Applying for US Law Firm Training Contracts: A Marathon Not A Sprint!

by Animan Sharma WLS Alumnus

Applying for US Law Firm Training Contracts: A Marathon Not A Sprint!

The selection process for White & Case’s training contract was extensive yet gratifying. In this blog post, I outline my journey, from the application stage to the four rounds of interviews.

I applied for a position on the winter vacation scheme, however, I was rejected at the application stage. I improved my application and applied again for a direct training contract in the same application cycle. I am sharing this because I believe self-improvement alongside self-reflection are key characteristics that the firm looks for. Do not shy away from applying again until you make it.

Before I walk you through my journey, here’s a bit about my background.

I have lived in five countries, and am fluent in Hindi, Mandarin, and English. I was on the executive committee of the Warwick Law Society and Warwick International European Law Society (IELS). During my time at university, I participated in the Clifford Chance SPARK (Vacation) Scheme and the Linklaters’ Pathfinder scheme. I was on the University’s Water Polo team and worked for a legal clinic in Singapore. Here, I represented migrant workers for five years. Many of these experiences were used as part of my White & Case assessment process for the interviewing panel.

The Application Process 

The White & Case application includes a cover letter, an experience section, and your grades. I structured my cover letter into three parts, with the end of each section connecting to why that portion of the cover letter relates to the firm. Graduate recruitment has over 1,200 TC applications to read. Make their job easier by connecting each point of your cover letter to the firm.

The three parts of my cover letter were: why I wanted to be a commercial solicitor, why White & Case should interview me, and why I wanted to work for them in London. I will not delve much into my reasons as you should have your own.

The White & Case experience section should include only your notable achievements within societies, internships, and other experiences. I structured this using the STAR model: Situation, Task, Action, and Resolution (STAR). You start with a brief sentence explaining the event (Situation), then you discuss what you were assigned (Tasks), followed by the role you played (Action), ending with the lessons learned and the results achieved (Resolution). 

The First Interview 

The first interview is an video interview where the firm asks you a couple of questions. You prepare and answer them within a strict time limit. My advice for this would be to look up questions that typically come up and prepare for them. Explain your motivations behind why you are applying to the firm, what motivates you to do law, and situational questions like a time you solved a problem. The video interview is a 90-second timed response with 15 seconds to prepare an answer. I would recommend structuring your answers with STAR, avoiding fillers such as “Ums” and “Uhs.”

The Second Interview

The second interview is with a member of the firm’s HR team. They take you through a lot of situational interview questions. I felt it was best to communicate that I was a collaborative, international, and entrepreneurial person. There is no “one size fits all” profile they are looking for. The best way to prepare for this part is to find out what makes you unique. White & Case is a truly global firm that celebrates everyone’s individuality. Everyone is different and contributes a unique skill to a diverse pool of some of the most intelligent people. 

I would not focus on how you have achieved a first at university. It is a given that you are intelligent, or you would not have made it past the first stage. Everyone at the firm has done outstandingly well, it is why White & Case is world-renowned. That in itself is a challenge and one that you should not shy from recognising. It shows humility. Be confident, know your story, and know what makes you stand out. For me, I think it was my entrepreneurial skillset, a knack for collaborative thinking, and a desire to be a part of a truly global firm. I showcased this through my multilingual abilities, my desire to help the marginalised community, and enjoyment of my vacation and insight schemes. I discussed specific experiences during those schemes that impacted my decision to pursue a career in law.

Furthermore, I was incredibly lucky to have mentors like David Zemans, the Asia Managing Partner of Milbank, who introduced me to various facets of a corporate attorney’s professional life. This allowed me to learn from those experiences and how they could help me calibrate my own journey in law.

I was clear on my own story. I discussed how Tamera Fillinger, my inspiration to become a lawyer, took me under her wing whilst she was on the Board of the legal clinic I spent five years working for. I explained how my work there was some of the most impactful work I have ever done and its role in making me the man I am today. I discussed how I helped argue a case and negotiate a settlement for a client who lost two fingers in a workplace injury. I elaborated on how my multilingual skills allowed me to contribute to an internationally diverse team. Lastly, I showcased my commitment to law school, my extracurricular activities, and sports. This demonstrated my ability to handle multiple responsibilities simultaneously. White & Case is a firm where you are given an unrivalled level of responsibility from a young age. Time management is an important skill the firm looks for and you have to showcase that. 

The Assessment Centre

The assessment centre is by far the most demanding yet rewarding experience you will face in the process. The White & Case assessment centre consists of an introduction by the training principal, followed by a 90-minute case study, an hour-long HR and Senior Associate interview, and a team case study, ending with a Q&A session.

To prepare for this, I went through the past twelve months of deal closings and looked at the firm’s press releases, strategic growth areas, and notable clients. I kept up with current commercial awareness by spending about 30 minutes a day on the Financial Times, listening to the Economist daily podcast, and the FT daily news briefing. I learned to connect macroeconomic and socioeconomic trends and consider their impact on the firm’s major clients and practice areas.

At the time, Evergrande was defaulting on their loans. I connected that event with how their loan default would spill over to the commodities market as they rely heavily on purchasing commodities to fund their developments. This would impact airlines purchasing fuel, oil prices skyrocketing, and global interest rates rising resulting from banks not having the capital to pay their obligations.

For the case- study, you have 90 minutes to summarise four preset articles, evaluate threats, and assess a fictional client’s position in a potential deal. I suggest looking up what a SWOT analysis is and using that to structure your answers. I used Evergrande when evaluating the four articles I was given.

The HR and Senior Associate interview is an extended version of the second round. The process is CV blind so it can feel a bit repetitive. However, I believe you can use this to your advantage as there may be parts in the previous interview you would like to refine which you can do now.

In the group exercise, you work with other candidates and compete against another group. This includes a group presentation and case study exercise. You are tasked with advising a fictional company by looking at their accounts. The case study presents a goal that you need to help the organisation achieve by using one of the four strategy options. This is more a McKinsey case study than a legal case study. I would recommend reading the book the 80/20 principle to understand cost-cutting, strategy objective targets, and how consultants advise their clients to achieve long-term targets. A basic understanding of financial accounting would help.

Remember, not to dominate, show leadership skills, and be brief yet impactful. It is an opportunity to showcase your collaborative skillset and the firm values that a lot. White & Case has 45 offices in 30 countries so your ability to work alongside different people who may share differing viewpoints is imperative. Think of the kind of person you would want to work with and become that person. Nobody likes someone who dominates a discussion, adds meaningless points, or sits quietly. Be balanced and learn to respect other viewpoints. You do not get extra points for being dominating or right. But you get points for being someone others want to work with.

The Partner Interview 

For the few that pass the Assessment Centre, you are at the final stage of the process. Here, you make a presentation on one of the topics set by graduate recruitment. The ten-minute presentation to the partners is followed by a Q&A (on your presentation) and ends with an informal interview with the partners.

I found this part of the process the most intense but loved every moment of it. I had enough research on the firm by this point and chose a topic that related to the firm’s strategy and how I would improve it. I discussed how the firm just completed its five-year plan and how it is well-poised to reap the rewards of this process. During the interview, I realised that the partners are very easygoing, even though they are some of the most intelligent legal minds globally. Beyond the presentation, I feel most candidates cannot prepare much. The process is CV blind. The partners don’t know who you are, so you dictate what information you feel best showcases your abilities. Use that to your advantage. Be humble and acknowledge what the challenges are in working at one of the world’s most elite law firms. Show how you have already thought about it and are embracing the challenges that come with the responsibilities.

Concluding Points

The process was daunting, yet rewarding. I remember dropping to my knees and crying when the team called me to tell me I got my dream firm’s Training Contract. I spent the better part of five months interviewing for this firm and to hear that made it all worthwhile.

I dreamt of getting into White & Case since the age of 16 and spent the better part of three years trying to achieve it. It was a difficult process. Part of it is because White & Case is one of the world’s most prestigious firms and hosts some of the most influential lawyers globally. The clients and transactions the firm acts for are market-leading and market-first. The responsibilities are unmatched, the training is best in class, and they select candidates with the most potential. You learn a lot from the process and by the end of it, the feeling is gratifying.

There are three pieces of advice I would give budding corporate attorneys. The first is to never settle. The second is to never give up. It may be hard, and it may come late, but when it happens it truly is worth it. The last is to make Valerie your friend (Warwick Law School’s Senior Careers Consultant). I owe a lot to her and could not have done it without her. Support with mock interview requests, responses to panic emails and just being a listening ear when I needed it made a big difference.

I am blessed by the grace of God that my mentor, David Zemans, told me to bet on myself when I really struggled to get a Training Contract and almost gave up. Without his words of encouragement, I would not be here. Without Tamera taking me under her wing I would not have been exposed to a career in Law. If I could leave anyone reading this with one piece of advice; have great friends. Saud Aziz helped me the most along the way. With mock interviews, last-minute advice, and words of encouragement. Have friends that make a difference and stand by you through the entire process. Because it is a gruelling one. 

Good luck! You’ve got it. 

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