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PRIME has helped me to…

“Discover my inner passion for law and the career I want to pursue.”

Matthew Byrne

We hear from Matthew Byrne, who took part in a virtual work experience PRIME programme this Summer, run by Herbert Smith Freehills.

Where and when did you do your experience?

The virtual work experience with Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) took place over a three-day period in August. Each day lasted around 6 hours. It was previously meant to take place in London but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took place virtually over zoom in our own homes.

Tell us a little about the application process?

I first heard of the work experience opportunity from my year head at school in assembly.  I knew immediately it was something I wanted to be a part of.  I applied through the Social Mobility Foundation’s online application form.  The application process is not something that should intimidate you, it is a way of simply getting to know potential work experience students.  There were questions which were interesting to answer such as “If you could have dinner with one person in the world, who would it be?”.  I chose Serena Williams.  These questions were lengthy and would require time and effort.  I think it’s important to note that while these law firms are looking for high achievers, they want to get to know the person behind the form also.

What tips would you give a student thinking of applying for work experience in a law firm?

My main piece of advice here would to research, as I believe it will open up opportunities for fellow students like me.  Also, I wasn’t 100% convinced that I wanted to take on a law degree next year, which further emphasises the importance of exposure to this industry.  It could well end up that you loved the work experience or hated it, but it would be much safer knowing your own opinions before making a university choice.  Lucky for me I loved the work experience I undertook with HSF, and it convinced me to pursue a degree in law.  Most importantly these types of opportunities allowed me to talk to senior members of the law firm which made me think, “Yeah, I want to do that.”

How did you feel when you were told you had a place?

I honestly couldn’t believe it.  When I first heard I was paired up with HSF and only 10 places were available there, I was astounded that they picked me.  Also, further finding out that they were a top 10 law firm in the UK was pretty incredible.  I received the news in March 2020 and so began, over the next few months, researching all about HSF and the types of law they specialise in and the types of cases they undertake.

In no more than three words, sum up your work experience. 

Enlightening, impactful, irreplaceable.

What was the best part of your work experience and why?

This is actually very hard to pinpoint because there were so many sessions which I enjoyed.  If I had to choose one it would probably be the ‘Demystifying the legal system’ workshop presented by HSF’s Senior Associate Martin Hevey.  I was truly blown away with the explosion of knowledge that was offered.  Martin gave such a clear overview of the sector, covering the different types of courts and the types of crime associated with them.  It also included the differences between common and civil law.  I was able to ask Martin a question of the increasing virtual nature of the courts and whether COVID-19 would simply increase this trend.  His response was so interesting, and it was clear he was passionate about his work which I found inspiring. 

What did your work experience cover?

So much more than I ever expected.  It included personal development workshops like ‘Making an impact at work’ which conveyed the importance of impact and what we could improve in regard to the workplace.  We also had workshops identifying our strengths and weaknesses and then improving.  A quote I remember was “Your energy introduces you before you even speak” and it has stuck with me since. 

There was a workshops on ‘Demystifying the legal system’ which delivered such useful legal knowledge.  We had a talk with HSF’s Graduate Recruitment team, who offered such valuable information on the route to a training contract.  We also heard from the Royal Mail Group and I personally developed such a great understanding of the work of in-house solicitors.  We had the opportunity too to listen to a HSF panel of trainees and associates speaking about their experiences. 

This year was obviously a little different- what was it like doing a virtual work experience?

It was obviously disappointing for it not to take place in London as I was getting the opportunity to fly over from Northern Ireland.  However, in the midst of lockdown I fully expected it to be cancelled completely, so to find out it was taking place virtually was exciting.  I didn’t really know what to expect doing it virtually or how I’d be perceived but it surpassed my expectations.  HSF were so flexible and adaptable and it surprisingly went very smoothly without any real hiccups. 

My main piece of advice to students would be to not be deterred from virtual work experience as it will be much more impactful than you originally think.

What do you know now that you didn’t know before about the law?

I had some background knowledge before but this experience developed it ten-fold.  I now know about all the different courts and its distinctions within the law.  Also, with the help of HSF’s Graduate Recruitment team I now know the entire process of achieving a training contract with a law firm.  I was also introduced to a whole different sector of in-house solicitors through the Royal Mail Group.

What surprised you most about your work experience?

I originally presumed, with HSF being a top 10 law firm in the UK that it would be cold and harsh, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  We were welcomed so warmly and given such a kind reception.  It made the experience that much more enjoyable.

What tips would you give a student preparing for their work experience?

Don’t feel the need to know everything about law.  These law firms acknowledge that we don’t have a law degree, and we’re still in secondary school.  All that would be expected is to simply be enthusiastic and have a willingness to interact with the programme.

Why do you want a career in law? 

Before this work experience I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a legal path but it completely changed my mind.  Being exposed to a top international law firm like HSF was beyond enlightening.  After hearing from associates who work at HSF, I can acknowledge the passion of their work and so I want to be able to have a job in which I am passionate and can act on behalf of clients. 

Also, the myriad sectors available within law is very attractive as they can accommodate your individual interests.  The international opportunities to work abroad in practically all continents in the form of international secondments is amazing. I would particularly love to have an opportunity to work in Australia or the Middle East.

Tell us a little about the mentoring part of your experience.

I had three mentoring sessions during my work experience with one of HSF’s Senior Associates. He offered me tips with regards to my career development and he also discussed his own journey to his position. 

Hearing about his personal experiences and the disadvantages he faced really resonated with me, and these mentoring sessions were truly a key factor of me deciding to pursue a degree in law.

We planned our update emails for the next year and have been keeping each other up to date since.   As I describe my UCAS process, he has offered tailored tips with regards to the legal sector.  I have sent him my personal statement for checking too.  This is such a unique and valuable experience for any students interested in law, and trust me, this is an opportunity that is irreplaceable.

PRIME has helped me to…

Discover my inner passion for law and the career I want to pursue.

It has convinced me to undertake a law degree at university and has heightened my interest in corporate law with the opportunity to work with HSF.  The PRIME programme is such an invaluable resource for students from less advantaged backgrounds who are able, but are not provided with resources to achieve their potential.  The programme and mentoring scheme has further enlightened me to the field of law and has truly helped me determine the path I desire at university and future work.

HSF
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