Our Frequently Asked Questions.

A&O Shearman First Year Programme

Who is eligible to apply for the First Year programme?

We welcome applications from students who achieved a minimum of AAB or equivalent at A-level, are considering a career in commercial law and are in the first year of a three year course or second year of a four year course of their undergraduate degree.

You do not need to study law to apply; we accept applications from all degree disciplines.

What is the application process?

To apply for A&O Shearman’s First Year programme, you must complete an online application form. Successful candidates will be invited to complete a short video interview. 

What do you look for in applicants?

We’re looking for students who have shown initiative by getting involved in a variety of things at school and so far at university, so we are keen to find out about your extra-curricular activities.

You should demonstrate a genuine interest in finding out more about Commercial law as a potential career path, and explain why you are applying for this opportunity with A&O Shearman specifically. We’re looking for a strong academic performance to date, but no previous legal work experience is required.

What are the benefits of participating in A&O Shearman’s First Year programme?

During the scheme participants will get the opportunity to build their network at A&O Shearman and develop the skills we are looking for in future trainees. 

There is also the chance to be fast-tracked to interview for either a vacation scheme or training contract following completion of the scheme.


What are the academic requirements for vacation scheme applicants?

We are looking for applicants to have achieved AAB or equivalent at A-Level and are on track for/have already achieved a 2:1 in any undergraduate degree.

We do take into account mitigating circumstances, which may have affected your grades either at school or university and there is a space on the application form to include these.

Can I do a vacation scheme in my second year of a four-year course?

No, unfortunately not. Our vacation schemes are for those in their penultimate year of study, final year or those who have already graduated. However, you can apply to our First Year programme instead.

What work experience should I include in my application?

We are looking for applicants to include work experience that is both legal and non-legal. What's important is that you think about the skills you developed during those experiences and the knowledge you gained.

In addition to formalised work experience, please include events, open days, society memberships and anything you think would add value to your application and show your drive and commitment for a legal career. 

What are vacation scheme students paid?

We pay our vacation scheme students £450 per week. This wage is paid regardless of the format of the scheme (virtual or in person.)

What does the vacation scheme application process entail?

You will be required to submit an online application which details your work and education history. 

You will then be sent an email which will contain a link to complete an interactive assessment. The assessment will include verbal and numerical reasoning items and two short motivation questions to complete via video. The interactive assessment is untimed and should take around 45 minutes. The interactive assessment is designed to provide a realistic preview of what you may experience as a trainee at A&O Shearman as well as give us an insight into your motivations. You will need to complete your application and interactive assessment ahead of deadline. 

What does the vacation scheme interview process entail?

If your application is successful, the next stage will be an Assessment Day comprising of two one-on-one interviews and one written assignment. The format will remain the same; one case study interview with a partner and a scenario based interview with HR or a Senior Associate. This interview is based on a commercial case study, where you’ll have time to work through a brief and prepare a short presentation to deliver to your interviewer. This will be followed by a discussion on the key points from the case study. 

In the second interview, you will be asked a series of questions based on scenarios you may encounter as a trainee. Both interviews are one hour in duration. Prior to the case study interview, there will be 40 minutes of preparation time.

How am I assessed during my vacation scheme?

Vacation scheme students will be assessed throughout the scheme to see if they are demonstrating the skills and attributes we look for. We base hiring decisions on our assessment framework and use data/feedback from both your interview and performance during the scheme to reach a decision.

How many vacation schemes can I apply to per year?

Candidates can only apply for one opportunity each recruit cycle. So you will need to decide upfront if you would like to apply to the winter vacation scheme, summer vacation scheme or directly for a training contract.

All opportunities require you to submit an online application and complete the situational judgement test (SJT.) If you do not pass the SJT, you will have to wait until the next recruit cycle to reapply.


Do you mind where I study the Post-Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL)?

We require those who have accepted a Training Contract prior to starting law school to study the PGDL at BPP Law School. We don’t mind if you study at their London or UK regional centres or, for those studying outside of London, if you study the course in person (i.e. attend classroom teaching) or online (subject to ongoing availability of a remote/online course offering at BPP). If you have any extenuating circumstances which may affect where you can study the PGDL, we would be happy to discuss this with you.

Do you mind where I study the Legal Practice Course (LPC) (relevant to those joining us in September 2024 onwards)?

If you are joining us in March 2024 (or before), you will study the LPC and will do so at BPP Law School in Holborn. This course is taught in person (with face-to-face teaching) and gives you the opportunity to study alongside peers joining your intake at A&O Shearman. If you have any extenuating circumstances which may affect your ability to attend the LPC in person, we would be happy to discuss this with you. 

Do you mind where I study the SQE preparation course (relevant to those joining us in September 2024 onwards)?

If you are joining us from September 2024 onwards, you will train via the SQE route and will do so at BPP Law School in Holborn, alongside peers joining your intake at A&O Shearman. We have partnered with BPP to develop a bespoke SQE preparation course, which started in September 2023. Much of the course is taught in person (with face-to face teaching).   

What is the structure of the SQE preparation course?

The SQE preparation course is a 12 month course during which you will prepare for, and sit, the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. The first 15 weeks of the course will be spent preparing for the SQE1 assessment, with the following part of the course focusing on SQE2 preparation and the delivery of our bespoke ‘Essentials for Practice’ course content, to really prepare you for life at A&O Shearman and the transition to starting your training with us. An image of the SQE preparation course learning journey/timeline is available here. If you are a non-law graduate, you will complete the PGDL before the SQE preparation course.

Further information is available here.

Will future trainees obtain a Masters qualification by completing the SQE prep course?

Yes – upon successful completion of the SQE preparation course, students will receive a Master of Laws in Legal Practice. 

Do you provide financial assistance through law school?

Yes. When you accept our offer of a Training Contract, we will provide financial support for your law school studies.


How many people are in each Training Contract intake?

We recruit approximately 80 trainees a year and have two intakes, one in March and another in September. You will therefore join a cohort of approximately 40 trainees, providing you with a strong support network of peers from day one. In your department, you will work with a smaller number of trainees, giving you the opportunity to take on real responsibility, with appropriate support from your trainer and team. 

Is it possible to start a Training Contract before or after the dates you are currently advertising?

We try and accommodate changes in start dates where possible. It is easier to be flexible the earlier you ask, so talk to the Graduate Recruitment Team at offer stage if you think you might be interested in changing your intake date.

Can I choose my seats during the Training Contract?

During the Training Contract, you will submit your seat preferences (via an app - every six months), giving you the opportunity to express preferences for a wide variety of teams. You will attend seat planning talks, with partners and associates across our practice groups, to help inform your thinking and discuss your areas of interest. You also have access to our dedicated HR for Trainees team, who you can contact to discuss your seat planning queries. 

Can trainees do an international seat?

All trainees are able to apply for an international secondment during their Training Contract; this is usually undertaken during your final six months.

Can trainees undertake client secondments?

We have a number of client secondments available for trainees. We also offer internal secondments with an opportunity to work with our Pro Bono and Advanced Delivery teams, for example.  

How many trainees stay with A&O Shearman on qualification?

We aim to retain all our trainees on qualification. We recruit and train people that we believe will make a valuable contribution to our firm and invest a lot of time and money in them. Our retention rate is on average between 80 – 90%.


What is the SQE?

The SQE is a new compulsory (two-part) assessment introduced by the SRA which took effect in September 2021 and ultimately replaces the current route to qualification as a solicitor of England and Wales. This doesn’t mean that from 1 September 2021 everyone will sit the SQE as there are transitional arrangements in place which, in certain circumstances, permit individuals to qualify via the LPC route after September 2021 (more on this below). 

SQE1 is a multiple choice assessment, which tests functioning legal knowledge, and SQE2 tests practical legal skills and knowledge. The SRA have appointed Kaplan, an external assessment provider, to run the SQE assessments. The assessments will be set and marked by Kaplan. Further information about the SQE is on the SRA website here. Further information about the SQE assessments is available on the SQE assessment website here.


Will the introduction of the SQE impact me?

The SRA recognises that some people are already on their journey to qualification; as such, they have prepared a set of transitional provisions which explain the circumstances in which someone can still qualify under the LPC route after 1 September 2021 (when the SQE came into effect). The transitional provisions are available on the SRA website.

At A&O Shearman, we will ‘switch’ from the current route to qualification (PGDL, if applicable, followed by LPC), to the SQE route (PGDL, if applicable, followed by an SQE preparation course), in September 2024. 

As such, on the whole: 

If you join us in March 2024 (or before) you will train via the LPC route and will not sit the SQE assessments; and 

If you join us in September 2024 (or after) you will train via the SQE route and will sit the SQE assessments. Those joining us in September 2024 started the BPP SQE preparation course in September 2023. 

Please check the SQE transitional provisions (referred to above) to check your eligibility to train via the LPC or SQE route. 

The SQE also replaces the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). Further information about the interplay between the SQE and QLTS is available here. Please note, different arrangements apply for law students we recruit from university in India; if you are joining us via this route, further information will be provided separately.

What is Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)?

All candidates seeking to qualify via the SQE route will need to complete two years’ full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience. QWE will therefore replace the period of recognised training (otherwise referred to as a Training Contract). We will continue to require future trainees to complete a two-year period of training with us. 


I have a disability, are you able to provide adjustments and / or support?

Yes, we provide adjustments because we want you to be able to demonstrate your full potential during the recruitment process. It is advisable to inform us as soon as possible about the adjustments you may require in order to ensure that they are implemented on time.

What types of adjustments are available for someone who has a disability or health condition?

We can provide various adjustments that will enable you to perform your best at all stages of the recruitment process.

Examples of adjustments we have made in the past include, but are not limited to, providing extra time, scheduling an interview at a specific time; and ensuring there is access.

Who can I contact about my application and disability?

If you have a specific question related to disability, please contact Charlie King who is our disability expert. All conversations will be confidential.

Should I tell you about my disability?

Yes, you should tell us as soon as possible if you require any adjustments or changes to the interview process. Failure to do so may result in adjustments not being made resulting in you not being able to demonstrate your full potential.