Clifford Chance is leading the way with a suite of new virtual internships that aim to broaden access to the profession. Hear a number of those involved in their creation discuss how these internships will boost social mobility and could become the future of early talent recruitment in the legal profession.
Ayesha Hayat, October 2020.
If you’ve found the task of procuring work experience at a law firm during the pandemic a tad daunting, rest assured you are not alone! There’s no doubt that the ongoing situation has got potential candidates questioning their opportunities amidst the uncertainty. However, as with many strands of life during Covid-19, technology has come to the fore and helped to ensure that work experience programmes can continue and even reach a broader audience than ever before.
As one of the premier law firms in London (and across the world, we might add), Clifford Chance is no stranger to utilising technology to bring its operations around the globe together. Even before the pandemic, the firm had already decided to help a broader segment of students gain access to it via a new (and completely free) virtual legal internship programme that launched in August 2020. As a result, the virtual doors to the firm were opened to students across the UK and the Americas, plus the Asia-Pacific and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) regions – so, pretty much everywhere really.
“We have had enrolments from students in every continent, so it's truly fantastic to see the global reach. So far, while the largest numbers have been in the UK, we've seen particularly high numbers also enrolling across continental Europe, Australia, India, USA, and Hong Kong.” explains Clifford Chance’s graduate recruitment specialist Annabel Corcoran.
At the time of our interviews, the programme had only been running for a month, but, as the firm’s head of graduate talent Laura Yeates explains, the response from students had been impressive. “We've been blown away by the appetite from students to complete the internships. Within the first month, over 900 students had completed the 20 hours plus of modular content – a phenomenal response.”
Forage (formerly known as InsideSherpa), is the e-learning technology platform that has partnered with Clifford Chance to provide accessibility to the programme worldwide. York University, which boasts specialist expertise in the area of Problem-Based Learning (PBL), also partnered with the firm to provide step-by-step guidance on how to best structure the module tasks.
"I really enjoyed the user-friendly platform created by Clifford Chance. I feel privileged to have been able to have this experience given that a physical internship is out of reach for me." – Student, The University of Law
The internships cover the areas of business and human rights, climate change and cyber security. “When we created this programme, we wanted to make sure the internships were anchored in some of our key strategic work, the areas where we are really adding value to our client relationships,” explains Yeates.
Ten individuals from across Clifford Chance’s network were asked to participate and help create content for all three internships. These included experts in Washington D.C., Milan, Düsseldorf, London, Warsaw and Hong Kong. We had the opportunity to speak with some of the minds behind each module to find out what the tasks entail and how the internship can potentially boost career opportunities for prospective candidates.
The Business and Human Rights Module
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the business and human rights module? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, advocate, Warsaw: The human rights internship aims to show that human rights are a shield that citizens can use to protect themselves from abuses of state power and to define boundaries that states must not cross, as well as limits that the government must defend. Every lawyer should be aware of this. The task included in the internship is used to check whether the candidate is familiar with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and knows how to use it properly. We also assess each candidate’s ability to prepare and present legal arguments. The case we use concerns new technologies and freedom of speech, which we believe is an interesting topic for people considering a career in Law. I’m pleased that it's a global project and that this gives us the opportunity to reach and provide experience to more students than ever before.
"The business and human rights module has truly been the most effective and best way for me to learn quickly how Clifford Chance operates.” – Student, Regent’s University, London
"Very insightful. Gave me an opportunity at a time of uncertainty to improve my skills and better my chances at a legal career." – Student, University of Bristol
The Climate Change Module
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the climate change module? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Annabel Corcoran, London: Climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy are at the top of the political agenda. Governments and regulators are responding to the need to mobilise green, climate smart and environmentally friendly financing. These issues present a range of challenges for businesses, and innovation and technology are key to success in the future.This internship gives students exposure to the very nature of these challenges, but also encourages them to think about the various approaches and potential solutions to these problems. The tasks involve researching new climate-related laws and climate-related disclosure duties. We are also pleased to have just added an additional contract review task relating to emissions reduction.
"One of the best virtual internships I have come across, very realistic and informative to the reality of a trainee's work." – Student, University of Edinburgh
"As a biomedical engineer, I am particularly committed to contributing to the environment, so for this reason this program is very useful for me. Thank you Clifford Chance for launching such an outstanding program." – Student, Jashore University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh
"This was an exciting virtual experience programme that was very different from other law firms equivalent programmes in the sense that it introduced you to other aspects of legal advice. The climate impact on businesses is an aspect that I did not have the opportunity to engage with during other virtual experience programmes I completed." Student – University of Southampton
The Cyber Security Module
Chambers Student: How many people have signed up to the Cyber Security module?
Frederic Mainka, Düsseldorf: More than 2,500 students have already joined just for this internship [at the time of CS interview], which is great.
Nicole Kidney, London: There’s already been huge engagement from students globally, from the likes of the US, Australia and Europe. Ordinarily, students would be trying to go to open days or get onto vac schemes, but given the current circumstances this internship offers a great alternative, as students aren’t constrained by financial or travel restrictions and are free to do the programme at their own pace.
CS: Could you tell us more about the context of the cyber security module? What skills do students develop from completing it?
FM: One of the cases is about a data leak which is a very realistic and current issue. In the video, the aim is to give students a very realistic insight into the work we do at the firm, and so the experts (who are the associates) brief candidates on the details of the case and then we tell the students to prepare an email or memo in response to the client’s question. The tasks take around six hours to complete for each internship and there’s no need to complete it in one sitting. Once they have completed the internship they are presented with a certificate from the Clifford Chance Academy, which they can reference on their CV.
NK: As I am part of the firm’s TMT (technology, media and telcom) practice, I was involved in preparing a cyber security task. The topic was on responding to an ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) dawn raid, which is a form of regulatory investigation that is conducted on a company which is suspected of not being compliant with data protection laws. The students are asked to engage directly with the "client", by researching the topic and providing some guidance by voicemail. We’ve presented this all through videos which helps makes it more personable. The students then receive a model answer from us that they can use to compare against their submission, as well an example voicemail, which I recorded.
Andrea Tuninetti, Milan: I lead the IP and data initiatives in Italy so that is why cyber security falls within my remit. The tasks are intended to give students an opportunity to go through the different stages of cyber security advisory work and also litigation by looking at three different scenarios that address various issues where cyber security is at the core of the legal analysis. For one of the tasks, I took care of framing the management of an incoming litigation, which covers the moment that a data breach is discovered until the party who suffered the data breach receives a warning letter from one of its customers. I presented the main facts of the case and tried to generate a bit of hype around the task. Students are then presented with guidelines on the kind of legal activity they have to do and given some tips on how to address the request of the client. Once the answer is submitted, which in my case was a short memorandum of advice, students are given a template answer via email to compare their answers.
"The Clifford Chance Virtual Internship was an incredible opportunity to both learn more about the firm and develop my experience in a specific area of law. I had always been interested in GDPR and data protection, but felt that I lacked basic knowledge - this experience has definitely helped me feel more confident." – Student, University of Cambridge
"The virtual internship on cybersecurity proved to be exceptionally interesting and fun, especially the ICO dawn raid task. I am very happy to have taken the chance to try this as I have learned many new things related to cybersecurity." – Student, King’s College London
CS: Are students offered any additional support while undergoing the tasks? Perhaps assistance that would be similar to that provided during an in-person Vacation Scheme?
FM: Yes, so when you go to our homepage, we’ve included the details of all the contributors and there is a main contact lead for each module should students need to ask any questions. Of course, it is difficult to virtually match the exact support one would receive during a vacation scheme, but this goes some way to replicate it.
AT: The project is structured so that it’s pretty much a self-learning exercise, but we do provide our contact details on the website and we have been approached by some students on LinkedIn too.
Taking a Chance on Opportunity
CS: What do students gain from undertaking the internships?
FM: If they are interested in a career in the legal sector, this is a great opportunity to get to know us as a firm and to get to know the kind of work we do on a day-to-day basis. I think it provides an excellent opportunity for candidates to pave their way into the firm, especially given the accessibility of the programme and the lack of physical or financial constraints.
NK: It really offers them the opportunity to see the kind of work we do at the firm and the type of issues we deal with. It also gets students thinking about how our work interact with stories they read about in the news. In addition, they get the chance to improve skills such as presenting and drafting, which is the type of experience you’d gain from an in-person programme.
AT: I think it’s a great way for students to see the work products that law firms usually deliver. In the academic setting, it isn’t exactly commonplace to be able to draft this kind of product or even to get in touch with current legal issues.
CS: How well does the internship prepare students for potential training contract interviews?
FM: I think it prepares them very well because they get first-hand insight into life at the firm, so they get an idea of what an associate-trainee relationship will look like and it will open them up to learning how to identify the client’s needs and understand them better.
NK: I think the programme gives students interesting relevant experience to draw upon in an interview scenario. If a student has completed either one or more of the internships it also demonstrates the candidate’s level of interest in the firm and the specific areas of focus.
CS: Would the internship make as much of an impact on a candidate’s CV as a vacation scheme would? Are there any factors taken into consideration to differentiate or filter the candidates?
Laura Yeates, head of graduate talent, London: The whole rationale behind setting this up (regardless of Covid-19, as this has been in the works for the last 18 months) was to democratise access to information, education and opportunities. There’s over 20 hours of modular content on the internships. We believe this is the future of internships as it doesn’t restrict the number of students. It will hopefully act as an additional tool to improve access to the profession and to break down those barriers around social mobility. The internship won’t always equate to gaining a training contract as it would in the old vac scheme model, but our first-year SPARK programme offers that direct pipeline route, so this internship is about improving and widening access to education and opportunity.
AT: In Italy we don’t have a vacation scheme option. Our internships are generated in a slightly different manner but in my view, I think this is something that could bolster the position of an intern. They will gain a great level of experience and we would really value someone who has this kind of preparation under their belt.
CS: How does this specific internship interact with Clifford Chance’s wider efforts to improve social mobility among the ranks?
FM: We want to make our brand and our law firm available to a broader audience and I think that our Global Internship Programme gives students across the world the opportunity to get to know us. We don’t have any requirements or request prior experience from students.
NK: It’s a chance for more students from across the globe to engage with Clifford Chance in a way that they may not have been able to before. They can get real experience from wherever they are around the world and at a time that suits their schedules. I wish these internships were available when I was at that stage of my application!