With thanks to Manon Boulesteix who conducted the interview on 30th November, 2020.
Manon: Hello Viviane. Could you briefly introduce yourself and explain a bit why we asked you to speak to the students tonight?
Viviane: Sure! Hello, I am Viviane, I live near Paris and I am currently in my 3rd year of Law. I am currently studying at the University of Nanterre in France, but I spent my two first years at the University of Essex, doing the LLB in French and English Law.
I am here tonight to talk about the internship I got at the firm Shearman & Sterling in Paris a few months ago, and more broadly how to find an internship and how I am coping with studies (coming back to France) and the work at the firm.
Manon: Great! So to begin with, can you explain how you managed to find this internship, what you had to do and if you ever had a legal background that helped you?
Viviane: Firstly, no I didn’t have any background. No one practises law in my family, and I never did a legal internship before, so I wasn’t the “perfect profile” in that respect, if I may say.
I didn’t really feel ready to do an internship before, and when I came back to France I started looking for jobs. But I didn’t find anything very interesting, so I started looking at internships on the job finding platform Indeed. I found the offer from Shearman & Sterling that proposed a 3 months internship, and I applied, giving my CV and a cover letter.
My best asset was the Double degree, which really caught their eye, because it is not a usual path when studying Law, and they were very interested in this. They called me the day I sent my application, offering me an interview to get to know me a bit more and talk about the internship offer.
The interview took place the day after, and it went very well. I did research about the firm, which is very important because they need to see that you are interested in them, at least as much as they are interested in you. They asked me some questions, mostly about the double degree, which really surprised them, and also about the fact that I took part in the Law Clinic while at Essex, which enabled me to start looking at real cases very early on. Soon after, they told me that I was recruited, and I started a few days later.
Manon: So, what are you doing within the law firm?
Viviane: With two other interns, I oversee the updating of the legal database called Doctrinal+. We are given several Law Reviews within which we pick several articles relevant to a particular area of law. Then we add them onto the database, write a summary and select some keywords to make them more easily accessible.
I was working in the library before lockdown, but now I am working from home, and I go to the firm once a week to pick up the reviews I need to read.
Lawyers also come to see me when they need help with finding a particular article, or a couple of relevant articles they need, because we shouldn’t forget that being a lawyer often means doing a lot of research.
Manon: How do you manage to combine your work in a law firm and your workload at Uni?
Viviane: I have to say that the first weeks were a bit difficult, because I needed to find the right organisation to be able to cope with everything. One of the very good points about my internship is that it is only 20h a week, and I can manage my hours however I want as long as I do my 20 hours.
For example, before we went into lockdown, I only had morning classes on Mondays, so I went at the firm from around 1pm to 8pm, and then I could only spend 3 or 4 hours the other days, when I had more classes during the day.
It is quite demanding, especially given the amount of work we are asked to produce at Uni, but it is worthwhile because I really like what I do, and it is also true that with lockdown, I didn’t have as much work as I used to, simply because we received less legal journals than before.
Manon: Since you are speaking about Uni, how is it in France? Is it difficult, do you feel a bit lost, or weaker than the others on your French legal knowledge?
Viviane: Well, yes being back France is quite hard. I currently have three major subjects, for which I have tutorials to prepare, and for each of them I have at least 8 to 10 case summaries (“fiches d’arrêt”) to write up and at least one case comment or essay a week. This is why it would be very difficult to keep up with my work at Shearman & Sterling if I wasn’t well organised.
But with regards to the feeling of being weaker, not at all. When I first arrived in Nanterre, I thought that it would be the case, because we studied our French law subjects in one term while French students spent a whole year on them, and they also had other subjects that we didn’t have back at Essex. But I quickly realised that the teaching team at Essex really prepared us well, especially on methodology. Some French students don’t know all the method points that our teachers spent time teaching us on how to write an essay or a case comment.
They also told us straight away that coming back to France would be difficult, so we were mentally prepared to have a greater amount of work and probably a small drop in our grades, which can be erased by working hard and seriously.
Manon: Waouh, that seems very tough! Do you still find some time for yourself and relax after all these long days?
Viviane: Yes, I still find time to see my friends (well, when it was possible before lockdown) but I have to say that the first weeks weren’t easy. But as I said earlier, when you are well organised and find the right work balance, you can manage some time for yourself. Mental health is very important because when your head isn’t right, you can’t be productive and it also impacts on your work, so it’s very important to take time for yourself.
Manon: Overall, what are the good things that you will take from your internship, and what are your plans for the future?
Viviane: First of all, due to my reading legal articles for the firm, I learnt about areas of law that we don’t have at Uni, such as Intellectual Property Law (IP Law) which really interested me.
I was also able to speak with lawyers about their careers and studies, and I learnt many things about what really interests me for a future career: being a “notaire” (notary)
But another really important point is that it helped me build a network with people at the firm, and my mentor told me he could help me find an internship in a notaire’s study when needed.
With regards to my future, as I said I would like to be a notary, so I am applying for a master’s degree in Lyon in international notary law.
Manon: Last question, but definitely not least, do you have some tips and advice to give to our double degree students?
Viviane: Yes, quite a lot! First, try and always persevere in what you are doing, because it is the only way you will succeed. You probably don’t realise it now but being part of the double degree is a real asset on your CV and can really make the difference between you and someone else, because you are not regular students!
Then, really PREPARE the tutorials, and especially read the journal articles that teachers give you to deepen your knowledge and understanding of the subject. I neglected it while I was at Essex, but I assure you that when you come back to France, reading these articles will help you get a 14/20 (2.1) on your case comment rather than a mere 10/20 (pass). So please start doing it now, you’ll be used to it when you are back to France.
I would also advise you to try and get involved in societies. You are lucky to be at a University which is full of societies for almost everything on earth, and you won’t have that anymore when you are back in France. So if you have a bit of time, take part in a society, it will enable you to meet new people and get out of the “French bubble”. Being a committee member is also something good to have on your CV because it shows that you can be involved in something that matters to you.
But most of all, while you are at Essex, enjoy your time there, because it doesn’t last forever, and these are your two “dream student years”.
Manon: Thanks a lot for all these answers Viviane. Good luck for the end of your internship and your exams coming soon. Bye!