders so my inbox stays tidy. While generally I will know what I am working on, the actual tasks involved can change at any point, meaning no day is really an average day!

There are also training breakfasts and lunches scheduled throughout the week, so I will attend these as well on top of everything else. These sessions are great for trainees as they provide an environment where we can freely ask questions to improve our learning. I will leave the office at around 7pm, but this time is obviously subject to client demand and it can regularly fluctuate.

Q. What would your superpower be and why?

To be able to click my fingers and be ready in the morning so I can have an extra half an hour asleep!

Q. What is the company culture like at Shearman & Sterling? Do you have regular social events and the chance to mingle with other trainees?

There are a number of social events and out-of-work activities. I play regularly for Shearman’s netball team, which has been a great way to meet more people across Shearman. The firm is also specially committed to pro bono and charitable work, and there are numerous events held to raise money to contribute to different projects and initiatives. An example of this is the firm’s upcoming bingo night, where trainees are nominated to sell raffle tickets within their teams for a good cause.

Q. What has been a highlight of your experience as a trainee so far?

In my second month, I was asked by an associate in my team to produce a piece of work, and a few days later I was fully part of Shearman’s internal team delivering work for the client. I have been on all of the client calls since, where I have been expected to deliver the status of my work streams. This has been excellent exposure for me at the beginning of my training contract and has really helped in developing my client-facing skills.


Q. How do you build your commercial awareness?

I found that I best developed this skill practically by being a paralegal before I was offered my training contract. When thinking about commercial awareness, however, the key is being able to communicate it effectively in assessments, from partner interviews to written exercises. Don’t be afraid to share with people what your interests are and what you have read up on—people will always appreciate new information, as long as it’s not completely out of context!

Q. When did you decide law was the career for you?

After completing the GDL, I secured a job as a paralegal at another City law firm, which was pivotal for me in deciding law was the right career. Before I started my paralegal role, I had already applied to vacation schemes but I had no experience actually working in a law firm. Ultimately, becoming a paralegal really consolidated in my mind that becoming a City lawyer was the right choice for me. I loved having the opportunity to work with sophisticated clients across a suite of industries and jurisdictions.

Q. What makes Shearman & Sterling Different?


Q. What advice would you give to anyone who’s interested in training at the firm?

I would certainly try to attend a recruitment event, either at the firm itself or on campus. They are fantastic opportunities to network with partners, associates and trainees, and to understand whether Shearman is the place for you.

A huge benefit I found when interviewing for training contracts was that instant feeling of familiarity when going into firms for interviews after I had already visited them. Whatever work experience you have, even if its non-law, try to think how the skills you developed align with the legal sector.