From the outset of my legal studies at the University of Sussex, I was interested in undertaking a professional placement year as part of my degree. I was fortunate enough to experience this as a Legal and Compliance Intern at GE Healthcare. The placement exposed me to a wide range of international tasks and projects, giving me the opportunity to acquire and develop a broad and transferable skill set that I would not have developed through studying alone. It is an opportunity that I would strongly recommend to other students, for the reasons set out below.
Why do a placement year?
As I had anticipated, being involved with legal matters in a commercial setting was a very different experience to the theoretical study of law in academia. This kind of hands on experience was exactly what I hoped to gain from a placement year, especially before I had even graduated. As an aspiring commercial solicitor, I am acutely aware of how competitive it is to secure a training contract and thus I continually strive to find ways to make myself stand out from other applicants. I thought that a placement year would be a great way to do this, by learning more about client-firm relationships, building my professional network and developing my legal experience working on international projects.
The application process
Finding a placement can be a time consuming (and at times, frustrating) process. For my role, I completed an online application form, psychometric testing, a phone interview and a final face-to-face interview. I would recommend focusing on quality rather than quantity; research a select few companies in detail. I did this mainly online, for example by setting up Google alerts for the company so that I could keep a track of topical commercial news to potentially refer to in the interview. I also tried to be proactive to prepare myself in different ways, for instance by reaching out to a lawyer who had previously worked at GE to hear more about his experience at the company. Thorough preparation and practice is also essential when it comes to interviews and online tests. Take the time to prepare answers for the competency and CV based questions that they may potentially ask you, ensuring you have solid examples to evidence what you did and what you gained from it. The overall process is also incredibly good practice for applying for graduate schemes or training contracts later down the line, where you will often find yourself completing similar exercises.
Being on placement
During my placement, I had a great deal of responsibility and autonomy over my work. The types of tasks in which I was involved included:
Working with the transparency team to ensure we had a thorough understanding of all European regulations governing the company; thus safeguarding the business against regulatory investigations and enabling us to produce accurate reports.
As part of this, I researched and analysed international legislation and industry codes, and, when necessary, this was supplemented with conference calls with internal and external legal counsel to ask for their guidance on specific issues, for example, data privacy. From a legal perspective, this tested my interpretation of ambiguous clauses in multi-jurisdictional codes and I used my initiative to find alternative materials when English resources were limited. Such challenges are an inevitable barrier to an international company and, as such, this type of experience helps you to develop a commercial, globalised mind-set in the workplace.
Assisting with the onboarding and screening process of channel partners, including running due-diligence checks on dealers and compiling analytical metrics reports for senior team members.
Working on research tasks and presenting my findings to the different legal and compliance team members around the world. The international scope of such work was a highlight of my internship, but it also demonstrated some of the challenges associated with working in a global team. Factors such as time zones and different communication styles were always important to take into account, which is a great experience to have if you hope to work for an international company or law firm in the future.
Working with the legal team to draft and amend contracts. Subsequently I orchestrated and managed the process of localising and translating the contracts across thirty-three European countries. This was a great opportunity to interact with international law firms, encouraging me to be conscious of attention to detail with written communication, both in terms of spelling and grammar and through adjusting my communication style to suit my audience.
The work that you undertake on a placement year is entirely dependent on your role and the company itself. However, in my opinion, if you demonstrate enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, then it is more likely than an interesting variety of work will come your way.
Going above and beyond
Outside of the scope of your role, there is often the chance to engage with extra-curricular opportunities at the company. Similar to societies and sports teams at university, these experiences give you the chance to meet new people that you wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths with at work, and to demonstrate a different range of skills - all of which are a great addition to your CV. During my internship, I represented GE at numerous university career fairs and also returned to my own university to deliver a presentation to students considering a year in industry. I also collaborated with three other interns to create a ‘day in the life of a GE intern’ recruitment video, which is now used by GE at careers events across the country. These opportunities contributed to the enjoyment of my placement experience, whilst also testing my ability to balance my legal and compliance workload with the additional meetings, calls and days out of the office that came with these tasks.
The skills, commercial perspective and breadth of experiences that you can gain from a placement year are of invaluable benefit to your personal and professional development, and it is an opportunity that I would strongly encourage other students to consider. Whilst I am yet to see how this directly impacts my next career step, I know that I now have a range of new experiences and a professional network of valuable contacts and colleagues that I can draw upon, both of which will stand me in good stead for my future career. By Maddie Drabble