It’s not often that we get to hear the inside scoop on vacation schemes. Trainee solicitor Yaxin Zhang tells us about her experiences on PwC Legal LLP’s vacation scheme, the application process and why PwC Legal LLP is different.
As the main vacation scheme deadline approaches, now’s the time to knuckle down and send in those applications.
Why did you decide to apply for PwC Legal’s vacation scheme?
When I was looking at summer vacation schemes, it was organisations with relatively small practices that appealed to me. I was attracted to the idea that I’d have more responsibility and client exposure as a trainee.
PwC Legal LLP stood out because it’s got about 200 fee earners, which is quite a nice size. There are opportunities to stand out and act as an individual: you’re not a nameless face in a swarm of employees.
PwC Legal LLP is part of the PwC network, meaning you’re part of a huge international organisation. Other law firms might be global but they aren’t on the same sort of scale as the Big Four. For me, I was looking for access to good quality work with global connections and this relationship meant the chance to work with exciting high profile clients.
The size of the PwC network means you get to work on slightly more varied projects, as well as traditional legal work, for a very wide range of clients. And often directly alongside professionals in PwC who are helping the client with other aspects of their business.
So you get to work with other departments in PwC? Is this what makes it different from a traditional law firm?
Yes, definitely. We work with other departments within PwC Legal LLP obviously, but there’s quite a lot of work sourced from the PwC wider network too, particularly in areas such as Corporate Finance, Transaction Services and Tax.
The opportunity to work alongside people in other professions and different industries is hugely important if you want to become a commercial advisor, and not just a lawyer.
As a trainee or someone on a vac scheme, you’re at the point in your career where you want to get as much experience as possible; this is a law practice that lets you do just that. It’s completely unique in the legal market. You don’t get that anywhere else or at least certainly not on this scale.
What stage were you at in your university education when you applied?
I applied about six months after I graduated from university with a Law degree, sending off my application in December 2010. The break gave me time to gain more experience and make sure that law was absolutely what I wanted to do. During that time, I did a few legal internships and also a marketing internship, as I was really interested in business. I just wanted to make sure that law was what I wanted, and it was!
Talk us through the application process for PwC Legal. What did it involve?
The first part of the application is made up of two online tests: verbal and logical reasoning. If you’re successful, this is followed by an online application form. It’s a pretty standard application form; you give all of the usual information and answer two questions. I answered a commercial awareness question and one on why I wanted to apply to PwC Legal LLP.
This is followed by a telephone interview lasting about 40 to 50 minutes. I was asked questions about myself and my background, what I’ve been doing, and answered some competency based questions.
The second stage is an assessment centre in a PwC office. You’re given verbal and logical reasoning tests (longer versions than the ones you did online at the beginning of the application process), a written exercise, and a group exercise. The final part of the recruitment process is a partner or senior manager interview. Again, you talk about yourself, answer competency questions and tackle some in-depth commercial awareness questions.
What was the most challenging part of the application process?
Well, it is pretty lengthy! There are many stages, but you’re kept up to date via texts and emails as to what’s happening and what to expect. It wasn’t gruelling and I certainly didn’t feel like I was being ripped to shreds! Every stage was a platform from which you knew you had to perform to the best of your ability.
I admit it was a challenge keeping your concentration and focus up during the assessment centre, particularly for the interview at the end of the day.
What advice would you give to students applying for the vacation scheme at PwC Legal LLP?
PwC Legal LLP is unique compared to others, so try to cultivate a genuine understanding of what we do and how we work with PwC. This might be really generic advice, but figure out why you want a vacation scheme with PwC Legal LLP as opposed to another mid-tier law firm.
Don’t make the mistake that PwC Legal is an in-house legal department, as we’re not! You’d be surprised how many students think this as they’ve not done their research. We’re entirely client-focused, acting for them often alongside a variety of specialists in PwC.
In some cases, we may be the only part of PwC with a relationship with a particular client, but if the client is looking for expert non-legal help, then we’ll help to introduce colleagues from other parts of the business. It’s all about client choice and trying to help add value to their business.
An interest in business law is really important. It’s been said many times before, but you should keep up with the business news. Read a good quality broadsheet or online business publication. What’s really important is being able to talk about business stories and link them to PwC Legal LLP or PwC clients and the impact they have on the organisation.
That’s what some students seem to struggle with, figuring out how the business story affects the place they’re looking to work in…
Yes, if you make that extra link, people will be impressed.
We’ve covered the application process, so can you tell us a little bit about actual the vacation scheme itself?
The vacation scheme is a paid three week work experience programme in June and July of each year. The three weeks are spread across three different practice groups; I was in Corporate, Employment and Real Estate. During this time, you work with pretty much everyone in the team; from trainees to partners. I remember doing things like drafting legal documentation, legal research and summarising cases.
I also attended a client conference call. We had regular training and development sessions, and a mock employment tribunal with all of the students on the vacation scheme, which was really fun.
PwC Legal LLP recruits trainee solicitors directly from the summer vacation scheme, so we were assessed during the programme. There was a written assessment which involved giving a piece of advice to a client. We were also put in pairs and gave presentations at the end of the vacation scheme.
We focussed ours on how PwC’s global network could benefit a potential client. It was quite fun. We had the full three weeks to prepare, during which we were able to speak to people from different departments and find out what it was they did. Really, it was an opportunity to network to a wider team and build those connections early on.
Could you choose which practice groups to experience?
Yes, beforehand we picked our top five practice groups we wanted to experience and they tried to accommodate us as far as possible. It meant we all spent time with at least one practice group we were really interested in.
What did you enjoy most about your vacation scheme?
Even though the overall PwC scope is huge, PwC Legal LLP is a relatively small team (at the moment!), so everyone has more time for you. I remember one Real Estate partner even went through two file packs with me. In that sense, it was great to feel valued, even though there’s a limit to what you can do on the vacation scheme. It didn’t feel like I was imposing on everyone’s time.
The scheme was well organised and the work we did actually fed into things. There was a good bunch of people on the scheme and a really nice open atmosphere. We were only there for a few weeks but we had our own desks, laptops and proper induction training. Everyone had time for us and we were given every opportunity to get the most out of those three weeks.
PwC Legal LLP actively recruits trainees from its vacation schemes. When did you receive your training contract offer?
I was part of the first June intake, so there was another vacation scheme after me starting in July. Naturally, they didn’t make a decision until the final vacation scheme had ended. I finished in the first week of July and got my training contract offer in mid-August.
What qualities do you think PwC looks for in a potential trainee during the vacation scheme?
They’re looking for really well-rounded people who will contribute to the team, as well of course as showing good intellectual skills. You’ll work well in PwC Legal LLP if you can engage well with others and present levels of confidence. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses!
Naturally, business and commercial awareness is important and you’ll need to have a passion and drive for something that will make you want to stay on at PwC Legal LLP and do well here.
There’s actually a list of PwC’s “core global competencies”, so it’s worth having a look at them. These are assessed throughout the application process and the vacation scheme.
What advice would you give to students looking to impress during their law vacation schemes?
Be personable, be bright, and have a passion.
To find out more and apply for a vacation scheme at PwC Legal LLP click here.