An insight into the Student Lab Summer Internship from the perspective of Deiza Kavanagh, an aspiring solicitor.
The InterLaw Diversity Forum Student Lab Summer Internship was a comprehensive programme designed to provide a stepping stone for applicants from all diverse (LGBT+, BAME, Disability, Gender) and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. InterLaw Diversity Forum recognise that these individuals face greater barriers within the legal profession, and aim to provide the tools to overcome these barriers through hard work, determination, and resilience.
The programme was designed to be large enough to reach out, and provide the opportunity, to as many applicants as possible, but small enough to accommodate the intimacy of creating a community, and encourage networking in support of the overarching theme of collaboration.
Following the introduction, a session on “Exploring Intersectionality in the Legal Sector” kickstarted the programme, featuring incredible speakers, including a Paralegal, Associate, and Trainee Solicitor, who offered their own interpretation of intersectionality, and how they use their differences to thrive, rather than hold them back. The message was reinforced that job applicants cannot take responsibility for someone else’s hiring decision, but can take charge of putting their best self forward, equipped with their experiences and skills, in the knowledge of who they are and what they want to achieve. Daniel Winterfeldt QC (Hon), founder and chair of InterLaw Diversity Forum, reminded us that legal protections are the basis and beginnings of the journey of equality. Yet, we are all responsible for navigating our own paths, with direction from organisations such as InterLaw Diversity Forum, and our superpower is us and our individuality. This allows us to bring diversity of thought to the table, and we should strive to work for companies who embrace and encourage that.
The programme then offered a flavour of Capital Markets and Finance and encouraged us to see the opportunity in each task undertaken, making mundane work resourceful and valuable. Following the Spotlight Session, the Interns benefitted from an insight into the two branches of the legal profession; Solicitors and Barristers. The key skills required to thrive were highlighted, including resilience, being personable, and attention to detail. Interns were informed that playing to your strengths is key, as collaborating with other legal professionals allows you to focus on your areas of expertise and delegate where necessary. Michael Herford, Consultant Solicitor at Cartwright King, reinforced the importance of not allowing a title to control how good you are, but to aim to consistently exceed everyone’s expectations and allow your reputation to do the talking.
Usha Puri-Dewage, Manager of Professional Development at Cooley, delivered a session on Career Development Top Tips, revealing that building relationships is not only important for getting to know other people, but for also getting to know yourself and recognising your skills, as well as identifying any areas for development. Acknowledging that your journey into the legal profession is a marathon, and not a sprint, allows you to refocus your priorities and be adaptable to zig-zagging your way to success; you are inventing your future. Notwithstanding this, career development is a team sport, and open-mindedness and a willingness to learn from others will allow you to grow and progress.
The first day could not finish without mentioning and dissecting the overused phrase which makes law students recoil; Commercial Awareness. Thankfully InterLaw Diversity Forum snuck in the phrase through the introduction of a Case Study, focussing on IP Branding and Enforcement, to bring the term to life.
To encourage networking and collaboration, InterLaw Diversity Forum split the Interns into “Networking Pods” made up of 12-15 individuals. The first group assignment required the Interns to prepare for the following day’s Commercial Awareness Case Study. The “Pod Work” sessions provided the opportunity for selected Interns to rise to the position of Pod Coordinator, offering a unique opportunity to organise and lead networking sessions, and encourage teamwork and engagement, with the aim of delivering a finished product.
An influential “Keynote Address” from Sheldon Mills, Director of Competition at the Financial Conduct Authority, highlighted the importance of being able to bring your whole self to work; recognising that being free of prejudice, discrimination, and homophobia encourages output and productivity. Another Commercial Awareness Case Study introduced the anatomy of a Mergers and Acquisitions transaction. An associate at Cooley provided a Legal Update, focussing on how COVID-19 will impact the legal industry. It was highlighted how companies now have access to vast amounts of data about our habits, enabling them to learn more about us than ever before, increasing the risks of data misuse and mishandling. This session once again emphasised how diversity of race, gender, background, personality, and thought benefits each and every firm. A further Commercial Awareness Case Study, centred around “Litigation: White Collar Crime”, brought to life the preparatory work completed during the “Pod Work” session. By exploring the Sentencing Memorandum of Navinder Saro, individuality and uniqueness radiated, with emphasis being that when you have met one person with neurodiversity, you have only met one person with neurodiversity. A “Jobs in Law” session provided an eye-opener into aiming for a role in the Judiciary, with speakers from Judges of the First Tier Tribunal, highlighting the importance of a Judiciary who are representative of the community we all live in. Whilst instinctively applying the knowledge gained from previous Commercial Awareness Case Studies, a Partner at Fried Frank delved deeper into the intricacies of Commercial Awareness and how to develop it further. In full knowledge that lawyers are increasingly becoming business advisors, understanding why you are advising and how your advice will be used by the client will allow you to stay one step ahead, assist with becoming a trusted legal advisor, and recognise when the client is asking the wrong question. Lourdes Olvera-Marshall, Global Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Fried Frank, delved into the importance of networking, giving ourselves credit for our accomplishments, and knowing our self-worth, providing an opportunity to put our taught networking skills into practice during this interactive session.
During Day 3’s “Career Ready Skills” session, the Interns were given the opportunity to ask InterLaw Diversity Forum’s panel any questions. The Interns learned to embrace each and every experience, as these help you grow and give you different perspectives. We were reminded to focus on things that are within our control, and to focus on our strengths, instead of fretting over, or attempting to fix, our weaknesses. Interns were later offered an insight into “Pro Bono in Law”, with much focus on the Latin meaning “for the good”, showcasing how, as a lawyer, you can challenge social injustice and give something back. The panel provided recommendations on how to get involved with work that can make a difference to people’s lives. This session followed a Spotlight Session clarifying what is meant by Corporate and Commercial, terms often lobbied about in the legal profession. Interns were then offered an insight into what it is like to work in-house, a form of working within a business instead of a law firm, which is growing increasingly popular. Representatives from Citi, Netflix, Google and Just Eat highlighted the benefits of working in-house. Claire Harvey, Paralympian, Director of Annatta Ltd and Trustee and Former CEO of Diversity Role Models, shared her insight into “Inclusive Leadership” reflecting the importance of finding solutions, instead of simply highlighting problems with the overall aim of activating change. Claire had a compelling message that failure is a key component of success, as long as you harness an ability to learn from your mistakes. The phrase “treat others the way you want to be treated” should be replaced with “treat others the way they want to be treated”. Claire encouraged us to recognise our biases, build our knowledge, get to know people different from us, build empathy, push ourselves to see the positives in other peoples’ ‘styles’, and talk about it in order become a role model for others. We were encouraged to approach conversations with curiosity, rather than judgment; we cannot see the lived experience of someone else, unless we are open to doing so, and we cannot overcome unconscious bias, unless we are open to recognising these biases and are willing to open our minds to different perspectives.
Thursday kicked off with an insight into the collaboration between the technology industry and legal work, demonstrating the ability to go global from your living room, and work with a variety of diverse individuals. A further Case Study explored the work behind the Battersea Power Station, a leading regeneration project in the world. Day 4’s Spotlight Session explored Intellectual Property, and the “Jobs in Law” session focussed on roles in the Government. The “Career Ready Skills” session, delivered by Jonny Hurst, Head of Outreach and Student Recruitment at BPP University Law School (who sponsored the Summer Internship), offered a practical, informative, and interactive session featuring a drafting exercise, a popular testing method used at Assessment Centres.
Jane Malcolm, Executive Director, External and Corporate Affairs at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, further emphasised the importance and great need for the legal profession to mirror the community it serves. InterLaw Diversity Forum’s panel further explored their purpose, supporting individuals and empowering them to do better, as well as their mission statements:
Support diverse and socially disadvantaged talent in the sector;
Support networks and organisations;
Support and work with employers;
Support the wider community through charity and fundraising efforts.
The penultimate Spotlight Session featured trainees discussing ‘A day in the life of…’. This session revealed that law firms are not looking for a finished product, but are looking for potential, so individuals should self-reflect and understand what makes them unique. Your perception matters; change your mindset and consider rejection simply as redirection. Your route to success does not have to be a straight line, and you should embrace any diversions along the way. The final Spotlight Session, “Role Models: A View from the Top”, reiterated the importance of being open to opportunities in your career, and to use intellectual curiosity to develop both personally and professionally.
Be the one who lays down the ladder for the individuals who come after you. InterLaw Diversity Forum’s ethos is to support, and the recurrent themes throughout the Summer Internship made this abundantly clear. The week emphasised how the diverse aspects of the individuals who participated in the internship were their strengths, and not their weakness. We all have something to offer, even if we haven’t quite reached our destination yet, and we have all learnt something on our journeys that we can offer to someone who is on the rung below us.