There is no doubt that diversity and inclusion is very important in the legal sector. Although there is still a great amount of work to be done in order to promote the diversity in the commercial world, there are law firms and other organisations who have taken a lead on this matter and provided amazing diversity initiatives. In this article, we focus on the Freshfields’ Stephen Lawrence Scholarship and the Linklaters’ Making Links Scholarship. As a former Stephen Lawrence Scholar, I will be discussing the purpose of the scholarship and how it benefited me.
I also speak to Bolaji Oyesanya who was a Making Links Scholar. Bolaji is entering his final year of reading Law at the London School of Economics. His journey into commercial law began with a week-long internship with Latham & Watkins in 2017 – this sparked a real interest for him in the sector. After joining university, Bolaji gained internship experience at Allen & Overy, Freshfields and Linklaters. In 2020, Bolaji co-founded a mentoring company called BSC Mentors, aimed at helping both prospective and current university students maximise their potential.
Stephen Lawrence Scholarship
What is the programme about?
Following the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence and the systemic racism which was exposed in the handling of his case, Freshfields and Doreen Lawrence OBE came together to create the Stephen Lawrence Scholarship. The aim of the scholarship was to increase the representation of black males in the commercial world and to tackle the barriers that black males face when applying for jobs. The scholarship consists of a 15-month programme which provides the scholars with the skills, commercial awareness and network required to succeed in the commercial world. Alongside the personal development programme, scholars also receive mentorship from institutions such as the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs and Freshfields in addition to financial support of £3,500 to help with studies.
How was the application process?
The application process is slightly different to other programmes. As the scholarship runs in partnership with many universities around the country, the candidates must be nominated by their universities. This means that the university will write and send the initial application form on the candidates’ behalf. All that is required from candidates at this point is a short 2-minute video where the candidate briefly outlines their experiences and journey. If successful, the candidate will be invited to a two-day assessment centre where they will carry out a variety of exercises aimed to test their critical thinking and problem solving. As Universities might have different approaches, I would advise to speak to your Faculty to get a tailored understanding on the process.
How did the programme benefit you?
The programme benefited me in many ways. Firstly, being the first person in my family to pursue a legal career, it was hard to receive focused mentorship and guidance from my family. Therefore, the mentoring I received from esteemed professionals really helped me grow as an applicant and certainly improved my confidence. The unique element of the mentoring offered is that it comes from professionals at different organisations such as Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England. This meant that I could learn about the legal sector whilst also learning about the financial sector. Having a variety of mentors was the most influential factor in my success and it should not be underestimated. Furthermore, the scholars receive coaching on important skills such as drafting and presentation which also improved my academic performance at university.
Secondly, the scholarship made me believe that I belonged in such an environment. One thing which I struggled with at the start was having the confidence and belief in my ability. By getting exposure to the environment and being provided with a safe space to express my ideas, I quickly learnt that I was indeed good enough to succeed in a legal career. This provided me with the motivation to excel in my studies and to make use of every opportunity available. Therefore, the scholarship is not only beneficial in improving your skills and ability, but it also really helps with self-belief and confidence.
What advice would you give to prospective applicants?
The advice I would give which helped me the most was, to not be intimidated by the environment of the assessment centre. There will be many capable candidates who will all try to stand out, but you should not let this influence your actions. You must be yourself and believe that you are good enough to be selected as a scholar. For instance, although it is good to get involved and ask questions, don’t feel like you always have to say something just because others are doing so. Listening is just as important as speaking.
Also, remember to be kind, enthusiastic and always have a smile on your face. The assessment centre is a demanding process and it is possible for candidates to feel tired (as I did). However, don’t let the exhaustion stop you from giving 100% and interacting with the other candidates in a kind manner.
Making Links Scholarship
What is the programme about?
The Making Links Scholarship is designed to help individuals from a socially mobile background (e.g. low-income background, underrepresented group) succeed in the early stages of their career. The programme aims to provide scholars with an extensive insight into commercial law through the lens of a leading global firm. The 2019/20 cohort received coaching, mentoring, work experience and £6,000 in financial support. The coaching sessions were a mixture of group and individual sessions. Both sessions worked on commercial fluency, interview preparation and organisation skills. The mentoring was less structured but was most prevalent during the work experience week. This time within the office allowed scholars to network with professionals, gain an insight into their working life, and extend these relationships outside the office. The work experience also included work shadowing in a department and opportunities to learn about alternate departments through group sessions.
How did you hear about the programme?
I was told about the programme by Rare Recruitment. Since I was a Rare Candidate at the time, their law team would send me regular updates and opportunities within the commercial law sector. Thus, I would highly recommend applying to Rare. I know that some universities advertise the programme but a google search of the scholarship should provide sufficient sources to learn more about it. Alternatively, you can always contact me or another ex-scholar on LinkedIn for an insight.
How was the application process?
The application process consisted of an application form, a cover letter, the Watson Glaser and then a face-to-face interview. The application form questions were of standard format, with the obvious questions about academic qualifications and work experience. Then, I was asked extended questions about my experience working in teams, two industry disruptions which could impact Linklaters and ways in which I personally and professionally strive for excellence. Having said all this, Linklaters recently removed application forms from their process and replaced it with their own blended assessment. This tests applicants’ competencies against the firm’s Agile Mindset framework, so I would recommend looking into this.
Regarding the cover letter, I believe this is an excellent opportunity to stand out from the crowd and show off your knowledge of the firm. Make sure to include why you are applying, why you are interested in the firm and why you would be a good scholar. In terms of interest in the firm, the more personal the reasons, the better! Finally, the face-to-face interview was an opportunity for graduate recruitment to learn more about me. Expect questions on your motivations, such as why you are interested in commercial law, why Linklaters, and have examples ready for competency questions. Once again, you are being assessed against their Agile Mindset framework so do have a look at this in advance.
How did the programme benefit you?
My experience on the programme was extremely positive. The coaching sessions, both group and individual, significantly improved my ability to articulate views on commercial topics. The week-long internship improved my attention to detail, as I had the opportunity to draft a pricing supplement for a client. This was a great learning experience and improved my ability to assimilate long passages and draft only where necessary. In terms of my professional development, being a Linklaters scholar has certainly helped. In all of my interviews for either training contracts or vacation schemes, there was not one where I failed to mention how much I learnt during the programme. Thus, this programme can do a lot for your CV, but more importantly, provides you with personal experiences which evidence your professional ability.
The scholarship also provides you with numerous networking opportunities. Whether it was during the internship or a group session, professionals from all over the business would come and interact with us which was a real privilege. I even had one Associate reach out to me on LinkedIn which took me by surprise, but demonstrates the strength of the networking opportunities provided. Finally, the scholarship significantly improved my self-belief and dedication to succeed. It is a competitive programme and it showed since all my fellow scholars were excellent and tenacious peers. The mentors did a great job of both working you hard and making sure you had confidence in your own ability. Once one has that combination, the sky is the limit. Thus, I would recommend the Making Links scholarship to any first-year undergraduate interested in commercial law.
My first piece of advice would be to ensure that at least one other person checks your application before you send it. An external view is always beneficial for applications since others may be able to see what you cannot. I would also recommend taking your time on Linklaters’ blended assessment. There is no time limit and your time spent does not factor into their decision process. Thus, ensure that you answer the questions properly, and familiarise yourself with the Agile Mindset framework prior.
My penultimate recommendation would be to brush up on your interview technique – whether that be organising a full mock interview or revisiting your examples for competency questions. Having the ideas in your head is very different from practicing the articulation of these ideas. Linklaters are looking for fluent individuals who look genuinely interested when talking about the firm, so make sure this comes across. Finally, I would recommend reaching out either to an ex-scholar or a current scholar before applying. A first-person account of the experience will give you an invaluable insight into the programme, and shows an increased level of understanding about what you are applying for.
Other diversity initiatives
- SEO London Corporate Law Programme
- InterLaw Diversity
- RARE Recruitment
- Future Leaders Programme
- GROW Mentoring
If you have any further questions or would like to discuss the scholarships in more detail, feel free to get in touch with me or Bolaji on LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us at the Legal Line Up for general advice.