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Herbert Smith Freehills

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Jennifer Xue

The combination of doing brilliant work with brilliant people is my favourite part of my job. The deals that we work on our market-leading, complex and engaging.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Auckland, and moved to Sydney seven years ago (although I still can’t seem to shake the accent – more often than not my morning coffee order is labelled ‘Gin’ as opposed to ‘Jen’).

Before starting in my current position, I had dabbled in life at a few corporates, a Big 4 accounting firm, and a boutique law firm.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I applied for clerkships in my penultimate year of law school, and my experiences throughout the clerkship process drew me towards Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). I started as a vacation clerk at HSF over the summer of 2016-2017, worked as a paralegal throughout 2017, and began my graduate role in 2018. I have since completed graduate rotations in Commercial Litigation and Corporate – Mergers & Acquisitions.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

When I was eight years old, I watched legally blonde and decided that I wanted to be a lawyer (apparently I am far from alone in this reaction – shout out to Elle Woods for being one of the legal profession’s top recruiters). In regards to corporate law, in particular, I was drawn towards corporate law as I felt it provided the right balance between the commercial and legal aspects of work.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

I found the interview process for clerkships to be demanding at times. It was a challenge trying to juggle university studies, work, and multiple interviews at a number of law firms. At the same time, I found the process to be incredibly rewarding. It was a wonderful feeling to be chasing down a passion, and to meet partners, solicitors and other clerk candidates who all shared the same passion.

I found the questions that I was asked during interviews to be more conversational than anything else – about me, my experiences and my goals. Particularly at Herbert Smith Freehills, my interviews felt more like a chat than a formal interview. This allowed me to build a more personal connection with those at the firm and ultimately made the firm feel like the right fit for me.

What does your employer do?

Herbert Smith Freehills is a global, full-service, commercial law firm.

Can you describe a typical workday? What was the last thing you worked on?

One of my favourite things about my job is the fact that there is no ‘typical’ day at Herbert Smith Freehills. You can check your emails in the morning, see an urgent request from the client and your plan of what you thought your day would look like takes a whole new direction. On any given day, the only certainty is my morning coffee! While this can definitely be a challenging aspect of the job, it’s also exciting and makes coming into work every day interesting.

While there is no typical day, there are typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform on most days. These include emailing or calling the client, having discussions with senior lawyers in relation to the matter you are working on and researching, reviewing or drafting.

The last thing I worked on was a report for a client that involved pulling together advice from foreign counsel across 20+ jurisdictions!

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?

One of my favourite things about working at HSF is the diverse set of skills that you develop – both through formal training and simply by virtue of learning from those around you. My communication and project management skills, problem-solving ability and analysis/comprehension skills have consistently improved since starting at the firm. These skills are transferable across a number of careers  – and many HSF alumni have gone on to move in-house, work at a regulator, or take up IB or management consulting roles to name a few! The possibilities are endless, and it is definitely no longer the case that partnership is the only path.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I honestly have no idea!

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

The combination of doing brilliant work with brilliant people is my favourite part of my job. The deals that we work on are market leading, complex and engaging. The fact that I get to do this kind of work with a team of people that I genuinely enjoy seeing every day, that really makes coming to work a great experience.

The kind of tasks I enjoy the most are those where I have been given the responsibilities and opportunities to feel like I have contributed to the team and witnessed first hand just how important the work we do is for our clients.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?

I think it's fair to say that the legal profession is exposed to a significant degree of stress and anxiety; the hours are long, the work is not easy, and the standards expected of us are exceedingly high. Mental health and wellbeing are concerns that the legal profession recognises and continues to tackle. For me, having a solid support network both within the firm and in my personal life has been highly invaluable. I can honestly say that, although there are challenges in my role, the sense of achievement that comes from meeting those challenges makes it worthwhile. Plus, there is a strange adrenaline rush you get from burning the midnight oil with the entire team trying to get a deal across the line!

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Be honest with yourself: Something that will serve you well throughout your career is having the ability to be honest with yourself about what you want and where you want to go. Ask yourself questions like: 'Do I really want to work in corporate law?', 'What drives me?', 'What makes me happy?', 'What kind of work-life balance do I envision having?'. It's okay if the answers aren't clear. The important part is having that conversation with yourself in the first place. It's never too late to change your path if you are not happy with the path you are on.
  • Be proactive: To a certain extent, you make your own luck. If there's something you want to achieve, be proactive about achieving it, whether that means putting yourself out there and applying for jobs, talking to more experienced students about their journey, or partaking in a new co-curricular activity. Be proactive in preparing yourself, so that when the opportunity arises, you are ready for it.
  • Be kind, especially to yourself. Applying for a graduate role (and navigating through university generally!) is daunting, and there can often be failures and rejection along the way. Forgive yourself for making mistakes, allow yourself to have a break, and make an effort to celebrate the successes – whatever success may mean to you.