Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is one of the world’s most prestigious law firms and is co-headquartered in London and Sydney, Australia.
HSF has a strong reputation in litigation and dispute resolution and, with the most FTSE 100 clients of any law firm, is an international leader in corporate and finance. It is also one of the world's top-ranked energy and resources firms.
HSF operates in 14 practice areas and serves 16 industries, in 23 offices over 18 jurisdictions. The London office also includes an advocacy unit with in-house QCs.
Herbert Smith Freehills was formed by a merger in 2012 between Herbert Smith, a London-based ‘silver circle’ law firm, and Freehills, previously one of Australia’s ‘big six’.
- What Graduate Opportunities Does HSF Offer?
- What Qualifications and Skills Does HSF Seek?
- The Application Process
- Receiving an Offer
- After the Vacation Scheme
- Final Thoughts
- Further Reading
What Graduate Opportunities Does HSF Offer?
Herbert Smith Freehills offers a number of UK-based opportunities for undergraduates and graduates, as follows:
In 2018, HSF recruited its trainees only from the vacation schemes, so if you are hoping to apply for the training contract, your journey starts here.
The vacation schemes are for graduates or those in their penultimate or final year at university.
Applicants need to be able to work for a minimum of 35 hours per week and can expect pay of £400 per week.
Applications are invited from finalists and graduates between September and October for the winter scheme, and from November to early January for the spring and summer schemes (the latter are also for penultimate-year students).
Those attending the vacation scheme will have the opportunity to apply for the international vacation scheme, a trainee buddy and a guaranteed training contract application interview.
You will take on real client work, under the supervision of a partner or associate, and receive training in all practice areas.
This is a paid two-year training and development plan with extensive on-the-job support. It is “based on detailed empirical research into the unique set of behaviours that we know leads to success”.
Typically, the training contract consists of four six-month ‘seats’ in different practice areas. One seat is often in-house with a client, or overseas at one of its international offices.
You will be fully supported throughout with inductions, mentors and regular feedback. HSF offers a competitive salary to trainees of £44,000 in the first year, rising to £48,000 in the second year.
The training contract includes the PSC exams and additional training in research, communication and business skills.
Every six months, HSF offers its trainees 16 client secondments and 20 international secondments in countries such as Australia, Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris and Singapore.
Application is by interview, following successful completion of the vacation scheme.
Other Student Opportunities
- Open Days. HSF runs two open days – one focusing on disputes, the other on intellectual property and cyber. These take place in November and December, with applications open from September.
- First-Year Workshops. In April every year, HSF runs two-day interactive workshops for around 50 students. Students of any course may apply in their first year (or second year of a four-year course) and applications open in January/February. Candidates who complete the first year workshop and then apply for the vacation scheme are fast-tracked to the review stage, skipping the online assessment.
- Campus Ambassador. These are second-year students who organise events and promote Herbert Smith Freehills on campus. This is a paid position offering additional work experience for your CV.
Scholarships and Work Experience
- Roger Leyland Memorial Excel Scholarship. In 2013, HSF launched the Excel scholarship with Rare Recruitment. The scholarship is open to first-year black and minority ethnic (BME) students interested in a career in commercial law.
One scholar each year receives an award of £9,000, over three years of study, and a guaranteed place on HSF's first-year workshop. They also receive two weeks’ paid work experience during the summer of their first year and a guaranteed interview for the summer vacation scheme (conditional on reaching the required benchmark in first-year exams).
Students must be a Rare candidate in order to apply and applications open in November and close at the end of January.
- Prime Work Experience. The PRIME initiative provides “high-quality work experience to young people from backgrounds under-represented in the legal profession”. Applications are not made direct to HSF but to the Social Mobility Foundation Aspiring Professionals Programme.
- Networked Scholarship Scheme. Each year the scheme recruits five A-level/BTEC students from comprehensive schools in London. The scheme includes contact hours with the firm over a five-year period, as well as mentoring, training and a financial bursary to support students through a degree.
What Qualifications and Skills Does HSF Seek?
HSF is looking for diverse candidates to build a diverse culture, reflective of the diverse societies in which it operates.
HSF recruits from a wide range of backgrounds (half of HSF’s trainees come from a non-law background), seeking candidates who possess the qualities it looks for in its lawyers.
- Intellectual curiosity
- Clarity of thought
- Ability to see the bigger picture
- The ambition to grow personally and professionally
Candidates must be in at least the penultimate year of a law degree, or the final year of a non-law degree, to apply for the Herbert Smith Freehills vacation scheme.
Candidates must be able to demonstrate that they obtained or are on target to achieve a 2:1.
Extenuating circumstances may be taken into account on a case by case basis.
There is a quiz on the HSF website which gives detailed suggestions as to the attributes HSF seeks, such as a positive, proactive outlook, adaptability, and self-awareness.
The Application Process
HSF recruits its trainee solicitors solely from the participants in the vacation schemes. There are roughly 100 places across the vacation schemes, which narrows to 60 trainee places.
Candidates unable to attend a vacation scheme are invited to contact the firm with details of their individual circumstances, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Therefore, applying for a training contract at Herbert Smith Freehills starts by applying for the vacation scheme.
The process is as follows:
- Online Application Form
- Online Test
- Assessment Day
1. Online Application Form
You will need to register to complete the online form.
Complete basic questions in relation to your personal details, academic credentials and work experience. Then you will need to complete three written questions, for which you are allowed a maximum of 300 words per question.
If your academic qualifications were not gained in the UK, there is an additional information section where you are able to give context to your results.
The questions that HSF lists as currently on the application form are:
- Introduce us to a topic you know about and explain why it interests you.
- Explain why you are interested in pursuing a career at Herbert Smith Freehills and what skills, qualities and attributes you would bring to the role.
- Tell us about a project you have recently worked on or a challenge you have faced as part of a team. Describe your role, the outcome and what you learned.
Online Application Form: 8 Tips
- Make the most of every part of the application form by highlighting your breadth of skills as well as your suitability for the scheme and HSF. You will also need to demonstrate your desire to be an international dispute or corporate lawyer at HSF.
- Show in-depth research of Herbert Smith Freehills, including the work it undertakes for clients, its global strategy, culture, inclusivity and diversity, legal standing, and quality of output/people. HSF is a global team offering business solutions, so research and reference the current global political, economic and social climate and how that might affect the firm.
- Note any buzzwords or notable people/cases in the job description, the HSF website and its recruitment brochures, and connect these back to your own experiences or interests.
- Before you begin, list all possible examples to demonstrate your skills, including work experience and pro-bono work unrelated to law. Show what you took away from the experience, what you learnt, and then relate this back to the impact it had on your interest in law.
- For the free-choice topic of interest question, you should select a topic about which you are genuinely interested. Then make a compelling argument as to why you are interested in it, how it’s related to you and what you can apply from that topic to being a lawyer at HSF.
- Plan your answers meticulously. Allocate part of the word count to each part of the question, and use a strong and professional writing style with no punctuation or spelling errors.
- Reference any HSF events you have attended. For example, if you went to the Bright Network Multiculturalism in the City event, you could refer to this as part of a paragraph on diversity, inclusion and the necessity to reflect a multicultural society to drive global business.
- Keep a copy of your application. Should you be called to the assessment centre day, you will need to have in-depth knowledge of the answers you gave.
Remember, the recruiters at Herbert Smith Freehills will have around 3,000 applications for only 100 places, so will be looking for reasons to dismiss applicants.
2. Online Test
Once you have submitted the online application form you will be sent an online test.
This is a blended test specific to HSF. It includes variations on situational judgment and verbal reasoning questions. Sometimes, there are a series of personality questionnaires.
The test is not time limited but it is time recorded. This is taken into consideration when scoring – it should take around 30–35 minutes.
You will have seven days from the time that you receive the test to complete it. Therefore you should consider carefully when to send in your application, to ensure you have sufficient time to complete the online test.
There is a practice test on the HSF website.
- The situational judgment part of the test contains short descriptions of scenarios that resemble situations a trainee solicitor might experience. To complete the test, you must select a ‘most effective’ and ‘least effective’ option relating to the scenario from the four statements provided. Scenarios are unrelated to each other and require no prior knowledge.
- The personality questions require you to rate four statements from ‘most like me' to 'least like me'. There is no right or wrong answer; HSF advises you to be honest rather than to second-guess what it is looking for from the answers.
- For the verbal reasoning part of the test, you are required to select ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘cannot say’ to a variety of statements in relation to a specific passage.
3. Assessment Day
Successful candidates are invited to attend an assessment day at Herbert Smith Freehills’ London offices.
The day includes three interviews with partners – a competency interview, a case study interview and a scenario-based interview.
This is a full day of assessments, and you will need to keep your momentum going to be successful. You should be prepared to demonstrate:
- Commercial awareness
- Business strategy skills
- The ability to think around a question
- Quick thinking while under pressure
Make sure you are familiar with business jargon and are confident in your knowledge of recent financial news regarding HSF, its clients or the legal industry generally.
You should prepare by attending any HSF events that you can – including presentations, workshops, informal networking sessions and any other relevant events run at its offices or by your university.
You should also make the most of any mock-interview workshops run by your university.
Prepare questions to ask the partners, showcasing your interest, motivation and awareness.
At the assessment day, make sure that you read everything you are provided carefully, as nothing is included without reason.
This will be conducted by a senior associate and is likely to include:
- Discussion of your application form;
- Probing questions around your motivation for a career in law;
- Why you want to work at HSF in particular.
Prepare by going over everything you included in your application form. You'll need to present a confident discussion of the skills you have, what you learnt and what you can bring to HSF that aligns with its values and strategy.
When discussing teamwork, challenges, your topic of interest in your application form and your personal qualities, remember the STAR technique (situation, task, action, result) and make sure you can confidently address all parts.
Practise in advance, so that you can talk in an engaging manner without too many gaps and without fiddling with your hair/cuffs/accessories.
Case Study Interview
For this interview, you will be provided with a case study and given 45 minutes to prepare a ten-minute presentation based on a list of questions the ‘client’ (played by the interviewing partner) has posited.
This is then followed by an interview with the partner, based on the presentation you have given.
Candidates report that there is a fair amount of information to read and digest. You can mark up the documents and refer to them as needed.
The scenario-based interview is also with a partner and will be based on a matter that they are working on. They will give you a detailed outline and ask questions around how you think their client should proceed.
You will need to consider the problem from the client’s perspective and identify what other lawyers will need to be involved.
Candidates report that this is a two-way discussion – HSF will be looking for potential in the way that you think and discuss, and will not expect in-depth legal knowledge.
Ideas to Consider When Preparing for the Application Process
Notable recent deals that HSF has worked on:
- Acted for Telefónica SA on its agreement to sell O2 UK to Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of Three UK, for £10.25 billion.
- Sky selling SkyBET to the private equity fund CVC.
- Represented Bernie Ecclestone in the defence of a large civil claim in the English High Court, and supported his defence of criminal proceedings in Germany arising out of the sale of shares in Formula 1.
- Advised TUI Travel on its £5.2 billion all-share cross-border merger with TUI AG.
- Acted in major Asian arbitration concerning the interpretation of a treaty between Malaysia and Singapore.
Political and legal items of note:
- In light of Brexit, HSF set up a cross-practice working group looking into the legal implications of a UK exit from the EU. Intended to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and working with other experts to better advise clients on the potential impact on their businesses.
- Setting up Commercial Court and Civil Justice Council working groups, taking part in the ongoing debate over reforms to civil litigation, helping shape the future of civil litigation following the Jackson Reforms including streamlining court procedure.
Pro bono & access to justice initiatives:
- Supporting the Sierra Leone government through the Fair Deal Sierra Leone initiative.
- Founded the Whitechapel Legal Advice Clinic in 2000 to provide high-quality legal advice to residents of Tower Hamlets who can’t afford access.
- Helping eradicate modern slavery through the Anti-Trafficking Anti-Slavery (ATAS) Group.
- Supporting the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) via an ambassador scheme.
- Partnered with the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre and Kenyan Human Rights Commission to support the protection of those with mental disabilities in Kenya. Using law reform, advocacy and strategic litigation to put an end to these abuses, helping to create a society that respects the choices of people with mental disabilities.
Receiving an Offer
Successful candidates will be offered a place on the vacation scheme. This should come by email within 24 hours.
After the Vacation Scheme
As part of the vacation scheme, there will be a training contract interview, usually scheduled for the last day of the scheme.
After the vacation scheme, all candidates receive feedback from graduate recruitment. Successful candidates will receive an offer for a training contract.
There is currently no other way to access a training contract than by successfully securing and completing a vacation scheme.
Applications are considered on a rolling basis, so candidates are advised to apply as soon as the relevant vacation schemes open – while making sure they have left sufficient time to prepare adequately.
Here are some final tips:
- Read all available recruitment material.
- Attend any events at HSF or your university, and meet or talk to any current trainees for additional insight.
- Plan answers carefully and allocate the word count appropriately.
- Expect to draft and redraft your application.
You may be interested in these other articles on WikiJob:
Herbert Smith Freehills Interview Questions
A Career in Law: Advice For Graduates
How To Get A Training Contract