January 31, 2022

Placement schemes and assessment centres are a big part of getting to know a firm. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide which route to apply for, whether it is for a placement scheme or a direct training contract application.

Stephenson Harwood recruits equally from both the placement scheme and training contract routes. We understand that some candidates want to gain first-hand experience in a firm before deciding if it right for them, whilst other candidates are unable to attend a placement scheme. Both our placement scheme and training contract are great ways to apply to the firm.

One of our trainees, Tom, decided that an assessment centre was the best way for him to gain a training contract, whilst Annabel wanted to attend a placement scheme to better understand the firm.

Read more about the reasons why they chose their specific recruitment routes.

Through which route did you apply for a training contract at the firm?

Annabel: I applied for the 2019-2020 placement scheme and the firm invited me to interview for the summer 2020 scheme. It took place virtually but was still a really comprehensive insight into life at the firm. We worked on typical trainee tasks and had interactive information sessions about the firm’s different practice groups with trainees, associates and partners. We also had a doughnut-decorating social with current trainees which was a great way to get to know the trainees and fellow placement scheme students in an informal setting.

Tom: I applied directly for a training contract rather than opting for the placement scheme route. This involved a half day assessment centre in May 2020 which included an interview with a partner and a member of the future talent team, a presentation, and a business case study and Q&A with a partner. There was also an opportunity to speak with existing trainees to ask any questions about the firm.

Why did you decide that this was the right route for you?

Tom: Throughout the application process, I was working full time as a paralegal at a Magic Circle firm and taking one or two weeks of annual leave would have been very demanding for me. This route was most appropriate for me as I already had a good idea of how law firms in London operate and what is typically expected of trainees.

I felt that the opportunity to speak to trainees and partners during the assessment centre would give me a good impression of what Stephenson Harwood was like as a firm, without needing to take an extended period off work. I had also spoken with the future talent team who had assured me that they had no preference and emphasised that they recruit equally from their assessment centres and placement schemes.

Annabel: When I applied I was working as a paralegal with an in-house legal team in a fintech business and had never worked in private practice, so I wanted to take the opportunity to experience that. Before becoming a paralegal I had worked for five years in a contemporary art gallery in Tokyo.

I thought that, given my unusual career profile, I might have a greater chance of demonstrating my interest in the profession and the transferable skills I had from my previous career by participating in a week-long scheme, rather than a brief assessment centre.


Explore Pathways To Stephenson Harwood

Learn more about the opportunities available

Placement SchemeTraining Contracts

What did you gain from the experience?

Annabel: The placement scheme was a great chance for me to learn more about the practice groups on offer at the firm and what each of them specialised in. I also gained more of a sense of the work that trainees typically do, such as drafting a piece of research on the Civil Procedure Rules or writing case summaries for an internal newsletter.

Tom: In a condensed time, I was able to gain a strong impression of what Stephenson Harwood is like as a firm. The assessment process was rigorous, but very fair and I never felt as though anyone was trying to trip me up. The partners and HR members who assessed me were also really friendly and clearly wanted me to succeed just as much as I did.

I had the opportunity to speak to trainees in an informal and unassessed setting where I could ask the questions I really wanted the answer to, and the partners assessing me were happy to answer any questions I had. I came away from the day with a fantastic impression of the culture and people at the firm.

How did you use your experience to decide that Stephenson Harwood was the right firm for you?

Tom: My previous legal experience had confirmed two key aspects that I was looking for in a firm: a friendly, supportive culture, and quality of work and early responsibility. The culture aspect was confirmed for me through my discussions on the day with the trainees and partners as well as the future talent team.

In the informal trainee Q&A, it was continually re-iterated that early responsibility is a hallmark of life as a trainee at the firm. On top of this, it was clear that the firm had strengths in a broad range of practice areas, which will help me make an informed decision when deciding which team to qualify into.

Annabel: I had previously worked in small teams and I knew I enjoyed that atmosphere of close collaboration and taking on early responsibility. It was clear during the virtual placement scheme that the trainees who spoke to us were knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the work they were doing. I was also interested in several quite different areas of the law and listening to lawyers from the firm’s many practice groups confirmed my impression that Stephenson Harwood offered more breadth than other firms I had come across. Finally, it was evident that the firm was a supportive, friendly place; my interviewers asked stretching questions, but it didn’t seem like they were trying to trip me up.

What would you say to someone wanting to take this route? Do you have any tips for someone wanting to take this route?

Tom: The assessment day is an excellent route for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the firm, but who might also have other commitments. It’s a very fair assessment process designed to get the best out of you. You should make sure that your application recognises the firm’s key strengths and what makes it different from its competitors.

Being able to talk about this in interview and having a good understanding of how businesses operate will help you stand out. Finally, don’t feel as though you have to ask impressive questions in the informal trainee Q&A. Ask what you want to know to decide whether the firm is right for you – it’s a two-way process!

Annabel: A placement scheme is a great way to get in-depth experience of not only the kind of work the firm does, but also its culture. During the scheme, don’t be afraid to demonstrate your curiosity. Ask thoughtful questions that show you’ve done your research, but at the same time don’t be too ‘scripted’ – there’s nothing wrong with asking a spontaneous question that arises out of something a speaker has just said, and it shows you’re engaged.

Think about the impression you make by how you present yourself and how punctual you are. Finally, the phrase ‘be yourself’ may be a cliché, but I think it’s so important. Placement schemes are not about comparing yourself to the other applicants; just focus on being courteous to others and showcasing your skills as best you can.


Loading More Content