How did you get started in your career and what drew you to Herbert Smith Freehills?
I studied law at university, and in my second year I decided to apply for vacation schemes with City law firms. During my gap year before university, I had the opportunity to undertake work experience with a variety of different law firms, and this helped me to realise that I wanted to work for a large international law firm. Herbert Smith Freehills was an obvious choice for me due to its reputation as a leading international law firm, and I was lucky enough to secure a place on a vacation scheme with the firm during the summer of 2010. My time spent with the firm during the vacation scheme gave me a great insight into the quality of work that the firm receives, as well as the culture, and I soon knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I was particularly drawn to Herbert Smith Freehills over and above other firms in the City because of its strength across all practice areas, and the quality and well-balanced training that I knew I would receive as a result of this.
How do you manage your disability at work?
I have suffered from depression and anxiety for the best part of five years, and I find that the best way of dealing with my disability at work is to be as open as possible about it with the people around me. Talking about mental health in the workplace can be a difficult thing, but Herbert Smith Freehills has a great support network in place, and does a lot in terms of raising awareness of mental health, and this is what made me feel able to tell the firm about my disability. The most important thing for me is knowing that there are people I can talk to when I am going through difficult periods, and this is what allows me to make the best use of the support that the firm has to offer.
How has your employer helped you to do well at your workplace?
Talking about my mental health problems with the people I work with on a day-to-day basis is not something that I feel comfortable doing, but at the same time, it is important for them to know. In order to help me with these difficult conversations, I have a point of contact in HR who speaks with these people on my behalf, making them aware of my condition and of what support needs to be put in place. This is particularly important during my training contract because I move departments every six months. My disability can be aggravated by a lack of routine, and unfortunately, uncertainty in working hours is something that comes hand-in-hand with working in the legal services sector. My employer has helped me to mitigate this uncertainty as much as possible, for example by providing me with a laptop enabling me to work remotely. This means that even if there is still work for me to do, I have the option to still go home at a relatively set time every day, which makes my working hours more consistent.
How would you describe the culture at Herbert Smith Freehills?
Herbert Smith Freehills has a very friendly and diverse culture. I have never felt that I need to change who I am or conform to a mould, and I feel that the firm really embraces people's individuality. There is no particular Herbert Smith Freehills "stereotype", and that is something that really attracted me to the firm. The firm is also very current and modern in its viewpoints and in the working environment that it seeks to provide, and is a real pioneer in tackling old-fashioned and outdated perceptions which still exist within the City.
What advice or top tips would you offer?
Most large international firms in the city appear to be very similar from the outside – they carry out similar work, they have similar clients, and they are probably telling you very similar things about why you should choose to work there. It is really important to remember that each firm in fact has its own very distinct personality, and you need to try and get as much of a feel for that as you possibly can before making any decisions. It is as much about you choosing whether or not a firm is right for you, as it is a firm choosing whether or not you are right for them, and I think that is easy to lose sight of when you're going through the application process. I found that the best way of getting to know a firm was by spending as much time there, and interacting with as many of their employees, as I possibly could. I cannot recommend opportunities such as open days, vacation schemes and internships highly enough for this purpose. In terms of dealing with your disability in the workplace, I think it is just important to be as open as you feel you can be with your employer about what you are going through, and what help you are going to need. I thought that revealing my mental health problems to people at work would mean that I would be treated differently, or that restrictions would be put in place on my working hours which would have an impact on my career in the long run, when in fact, it has meant that I am receiving whatever support I need in order to do whatever I want to do.
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