Vantage Series: Meet the Ambassadors

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Vantage has 20+ campus ambassadors at universities across the UK and will be expanding the programme in 2021. Interested in signing up? If so, here you can read about the experiences of five current ambassadors and how they’ve used Vantage to their advantage.

Beste Bektas, University of Southampton, Second-Year Law Student

Chambers Student: When did you decide to pursue law?

When thinking about this question, I tried to contextualise it in terms of being an ethnic minority, living outside of London (Bournemouth) and attending a state school. I think there were only two people from my school class that went to Russell Group universities -- doing so was like ‘OMG!’

I don’t remember at what point I decided to pursue law, but I’ve always been super studious and knew where my skills lay. I always did a lot of reading up on what I wanted to do in the future, and this was something I was interested in. I thought ‘I really want to do law but can I be a lawyer?’ A lot of my self-doubt was tied to the school I went to and where I was based, so when I went to university and got out of that environment, I gradually began to see that I could do what I intended to do. Going to university really changed my perspective.

CS: How did you get involved with Rare?

When I got to Southampton, I was given a mentor who was also an ethnic minority and state school educated, so I asked her for tips and advice on how to get involved with various things. I mentioned that I had done some research on commercial law and she was like ‘Let me introduce you to Rare.’ She had been involved in Rare’s Discuss (www.disucssslaw.co.uk) programme the year before and shared so much info with me, so I signed up and became a candidate. It opened so many doors for me, including being able to work closely with Vantage.

“A lot of the self-doubt I had was tied to the school I went to and where I was based...”

CS: Can you tell us more about Vantage and how it helps students?

It's super simple, you build up your own profile on the platform. You put in your grades, your year of study, the subject you’re studying – all of the relevant details about yourself. Once you have your profile, law firms and chambers can find you; it’s a way for them to find relevant students for the events and activities they are hosting. It might be something that’s targeted at STEM students, or first-years, or those who are at a particular university, for example.

It’s super important as a student because it’s hard to get these opportunities. This way you are getting regular emails to flag that a certain event may be of interest to you. In the current climate, where we can’t go to law fairs or open days, making the most of and being made aware of these virtual opportunities is crucial. We also have ‘Webinar Wednesdays’ where a firm hosts a presentation that involves trainees, associates and graduate recruitment representatives.

CS: What does your role as a Vantage campus ambassador involve?

Around campus my aim is to increase reach for Vantage and promote it as it is still fairly new. I'm telling students all about the profile they can create and how it’s a great way for them to find out what they want to do and progress if they are interested in commercial law. I want first-years to know that there are these opportunities and they can make the most of them, even though it’s a scary time and the climate is so uncertain. I want to let them know that they can be productive and build their CV during first-year, as a lot of people think that the second year when there are ‘the most important opportunities’, which isn’t the case.

CS: Through Vantage you were able to secure two opportunities with law firms as a first-year. What were these experiences like?

I was able to go to Herbert Smith Freehills for a day just before lockdown. It’s amazing to have that interaction with the firm, as when you meet them at the office you can really find out about the culture and whether the firm is right for you. You can really idolise training contracts at a particular firm, but you need to enjoy the people and culture! Taking part in a day like this helps to increase your commercial awareness, but also gives you a chance to shadow solicitors and complete negotiation exercises. It really helps to build those key skills that you’ll need to master.

“In the current climate, where we can’t go to law fairs or open days, making the most of and being made aware of these virtual opportunities is crucial.”

The scheme with Linklaters was hosted virtually, which I was extremely grateful for. For a month during lockdown we had some type of activity going on – a mix of workshops and some virtual work experience. The firm was so adaptable to the situation and it’s been a more long-term experience: they’ve stayed in contact and next week I’ll actually be getting some mor experience with them. Even virtually you still got to know people and the culture, so it was an amazing experience.

CS: What are the things you are looking for in a firm?

It goes without saying that the culture needs to be friendly, but I also want to see representation of a broad spectrum of people. It breaks my heart when I see the lack of disabled candidates applying; it’s probably one of the toughest positions to be in if you want to be a lawyer, so when I see a firm that has recruited and nurtured disabled lawyers I think ‘well, you genuinely care about inclusion.’

I also really like it when you can tell that a firm is genuinely doing pro bono for the people rather than for themselves – you can really tell when a firm is just doing it for image or themselves! Pro bono can change people’s lives, so I want to see that a firm is conscious of that and cares about it.

Partnership is also important and I do judge a firm based on the level of representation at the partnership level – that really says a lot about a firm. I did a research project on the gender pay gap in law firms and the reason it’s so significant is because women do not progress to partnership and it’s obviously the partners who get paid the most! So, firms do need to be focusing on the fact that women need to be progressing to partnership. A lot of women associates have said that the reason they feel they can’t progress is because they want a family, and they feel they can’t do that as a partner, so firms really need to bring out different initiatives so women can have a family and also progress in their careers.

“Partnership is also important and I do judge a firm based on the level of representation at the partnership level – that really says a lot about a firm.”

This is tied to a broader societal stereotype about women, of course. Yes, it is the woman who gets pregnant, but parenthood is shared, so why is it the woman losing out on her career? It needs to be societally normalised that men equally need to take time off to care for the children.

CS: Do you feel that firms are becoming more aware of the need for balance?

Absolutely. In the annual reports I had read the firms highlighted that this is an issue and discussed what they were doing about it, which is fantastic. I’m glad that they’ve spoken to female associates and more senior lawyers and have said ‘okay we want to learn more about this.’ That in itself is great progress. I'm hoping to see this from a lot more firms.

CS: Are you hopeful that D&I will get better in law firms?

I think the progress will be slow and a lot more needs to be done, but from looking at what firms are doing now I am optimistic. So many firms work with Rare Recruitment and other

organisations; have dedicated initiatives for underrepresented groups; are conscious of the need for CSR programmes; and have scholarship programmes for socially mobile candidates. It’s not just advertising: firms are saying ‘This is our target’ and are being proactive about it, so I am hopeful.

Ebere Okoroafor, University of Nottingham, Second-Year Law Student

CS: Can you tell us about your pathway to studying law?

I was born in Nigeria and grew up there but came to the UK three years ago to study from year 12 onwards. No one in my family has ever done law. My dad works in finance, my mum in telecommunications, my sister studied a computer science degree, and one of my brothers is an accountant. My dad has a friend in Nigeria who is a partner in a firm in Lagos, so I spoke with him. He had worked in the UK for a while and we talked about dispute resolution, finance, oil and gas – areas that you would see covered in the UK, which interested me.

“...what Vantage sends me actually applies to me and gives me a chance to see what various firms are all about.”

For my A-Levels I did Law, Economics and Maths, but I was torn between the first two subjects for a degree path. I had a friend studying Economics, so when I went to visit her, I looked at her lecture notes and there was so much maths, so I was like ‘Sorry, but no!’ I really enjoyed studying Law at A-Level, especially criminal and contract law, so I just did my research and found that it was the right choice for me.

CS: How did you hear about Vantage?

I heard about it via Rare Recruitment, which I found out about via my university’s African and Caribbean Society. I signed up and now I get the emails!

CS: What do you like about Vantage?

I like it because they email me what I am eligible for, especially as an international student. So, what Vantage sends me actually applies to me and gives me a chance to see what various firms are all about.

CS: What does your role as a Vantage campus ambassador entail?

I help Vantage to promote its initiatives on campus in various ways. For example, the president of the university’s law society is a friend of mine, so I often ask him to promote Vantage on Instagram and other platforms. I also reach out to the careers advisor at the law school, as he has the power to email everyone, so whenever there are events, I ask him to let people know. There’s also a new society for ethnic minorities in law on campus, so I hope to work with them too. At the moment a lot of the ambassador activity is online, as we can’t really do anything in person on campus yet.

CS: What direction are you looking to take your career in now that you’ve started your law degree?

I’m interested in commercial contracts and debt finance – that kind of stuff! But I suppose I will never really know until I’m doing it. I could do a virtual scheme or something and then realise that those areas aren’t for me. I’m still open minded; it’s not like I'm thinking ‘I must qualify in corporate/M&A!’.

CS: Do you have a type of firm and/or location in mind?

London! Definitely London. I’m interested in different kinds of firms with a commercial focus.

CS: How do you feel about the next steps of securing vacation schemes and a training contract?

I know it is competitive. I spoke with a law firm who receive about 4,000 applications, and sometimes it is easy to think ‘What’s the point?!’ What if you apply for all of that and don’t get anything?’ But you can never know so just apply. I secured a first year scheme, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.

CS: Is there anything in particular that you ask law firms you are interested in about?

I always ask firms what they are doing to retain people, as some firms may spend so much time recruiting diverse candidates and might not put adequate systems in place to make sure those candidates feel valued at the firm.

 

Marshall Taylor, University of Warwick, Second-Year Law Student

CS: When did you first start thinking about becoming a lawyer?

When I was doing my A-Levels I had a part-time job with Tesco and I really enjoyed the interpersonal side of talking with a range of people. At school I founded the debating society: we would debate and solve issues on the news, as well as commercial issues. These things just came together and one of my teachers encouraged me to apply to the PRIME scheme. I did it and found that it consolidated the natural skill set I was building. I decided that commercial law combined the interpersonal client skills I liked as well as the problem-solving debating angle too.

CS: Can you tell us more about Vantage and what you’ve got out of using the platform?

Through my law society I had a mentor who was the previous campus ambassador for Vantage. In my first year I was focused on internships and he encouraged me to apply to Vantage. There are so many first-year schemes out there and it’s impossible to find them all! Which is where Vantage came in.

“I wasn’t having to email firms that weren’t interested in me. I received emails from firms that wanted me and I applied to all of them.”

I had the grades but a background that isn’t well represented in the legal profession at all. On the Vantage platform I could put in all my grades and they would be contextualised. The firms could then email me directly via my profile on the portal. I found it very welcoming and it made my job easier! I wasn’t having to email firms that weren’t interested in me. I received emails from firms that wanted me and I applied to all of them. The firms also do skills workshops and webinars, and those were helpful for when it came to applying to the first-year schemes. You could speak to people from the firms and ask them questions directly; recently Vantage organised a Virtual Vantage event specifically for 2nd years, and every single participating firm gave invaluable advice.

Ultimately Vantage has helped me to find the type of firms I want to apply to. I could ask firms questions about their culture, how their offices work, the type of work they do. All of that has really helped me to focus on the firms I'm interested in.

CS: What kind of firms are you interested in?

I'm keen to work in London and I would prefer a firm that has offices all around the world. I’d like to be engaged in multi-jurisdictional work that would keep me on my toes! I also want a firm that really knows its sectors, so I can work with leading experts in those areas. Secondments – international and client – would also be appealing.

I did quite a few first-year schemes and enjoyed them, so I think it will come down to what a firm’s culture is like: I’m not interested in hostile cultures! I understand that the pressure can be high in this area of the legal industry, but if the culture is one that provides rigorous support then that will appeal to me. I don’t mind putting in the long hours as long as I’m respected and well looked after. I want a firm that really values its lawyers and staff – an open plan place where the hierarchy is less rigid.

Tobi Alao, University of Warwick, Second-Year Sociology Student

CS: When did you start thinking about becoming a lawyer?

I started to think about it when I was in sixth form. I got some experience in criminal-focused law firms and while I didn’t enjoy the area, I did like the skill set I was using. I wanted to study sociology at university, but I’ve also been able to do the Warwick Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme, which had a section on intellectual property rights. This sparked my interest in commercially driven projects.

I went to the London Law Conference and heard a variety of firms talk there – a week after that I had my first open day at DLA Piper. There I did a litigation workshop, which gave me an adrenaline rush and confirmed my interest. From there Rare accepted me and through Vantage I was made aware of when firms were coming to my university and got onto an Insight scheme.

CS: How did you initially get involved with Rare?

I went to an event they were hosting at my university when I started, and I signed up straight away! I got onto their Articles programme, which I did over the summer. Over 12 days I was able to meet a new firm each day and I could see how much diversity is a hot topic; it was good to see that people and firms were making an effort. They were asking us things like ‘How can we accommodate you?’ One firm spoke about micro-aggressions and the more innocent mistakes that people can make – they call things like that out by just saying ‘not cool’, so no one takes offense. That approach appealed to me because as a Black woman I contend with the stereotype of ‘being angry’ and worry about people viewing me as unprofessional if I call something out.

“One firm spoke about micro-aggressions and the more innocent mistakes that people can make – they call things like that out by just saying ‘not cool’, so no one takes offense.”

CS: How have you benefited from using Vantage?

Vantage enables the firms that are interested in you to contact you directly, which is great because it addresses that big concern of ‘Are firms going to take me seriously?’ In that sense it’s a great tool for those who are not at a Russell Group university, because they will know that when a firm reaches out it is because they are genuinely interested in them.

I’m Nigerian and through Vantage a very good firm let me know that they were s delivering a talk on its African practice. That way you’re establishing a connection and a link with a firm early on. The amazing thing about Vantage is that the events are tailored to your interests and suit the elements of your make up.

CS: And what does your role as a Vantage campus ambassador entail?

It's been different this year as everything is online! I’m part of the non-law committee, so I’ve been promoting Vantage in group chats, especially to first-years. At the moment we’re finalising dates for events and working out a heavy promotion schedule!

 

Amalia Albu, University of Leeds, Second-Year Law Student

CS: How did you come to choose law as a career?

I’m originally from Romania and have been in the UK for three years. I knew early on that I wanted to go to university in England, but I moved here earlier than that to complete my A-Levels. The quality of the educational system here was significant for me. For people who haven’t experienced a different educational system it might not seem like such a big deal, but for me it really was. Some people at my sixth form would moan about a teacher and I’d be like ‘I don’t know why you’re complaining, where I’m from it is so much worse: the quality of the teaching, the materials available, the level of interest from the teachers.’ With the teachers I had in England it was clear that they were passionate about the job, and that true passion motivated me.

“The job of a lawyer is such a prestigious one and it seemed like something that was very far away from where I had come from and difficult to achieve.”

I was inclined towards law but I was never really sure that I could do it. I was a bit scared about it! But I studied law at A-Level and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give it a go. I couldn’t really see myself doing any other degree, but I still felt scared about it because the job of a lawyer is such a prestigious one and it seemed like something that was very far away from where I had come from and difficult to achieve. But I’ve embraced it now, and it’s not as daunting!

CS: How did you hear about Vantage?

Early in my first year I was focused on academics and my lectures, but when lockdown happened and everything moved online I started being a lot more active on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram within the sphere of the legal profession. That’s how I heard about Vantage – I saw all the stuff that they had done in the previous year, so I signed up and now I get all the emails.

CS: What opportunities do the emails notify you about?

I've had emails from firms letting me know about their open days and opportunities that are focused on women and LGBT+ students, as well as on those from non-traditional backgrounds. I also heard from Clifford Chance, which has a Spark scheme that can lead to a training contract with the firm. The nice thing is that when firms email me, I know they had seen my Vantage profile and contacted me intentionally. I get to hear about their events straight from my inbox.

CS: How do you view the legal industry in terms of its D&I profile?

I was looking at a firm the other day, and they had gone as far as creating a special, interactive, animated YouTube video to encourage diverse students to apply to their open days and vacation schemes. I’ve looked at all the events that firms are doing, which are not related to the sectors they work in but focused on their D&I efforts. I think the fact they are using these platforms and advertising to encourage us is a positive sign. Do I think that students would apply anyway? Well, yes, but seeing how they are interested in encouraging us is the part that makes a difference.

“...they had gone as far as creating a special, interactive, animated YouTube video to encourage diverse students to apply to their open days and vacation schemes.”

CS: Where do you hope to take your legal career?

I still haven’t decided on the Bar or solicitor route yet. I feel that I am more attracted to the Bar but I am conscious that it’s more difficult to succeed at it. A lot of people don’t get pupillages, which is a scary thought, so sometimes I wonder if I'm better off just applying for a vacation scheme and training contract.

I’ve been attending events where I’ve been able to hear from loads of barristers and some of them have said that they qualified as a solicitor first and then moved over to the Bar later in their careers. However, my immediate goal this year is to get more virtual experience!

* To find out more about how to apply to be a Vantage campus ambassador, sign up to Vantage first!

 

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Read more from Vantage's campus ambassadors here.