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Exclusive: A&O and Freshfields auction work experience to highest bidder
22 April 2016
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Allen & Overy and Freshfields have been found offering work experience to the highest bidders in a charity auction.

Partners at both firms offered the experiences as lots in an auction for The Duchenne Research Fund, which raises money to find cures for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Sandwiched between a "Luxury Bespoke Scarf" and a "Private Jet Experience", Freshfields donated two weeks' shadowing during half term or summer breaks. A&O was "delighted" to offer one week's work experience in its M&A team, "perfect for 17-19 year old school or gap year student". The auction has begun online with minimum bids of £100 and will finish during a gala dinner to be held at the Lancaster London Hotel in May.

 

Opportunities for work experience at elite firms are as rare as hens' teeth and it is now widely accepted that, in the interests of diversity and basic common sense, candidates should be selected on the basis of merit rather than how much they can afford to pay. When RollOnFriday revealed last year that Norton Rose Fulbright had offered places to clients' children, the Law Society responded that high quality work experience was "at a premium" and access to it was "a major obstacle to entering the profession". While the intentions of the Magic Circle donors are laudable, allowing students to burnish their CVs thanks solely to the size of daddy's wallet makes a mockery of the firms' diversity policies.

However, young Tarquin will now have to settle for VIP tickets for Loose Women or Charles Tyrwhitt cufflinks instead. Both firms have said they will withdraw their lots after being contacted by RollOnFriday.

A spokesman for Allen & Overy said, “this was a well intentioned offer from a partner to help a great charity", but "we are vocal advocates of social mobility and as such have withdrawn the work experience offer from the auction to ensure our CSR efforts do not conflict". Freshfields' spokesman said that it provided placements to over 150 students from less privileged backgrounds last year, but the auction lot "does not fit with what we are trying to achieve with those students". A&O will make a donation to the charity instead, while Freshfields will also "reach an alternative solution with regards to their fundraising efforts".

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Knemon the Grouch
22/04/2016 02:24
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It is a sad fact of life that you do not get vacation schemes if you don't have work experience, and that you don't get work experience if you have 'special contacts'.

This sort of thing happens routinely. I was speaking with a former associate of a MC firm who said that they routinely offered work experience to students who were related to clients.

It's normally quite easy to spot this nepotism when scrolling through linkedin pages. There is absolutely no chance a random person would get a placement at a MC/SC firm at the age of 18. I have a particular acquaintance who goes to a poorly rated former polytechnic, and magically managed to obtain work experience at Clifford Chance one summer.




anonymous user
22/04/2016 07:38
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You guys are such spoilsports. Presumably this placement was an additional place, rather than depriving someone of one, with the intention of raising money for a good cause. This is PC gone mad. Shame on you. Love, Tarquin.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 08:33
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Traditionally, pre-vac scheme work experiences are not a structured thing and used to be purely on a contacts basis and part of it still is that way. Most staff wouldn't be surprised if a partner's good mate's nephew suddenly turned up for a week or so of work experience - less so if that good mate happens to be an MD in a big bank. These are non-structured work experiences that were created just for that individual - so although it doesn't deprive anyone else of that experience, it does create an environment where those with daddy's contacts have a better CV when it comes to actual vac scheme / training contract applications. However, this is hardly news. More recently, some law firms (including A&O I think unless someone corrects me on this) have introduced structured programs which provide similar work experience and work shadowing to students from traditionally less privileged backgrounds who haven't come through daddy's contacts.

Of course, although this is a genuine step towards creating a more level playing field, this doesn't solve the underlying issue as kids from privileged backgrounds can step further up and are likely to find multiple such work experiences, dabble in their own token entrepreneur experience, have travelled the world and speak a dozen languages etc..
anonymous user
22/04/2016 08:36
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Despite all the progress, I feel that the diversity champions in my large London firm are salmon swimming against the commercial flow - you stop for a second and it will push you out into the sea. Well done Matthew.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 09:31
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I don't understand what the problem is with this - it was a donation for charity and not to line the coffers of the firms. I think it is quite appalling to have a go at the firms trying to be charitable (I'm rather into my CSR).

Rollonfriday, considering all the actual "news" you don't publish due to being wined and dined by city firms' HR/partners to keep it secret, you really need to do better than this.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 09:43
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Well, withdrawing the offer was the right thing to do.

I have to say, at my firm, legal work experience is a nice to have, but not necessary. We look at the skills the individual has learnt in their life and their capacity to learn skills - the context in which those skills were learnt is not really important.

After all, it is essential that every trainee has experience of working in a cafe, and can make a good cup of coffee.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 10:30
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Great waffle at 08:33.
Lydia
22/04/2016 11:49
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I don't think work experience in the sixth form has much of an impact on whether you get a job or not. Even mine at a law firm after my first year at university had no impact. It's the formal vacation schemes that are merit based that help and you don't need to have had teenage work experience in a law firm to get on one of those.

However it was very bad PR to offer this and someone cocked up here. If the prize were work experience for your cleaner's son who is an immigrant it would be a different matter.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 12:15
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Lydia - if the prize was listed as "work experience for your cleaner's son (your cleaner must be an immigrant)" that would have been amazing.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 13:34
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It's a fact of life that most big firms will have work experience students in the building from time to time who are sons or daughters of the partners' friends, or more likely clients who ask a "favour" (by way of an "offer you can't refuse"). To be honest I doubt the students get much out of that, other than adding it to their CV: sitting in someone's office watching them read emails doesn't sound like great experience. The important thing is that this informal work experience doesn't feed into the firms' recruitment processes or (as anon@7.38 said) deprive anyone of a place on a proper vac scheme.

Law firms can't stop people trying to use their contacts to get an advantage, all they can do is try to mitigate the consequences, and from what I can see they're not doing a bad job. All the big law firms subscribe to initiatives like PRIME (see www.primecommitment.org), which try to give candidates who can't call on daddy's (or mummy's) contacts an equal or better opportunity to get work experience.

That said, offering work experience for money was a bit of a blunder by the usually smooth PR machines at A&O and Freshfields..
anonymous user
22/04/2016 16:08
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Firms do come under a lot of pressure from clients to engage in this sort of thing and it's pretty tough for them to resist.

The only way to solve it is for the Law Society to ban the practice of offering work experience other than pursuant to formal programmes, assessed on merit.
anonymous user
22/04/2016 16:14
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Being an associate at an MC firm away from the mothership (so a bit off the radar) I've been able to line of a couple of kids up with work experience. They've been either come to me through contacts, or been randoms who have looked us up on the web.

I'm happy to give anyone a go who has had the initiative to get in touch - or even to press their daddy's contacts. Doubtless HR in the main office would be appalled, but it hasn't come at the expense of anyone else, and it's always worked out well for us and for the students involved.
3-ducks
23/04/2016 11:31
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They're private enterprises, not charities. They sell their services to those who can afford it. It's called the free market.

So now they've caved into pressure from Left-wing lobbying and no-one will benefit.

Great result(!)
anonymous user
24/04/2016 02:34
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My firm runs a scheme called 'enterprise scheme' or something similar which from what I understand, caters mostly for clients' kids. That said, I'm pretty sure it doesn't feed directly into their graduate recruitment and would just bolster the participants' CVs. They also have a bunch of kids in every so often from a school that's classed as 'disadvantaged' - so it isn't all bad.
anonymous user
24/04/2016 10:13
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I'm stunned people are defending this. It's bad enough that firms are still full of patent nepotism whilst harping on about being "inclusive" and "diverse" etc. but the reality is that the profession is still desperate to close itself off to the privileged and keep it "in the family".

Charity or not, by doing the above you make being able to get work experience about money. Work experience for someone who can afford it and get it with no merit, may, down the line, force out someone who didn't have the opportunity to buy that same experience.
anonymous user
26/04/2016 11:20
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Again the Princess Bride explains it:

"Well who says life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn't always fair."
anonymous user
01/05/2016 20:23
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Shame on you A&O! If you require work experience candidates, go to the local colleges where students can apply. The firm has successfully increased their business by 7% and given the lawyers a "well received" pay increase but what did the support staff get....a pathetic pay increase of £500 or if that! The salaries are below average compared to the other magic circle firms and couldn't even justify the pay needs to the be increased to be in line with our competitors.....AND now I am reading this! What a bunch of cheapsakes!