Jimena Gutierrez Calero is a trainee solicitor at the leading international law firm with 27 global offices, Herbert Smith Freehills. This article explores Jimena’s interesting journey towards law and how she secured a training contract with one of the most prestigious law firms across the UK and Australia.
What inspired you to apply for a training contract at Herbert Smith Freehills? What attracted you to the firm?
During my workshop, I was very impressed with Herbert Smith Freehills’ very friendly working environment. More broadly speaking, the fact that many of the partners in the firm had trained at Herbert Smith Freehills, was an important factor for myself. It was not just a two-year training contract I wanted; I was aiming for a whole career in a prestigious law firm.
I spent a lot of time researching firms and trying to get exposure into the legal world. I decided that my strengths were my qualification as a Spanish solicitor, my international background, knowing three languages and my master’s in law and finance. Herbert Smith Freehills was a perfect fit, it is not only an international law firm, but it also has an office in Madrid.
I must say I was also attracted at the efforts made to increase gender equality in the firm. At a trainee level there is the Women Trainee Lawyers Network, where trainees of all genders are welcome to join and participate in the different events organised.
What were you doing before you joined Herbert Smith Freehills?
Right before I joined Herbert Smith Freehills, I was doing my LPC. However, prior to this, I was studying to qualify as a Spanish lawyer whilst working part-time in a Spanish law firm.
This gave me a more long-term exposure to the firm – I was able to get involved in different transactions and quickly progress from more basic tasks to being given more responsibility to carry out more complex work. Having to juggle both work and studies helped me become more disciplined, and together with the experience I gained, in the end it helped me build my confidence.
What is the most enjoyable part of the job as a trainee solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills?
The best aspect of being a trainee solicitor is to be part of the team in a specific transaction because you get to do a wide variety of work, challenging you every day. I particularly enjoy whenever I get the chance to do some drafting, whether it is a whole document or a particular clause that is being heavily negotiated.
What advice would you give to your past-self when you were doing your undergraduate degree at City?
Make sure you get involved with firms early on. Try to attend first year workshops, open days, law-fairs and other events organised by the firms. Use LinkedIn to add people and keep in touch. I think it is very important to make yourself known to the firms.
A good application however demonstrates a clear understating of the firm as a whole. At Herbert Smith Freehills trainees are expected to get involved in a wide range of different activities, ranging from graduate recruitment to extra-curricular. It is therefore important you make time for things that genuinely interest you, besides the strictly academic aspects. Law firms certainly do not want robots, they are looking for well-rounded candidates who will fit into the firm’s culture.
What seats have you done so far and what has been the most interesting case that you have worked on?
I am currently in corporate and this is my first seat. I have recently been involved in a takeover by a Spanish company of a UK AIM listed company. I helped in the due diligence exercise, coordinating with the specialist teams, attending calls and negotiations with the seller´s team, the rule 2.7 announcement, the court sanctioning and any post-completion steps. Personally, working for a Spanish client was very interesting because at a certain stage I was able to research and answer a question the team had regarding the legal status of funds under Spanish law. Reading about the deal announcement reported on the Spanish and English newspapers was very exciting.
What has your biggest challenge been so far in your journey towards becoming a trainee solicitor?
My biggest challenge so far was the application process. The system is so completely different to the Spanish, that I was not sure how to best approach it. I was trying to get many applications done, not really knowing which type of firm I wanted to train in and certainly not tailoring the applications to the specific firm. The best decision was to get some guidance from the careers service and my tutor, Anthony Rogers, who helped me focus my research and review my CV and applications.
Did you do partake in any First Year Workshops, Open Days, etc at Herbert Smith Freehills as an undergraduate? Also, did you do any open days at other firms and did they prove useful?
I did a two-day workshop at Herbert Smith Freehills, which gave me an insight of the firm and the people. I was fortunate enough to have gained extensive legal work experience, including a formal vacation scheme and several informal internships in different firms. This provided me an understanding of the profession, being able to understand the type of firms I wanted to apply to and the areas of law that I was most interested in. However, I would not like to discourage students from pursuing other non-law related work experiences, because they will nonetheless give you equally important transferrable skills.
What does a typical day of a Herbert Smith Freehills trainee solicitor look like?
There is no such thing as a typical day in Herbert Smith Freehills. However, my day usually starts by getting into the office around 9:00. Even though we don’t start work until 9:30, I like to get in a bit earlier to catch-up on emails and organise my day. I will typically not only be working with my supervisor, so it is often the case I will be in and out of my office seeing other solicitors I am working with or in meetings/calls. Around 1pm I will go down to the canteen and have lunch with other trainees. This is a great opportunity to get a break and catch-up with friends. I also try to fit other projects such as graduate recruitment events or pro-bono matters; these can vary from a few hours to a day off visiting universities. My day usually ends by drawing up a list of any outstanding things.
To summarise, why should an undergraduate student apply to work at Herbert Smith Freehills? What sets the firm apart from its competitors?
I would encourage students to apply to Herbert Smith Freehills not only because the type of work you will be doing will be of high level, but also because you will have the opportunity to get involved in many other activities outside strictly billable work, that will allow you to shape your training contract to fit your interests. I would certainly say it is the people at Herbert Smith Freehills that make the difference. I extremely value associates and partners taking time to explain the transaction or the reasoning behind a certain decision or process. I feel it is making a difference in my learning.
Many thanks to Zaynab Khokhar, LLB2 City student and Campus Ambassador for Herbert Smith Freehills for this excellent interview.
Zaynab, have you got any other advice for students to consider in relation to opportunities at Herbert Smith Freehills?
Therefore, taking Jimena’s advice into account, it is definitely worth for City (law and non-law) students to get a head start into law by partaking in the undergraduate opportunities offered. Besides from vacation scheme placements and training contracts, one way for students to really determine whether Herbert Smith Freehills is for them is to take part in its fantastic two-day First Year Workshops! Not only will this give them a valuable exposure to commercial law by covering areas such as Corporate Negotiation, Alternative Dispute Resolution, pro bono work at the firm, but students will also be given the chance to shadow a trainee, followed by an evening social event. So, there is no reason to not apply!
Also, Herbert Smith Freehills offers a unique Roger Leyland Memorial Scholarship to provide financial support and work experience to exceptional black and minority ethnic students. Applicants must be Rare candidates whereby law students must be in their first year of university, and non-law students should be in their second year. So, if you fit in the criteria and if you want to benefit from £9,000 over three years of study, paid two-weeks experience over summer, a guaranteed interview for the summer vacation scheme, a mentor to guide you throughout your journey then you must apply for this fantastic opportunity!
For more details of where to apply and how to apply, please refer to the Herbert Smith Freehills Facebook page specifically created for City students which advertises all of these amazing opportunities.
Alternatively, visit the Herbert Smith Freehills graduate careers website.