On the job as HR consultant - Graduate Programs at Ashurst

Jo Dean studied Bachelor of Education at University of Sydney and is now HR consultant - Graduate Programs at Ashurst
Brianne Turk
Brianne Turk
Team GradAustralia
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The basics

What's your name and job title? What did you study?

I’m Jo Dean, I work as a HR consultant - Graduate Programs at Ashurst. I studied a Bachelor of Education at Sydney University and graduated in 1991.

How did you get to your current job position and for how long have you occupied it?

I started my current role at Ashurst in July 2015. In my role I am primarily responsible for managing the clerkship and graduate programs in Sydney. This includes the entire graduate life cycle from campus marketing and brand building, to assessment and selection processes and management of the 18 month graduate program. I also have some national responsibilities in relation to the performance of the team.

Over the past 10 years I have specialised in graduate recruitment and development. Prior to Ashurst I worked for Woolworths where I gained experience in generalist HR, management of recognition programs and facilitation of talent development programs.

I am passionate about attracting top talent and assisting students successfully transition from university to a career in law.

What does your company do and why is it employing graduate students?

​Ashurst is a leading global law firm. In Australia we are spread across five offices nationally – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth. We advise Australian and international corporations, financial institutions and government clients. We are a full service commercial law firm practising in all areas of law, from corporate, banking, tax, employment, intellectual property and dispute resolution, to energy and resources, infrastructure and investment advice. We have 25 offices in 15 countries as well as other associated offices. With 400 partners and 1,250 lawyers, we offer the international insight of a global network combined with local market knowledge and expertise.

We recruit graduates as the future talent pipeline for the firm.

What can graduates expect to do on a day-to-day basis?

The work is varied and will depend on the practice group graduates are rotating through. Typical tasks that a graduate may perform can include legal research as well as assisting with the conduct of various types of litigious and transactional matters. Graduates may have the opportunity to attend court, client meetings and be asked to take minutes. They may also assist with preparing material for court and drafting of submissions, agreements or briefs for counsel. They’ll also have the opportunity to draft the first cut of an advice for a client. Graduates assist with business development activities including client initiatives, training and presentations, and occasionally client secondments.

Outside of commercial legal work, there are many opportunities at Ashurst for graduates to get involved with a variety of networks and initiatives, including pro bono work, corporate social responsibility initiatives, professional associations, and a myriad of social activities.

What should graduates know about a career in your company or sector before they decide to pursue one?

Key considerations for a career in commercial law at Ashurst:

  • Be ready to be intellectually challenged,
  • Be passionate and keen to build strong relationships with your colleagues and   clients,
  • Be open to global opportunities
  • Have a desire to solve complex problems,
  • Strong attention to detail is key,
  • Being able to use your skills to support projects and initiatives that can make a    difference in the community,
  • Being receptive and open to feedback.

Applying

What (if any) qualifications are required?

Students need to complete a Bachelor of Law or a Juris Doctor. Regarding those who are internationally qualified and studying to re-qualify in Australia, they need to have studied a law degree that enables them to be qualified in Australia for the relevant graduate intake.

What types of interview formats are used during the interview process?

During the interview, we’ll use both competency and scenario-based questions to find out if graduates have the behaviours we are looking for.

What advice would you give to job seekers in terms of applying and interviewing for jobs in this sector?

Attention to detail is crucial. I would recommend that candidates take the time to prepare for their application and interview. Preparation is essential as it will give graduates confidence and improve their success rate. I would encourage graduates to be themselves. We are not looking for one type of graduate and we are really interested to get to know all candidates individually. Don’t be scripted in your responses, be genuine and succinct.

The ideal candidate

What sort of skills does a graduate need to succeed at your company?

There’s absolutely no Ashurst “type”. We want to actively engage a broad range of minds with a diverse range of backgrounds, all united by a common set of strengths.

Some other key skills include:

  • Excellent academic record and a passion to develop a career at a top tier international law firm,
  • Outstanding communication skills,
  • Analytical ability, motivation, determination and drive,
  • Commercial awareness, and
  • Teamwork and interpersonal skills.

Are there any personal attributes that would be beneficial for somebody working at your company?

  • Passion, drive and resilience,
  • Flexibility and ability to adapt to change,
  • Strong commercial awareness (an interest in commercial and financial matters to understand our clients and their business needs),
  • Confidence and self-awareness (to be able to build and maintain strong relationships with peers and clients).

Are there any challenges that graduates can expect to face? For example, do they bear a lot of responsibility? Do they have to work on weekends or do frequent overtime?

Challenges vary according to the graduate’s individual experience but common themes include:

  • Balancing full time work and study whilst completing PLT (Practical Legal Training),
  • Lack of control over their workload and hours (work is delegated to graduates by work providers and it can be difficult for graduates to be able to forecast their workload making planning difficult),
  • Being able to say "no" to additional work or asking for work can be challenging,
  • Dealing with the transition from university life to a full time role at a Corporate law firm,
  • Understanding how each team operates and the preferred working styles of their supervisors,
  • The variety of practice areas available and understanding in detail what each team does, makes choosing rotations challenging.

Careers

What do you hear the graduates say is the best thing about their work? Which kind of task do they enjoy the most?

Common highlights that graduates share with me at our regular one-on-one catch ups include:

  • Exposure to the global aspects of our work — being able to work across different jurisdictions,
  • The teams and individuals that they work with are open, supportive and experts in their fields,
  • Networking opportunities and support from fellow graduates in their cohort,
  • The training they receive is comprehensive, engaging and supports development on the job in their rotations.

Quotes from previous graduates:

"That’s an aspect of the firm’s culture that I really enjoy – the fact that we balance stretching projects and high-quality legal advice with an exceptional level of support and camaraderie. It’s reassuring to know that help and resources are never far away given the amount of responsibility you can have early on." (Tom Jalland Lawyer 2, 2015 Graduate Program)

"I’ve benefited from excellent support, sound advice and in-depth feedback. The firm has an open-door culture and even senior lawyers and partners are really approachable and never too busy to explain tasks and concepts."( Mary Azzi Lawyer 2, 2015 Graduate Program)

What sort of training do graduates receive?

National induction will be the start of the 18 month graduate program, introducing graduates to all the resources they need to support their work and training. Over the course of the 18 month graduate program, there will be a mix of classroom and on-the-job experience.

They will also complete their PLT (practical legal training) through College of Law as part of a tailored Ashurst Program.

In collaboration with the graduates, we plan three rotations of six months each and review that plan at regular intervals. Each rotation starts with a handover and training, complete with technical expertise, so graduates know exactly what to expect.

What is the future employment outlook for careers in your sector? How is the field changing?

The future outlook is positive although there are many changes in the legal landscape:

  • How to better utilise technology to meet changing expectations of clients / the ability to provide more for less. Technology could include but is not limited to AI, automating documentation and cloud solutions.
  • Implementation of smarter working mobile workforces with low overheads, tailored customer offerings, pricing structure not tied to billable hours and often fixed fees.
  • Reviewing the resourcing model and how to attract and utilise resources with different skills sets. Changing skills are required of lawyers, including entrepreneurial and technical skills (coding).
  • Separating the selling and producing of work. Not being reliant on "rainmakers".

A word to the wise...

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

  • Get involved in extracurricular activities, they will broaden your perspective, assist in building your skill set and will add to your networks. You will be able to draw examples from these activities for your written application and your interviews.
  • Once you have a graduate role, be open to all opportunities and show enthusiasm and initiative. Do every task that you are given to the best of your ability and this will impress your supervisors. Seek and be open to feedback.
  • Be curious and keen to challenge the status quo in a professional manner. Look for opportunities to add value or improve the team. Continuous improvement and innovation is key to our future success.