Behind the scenes at the Clifford Chance SPARK programme


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


Scheme: SPARK has been developed from a one-week internship into a two-year programme. Elements of the programme such as the SPARK Launch and the SPARK Shadowing will require in person attendance.

Aimed at: First-year students, second year students of a four year law degree and penultimate year non-law students

Applications open: 4 October 2023

Applications close: 8 February 2024

Assessments held: w/c 11 March 2024

Selection process: 

  • Complete the online application form
  • Take the Watson Glaser critical reasoning test
  • If you pass the Watson Glaser test, your application form will be reviewed
  • Successful candidates at application review will be invited to a recorded video interview
  • If you are successful at the video interview stage, you will be invited for an assessment day which involved a combined interview inclusive of a written element, and a group exercise.


"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 StudentCan 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?

I grew up just outside of London and am currently on my year abroad in France. I study Law and French at Cardiff University and will commence my training contract with Clifford Chance in 2025.

HJ: What was the application/interview process like? What support did you receive?

I applied to SPARK in my second year as I am on a four-year course. The application was quite simple with a section for work experience and another for hobbies/interests. After completing the written application, I was sent a link to the Watson Glaser test (however, if you have already passed this test when completing another application to the firm, they will automatically push the application to the next stage).

After the deadline, the Graduate Recruitment Team sent me an email stating that I had progressed to the interview stage. They also provided a Q&A session for everyone who had been offered an interview to fully detail the process and ensure we were prepared for the assessment centre.

The assessment centre lasted around 2.5 hours. It consisted of a case study where I was given around 30 minutes to read and prepare a written piece. A two-hour interview with two senior associates then followed where I was asked about the case study and some questions regarding my knowledge of the firm and my suitability for the scheme. 

HJ: What about SPARK appealed to you specifically, what differentiated it from other opportunities you considered?

SPARK was a comprehensive scheme which would allow students to cover a lot of ground over the course of the week. As a student in the early stage of my career I had very little legal work experience so an opportunity to delve into the legal sector seemed exciting to me.

The scheme is mainly open to first year students (or second year law students on a four-year course/penultimate non-law students) therefore there were accessible expectations regarding legal knowledge and experience. Consequently, SPARK is designed to build students' knowledge of the legal industry and the work of the firm more specifically. Although there’s the possibility to get a training contract at the end of the scheme, the core value for everyone is the interactive sessions and work shadowing that mean there were many opportunities to learn.

HJ: How do you prepare for the SPARK scheme?

Prior to my interview, I did a lot of preparation. I researched as much as I could about Clifford Chance: their work, practice areas, interesting deals and more. I also took some time to complete a few of their Global Virtual Internships (I really enjoyed the Ready, Set, Law one and would recommend if you are unsure of where to start!) and listened to news/commercial awareness podcasts. A week or so before the scheme started, I went over my notes and planned practical things such as travel.

HJ: Can you give us a brief outline of the programme? How is it structured? – what did you learn during your time, what did you gain from the different elements]

The programme evolves and varies year to year however my experience was work intensive. I learnt a lot in a small period of time and was exposed to most parts of the firm over the course of the week.

The first three days consisted of interactive presentations to help us learn more about the culture and work of the firm. I really appreciated the honesty and enthusiasm of the partners giving the presentations as not only were they able to simplify complex subjects, but they were always happy to answer any questions we had. At the end of each session, I felt like I had a strong understanding of the topic despite going into the session with little to no prior understanding.

In the final two days I sat in Global Financial Markets where I shadowed a partner and completed some trainee tasks. The department I sat in was incredibly welcoming: the team was happy to offer their time to talk about their experience or go over a deal they were working on.

I must note that this is a very brief outline as the programme was incredibly comprehensive and taught me a lot about everything from the work to the culture of the firm.

HJ:  What real insights did you get into the work? How did the realities of the role differ from your expectations?

Spending two days in Global Financial Markets allowed me to see the day-to-day life of a trainee. Over the two days I was able to sit in on a pro bono call, a client call and was briefed on the structure of an interesting new deal. Additionally, everything I did had an international element to it. Coming to Clifford Chance I understood that it’s an international firm so of course there will be a lot of international deals, but I think I underestimated how international the firm is and the scale of the deals that the firm works on. I found it really exciting knowing that these opportunities would be available to me if I had a training contract at the firm.

HJ: How much interaction did you have with different people of different levels of the firm?

There were many opportunities to network with everyone at the firm from trainee to partner level. The Graduate Recruitment Team organised the scheme so there were chances to meet people in formal and informal settings. For the first three days we had networking lunches with different practice areas and at the end of the day there was usually a social event to talk to trainees over dinner or drinks. At the start of the scheme, we were also given a trainee buddy who we could contact. My buddy was incredibly helpful and always happy to have a catch up when there was time.

Overall, everyone I spoke to was genuinely so friendly and welcoming that I felt a part of the team despite being a temporary team member.

HJ: What insights did you gain into the culture of the firm?

By the end of the scheme, I felt like I was already a trainee at Clifford Chance, everyone made me feel so welcome that I knew I would do everything I could to get a training contract at Clifford Chance. Everyone I met from trainee to partner level was genuinely so kind and down to earth, it made me understand that this is what a firm with an amazing culture feels like.

When I was in my Global Financial Markets seat, I was impressed by how supportive the trainees were as they offered their time and were always happy to answer any questions despite working extremely hard. The partners were equally as approachable which further demonstrated that the people really do make Clifford Chance stand out.

It is hard to explain how special the culture is at Clifford Chance but from the moment I received my SPARK offer I felt like I was a valued part of the firm.  

HJ: You were interviewed for a training contract after SPARK, can you tell us more about this experience?

The week following SPARK I received an email from the Graduate Recruitment Team informing me that I had a training contract conversion interview later in the week. During the SPARK scheme we were fully briefed on the structure of the interview and made aware that we may be asked to interview after the scheme.

The interview lasted around 50 minutes and was with a partner at the firm. For the first 10 minutes I had prepared a presentation regarding what I had learnt from the SPARK scheme. The rest of the time was spent on questions surrounding my commercial awareness and relevant skills. The training contract interview was more challenging than the SPARK assessment day, however the questions were interesting and thought provoking so I had a very positive experience.

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

I am regularly in contact with the firm and will stay in contact with Clifford chance throughout the rest of my time at university. 

The firm has assigned me a buddy who has just started their training contract at Clifford chance. I regularly receive information from Clifford Chance regarding the networks or different events that I can help with too. I will also have the opportunity to take part in a LIFT internship which is something I am really looking forward to! LIFT is a paid internship the firm offers in partnerships with other organisations to help future trainees build skills and experience for their professional careers.

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

It is difficult to pick out one highlight from the scheme because I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. However, I would say that my time in Global Financial Markets stood out to me because everyone in the team made me feel welcome and I could genuinely see myself working in the team as a trainee solicitor. Although the work was complex it was interesting and exciting to complete trainee tasks.

I definitely recommend this scheme to anyone considering a career in commercial law because not only do you gain a thorough insight into the firm’s culture, but you also gain an in-depth knowledge of what it’s like to be a lawyer at Clifford chance.

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

My advice is to engage with the scheme and the other people on the scheme. Take every opportunity to interact with new people and ask as many questions as you feel are necessary!

Apply for the SPARK programme before 9 February 2023