Behind the scenes at the Clifford Chance SPARK programme

SPARK

We interview future Clifford Chance trainee, Shoshana Leibovici, who successfully navigated the firm's innovative SPARK programme for first years.

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Scheme one
Runs on: 21-25 June 2021

Scheme two
Runs on: 12-16 July 2021

Aimed at: First-year students
Applications open: 3 August 2020
Applications close: 10 December 2020
Assessments held: w/c 18 January and 25 January 2021
Selection process: one virtual interview with a case study element

Please note that there is only one application link for both schemes. You will be asked on the application if there is a scheme that you cannot attend.

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"When I finished the SPARK scheme I was content with the fact that even if I didn’t get a training contract, I had gained so much. There wasn’t one day where I didn’t learn something new and that really stuck with me."

Chambers Student: Can you tell me a little bit about your academic background – what stage are you at? Where did you grow up, where did you/are you studying?

Shoshana Leibovici: I am currently in the fourth year of my degree at Queen Mary University of London, studying English and European law. It is a four-year LLB course including a year abroad. I applied for the SPARK scheme in my second year. It is available for first-year law students as well as second-year students doing a four-year degree.

CS: How did you come across Clifford Chances SPARK scheme? What was the application/interview process like?

SL: My boyfriend sent me the link – he said: youre ambitious, why not get ahead and check this out.” I thought there was no way Id get anything with Clifford Chance! But then after researching it, I thought I might not be able to, but I really wanted to. I thought theres nothing to lose – I still had two years of university after, so I may as well give it a shot.

For the application, you complete a written application form that includes a 600-word personal statement-type question along with providing your work and extra-curricular experience and complete the Watson-Glaser test'. After that, I was invited to an interview/Assessment Day. Part of it was competency-based where they asked typical tell me about a timequestions and why you were interested in Clifford Chance. The interview also included a case study – you were given a file about a merger between two companies. You were supposed to review the email correspondence between the companies as well as some other documents. You were required to draft an email with initial advice and thoughts and what needs to be considered. You were then required to present your initial thoughts to the partner, and be receptive to question and discussion.

"Honestly, that’s the reason I want to work there. You come in and you’re overwhelmed by how amazing it is – that’s the energy here."

CS: What was it about the scheme that appealed to you?

SL: I thought it was really amazing that they were receptive to such early law students. As a first or second year, you dont really have any idea of whats going on! The fact they were willing to take a chance – they appreciated the fact you might not know exact definitions etc., but they recognised potential which was really cool. That really came across during the SPARK scheme too. They also understood that because were young, we want feedback and want to know how to grow regardless of whether we get the training contract offer or not.

CS: Can you give us a brief outline of the programme? What is its aim? How is it structured?

SL: There are two schemes – one in June and one in July. Basically it is a week-long introductory scheme. The scheme involved presentations, various exercises, and classroom-based learning, as well as work-shadowing. From memory, every day had one social aspect, one training aspect, and one presentation aspect.

Two days were more focused on work-shadowing. I sat in two different seats: employment and in the corporate financial investments group. During one seat I was asked to draft a court order for an injunction – I didn’t even know what an injunction was at the time! I was also proof-reading things like witness statements, reviewing email correspondence etc. In my second seat, I was doing research into corporate governance and how corporate governance codes work. I was asked to create a visual representation of how new corporate governance principles work with old corporate governance principles. It was to help with my understanding of it, but it was also aimed at clients, with the aim of showing them how them how it worked. It felt like the right level of responsibility with enough guidance.

We also received various trainings, presentations from the managing partner and different heads of departments, as well as presentations from trainees about their experiences with the firm. There's a real international feel to the work and the firm. It gave great insight into the fact that its a lot of graft and work, but everyone here really likes each other. 

CS: How much exposure did you get to the firm as a whole, in terms of the culture and the people?

SL: Honestly, thats the reason I want to work there. You come in and youre overwhelmed by how amazing it is – thats the energy here. I remember one presentation that was given by a lawyer who had spent the entire night before working on some incredible deal. She came to the presentation and she was exhausted, but she was still beaming, smiling, and excited. She said shed worked all night, but was excited to tell us that because she was happy to be here, and she was happy to be here because of the people.

During a social event, I was talking to a trainee and asked why she chose Clifford Chance, and she said it was the people. She wanted to be around the people and felt good working here. She also said she learns something new every day, which I thought was good because I want to learn something new every day too. Five minutes later I was talking to a partner who had been at the firm for a long time. Again, I asked why she liked Clifford Chance, and she said the same thing! Its really reflected from top to bottom. Everyone feels the same way – they value all their staff and value everyone who works there.

CS: How did the SPARK training contract assessment day work? How many people were invited?

SL: From what I understood, there was space for everyone, though I dont know how many people they invited. Not everyone got one – the scheme doesnt automatically lead to a training contract. Its the same with a vacation scheme; you have to work hard throughout. I got told I was getting an interview about a week and a half after the scheme finished – it wasnt a given.

"Everyone is given a mentor who is within Clifford Chance, and I’m also in contact with graduate recruitment a lot."

The interview itself was with partners but wasnt as rigorous as the first one because they had seen you in action. It was more about what you learned during the scheme, as well as a few more competency questions and why you really want to work here. After that, they decide who is offered a training contract.

CS: Is your training contract offer contingent on anything, like degree results?

SL: It is contingent on getting a 2.1.

CS: What are the next steps, and does the firm keep in contact throughout the rest of your time at university?

SL: Everyone is given a mentor who is within Clifford Chance, and Im also in contact with graduate recruitment a lot. I did the LIFT internship last summer, which is available for future trainees. I did my internship with a firm called Greenstone Plus – it was a month-long internship in sustainability reporting. Theres all kinds of different ones – some techy ones, some with Thomson Reuters, some with NGOs, everything!  They also facilitate a lot of events. Its been difficult with coronavirus, but theres been online events and live chats. They are good at keeping in touch. At the beginning of the pandemic they sent out an email saying they hoped we were all good. Theres always something from them in my inbox!

CS: What was the highlight of your time on the SPARK scheme? Would you recommend it to others?

SL: When I finished the SPARK scheme I was content with the fact that even if I didnt get a training contract, I had gained so much. There wasnt one day where I didnt learn something new and that really stuck with me. There was this cool energy in everything we did. I think my favourite part was the work-shadowing because not only did I get to do really cool work, but I got more insight into what its like being part of the team. I met trainees and a wide range of individuals from the firm.

CS: What advice do you have on getting the most out of the SPARK scheme?

SL: Get enough sleep! It is a lot – it is exhausting but it is exhilarating. You want to be on top of your game and feel good. You should also be receptive to feedback – there will be lots of opportunities to develop. I also took rigorous notes every day, and when I came home at the end of the day I would sit and reflect on the day for 20 minutes. I think that really helped me solidify what I learned, and also helped with interview prep. It gave me a way to look back at what I enjoyed and what I needed to work on.

Another thing is to have fun. Thats something I didnt acknowledge before I went in. They want you for who you are, so dont pretend to be someone youre not. Plus, its not just them assessing you – youre assessing them too.

If youre ever in doubt, graduate recruitment is really receptive to questions, to adjustments, to anything. They are definitely still my first port of call – they are incredible. The schemes are tough, but they really teach you a lot. They dont expect you to know everything when you arrive. 

Apply for the SPARK programme before 10th Dec 2020