December 22, 2022
Some law firms actively seek out practitioners with experience in STEM subjects to offer clients more industry expertise across a range of practice areas. We heard from Zoe Morris – a Trainee Associate at the leading international firm Herbert Smith Freehills – about her journey into law, her experience as a lawyer from STEM and just why she chose HSF.

What got you into science?

I was very much an all-round kid – I had a lot of interests in a lot of things, including English Literature, Theatre and Sciences. I studied STEM subjects at A-level – maths, biology and chemistry. I taught myself further Maths as well.

Science was something I was good at – it made sense to me. I liked the more analytical stuff. I liked biology because it was about life, and you could see what you were studying. I liked the analytical side of biochemistry and chemistry that helped figure out how we function.

How did you decide to get into law?

It was gradual as I’d decided to do a PhD or Masters. However, with that academic route (and as much as I love science), I didn’t want to spend my life working on one protein. I ended up applying to drama school on a whim when I was in third year, and I got in. I ended up going for a year and studying Theatre Directing and worked as a Director for a year in London.

We were experiencing turbulent times with regards to climate change. There were a lot of Extinction Rebellion protests happening, and we were setting net zero targets and having discussions about net zero targets. As much as I loved theatre, I wanted the academic side back, and law was a way for me to do that.

I like work that’s project based (with deadlines and defined goals) and I wanted to work internationally. I also like making a case and arguing for things, as well as working out the clauses in a contract.

I applied to law school the day of the GDL deadline while working in a theatre and was then on the course a few weeks later. It was a quick turnaround! I got my Trainee Associate Programme offer while doing my GDL and working for a climate change company.

What skills do you develop as a STEM student that’s proven useful in your legal career?

I think the way you think about science helps. Everything is factual, which helps you get to the root of things quickly; that analytical mindset has been useful. When I’m drafting things in a contract for a client, supervisor etc., I find my brain is able to focus on the key points.

While I was on my Vacation Scheme, I was able to work on drafting for live projects. I worked side-by-side with experienced lawyers who gave me some really useful feedback that my writing was quite academic. I think it’s quite common when you’re straight out of university and when I went back to my GDL my writing was much more succinct.

The experience I gained working at a climate change company helped me hit the ground running when I joined HSF. One example of this is the business development work I did looking at green hydrogen in Africa, which I was asked about by lawyers on my team. When the Haber-Bosch process came up in my day-to-day role, I messaged my friends from school because I was amazed our A-level chemistry came up at work!

I don’t use my science knowledge every day, but I think the key skills you get from a science background are still important. I get very nerdy and excited when things from school do come up.

What’s it like as a non-law graduate at Herbert Smith Freehills? What’s the culture like?

HSF is 50/50 law and non-law graduate Trainee Associates, and we have really high-quality teams in science and tech industries. There are practitioners who have studied different subjects, and there’s quite a few scientists around – they tend to work across energy and IT. It is a cool background to have, and people throughout HSF are interested in and excited by it.

HSF has a support system in place for STEM students. The application process is tailored for both law and non-law, which is very reassuring. They wouldn’t expect me to know the same things a law grad would.

When you join, you get automatic mentors, which I found really useful –`especially if you’ve never worked in a big corporate office environment, like me! The Trainee mentor I had is now an Associate and we’re still good friends. You then get a Partner mentor throughout your Trainee Associate Programme, and you’ll still have all the relationships you build yourself within the different teams.

What’s also great about the culture is that they take such an interest in you and what you want to do. People are so supportive – even if you want to take an evening off for dinner (as long as it’s not before a big deadline!), they’re very understanding. I was learning French every Tuesday evening, and everyone knew I would be offline then. There’s just a respect for your time and who you are as a person; you can keep up your hobbies and the things that make you, you.

Is there anything that stood out when choosing Herbert Smith Freehills?

As well as being fabulous for dispute resolution, energy and ESG, I was also looking for the opportunity to experience an international secondment as a Trainee Associate. HSF has a great range of international secondments – Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul and Australia to name a few.

It’s been really cool to be in Paris for mine – they support the whole process. They really help you settle in – you don’t have to find a flat or anything. They’ll even book your train tickets! The teams here are absolutely lovely. I’m quite lucky as I arrived in Paris for my secondment with a Trainee Associate, I knew from London. I’ve found it easy to integrate and make friends and I walk out of the office every day and see the Arc de Triomphe, which is amazing!


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