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6 things I learnt on the B.U.I.L.D. @ Shearman internship

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a B.U.I.L.D. @ Shearman intern? Well, wonder no more.

From asking the right questions to being yourself in the workplace, we thought we would give an exclusive insight into what the B.U.I.L.D. @ Shearman internship has taught us.

Here are the 6 key things we learnt.

1. It’s okay to be uncomfortable

For many of us, this was our first legal work experience. Joining a new environment, with less structured training than we are used to, and no idea of what to expect is perhaps a little uncomfortable. We all want to do our best, but the thought of being around very intelligent people who already know what they’re doing can be a little bit intimidating.

One thing I learnt throughout this internship is that even at the highest level, lawyers at Shearman are still learning so as a junior lawyer or an intern, you’re not expected to be an encyclopaedia of knowledge. Clients come to Shearman precisely because they’re looking for novel solutions and sometimes that means working outside of your comfort zone. In any case, when you’re trying your hand at a new task you’ll never be completely in the dark. Someone is always around to discuss the wider context and you can always request feedback so you know how to improve.

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable because that means there is something for you to learn. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up and how resourceful you become. You can’t be prepared for everything, so just be prepared to learn!

2. Be proactive

I quickly realised at the start of this internship that you are being given an opportunity – an opportunity to do your best, meet people and learn from others. To put it simply, you would be wasting precious time if you didn’t make the most out of your experience, so send that extra email and schedule that coffee catch-up!

This internship is what you make of it. It can be easy to read the ‘Black Undergraduate Internship‘ and neglect the ‘Lawyer Development‘ part. You are here not only to gain experience, but to grow as an aspiring lawyer and to create meaningful connections. With that being said, don’t be scared to ask questions, and come with some ready to go before you start a conversation. If you can, always try to think one step ahead – you’ll find this beneficial not only in the work you do, but with the people you interact with.

Understandably, it can be hard to show your proactiveness when communicating via email or Teams message, but when in doubt, pick up the phone and call someone. There is nothing like a good old-fashioned natter, and you’ll find the lawyers at Shearman are more than happy to talk to you. Don’t let the fear of reaching out stop you from doing a great job.

My advice to any future BU.I.L.D. intern would be to recognise that Shearman is investing in you, and they want you to excel. They have provided the resources, now it’s your turn to utilise them.

3. Bravery and patience

The biggest lesson I learnt during this internship is the importance of having a good attention to detail. Coming into the internship, I knew it was an important skill to have, so I said to myself “no spelling mistakes and no grammatical errors”. I quickly learned that it goes way beyond this. It’s comprehending a task and knowing exactly what is required, it’s asking the necessary questions without expecting to be spoon-fed the answers.

Attention to detail during tasks requires bravery and patience. Bravery because focusing on the details is a precursor to asking for clarification or putting forward a suggestion which can seem intimidating. Patience because you need to ensure that you don’t rush and ask a question that was easily answerable had you taken the time to understand.

I also learned that attention to detail is two-pronged. To make a good impression, you need to remember names, faces, practice areas and engage with any other detail the lawyers may tell you about themselves. Being at Shearman for 4 weeks presented a rare opportunity to really imagine life at the firm and understand the firm’s culture. It’s good to ask “why Shearman?” to every lawyer you meet – after all, you can never have too much insight into a firm.

Some of the best conversations start with asking person-centred questions. For example, what trainees do in their free time, their highlights and struggles within their practice area or how they found the transition from student to trainee. In my experience, people are more open and appreciative when you ask questions that are specific to them and their experience at the firm.

4. Manage your time

Time management is something that comes into play at all stages of our lives, whether that be ensuring you make the time to complete your homework and watch your favourite Netflix show each evening, or balancing going out with your friends and spending time at home with your family. Both aspects are important, but the struggle comes with figuring out how to prioritise tasks and ensuring that everything is completed on time. This is something that I have learnt during my time at Shearman & Sterling.

From figuring out what time I need to wake up in the morning, catch my train, and grab some lunch, all whilst making sure that I arrive by 9:30am, to juggling different tasks that I am assigned, completing presentations and attending lawyer development seminars, this internship has definitely kept me busy and taught me a thing or two about time management!

At first, you might feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you are expected to complete across the course of the internship, and wonder how you are going to manage to fit it all in. I soon realised that this is completely normal. Everyone is in the same boat. By taking small steps such as filling in my calendar so I knew where I had to be and when, writing to-do lists every morning and liaising with other interns and my supervisors, time management and prioritising tasks soon became second nature to me.

One piece of advice I have is to not be afraid to ask for help. Shearman & Sterling has an extremely friendly and collegiate culture, and the firm’s open-door policy means that you are welcome to knock on the door of a partner and ask for advice, even as an intern! Take advantage of this opportunity!

5. Preferring a smaller trainee intake

One thing I have learnt from the B.U.I.L.D internship is the true appeal of having a smaller trainee intake. Traditionally, aspiring commercial lawyers are fed with many myths related to smaller cohorts, so naturally I was apprehensive about the implications of a small team in a reputable US firm. However, during my 4 weeks at Shearman I have truly understood the importance of being part of a team.

My presence is valued and people at various stages of their legal careers collectively make the effort to stop by my office to catch up, take me out for lunches to get to know me better and include me on different tasks. From trainee level, associate level, counsel level and even at the level of Co-chair of the European, the Middle East and African offices, everyone I have met is genuinely down to earth, readily available to answer my questions and most importantly, are kind.

I’ve learnt that the smaller intake should be something that pulls you to the firm, making it easier to build working relationships with colleagues which in my opinion makes it a fruitful learning space. Not only do I now view Shearman as a place I can see myself working in, but the firm is a place I actively want to work for.

I am grateful to the Graduate Recruitment Team, the co-chairs of the BLAQUE Network and to my supervisors in M&A and Antitrust for making this last month so enjoyable. Even at this early stage of my legal career I can only describe this experience as being a transformative moment in my journey.

6. Be yourself

In professional environments, we often force ourselves to suppress our personality. This is particularly true for most minorities. My experience at Shearman has, however, shown me that it is important to be professional whilst remembering to be yourself.

Being myself, whether it was during a discussion about my favourite football team with a partner, or a conversation regarding my university experience with an associate, enabled me to build strong relationships with the lawyers at Shearman that went beyond our common interest of law. But also, by not having to mask who I am as an individual, I was able to find comfort in the working environment at Shearman.

In fact, something that has been echoed constantly during my time at Shearman is that one of the key features of the business relationship on which commercial law depends is the personal connections between lawyers and their clients. So, by shielding yourself off, you may be limiting your ability to create valuable relationships.

My point here is not to encourage a total disregard of the obvious professional boundaries, but to advise future interns to be more open and humanly (avoid acting like a robot!). This may mean asking people about their life journey or simply discussing anything that is not law related. Importantly, by doing this, you will become more likeable and memorable.

By Amaka Oditah, Francesca Godley, Bim Akinsanya, Sikemi Adetola, Tomi Loye and Trevor Mwondha