Legal Outlook Trainee Talks Episode 3

Ashurst's trainee talks 3 – transcript

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Hello, and welcome to Ashurst's legal outlook and our mini series talking to trainees about their journey to Ashurst. Their hopes and dreams, and their hints and tips for future trainees. In this episode, I speak to Stephanie Ng about her journey from studying law at university to becoming a trainee with Ashurst, following stints as a paralegal and a business consultant in Singapore. Stephanie has some great advice for future trainees, including the importance of networking and being genuine and authentic in everything that you do. Join me as we get the inside scoop on what it's like to work as a trainee solicitor at Ashurst. You're listening to Ashurst's legal outlook.

Stephanie, thank you very much for joining me today. I want to start by asking you, what is your origin story? How did you come about choosing a career in law?

Stephanie Ng:
When I did law at university, I didn't think that I wanted to do law afterward. So after graduation, I went back to Singapore and did a little bit of consulting work for a few years instead. For various reasons, I then decided to leave my previous company, and going to Ashurst was the first thing that actually came up. I thought, okay, I'm going to do this. It's going to be temporary, and I realized it's actually quite fun in practice. Then I realized that I did want to do the LPC, and I did want to qualify.

So tell me, were there any influences that sort of steered you in the direction of law?

I have to be honest, the paralegal position at Ashurst was the first thing that came up. At that point I really needed a job. So in terms of falling back into law, that was really almost, not quite a mistake, I knew it was something that I wanted to at least try, but it wasn't a conscious decision that I want to be a lawyer. Definitely, no I didn't know. But when I did join Ashurst and started working there, I realized that I actually really enjoyed the transactional work and the transactional side of things.

So you went from a consultancy to paralegal then into the trainee program. Can you describe what that application process was like?

Yeah, sure. I actually did the LPC without having a training contract. How that worked was, because I wanted to be English law qualified. I actually flew from Singapore to London to do the LPC. So this was a pretty busy period. I was doing the LPC full time, I was working at Ashurst, still as a paralegal from the London office part-time and of course at the same time I was looking for a training contract. And as we all know, we're looking for a training contract can be almost a full-time job, it's not easy at all. I was making sure to attend as many networking sessions as I could, and going to open days and applying for open days. And so on. On top of, work and the LPC. It was by no means an easy one, but I reminded myself that firstly, it's only for less than a year, the LPC is under a year. And secondly, it's an investment into this career that I decided that I wanted to do.

Do you think working at Ashurst gave you any advantage, in regards to the training program?

I think any work experience, even the vacations schemes, would give you some advantage in terms of both application, and the career that you're going into when you actually start working. But, also personally for you to know whether this is something you want to do. Prime example being myself, because when I did law at university, I came out of it thinking I don't want to do this and then did not do law. But after I started working as a paralegal, I realized how different it can be and that I did enjoy it. So working at Ashurst is what made me decide that I want to do my training contract and have a career in law.

So now that you've landed at Ashurst as a trainee, can you tell me what area you're working in and also what a typical day looks like for you?

I guess things are a bit different now because the majority of my training contract was during lockdown, and during COVID. It's a bit different to what I would have described pre COVID. I guess I can compare this experience to when I was paralegaling and I would have gone for lunch, sometimes you would go for team lunches. Then you'd come back and you might have either an in person meetings or training. Whereas now, obviously because everything's virtual, and although we're moving towards a hybrid working system, at the moment, it's still more work from home based. It looks a little bit different. I might have lunch at home, I might cook, that is an advantage to working from home, before working in the afternoon.

Transaction work tends to be quite busy, so I would, generally speaking, not expect a 6:00 PM finish, maybe 7:00. The last couple of days have been a little bit busier. I think anyone who is thinking of, or going into transactional work, does need to be aware of the fact that no matter what firm you're at, and which transactional seat you're in, it is pretty busy. You may end up doing longer hours than you expected.

Now you would've had a really unique perspective on the culture at Ashurst, starting as a paralegal, and then obviously now in the trainee program. Do you have some observations, and some sort of comments on what makes Ashurst's culture great?

So the first one that springs to mind is I have never felt like there was adverse, I'm going to call it adverse competition, in terms of, for example, between trainees, everyone is so willing to discuss their experiences and help each other. If I reach out to a trainee, as I did actually yesterday, asking for help covering for example. Sometimes during August, particularly, a lot of people are away, so it might be a bit harder to find coverage. But, generally people are very happy to help. If I don't have capacity to do something, or if I am not sure how to do something, but I know that another trainee has done it before, everyone is very willing to help. So there's no feeling that you're competing for a permanent place, so you shouldn't help each other because of that, if that sort of makes sense, there's never been that sort of feeling.

Also, another example is there's not that sort of feeling between practice groups either. So on transactional deals, corporate, particularly, I found you draw very heavily on other teams. For example, during the due diligence process, which corporate generally is in charge of and drives, you would reach out to colleagues and, many other practice groups. For example, digital economy, loans, tax, you would reach out to a lot of them. Everyone works together very well. Very seamlessly. Nobody says, No, I don't want to do this, or I can't do this. Unless it's for compliance reasons, of course. No practice group harbors any competitive feelings against any other. Everyone across the entire firm works together. I would say to the benefit of the client.

Now there's no doubting you've been very busy over the last year with studying and then obviously the Chinese shift as well. COVID has impacted your work arrangements. What do you do to unwind? What are your interests outside of work?

I try to, as religiously as possible, go to the gym three times a week because it is an hour, well, three hours a week of me time where I don't think about anything else. I don't talk to anyone else, I just listen to music and really focus on myself. And I've realized I come back out of the gym much happier. That's really important to have. It doesn't matter, it can be the gym, it can be reading, it can be going for a run outside. I do think it's super important that everybody has that interest outside of work that they make time for occasionally. And yeah, there are weeks, where for different reasons, including work, I may not have been able to go three times a week, for example, this week, which has been extremely busy.

So Stephanie have you explored much of the UK since arriving from Singapore?

On weekends, I try to do different things. I just came to London in September last year. I say just, but it's been almost a year. It was during COVID. I'm starting to explore more of it, more of London. I went to the Globe Theater for the first time last week, which was really cool. I'm trying to make time on weekends to do sort of Londony things, or day trips outside of London, go hiking, or see the Cotswolds or Oxford or national parks as well.

Sounds fantastic. I'm very jealous in lockdown Sydney, Australia at the moment. Could you just tell me what your hopes and dreams are?

The immediate one is of course, to secure that permanent spot after my training contract. Only because I'm in my third seat now, coming towards the end of my third seat, going into my fourth seat. That's obviously weighing on my mind a little bit. I think that's something that I need to decide and work out. Sit down with myself and think through where I would like to qualify and why. Some people know straight away where they want to qualify and where they want to put down as their first choice. But, having spoken to a couple of trainees, it does seem that more often than not, people are still weighing up their options at this point. I think that it's pretty important for people applying to know that if I, as a third seat trainee, am still weighing up my option application stage, you are not expected at all to know where you want to qualify eventually.

It sounds fascinating, and I would love to ask you some insights if I could, about the process that you go through when you do sit down with yourself. Will it be purely based on your sort of self assessment, of how things have gone, or will you reach out to other people to ask them further questions and research that way?

So important to reach out to people. I've been speaking to other trainees, I've been speaking to the partners. I've been speaking to associates who are my friends who might not be in the firm at all. I've been speaking to people who are not even in law. I think gaining that spectrum of opinions is so important. Different perspectives can add a different sort of color to your decision. I've been making a conscious effort to talk to people about this and to talk it out with friends as well, because that also helps me make my mind up as I speak to friends and family about it.

Also, I do base it partially around how the seats have gone. I'll look back on the seats and I'm, I think to myself, what did I do as part of that seat? Did I enjoy it? Could I see myself doing it long-term, medium to long-term, and crucially, I look at my supervisors, the associates around me, the partners, Ethan, and think to myself is that something that I want to do and is that something I could do? Is that something that I want to work up to, build my career to do.

It sounds very smart, Stephanie, I must say, the process that you've got. I want to finish with one question. Thinking back, and knowing what you know now about the actual application process, If you had a friend applying for a trainee contract, what piece of advice would you give them?

I'm going to shoot for two. I'm going to shoot for one, which is a little bit more, quote, practical and one which is a bit more fluffy, but both equally important. The one in practice, I would say after you attend events, always asked for people's email addresses and ask if they're happy for you to contact them afterwards. Then actually do that. I think that is so important to create that relationship. It's an opportunity for you to ask a question that is specific to that person, or that firm and gain a little bit of valuable insight into the firm.

My second tip is, I've been to quite a number of these graduate recruitment events and spoken to prospective applicants, as well as people who are going through the vacation scheme. I think the number one most important thing is to always be genuine because we can, I now say we, because obviously now I'm on the other side, but now that I am on the other side, I realize how easy it actually is to tell when somebody is, I wouldn't say making something up, I would say not being genuine and not being true when they say, "Oh, I'm really interested in the work that you do at corporate, is it like this?"

Then you kind of think, you can kind of tell when somebody hasn't really done their research, and isn't really sure what they're talking about. It's not that there's an issue with not being sure about what you're talking about, it's more like, if you're not sure then just say it. Being genuine, whether when you're emailing someone, when you're speaking to someone, when you're in the interview. When you're writing down your application, don't google something and copy and paste it because it's pretty obvious. When you come to write things down and, and speak to people. Be genuine about why you want to apply.

No, I totally agree. Authenticity is so important. Stephanie, thank you very much for your time today. I've really enjoyed our chat.

Thank you so much for having me and I really enjoyed it as well. I'd be happy for anyone to reach out to me directly, if they want to know more, or wanted to ask more questions as well.

Thank you for listening. To hear more Ashurst podcasts, including our dedicated channel on all things ESG, please visit forward slash podcasts. To ensure you don't miss future episodes, subscribe now on apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. While you're there, please feel free to keep the conversation going and leave us a rating or review. Thanks again for listening and goodbye for now.

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