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By Rachel Moloney 13 June 2019

In a bid to help university students understand what it is like to work in a City firm, Linklaters is offering “virtual reality internships” to UK undergraduates thinking about a career in law.

The magic circle firm, which is the first UK business to offer such a platform, is offering the service via digital education provider Inside Sherpa. The business already has law firm clients in Australia, such as King & Wood Mallesons and Minter Ellison, but is now extending its reach in the UK. It offers free online internships for students, which enables them to interact with virtual clients and colleagues.

In this instance, students that sign up will get a glimpse of day-to-day life at Linklaters. They can register from any university in the UK, regardless of the degree they are taking, and will then be asked to complete five tasks through e-learning. The tasks aim to replicate the type of work carried out on vacation scheme or a training contract, including video instructions from partners, how to work on a corporate deal and what to do with client instructions. One feature also includes the chance for students to leave a voicemail for a “client”, before listening to a recording from one of Linklaters’ partners to learn how best to interact.

The tasks are not assessed by Linklaters, with the students self-marking their work instead. There is also no time restriction for completing the tasks, so students can work through the programme to suit their schedule. Graduate recruitment partner Fionnghuala Griggs told The Lawyer students will self-mark because it is not being used as an assessment tool, but as a learning opportunity for undergraduates.

She said: “This is a chance for students to see whether pursuing a legal career is something they’d like to do. Through this, they’ll have idea of what they’re letting themselves in for, allowing them to develop their commercial awareness.

“Not everyone can see what happens in a law firm office. We’ll be able to reach a diverse set of people this way.”

To coincide with the platform’s launch, Linklaters has set up a panel of people who will be filming videos for the internship, including trainees, associates and partners to give a wider overview of work carried out. Griggs said the service also ties in with Linklaters’ most recent strides in technology, spearheaded by the firm’s first head of innovation Shilpa Bhandarkar last summer. A key part of Linklaters’ strategy is to use innovation and technology in the best way, alongside a need to access a more diverse mix of people in the recruitment process.

Social mobility efforts by firms such as Linklaters are aimed at improving representation from different socio-economic backgrounds, which in turn could help reshape the legal industry’s workforce. Gender and ethnicity diversity among lawyers (particularly partners) is low across the board; in its recent gender pay gap report for instance Linklaters said 21 per cent of its UK workforce were black, Asian or minority ethnic. The Lawyer also revealed that 40 per cent of the magic circle’s new partner promotions for 2019 graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, although this has decreased from 2018’s 57 per cent.

Griggs said university students were being targeted instead of college pupils because undergraduates will be thinking more about their career options and whether they want to apply for vacation schemes or training contracts.

She added that she hoped the virtual reality internships would have a positive effect on Linklaters’ recruitment process. “If people are not aware of a brand then they may decide they don’t want to pursue that path. We hope that through this, people will think about it helping us to find the best candidates. It can make a difference, you just have to try it to see whether it can work.”