“Find something you’re passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it.”

Julia Child.

The rapid development of the internet throughout the dawn of the 21st Century has revolutionised how we now consider something to be ‘accessible’. Everything from food to freelancers and TV to taxis are now almost instantly available from your pocket via a smartphone, or from the comfort of your sofa with a laptop. A new start-up based in Australia, InsideSherpa, is aiming to add one more item to that list – work experience. InsideSherpa has partnered with a multitude of industry-leading legal, tech and financial companies (to name a few) to allow individuals to try their hand at tailor-made ‘virtual work experience programmes’ (VWEPs), regardless of your physical location, financial status or current career role. This week, I spoke with Jeremy Grunfeld, Head of Product and Student Success, about how the company’s  VWEPs work and, in particular, how they’re manifesting themselves in the legal industry.

So, how does a VWEP help individuals develop their employability?

JG: “During my 5 years at university, I learned a heap of theory that was incredibly valuable for my personal and professional development. It helped me to build my attention to detail, my communication skills, my advocacy skills, my confidence and the list goes on.

However, it wasn’t until I first stepped foot into a commercial law firm that I realised how important practical skills are. Being able to write clear and concise emails, calling clients, writing memos, to name a few. ‘Issue, law, application and conclusion’ is a great tool to learn, but it isn’t a completely accurate reflection of how work is actually done in a law firm.

Our VWEPs aim to give law students a genuine insight into what it’s really like to work at some of the world’s leading firms. They are the actual tasks that interns and graduates do day-to-day at leading firms. Once you’ve finished, you’ll have up-skilled in those aforementioned valuable practical areas – e.g. writing emails, drafting letters, legal research, leaving voicemails, conducting due diligence etc.

Equally though, while building those practical skills, you may come to realise that you don’t actually like being a commercial lawyer! And there is nothing wrong with that at all! It is much better to work that out whilst you’re still at university and experimenting with different career options.”

Using your experiences to gauge your interest in any career path is vital. My own time spent in family law firms, whilst enjoyable, made me realise it wasn’t the area of law for me. By putting yourself out there to new experiences and seizing the opportunities that may arise, you will have the chance to learn more about a profession and, at the same time, yourself.

“I don’t know if you’re like me, but when it came time for me to apply for vacation schemes, I was overcome by this really strange feeling. I realised suddenly that I didn’t know anything about any of the leading firms that I was about to apply to join. So all of a sudden you start going through dozens of search results on Google trying to understand what it’s all about.

From that, you’ll read the standard recruitment information and you’ll probably find yourself with plenty more questions! I remember thinking ‘there are 30 firms and they all seem the exact same. They all say the same thing and work on similar deals/projects’.”

Jeremy speaks to a wider point, which is the importance of having your own in-person experiences and sourcing your information about a firm from as many avenues as possible – law fairs, 1-1 networking, LinkedIn and other 3rd party websites. In an ideal world, it is best to source your thoughts and feelings about a firm from as diverse a number of sources as possible – though this is sometimes easier said than done!

“Something that no-one tells you at law school: clients don’t really care about legal information. They really don’t. They don’t want a lawyer to just tell them legal information – if they did, they would look it up on Google themselves.

What clients want is a trusted advisor. They don’t want you to rattle off pieces of legislation and names of cases. They want commercial, concise advice. Our VWEPs aim to get you used to that feeling of working with clients. You get a feeling for what they care about and what good, trusted advice looks like.”

Commercial awareness is vital in our increasingly connected and global world, but knowing how and why to develop it can often be confusing. If you’d like to read more about commercial awareness, you can check out my posts on it here. You can also download my free e-book guide at my resources page.

“I studied a combined degree in finance and law. When it came time to pick a path, I chose law, but the reason I chose it was more or less based on a gut feeling. That’s not the best way to make a big decision like which career to pursue! I do wish that I could have participated in a digital internship to better understand what different career options existed and make a more informed decision. 

As a more general insight into my own career path – you don’t have to follow the standard path. Forge your own and ask those around you for support. People generally want to help other people. Use digital internships as a tool to discover what it is that you are truly passionate about and what it is that you want to do with your career.”

How similar are the VWEPs to the work of a trainee solicitor?

“We want these digital internships to replicate what it’s like to work at one of our partner firms. To ensure that the experience is as accurate and true to life as possible, the content is designed by and created by the partner firms themselves. We help to guide this process to ensure that the digital internships are highly engaging, but ultimately, they are a direct insight into what life is like at that particular firm.

Alongside simply replicating work, we want participants to be engaged and inspired in completing these programmes. We also equally want them to have learned brand new practical skills that will help them in their careers and we want to provide an insight into the firm’s culture. When digital internships are being built, we (and our partner firms) are constantly thinking about the user experience. As much as law is often viewed as a conservative industry, it’s ever-changing and exciting! New technologies like AI are being used across the industry and we want people to get a taste of that, especially if they may not have had the opportunity before.”

Baker McKenzie Australia recently announced their own VWEP partnership with InsideSherpa.

InsideSherpa’s VWEPs are open to anyone and everyone to try. If you’d like to find out more about InsideSherpa or Jeremy, you can do so at the links below. Many thanks again to Jeremy for his contribution!

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