Trainee blogs

Having some insight into what to expect as a trainee can be useful. Read some accounts from trainees  at Scottish law firms, and other organisations, who have given us a glimpse into the start of their careers.

December 2016 - Emily Callaghan

Emily is a first year trainee from Brodies LLP.  Her first seat is in the Commercial Services Division. Emily obtained her LLB and Diploma from the University of Dundee.  Prior to joining Brodies, she had spent almost seven years working for the Department for Work and Pensions and co-founded a commercial cleaning company.

What I've already learnt four months in

It really doesn’t feel like a year ago that I was studying the Diploma in Legal Practice at Dundee University, eagerly waiting for my traineeship to start.

Yet, when I received confirmation of my start date at Brodies, nerves immediately crept in. I had so many questions about what was to come. What office would I be in? What kind of work would I be doing? Most of all, I was nervous about leaving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where I had worked since I was 17. Amid much excitement among my now former colleagues at the DWP, the reality hit me - I really was going to be a lawyer!

So what is my life like as a real life lawyer?

Looking back since leaving DWP in May 2016, my life has changed dramatically. I am responsible for my own development, managing competing priorities, and delivering advice to clients.

My first seat is with the Commercial Services Division (CSD). CSD deals with a range of work including: data protection, intellectual property, employee benefits and procurement. Someone once told me that I would just be dealing with contracts, but that is only part of the work that I have been doing. A seat in CSD has been an amazing opportunity to get involved in so many different areas of the law, including areas that they don’t teach you at university but are a critical part of the way businesses and society function.

I may have only been a trainee for four months but I have already been involved in a number of different projects. These have included drafting agreements such as privacy statements, terms and conditions and intellectual property documents to name but a few.  I have also been involved in several procurement projects - this is particularly interesting for me given my past work experience in the public sector.

I can honestly say in four months my confidence and my knowledge have grown so much. While my colleagues may sometimes joke about me getting the tram one stop to work (it can be cold sometimes!), I am extremely grateful to them for what they have taught me.

That said, being a trainee is not all hard work and no play. Outside work I have participated in several events, including networking at a virtual reality session during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and volunteering to do a 10k charity walk around Edinburgh. The charity walk was a fantastic opportunity to raise money for a good cause, but it also gave me an opportunity to meet colleagues from other departments.

Being a commercial lawyer has completely changed my perception of everyday life. While most people never read the small print, I find myself eagerly studying it in detail at it to see what the terms say.

What is the most important thing I have learnt so far? 

The most important tip I can share is to be confident. Even when you feel like you may be drowning, you must be confident. This is something I struggled with when I started as a trainee but with the support of my mentor and my colleagues, my confidence - as well as my knowledge - has grown massively. Clients don’t want or need a nervous or unsure lawyer – they need someone who is confident and in control. While as a trainee you may not always know what you are doing, stay calm, look for the answer and if you still don’t know - ask someone.

What is next for me?

I have loved my time in CSD, but I don’t yet know what specialism I want to go into when I qualify. At the moment, I am keeping an open mind and absorbing as much knowledge as possible.

I am slowly getting used to being a trainee solicitor (it does sometimes feel surreal!) but I very much looking forward to what comes next.

 

November 2016 - Gavin Smith

As well as hearing from trainees at law firms, we're keen to give an insight into what it's like to do your traineeship in-house. Gavin Smith, a first year trainee at Standard Life, explains some of the different features of an in-house traineeship.

 

November 2016 - Hannah Kemp

What university does and doesn't prepare you for

Hannah Kemp Law Society Of Scotland Trainee Blog

Hannah Kemp, a trainee at Brodies LLP, obtained her LLB from the University of Edinburgh, having studied at Lund University in Sweden for her third year. She returned home to complete her Diploma at the University of Glasgow. She is currently nearing the end of her second seat in the firm’s Corporate & Commercial department in Edinburgh and is due to qualify as a solicitor in July 2017.

The transition from university student to trainee can be daunting. I have no doubt that every student will experience first day nerves. Will I be able to complete the work given to me? What will my team be like?

Here’s a brief outline of my experience of the transition that all potential trainees will go through. I am now just over a year into my traineeship and I’m beginning to realise that my annual four-month summer break has now gone - forever! Although this reality is hitting me hard, everyone needs to join the world of employment at some point and I had looked forward to joining Brodies since securing my place at an assessment day two years before.

University is a structured path: core subjects in first and second year, the possibility of an Erasmus year or honours year in third year, finishing with a gruelling fourth year. If, like me, you chose to go down the legal route, there is a fifth year in the pipeline – completing the diploma in legal practice.

The traineeship, however, is much more flexible, giving trainees the choice to work within areas of law in which they are interested. At Brodies we submit our top three seat choices to HR per rotation. The areas of law available are extremely varied. For example, in one seat a trainee can be assisting buying or selling companies, and then move on to a litigation seat and defend personal injury claims.

You may not have realised it but university has been preparing you for the traineeship. Students develop their own set of techniques to process information efficiently and to solve problems. Law students will have studied a subject at some point that will provide a basic understanding of the law relevant to the seats allocated. My first seat was insurance and risk litigation – not a core subject at university – but combining my knowledge of delict at ordinary level and civil litigation on the diploma did set me up to a good start.

One key difference that I have recognised is that the traineeship is a learning process, compared to university which is a bit of memory game. How much information can you cram into your brain over a month-long period (for some, the night before an exam)? The content is learnt inside out but once the exam is over most of that knowledge slowly slips away. There are no exams throughout the traineeship and therefore no learning under pressure. Firms will have style banks, when asked to draft a document these can be used as a guide rather than complete free hand drafting. It is easy to forget that each piece of work you will be asked to draft has probably been drafted before!

Some of the teaching at university focuses on aspects of law that do not reflect what is actually done in practice. For example, I remember learning in depth about directors’ duties during the corporate component of my course. However, now assisting the corporate team, the work I do is focused mainly on buying and selling companies, a skill not taught at university. Similarly training as a solicitor is not an academic exercise, clients are looking for practical commercial advice. There is less time brainstorming about your legal opinions, and more time spent actively solving problems.

University did however prepare me for socialising with colleagues and clients and meeting new people is a daily occurrence – whether working with new colleagues and clients or meeting for a few drinks after work.

University is no different, being allocated groups to work with and recognising more faces. Just like the various sports teams and clubs on offer at university, we have clubs ranging from golf to netball here and even touch rugby in summer.

Any new experience can seem overwhelming because you are forced out of your comfort zone into an unfamiliar environment. Starting university and the traineeship also have this in common, and it can take time to find your feet and settle in. Few will say they prefer working 9-5 (as a minimum) to having the choice of a mid-week lie in or the option to go out any night of the week you fancy! However, it is blissful to see the bank balance creep up, and after five years of studying it feels rewarding to finally put what you’ve learnt to good use.

My one piece of advice to trainees starting out is to remember that all fee earners started as trainees themselves. Don’t worry about knowing very little and asking lots of questions - that is the whole point.

Trainees are there to learn and assist fee earners in any way possible; the traineeship is a two-year learning process and what you have learnt at university will get you off to a great start.

 

October 2016 - Letitia Longworth

Letitia Longworth is one of our trainee bloggers for Brodies LLP.  Originally from York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St Andrews and her Graduate LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh.  She is now six months into her second seat with the Personal & Family department.

Five things I wish I'd known on day one

1.  Be yourself... once you're settled in

In September's trainee blog, John Morgan counselled against the the use of wisecracks as a means of diffusing nerves.  I'd second this, particularly in the early stages, as you need to show, first and foremost, that you're a safe pair of hands and you want to learn.  Having said that, the importance of being yourself once you're settled in a team cannot be overstated.

At Brodies we spend eight months in each of our three seats; at other firms you might do more placements and they'll be shorter.  The point is, you have a finite opportunity each time you move not only to prove your mettle as a lawyer, but also to gel with your team as a person.  While being in 'best behaviour' mode is a good thing when it comes to work, you can still allow yourself to relax and find common ground with your colleagues.  We're all human after all!

2.  It's not all about drafting

Some seats will be more hands-on and client-facing than others.  If you find yourself in a department where your work is more focussed on commercial questions and co-ordinating transactions - don't panic.

Your traineeship is as much about learning how to communicate, being efficient and delivering under pressure as it is about your legal education.  Just because you're doing less drafting than you'd like, it doesn't mean that you're not developing.  Though on the other hand...

3.  Ask about getting involved elsewhere

If there's something specific that you want to get involved with - ask! Whether it's going out to a client meeting, joining and taking notes on a weekly call or drafting a particular document, taking some control over the direction of your seat can provide a big confidence boost.  It helps to signal to fee-earners where your interests lie, too.  Most of your work will be dictated by the needs of the business, but if you've set out your stall in terms of your long-term aims, you're more likely to find that people think of you when opportunities crop up.

4.  Remember, you're not being tested

It took  me a while to understand that I was not expected to know how to do everything immediately.  The traineeship is not a test!  If you say "I haven't done this before" the fee earner you're working with will know how to pitch their brief.  You're here to learn, and learning will involve asking questions - lots of them.

5.  Keep notes and your 'to-do' list separate

And finally, a housekeeping point: on my arrival in Personal & Family, I was given a notepad entitled 'Things To Do Today'.  If you find yourself in a particularly busy team, you'll need a means of separating your distilled task list from your background notes and learning.  You might be an asterisk or highlighting virtuoso, but once the work really takes off recording instructions quickly and accurately will be crucial.  Make life easy for yourself and keep your notes and to-do list physically distinct from the start.

Above all, remember that you've achieved a huge amount to get to where your are, so enjoy it!

 

September 2016 - John Morgan

John is a trainee solicitor at Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma.

Tips for starting a traineeship…from someone who’s just finished

When starting my traineeship in July 2014, my qualification date of 30 July 2016 seemed far on the horizon. The two years flew by so quickly that often the only time I took stock was in writing these blogs. It’s therefore quite fitting that this month, immediately after qualification, I have had the excellent opportunity to spend time on secondment to one of Brodies’ major financial services clients.

After two seats – 14 months – in an employment team where I quickly felt like part of the furniture, moving to a new team and organisation has given me a chance to reflect on how to make a positive first impression. This is advice provided with the benefit of my own mistakes and mishaps, as well as successes:

• You’re a lawyer. This can be strangely easy to forget in the midst of exciting negotiations. Your role is all about managing and mitigating risk, not taking it. This was something that I didn’t fully appreciate in the first few months of the traineeship, but which is at the centre of all my decision-making now. Before starting in a team, make sure you know the basic commercial realities of the kind of transactions or litigation you’ll be assisting with. This knowledge is essential to know when to warn about risks, and to avoid teaching your clients how to suck eggs… 

• Don’t get over familiar too early. My own natural reaction in taxing situations is to crack a joke. This causes issues in the inherently stressful situation of joining a new team. Just make sure you keep the jokes under control. This is a serious job and your sharp wit may be misplaced in some situations!

• Process is there for a reason. Most law firms, and other businesses, have well established processes for dealing with almost any situation that a trainee might face. There have been trainees before you, and there will be trainees after you, and almost all problems are caused by ‘taking too much initiative’. That’s not to say you shouldn’t challenge outdated ways of doing things, but be like Picasso: learn to paint before you break the rules. 

• Just ask the question. It’s better to look momentarily silly than waste your (valuable, billable) time blindly stumbling around your firm’s intranet. If in doubt, ask.

• Be keen to learn. Some trainees walk into a firm as if they are already a fully qualified lawyer. While some (rare) individuals may already possess all the competencies required, for the vast majority of us it’s a chance to learn. The traineeship is the completion of the legal education process as well as being the start of your working life in the law. The former is as important as the latter. 

• Take your holidays, but not in the first few weeks. I’ve made this mistake so you don’t have to! Usually, people are very understanding if you have a holiday booked already, but it doesn’t create the best impression and it means that – however hard you try to hit the ground running – you’ll be behind the curve for the first few weeks. Don’t make starting in a new team more stressful than it already is! 

I didn’t follow this advice a lot of the time during the traineeship, but by the end I was well aware of the benefits of approaching every day like this. If you follow these tips, I think your first months in a firm could go much smoother than mine!

 

 

August 2016 – Kathryn Alexander

Kathryn is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in German and Spanish, Kathryn returned to her native Edinburgh for the LLB and Diploma. She has completed seats in Commercial Property, Insurance & Risk and the Commercial Services Division (commercial contracts, IP/IT and public procurement). She has now moved into Corporate, where she will qualify as an NQ in August.

Quick-fire Qualification Quiz

Best moment during your traineeship?

Professionally, it would have to be doing my first ever corporate completion meeting solo and actually managing to close the deal without any major hiccups. I was buzzing afterwards! Personally, scoring my first points for the Brodies netball team was a definite highlight. You can call me Kobe.

Any nightmare moments?

Of course! Forgetting to ask the sellers for the garage keys in my first residential property deal was pretty embarrassing, especially when the client rang to ask why she couldn’t get into her new garage. But it’s times like those when you learn the most. I will never forget about garage keys again!

Any big surprises about your traineeship?

I wasn’t expecting to have so much client contact from such an early stage, but within the first few weeks I was emailing and phoning clients. It was daunting at first (I rehearsed a couple of conversations under my breath before actually picking up the phone!), but my confidence quickly grew and now I speak to clients daily. Being thrown in at the deep end is the best way to develop.

Favourite seat?

I have loved different things about each seat. Commercial Property combined pure legal problem solving with learning about the commercial realities of property investment. Moving into Litigation, I got a real buzz from appearing in the Sheriff Court and soaking up the traditions and history of the Court of Session. The Commercial Services Division (CSD) offered huge variety – one day working on a high value technology contract; the next, advising a local authority on procurement. Last but not least, Corporate has allowed me to get involved with local and international deals which are shaped by all kinds of economic and political factors. You really need to understand both your client’s business and the market in which it operates.

Top three tips for new trainees?

  1. Don’t panic! Everything you see will be new and no one expects you to be an expert on your first day. An early tip someone gave me was to use the ‘20 minute rule’: if you don’t know how to do something, spend 20 minutes thinking about it yourself, then ask if you’re still not sure. You will be astonished how often you manage to answer your own questions if you just give yourself time to think.
  2. Say yes to everything. I’ve already blogged on this but take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s a legal task or a networking prospect. It will help you build your CV, but more importantly, it will allow you to work out where your interests lie.
  3. Keep an open mind. So many of my friends are qualifying into areas they never would have considered two years ago. Law in practice is so far removed from the academic pursuit, so don’t despair if you’re given a seat in your least favourite practice area. Even if you don’t love it, you will learn a lot regardless. Equally, don’t worry if you don’t get your dream seat – I hadn’t done a corporate seat before I applied for the corporate NQ job.

What’s next?

A two-week holiday in Slovenia and Bosnia before returning to the corporate team as an NQ!

 

 

July 2016 - Letitia Longworth

Letitia is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. Originally from
York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St.
Andrews, and her Graduate LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh. She is three months into her second seat with the Personal & Family department

Halfway Home: Highlights and Challenges from First Year

Ah, July. Perennially wet, midge-ridden and bereft of good cinema it may be, but it’s a good month for the first year trainees at Brodies. Along with our colleagues across Scotland who are approaching the same milestone at various points this summer, in late July we will cross the threshold from first to second year, and enter the final twelve months of our legal training.

It’s a time to take stock, re-group and prepare for the next phase. I know I’m not alone in wondering where on earth the past year has gone (though I’m taking that as a good sign!) so I thought I’d share a few of the highlights and challenges of my traineeship so far. Hopefully I’ll show that with a seize-the-day approach, you can pack far more into PEAT2 than you might think.

Early in my first seat in Energy & Infrastructure, my team was instructed to compile a report analysing the legal risks relating to a client’s project. I spent my first couple of months in the job accompanying the partner and the client to meetings, taking part in conference calls, and drafting sections of the report myself. It was my first experience of considering and communicating legal issues in the context of a client’s commercial needs, and I found it fascinating. I also spent the run-up to Christmas tracking the progress of a bill through Parliament, and updating my team on debates, suggested amendments and commentary in the press. As a self-confessed statute nerd, I enjoyed this very much.

In December, a colleague and I hosted a large scale completion meeting at short notice. Though intense and slightly daunting at first, it was a great feeling sending out packs of signed documents to all parties at the end of the day, and coming in the next morning to an email from the client thanking us for our efforts.

Transitioning from Energy & Infrastructure to the Personal & Family team was a challenge – the change in focus from corporate to personal clients required a shift in my approach, with new considerations around ethics and communication coming into play. I’d always wanted to work closely with people, though, so I was keen for the chance to combine this with stimulating legal work.

Three months in, I’m running several executries, assisting fee-earners with estate planning exercises and drafting wills and powers of attorney. It’s a busy team, and the degree of autonomy I’ve got is certainly keeping me on my toes, but I’m enjoying it, and looking forward to developing further as the seat progresses. There’s a huge sense of responsibility in ensuring that you have explained documents clearly to clients, and keeping issues such as capacity in mind at all times; but the satisfaction of building rapport, putting a client at ease and helping them to draw a line under their affairs has been the highlight of my traineeship so far.

Of course, the traineeship is about you getting to know your firm (and vice-versa) as well the work that you do, and at Brodies there’s been no shortage of firm-wide events and initiatives to get involved in. I’ve taken part in pub quizzes, walked 26 miles on the Maggie’s Culture Crawl and Rob Roy Challenge, helped to organise our charity auction, and joined the Brodies band in serenading our colleagues at a fundraising gig!

It’s been an action-packed year, and I’m looking forward to meeting our new tranche of trainees in the next few weeks. Keep watching this space for news from the other side (i.e. second year) in the coming months!

 


June 2016 - John Morgan

John is a trainee solicitor at Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma.

Combining academia and practice

When I was offered my traineeship at Brodies back in the fourth year of the LLB, I did have a (very) short moment of hesitation as I had long thought of pursuing a career in academia.

Fortunately, there are many individuals in legal practice who have combined both roles: Professors Robert Rennie and Lorne Crerar at the University of Glasgow just two examples of a long line who combined practice with academic work. This got me thinking: do the same opportunities exist at trainee level?

The answer is a resounding yes. There are plentiful opportunities in your team to get involved in more academic work. Trainees are regularly published in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal News, and sector publications.

My own particular highlight, as my first passion was constitutional law, was being published on the UK Supreme Court blog.

A good tip is to keep your finger on the pulse of legal news south of the border, as there is regularly a distinct Scottish perspective that is quite easy to articulate with a background of the Scots LLB. There are a multitude of Scottish and international journals seeking commentary on every area of law. If you didn’t get involved with law reviews much at university, a book review or case comment is a good place to start.

If you have fuller experience already, often your perspective from practice can offer insight that academic journals are only too happy to receive. The best way to find out about these is to simply email the editor of the relevant journal, and they are usually only too happy to assist.

In addition, there are more formal opportunities such as essay prizes. In the last few years I have been lucky to win or place in the Times Law Award, the UK Association for European Law’s biennial essay prize, the WS Society / SYLA Essay Prize, and the Frank Maguire Memorial Award. I’d recommend these to any Scots student or trainee, as it’s an excellent way of keeping your research skills sharp, as well as earning a little extra money!

I have just recently returned from Budapest, where I was representing the UK Association for European Law (and my firm, Brodies) at the International Federation for European Law’s (FIDE) biennial conference. This was an incredible experience, during which I was able to meet some of Europe’s finest judicial and academic minds, and was something my firm were only too happy to support.

There are also many opportunities to assist with the new trend in law schools: clinical legal education. This is where students learn through the process of researching and giving legal advice, rather than just memorising cases by rote.

I’ve recently started volunteering as a supervising (trainee) solicitor at the University of Strathclyde’s law clinic. I had expected helping out individuals with their queries to be rewarding, but it’s equally as satisfying to discuss matters with students and see their perspective on the issues and potential solutions. This, or a variant of it, exists in all of Scotland’s major cities, and it’s something I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

There are also chances to teach at local universities. While still to be finalised, I am likely to be teaching on the employment law course at one of the universities in Glasgow next year. If you’re a student in one of my classes, please be nice!

In all seriousness, though, this is a very useful way of not just keeping legal knowledge current; it’s also a very useful way of marking yourself out as having full knowledge of your field. Academia and practice don’t have to be mutually exclusive – experience in one can actually be an advantage in the other.

 


May 2016 - Kathryn Alexander

Kathryn is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in German and Spanish, Kathryn returned to her native Edinburgh for the LLB and Diploma. She has done seats in Commercial Property, Insurance & Risk litigation and the Commercial Services Division (commercial contracts, IP/IT and public procurement). A few weeks ago she moved into Corporate, where she will qualify as an NQ in August.

Navigating post-traineeship recruitment

Now that NQ recruitment season is in full swing, the airwaves are buzzing with chat about who’s staying, who’s going, jobs that have come up and those that haven’t. Brodies was one of the earlier firms to kick off their internal recruitment so, having just come through the process, here are a couple of themes I’ve drawn out from my own experiences and the nonstop discussions with my friends at other firms:

It’s still early!

With some firms starting their recruitment before Christmas, I definitely felt like the pressure was on once the New Year arrived, but it’s only now that jobs are really starting to appear. Plenty of firms, from small boutique practices to international behemoths, have yet to start their internal recruitment, so there will be more opportunities to come.

Speculate to accumulate

A couple of my friends have had really positive responses to speculative applications, with firms committing to invite them to interview alongside current trainees once they start their internal recruitment. For some, this approach has opened doors before jobs have been advertised or even created. One firm was so impressed with a strong speculative application that they are now considering taking on an NQ this year instead of next year.

Recruiters – worth a chat

When you’re working nine to five (or six or seven), trawling the job sites, writing your CV and preparing for interviews is exhausting. Recruiters can ease the load by monitoring the job market for you. They have their ears to the ground and often find out about new opportunities before they are made public. By using a recruiter to move firms, one of my friends was offered an NQ position before his new firm had even started their internal recruitment.

Recruiters can also offer advice about career paths and different types of firm – they’ve seen it all and, whilst they’re not neutral, it’s in their interests to make sure the candidates they suggest will suit the role.

My man on the inside

There is only so much you can learn from a website. When I applied for my NQ job, I hadn’t done a seat in the department, so I spoke to as many people as I could to get a feel for the type of work I would be involved with. It definitely gave me more confidence going into the interview.

Similarly, friends who have applied for jobs externally have found that recruiting partners are often happy to discuss a role in advance of application deadlines and interviews. This has helped applicants to decide what to include in their CV and partners have commented that it demonstrates real motivation and enthusiasm for the job.

Obviously candidates will speak to their friends, but it’s also worth reaching out to those hazily remembered university connections.

Good luck!

This blog is by no means a prescriptive guide on NQ recruitment – there are lots of ways to find an NQ job and it’s a good time to be looking. The market seems to have bounced back which bodes well for new NQs, and it’s encouraging that firms are investing in growth at a junior level. Good luck!


April 2016 - Letitia Longworth

Letitia is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. Originally from York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St. Andrews, before moving to Edinburgh for the LLB and Diploma. She spent her first seat with the firm’s energy & infrastructure team, and has recently joined the personal and family department in Edinburgh.

Energy & Infrastructure – a transactional seat with a twist

In early April, Brodies’ first year trainees put the finishing touches to their handover notes; cleared their drawers of mugs, notepads and half-finished boxes of tea; and decamped en masse to their new departments.

Throughout my first seat in energy & infrastructure (E&I), I sat within the firm’s corporate & commercial department, which advises corporate clients on the legal aspects of their commercial deals. While E&I is, therefore, a transactional seat, it’s more industry-focused than the rest of the corporate department, and provides a lot of opportunity to develop your knowledge of clients’ businesses as well as their legal needs. With the dust from the great seat migration now settled, I thought I’d give a more detailed summary of the role of a trainee within the team.

Renewables

The majority of the corporate work in E&I relates to the sale or purchase of renewable energy projects. Take windfarms as an example: the team will often review and negotiate contracts for the supply and maintenance of turbines, which are supplementary to the underlying transaction – usually the transfer of ownership in the company that owns the rights to develop the land.

So, in addition to technology-specific contracts, each transaction requires a host of corporate documents (such as board minutes and Companies House forms) to be drafted and signed before the deal can complete. Often it will be the trainee who puts these together – great for your drafting and time-management skills.

Non-contentious construction

Brodies’ non-contentious construction team sits within E&I, so trainees in this seat also get a good deal of exposure to construction contracts and the numerous consultant appointments and collateral warranties that go with them. I helped to draft warranties, and kept a close eye on the dozens of executed copies as they were gradually returned.

For any trainee coming into the seat it’s a chance to exercise some autonomy, to manage your own workload and to build relationships with signatories and solicitors on the other side.

Regulatory work

A particularly interesting – and, for me, unexpected – aspect of E&I was the number of public law and regulatory issues that come up in the course of a day’s work. Whether it’s proposed changes to renewables subsidies, or a tricky question relating to planning permission, there’s a steady flow of wider regulatory advice that runs alongside the corporate tasks.

If you’ve got an interest in this area of the law it’s a good chance to build up your research skills, and to practice picking the commercial implications out of (occasionally fairly dry!) legislation.

Completion kicks

As each transaction nears completion, client calls and meetings become more frequent and documents that have been in draft form for months are finalised and signed. It’s a fast-paced time and, for the trainee, there’s always scope for involvement. You can support the team in several ways, from witnessing signatures during the completion meeting to simply being familiar with the documents, so that you can move your clients onto the next contract when there’s a lull in activity.

 The aftermath is a further opportunity, with the stacks of paperwork that are often leftover, and solicitors for all parties requesting copies and counterparts ASAP. It’s hard to overstate the value of good organisational skills and a cool head!

My eight months in E&I were varied and interesting. If you’re keen to get your teeth into transactional work but like the sound of a more specialised focus, then a projects or energy seat might be just the thing for you.

 

March 2016 - John Morgan

John is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma. He spent his first seat in Brodies’ banking team, and is currently working with the employment team in Glasgow.

Mythbusting the traineeship – the seven biggest misconceptions

Trainees from across Scotland such as myself are currently applying for NQ jobs. This process has put me in a bit of a reflective mood and, looking back, it’s notable just how completely different my expectations of the traineeship were from the reality! I hadn’t undertaken any summer placements so my understanding was based on TV and off-hand complaints made by friends from university. I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of the myths that cropped up in the hope that it offers a more rounded view of what the traineeship is.

1              You’ll never leave the office

This is one that differs by practice area, and – contrary to the belief that it’s good just to be seen to be present – it depends entirely on the work that you have to complete. Most law firms realise that a work-life balance is important, and that tired lawyers don’t produce the best results, so there’s definite encouragement to avoid being in the office when you don’t need to.

What are my hours like? I rarely have to stay beyond 6pm in the employment team because the nature of our work is such that we can spread the preparation for our big cases, but when I was in the banking team I was in quite late when there was a big transaction to complete. These periods are cyclical though, and were more than balanced out by the nights when I could happily head away from the office on time.

2              You’ll never leave your desk

It’s rare that I spend an entire day at my desk. The variety of work I’ve been given on my traineeship has been excellent – from appearing at court, instructing counsel, attending big completion meetings or travelling around Glasgow to find signatories for documents, no two days have been the same!

Even when I am at my desk, there’s no predicting what might come up each day. To take yesterday as an example, I was negotiating a settlement, drafting submissions for a case, researching a particularly complex set of regulations, interviewing a witness and then attending client drinks. If you throw yourself into the traineeship, you’ll definitely be given opportunities beyond the norm.

3              You’ll be a photocopier extraordinaire

This just hasn’t been true for me, or for any trainee I’ve spoken to. Trainees are hired because of their legal and organisational abilities and it wouldn’t make much commercial sense for them to spend two years tied to a photocopier. That’s not to say I haven’t become acquainted with the settings of the latest Ricoh photocopier, but it’s certainly been restricted to those times when I’ve been working on things which are required urgently and out with normal office hours.

4              You’ll be working with difficult personalities

A career in the law is often a stressful job and I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that some people react to this stress I different ways.

Part of the skill of being a trainee is knowing how best to deal with different personalities, both inside and outside your own firm. But your boss will be aware of the value of a good trainee, and it’s not in their interest for you to be too scared of slipping up that you don’t think straight!

5              You’ll be expected to be an instant expert

On day one of the traineeship your firm will know exactly what background and education you have. The team you’re working with will also be well aware, so won’t ever give you work outside your comfort zone. The whole point of the traineeship is to learn how to practice law so it wouldn’t make much sense for them to expect you to be fully fledged on day one!

My own traineeship has been a phenomenal opportunity to learn from some of the best solicitors and advocates in the country, picking up the skills and knowledge needed to practice fully. The trainee role is often to bring fresh ideas into a team and keep up to date with more recent developments, so occasionally I have ended up educating my team rather than the other way around!

6              Your traineeship will have to cover certain areas

This is a common misconception. The LLB and Diploma have to cover certain mandatory areas, but once you’re on a traineeship you can be entirely focused on one area which sometimes happens in-house, cover different ‘seats’ (areas of law) on a rotation which is most common at big firms, or be tasked with lots of different areas all at once, which is more common at smaller firms.

The traineeship is structured instead around different skills and competencies. I myself, quite rarely for a big commercial firm, have been allowed to stay for 16 months in the employment division. I was very happy to specialise, but most people prefer the variety that’s offered by rotating through seats.

7              And maybe, just maybe, it might be quite glamorous?

It’s certainly nothing like TV but I do have to admit my parents definitely like telling people that their son is a lawyer - we must still retain some level of respect!

 

February 2016 - Kathryn Alexander

After graduating from Durham University with a degree in German and Spanish, Kathryn returned to her native Edinburgh for the LLB and Diploma. Now a second year trainee at Brodies, she spent her first two seats in Commercial Property and Insurance & Risk litigation. In December 2015 she moved into her final seat in the Commercial Services Division, where she mainly works for the Technology, IP and Outsourcing team.

Commercial Services Division: a day in the life

9:00 – I fire up my computer and do a quick triage of my emails. Nothing desperately urgent.

9.10 – First up on my To Do list: draft an update for our Technology blog. The Commercial Services Division (CSD) encompasses a wide range of general commercial areas, but I work mainly for the Technology, IP and Outsourcing team. Our sector is fast-paced and if we don’t update our blog on a regular basis, it will date very quickly. This morning’s post is on data protection – stay with me! The technical side of data protection is quite dry, but its application can be really interesting. Today I’m writing about enforcement action taken against The Alzheimer’s Society for allowing their volunteers to store sensitive data about dementia sufferers on unencrypted personal laptops. I avoid legal analysis and try to give practical tips on how charities can avoid facing similar action – no one wants to read another summary of the Data Protection Act.

10.30 – Next on my list is drafting a set of standard terms and conditions as part of a suite of documents I’m preparing for a public body. I’ve already done agreements for consultancy, services and supply of goods. The last one is supply of goods and related services. Although drafting contracts might sound repetitive, different clients have very different needs, so each contract requires careful thought. Public bodies, for example, are subject to freedom of information requests, so I need to think about building that into their contracts. These subtle differences are where the problem solving and creativity comes in.

12.30 – Once I’ve finished the contract, my mentor and I run through my draft and he gives me some useful feedback.

1:00 – Lunch time! Unless I’m absolutely swamped, I always take a lunch break. I’m definitely more efficient on a full stomach.

2:00 – Time for a training session on public procurement. It’s a fairly niche area, so it’s a good opportunity to get some specialised training. It’s interesting to learn about the tension between the transparency which underpins public procurement and the way governments subtly use it to drive social policy. The procurement team sits in CSD, so at the end of the session I mention to the associate that I’m keen to get involved.

3.30 – Back at my desk I start some research on the duties of company directors for our employee benefits partner, who also falls under the CSD umbrella. This work is completely different from the commercial contracts I usually do. It encompasses all kinds of employee remuneration, including different types of share schemes, which involves much more company law and Companies House dealings.

3.45 – Just as I’m getting going with my research, another partner in my team asks me to review a draft software agreement. It’s urgent as he has a call with the client in the morning, so I drop everything and start reading through the contract, checking the definitions and cross references. Admittedly, it’s not as exciting as drafting my own contracts, but it’s a huge project and the partner explains he wants to get me more involved in the lead up to signing later this month.

6.15 – I’m about to head home when the partner catches my eye again – he’s received a client query about consumer protection. We have a quick discussion about the law behind the issue, but it doesn’t have to be resolved today so I’ll pick it up tomorrow.

6.30 – Last but certainly not least on today’s To Do list: Brodies netball. We only play once every few weeks, but the team is lovely and no one takes it too seriously. It’s not our finest performance (some lingering Christmas lethargy perhaps), but that doesn’t dampen the plans for our next team night out!

 

January 2016 - Letitia Longworth

Letitia is another of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. Originally from York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St. Andrews, and her LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh. She is half-way through her first seat in Energy & Infrastructure.

Catching the networking bug

As my colleague Katherine mentioned in her November post, one of the most exciting aspects of the traineeship is having the freedom and encouragement to take charge of your own career.

We first years are now five months in, and with one PEAT2 Review down and the next one just around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve managed to take charge of my career in the short time that I’ve been here. To some extent, particularly early in the traineeship, much of your day-to-day work will come down to what your team needs you to do, and the level of independence you have will vary widely from seat to seat. However there are some areas of work that will always enable you to take the reins if you wish. Networking, in particular, is one.

I’ll begin with one crucial point: as with so much in the life of the trainee, preparation – even a small amount – will be key, both to success and enjoyment! Quite often you can find yourself attending events on technical industry issues, or very complex areas of law, that aren’t necessarily pitched for the novice. Diving in with no strategy can leave you feeling lost and daunted. But if you accept your limits, and work with them to plan your approach to an event, you can come away with some great contacts, boosted confidence and excellent commercial insight.

I had my first experience of solo networking last month, when I went along to a panel discussion on the future of energy storage in the UK. Before the event, my knowledge of the industry and chosen topic was entry level, at best, but I read up on the speakers beforehand, had a look at some recent articles on the issue, and talked to members of my team to get a feel for points of particular interest for them. I left with a wealth of new understanding and context to inform my work, and wrote up my notes from the discussion for the firm’s Renewables Blog.

Often the best part of networking is harvesting your experience afterwards – you get to use the notes you made, the contact cards you collected, and the discussions you had in whatever way you think best. This is where it can feel like you’re really taking control, and that your brand new career is taking shape.

If you come across similar opportunities within your firm or university, my advice is straightforward: get involved! As a trainee or student you’re in the best possible position: you’re simply there to learn – so just soak up the atmosphere and ask questions as much as you can. Every event will be easier than the one before, and discovering that you can hold your own in discussions that were completely foreign just a few months ago is a truly brilliant feeling.

 

December 2015 - John Morgan

John is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma. He spent his first seat in Brodies’ banking team, and is currently working with the employment team in Glasgow.

On the market: becoming an NQ

I have now been a trainee solicitor for nearly a year and a half. Seeing that stated in such stark terms seems a bit strange – it only feels like a few months since I started. Whereas everything was fresh, and much of it daunting, the days now pass like a proper job and by and large I know what I’m doing nearly all of the time. It is just as you reach this comfortable level, around the year and a half stage, that thoughts turn to the next step: becoming a fully qualified solicitor – known as a ‘newly qualified’ (NQ).

The traineeship provides you with a breadth of experience across sectors, clearly an excellent learning experience, whereas the NQ stage is usually where you commit to a single practice area. It is not until faced with the decision that you realise it is a definite fork in your path. It’s increasingly rare for lawyers to switch practice areas after qualification, so if there’s ever a time to ensure that you’re sure then it’s now! You’ve also got to think about what you want from your career – different practice areas have very different earning potential and work/life balance.

The actual day to day of being an NQ shouldn’t differ too much from the work in the second year of your traineeship. It is not expected that, immediately upon qualifying, you suddenly become a better lawyer. Especially in your second year, you’ll increasingly be tasked with NQ level (or above) work. The main changes are that you are liable for your actions, you are directly governed by the detailed rules regulating the profession, that you will be able to delegate work to a greater extent, and that your work will gradually become even more advanced. A good traineeship will prepare you for this step up – ideally the only thing that changes on a day to day basis is your job title!

So what’s the process? At all medium and large sized firms, as far as I am aware, there is a formal application to be completed, often including an interview. This may seem redundant when you’ve been working alongside your interviewer for at least six months, but it ensures that all who apply – even those who perhaps hadn’t completed a seat in the area – are able to put their case forward. The oft-quoted mantra of the traineeship being a ‘two year interview’ still holds true though – if you’ve performed for a team on the job, they’re very unlikely to let a mediocre interview performance block your path.

Of course, the two year interview has its flip side – you may not wish to stay after trying out the firm for so long! The good news is that the NQ recruitment market seems to be very buoyant at the moment and as a result of this there is seemingly a tendency for the bigger firms to push their NQ application processes earlier and earlier to ‘beat the market’. So for all those about to qualify it is well worth starting to think about your options perhaps even at the start of your second year. My own firm, Brodies, posts available positions on our website.

A final thought: more than at any time in the last decade, the buoyant economy and ensuing demand for legal services means that retention rates at most large firms are very high, and the days (in the not so distant past) where a small minority of trainees managed to secure a position with their training firm are over for now. These things are always cyclical to an extent, but now is a good time to be on the market!


November 2015 - Kathryn Alexander

After graduating from Durham University with a degree in German and Spanish, Kathryn returned to her native Edinburgh for the LLB and Diploma. She is now a second year trainee at Brodies and is currently working in the Insurance & Risk litigation team, having spent her first seat in Commercial Property.

Say yes

The first week of my traineeship was mostly a blur but one piece of advice from our HR manager stuck in my mind: “You need to take control of your own career.” Day one of my traineeship and suddenly I had a career! Until then, my sole focus had been making it to the traineeship. The prospect of being an actual lawyer was something to be dealt with in the distant future, or two years at least. But time flies and in a few short months I’ll be applying for NQ jobs which will determine the direction of my career for years to come.

Of course, it takes a while to settle into your traineeship, but being pro-active about your professional development from an early stage pays dividends in the long run. Say yes to everything. Even if you’re busy, take on work you’ve never done before. It’s challenging, but you only have six or eight months in a seat and gathering varied experience will help you decide which areas of law you prefer. You can also mention this at your review as evidence of being self-motivated and enthusiastic. Taking this approach has given me great opportunities, from taking the lead in completing the sale of a hotel, to appearing in court in ordinary cause debt recovery actions.

It’s equally important to build your network within the firm or, in layman’s terms, to be friendly and get to know lots of people. At Brodies, trainees are often asked to help out with our extensive seminar programme. This is a great way to meet fee earners in other departments and find out more about what they do. When the next seat rotation comes round, you’re more informed about the various choices and it never hurts to have made a good impression on a team you want to join by showing an interest in their work.

Don’t just stick to events in the office, though. Getting involved in charity events, sports teams or departmental nights out gives you the opportunity to make new contacts in a more informal setting. You never know, your hockey teammate might end up interviewing you for an NQ job. A friendly face can put you at ease, giving you the best chance to impress.

But taking control of your career doesn’t stop at simply saying yes when opportunities come your way. As you become more comfortable in your traineeship, think about creating your own opportunities. Do you have an idea for a charity fundraiser? Is there a training event which you think would be particularly useful for you or your team? What about writing articles for industry publications? Be bold and discuss any ideas with your mentor or line manager, though make sure you’re ready to back up your suggestion with a solid business case. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, you’ll get credit for trying.

The bottom line is that a traineeship is more than just another step on the long road to becoming a lawyer. It’s an opportunity for you to try out new areas of law, challenge your preconceptions and decide what sort of lawyer you want to be. Make the most of it: your career starts now.

 

October 2015 - Letitia Longworth

Letitia Longworth obtained her Graduate LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh, after studying English in St. Andrews for her first degree. Letitia is two months into her first seat with Brodies LLP, working with the Energy & Infrastructure team in Edinburgh.

APPLICATION TIME: Cracking the COMPETENCY

If you’re one of the hundreds of Scots law students starting third year this month, or second year if you’re on an accelerated course, then life is about to get busy. Autumn – season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and miscellaneous-spiced-lattes – is also the time of the traineeship application. And these days, that means one thing above all else: competency questions.

While you’ll find that there are as many types of form as there are firms to apply to, competency questions now come as standard across the board. When getting to grips with the technique can feel like an uphill struggle, once you’ve cracked it you’ll find that applications on the whole are far easier (you might even begin to enjoy them!).

So, to help with this process, and to coincide with the Law Fairs taking place around the country over the next few weeks, here’s a list of top tips for tackling the competency:

  • Think STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Once you begin writing, it can be very easy to wander off track, especially if you’re describing action that you took in particularly complex or technical circumstances. STAR will keep you focused.
  • Situation – this part of your answer should be short: it’s really there so that you can set the scene and provide any context that you think is crucial to an understanding of what you did.
  • Task - this might be slightly longer, but remember you’re still setting the scene. Think about a time when you encountered a clear need or problem, and took responsibility for solving it.
  • The Action section should be the longest – it’s your time to shine! It helps here to think about why you took the action, as well as what you did.
  • Try to sum up the Result in one sentence: it shows that the action you took had a clear, definitive impact.
  • Word counts are often small, so you will have to be lean and mean. It might go against the grain to hand in something that sounds less elegant than you’d like, but the aim at this stage is simply to demonstrate your skills.
  • Don’t be nervous about using examples from non-legal work experience or extra-curricular activities. An example from your part-time job or a previous career in another profession can be as effective as mooting or something you did on a summer placement. Remember that it’s the underlying reasoning that will make you stand out.

Whether you’re applying as a third year undergraduate, changing career, or coming back to study law after a couple of years in the workplace, just remember that you can demonstrate the required competencies in a myriad of different ways: ultimately it’s what you did and why, rather than where or when you did it, that will land you that place at an interview or assessment centre.

Good luck!

 

September 2015 - John Morgan

John Morgan is one of our new trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma. 

Meet PEAT – the stepping stone from student to solicitor

While your grandparents or family friends may think you step from the LLB a fully-fledged lawyer, ready to take on the world, the reality is a little less glamorous. For me, this was a relief – I certainly wouldn’t have been capable of running a transaction or structuring a case on the day of my graduation!

The Law Society recognises this and (for the good of both students and clients!) requires prospective lawyers to undergo a three-year programme called PEAT – Professional Education and Training -  before they finally get their wings as a qualified solicitor. This consists of a one year Diploma in Professional Legal Practice PEAT1, a postgraduate qualification offered at six universities around Scotland; and a two year traineeship PEAT2 completed with a firm of solicitors or in-house at another organisation.

As the new Diploma year begins, and with the benefit of a year in practice to assist my hindsight, I thought it might be worth setting out some advice on how to get the most from the PEAT1 stage:

New Skills                                                                                                                    

The Diploma is all about the skills you learn. Many, me included, forget this. I just didn’t have any enthusiasm for conveyancing, and had the idea that I could avoid a property seat for my entire traineeship. This was naïve; the skills learned in conveyancing – of quick, accurate, thorough drafting, of how to use and track defined terms – are used throughout legal practice and working on them on the Diploma gives you an advantage in most seats.

Similarly, unless you were enthusiastic about mooting, it’s possible that you’ve not had to try oral advocacy for years. The Diploma offers several opportunities in which to test out these rusty skills, in criminal and civil environments.

And a cautionary tale: the Diploma is the last chance you’ll get to ‘try before you buy’, so use the opportunity to get outside your academic comfort zone. For example, many undergraduates love delict because of the interesting factual scenarios, but baulk when faced with the processes of civil litigation. It’s worth trying things out on the Diploma before committing yourself to two years of practice in an area.

New Knowledge

I, perhaps mistakenly, saw the LLB as providing ‘knowledge’, with the Diploma teaching ‘skills’. Actually though, the Diploma is a great way to expand understanding, or look at your favourite subjects in a new light through the eyes of a practitioner. This is particularly true in commercial and corporate areas, which can appear dry at undergraduate level but come alive when you’re tasked with structuring transactions and thinking about the negotiating positions of parties.

You’ll also get to take electives as a large part of the Diploma course. These can be tailored to either your interests or future traineeship. Several of my friends contacted their firms to ask whether they preferred particular subjects to be studied on the Diploma. This is a good way of preparing yourself to hit the ground running in your first seat. On the flip side, some people used their choice of electives tactically to help with traineeship applications.

New Environment

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow and decided to head across to Edinburgh for the Diploma. This was because I had a job in Edinburgh but I was also tempted by the change of scenery after a few years in Glasgow. The Diploma is, even if you stay at the same place as before, a chance to meet a whole new bunch of people; many of whom will be your future colleagues. The atmosphere is like first year all over again, with lots of fresh, slightly more relaxed, faces!

It’s not just new people – there are much stronger link-ups with practitioners. All Diploma providers hold events in which practitioners from varied fields talk about their work. Better than this, all of your tutors will be actual practitioners with more-often-than-not very amusing and inspiring stories from the coal face of legal practice. Several people I studied beside on the Edinburgh Diploma used these links very effectively and secured traineeships through them. This is a particularly well-worn path in the criminal field.

New Opportunities

One of the things I enjoyed most about undergrad was the array of opportunities it offered to try out new things, like studying abroad, competitions, or work placements. The Diploma is no different. Several of the Diploma providers have legal advice clinics which students are encouraged to assist with. Edinburgh’s FLAC, for example, gives students an opportunity to assist real life clients before commencing the traineeship.

There are also a multitude of external competitions to get involved in. Many Diploma providers run the Scottish heats for worldwide competitions such as the International Client Consulting Competition, the International Negotiation Competition, and several mediation competitions. Taking part in such competitions is a great way to improve the soft-skills that you’ll be relying on every day during a traineeship, as well as a good way to earn yourself a trip abroad!

And finally…

One last word of advice: the examination requirements are different at different Diploma providers so check what they require. Whether you want to stay where you are or take it as an opportunity to move to a new city, you should have a look round to see what will fit you best.

To find out more about what PEAT 1 (the diploma) involves, please click here. To find out more about PEAT 2 (the traineeship) please click here.


 

August 2015 - David Bales

David Bales is another of our trainee bloggers who takes a look back at the last two years as his traineeship ends and he starts his new role as a solicitor in Brodies’ real estate department in Glasgow in July.

My Role and First Few Days as a Trainee

My first 8 months were in our real estate team in Glasgow, followed by 4 months in personal & family in Edinburgh. I have since spent the remaining 12 months in the personal & family team in Glasgow. The first three days at Brodies were spent conquering the IT system with the other trainees so, as someone who spent his formative years glued to MSN messenger it wasn’t really that stressful. It was also a good opportunity to meet the other trainees properly before going back to our respective cities. The first day in my first seat was pretty daunting, as all first days tend to be. As soon as I met the team, however, I knew everything would be fine. As a trainee in your first seat, you’re not expected to be brilliant from the word go. As long as you can show that you listen properly, learn from your mistakes and are prepared to go above and beyond (I had to get that in somewhere), you’ll be fine.

The Positives and the Negatives

There have been a lot of high points in the traineeship: being involved in some of the biggest transactions in Scotland of 2013 and 2014; presenting to the department and to clients; conducting my own client meetings; attending fancy business development events; and, most importantly, being offered a job at the end of it all. Besides work the high point of my traineeship was probably performing with the (now infamous) Brodies house band, The Blythswood Squares, at the end of year social event in Glasgow.

The only real low point for me was having my planned secondment to a client cancelled at the last minute. Business reasons meant that it was no longer possible, but I was obviously very disappointed. This is the reason why I have spent a bit more time in the Personal & Family team than is normal during a traineeship at Brodies.

My Advice for Future Trainees

1. Keep your options open for as long as possible. So many people start the traineeship convinced that they want to practice in one area and end up qualifying in to something completely different. Don’t make decisions too early and give every seat a proper chance.

2. Find time to actually enjoy your traineeship. It is no secret that being a trainee at a law firm can be stressful at times, which makes it all the more important to make the most of the social nights, the trainee lunches, the firm events or business development opportunities.

3. Use your head. Being a lawyer is a continuous learning process and you’re not expected to know everything at this stage. Common sense and good listening skills are key to being a good trainee.

 
 

July 2015 - John Morgan

John Morgan is one of our new trainee bloggers, from Brodies LLP. John grew up in Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire and attended the University of Glasgow for his LLB, spending time abroad at the Universities of Toronto, Connecticut and Cagliari. He then ventured to Edinburgh University for his Diploma. He is currently nearing the end of his first seat in the firm’s Banking and Finance department, and will be moving to the Employment department for his second seat at the start of April.

In defence of the trainee lawyer

I recently attended an event at Edinburgh University where diploma students got to quiz current trainees about their traineeship. At that event, several students seemed confused by trainees (and there were several), who had an interest in human rights or politics but had “ended up at big, commercial firms”.

The necessity of the rule of law

I can only speak from my own experience, but I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. There may be something old fashioned about it, but there’s surely something almost honourable about being part of a profession which plays a key part in upholding the rule of law – something fundamental in protecting individuals, and creating both a fair society and a prosperous economy.

From my short time in the profession, it is stark how obvious – and necessary – our connection with the rest of the economy is. We rely on businesses to continue doing what they do as much as businesses rely on us to provide our services. Where there’s a growing business, lawyers are needed. Where there’s a new building, or a big infrastructure project, lawyers are needed. We help at some of the most challenging parts of a person’s life – whether it is drawing up their will, dealing with family or employee disputes, or buying or selling property.

Even in my time here, Brodies has been part of some great local success stories like ensuring the survival of the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde, or assisting with the launch of the world’s largest fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses. Ultimately, lawyers – and that includes trainees – help the rest of the economy tick over.

A service industry

Law is, at its heart, a service industry, where your client is the be-all-and-end-all. Waking up each day knowing that you’re heading to the office to help a business complete a great deal which will generate thousands of jobs, or helping an individual through one of the trickiest times of their lives – whether that be the death of a family member or a dispute with a neighbour – is very fulfilling.

For many lawyers, the ‘good feeling’ you get when helping out a client can also lead to making sacrifices – such as missing family events or just taking a client’s concerns and issues home with you at the end of the day. This is, of course, true in any profession, but the emotional baggage which many lawyers take home can be considerable. Many students cite this as one of their key concerns about becoming a lawyer, but fortunately the profession is now much more clued up on the issues that stress can cause than before, with support available at the drop of a hat.

Taking action

If you’d prefer direct action, opportunities abound. Anecdotally, pro bono work appears to be on the rise, and on any given day you’ll see a news story in which ‘big firm’ lawyers carried out great pro bono work. Larger firms have initiatives where you can give back and help out with some great causes. Brodies, for example, has our PRIME programme on which I’ve taken several sessions this month, as well as our support for charities such as Maggie’s cancer centres, and our sponsorship of sporting events like the Scottish Schools Swimming Championships. It seems that many firms are also pushing their lawyers to help in community or university law clinics and other projects in a way that didn’t really happen a generation ago.

There are other ways of making a positive difference in the profession too. Last year I had the great honour of winning the Frank Maguire Memorial Award, named after perhaps the best campaigning lawyer Scotland has seen. The influence that lawyers such as Frank have on the law isn’t something you’re taught about at university, but it’s an impact that can’t be missed once you join the profession. Having legal knowledge helps you to do more than just put pressure on a government; it means you can get truly involved in the nitty-gritty of changing something you feel is wrong.

The message I’m trying to get across is that if you want to make a difference, the legal profession isn’t about to hold you back. Instead, it will provide you with the tools for you to do more than you could have ever thought possible.

 
 

May 2015 - Sarah McKeeve

Sarah obtained her LLB and Diploma from the University of Glasgow. After commencing her traineeship with Brodies in July 2013 with eight months in Glasgow’s Personal & Family team, Sarah flew her Glasgow nest to undertake a seat in the firm’s Edinburgh-based Corporate team. Now working in the Edinburgh’s Business Disputes and Asset Recovery (BDAR) litigation team, she looks forward to qualifying as a solicitor in July 2015.

Life as a litigation trainee: every day’s a school day

I recently moved seats to join Brodies’ Business Disputes and Asset Recovery (BDAR) division, the team which focuses on the litigation of commercial disputes, property-oriented disputes and actions for the recovery of debts and assets. Although I had enjoyed my experience in earlier seats, I was thrilled to finally be gaining experience of the litigation world.

Brodies conducts litigation across a wide variety of different specialisms, and our litigation service is sub-divided, meaning that trainees are split amongst the different specialisms. In my current seat, I do a lot of work for the division’s Debt and Asset Recovery team (DART), who carry out various small claims, summary cause and ordinary actions in the Sheriff Court to seek return of assets (such as vehicles) or sums of money.

Life in DART is fast-paced and presents a number of challenges. I have my own cases to manage and progress, assessing each situation on its facts to try to reach the best commercial result for our client. In many cases the best result is settlement, with the litigation dismissed to avoid the client incurring further costs through procedural hearings or evidential proofs.

My work often involves dealing with party litigants – individuals who, rather than appointing solicitors, represent themselves. Communications with these parties raise ethical considerations, as solicitors must take care not to exploit a party litigant’s comparative lack of knowledge or experience. For example, correspondence must be as plainly worded as possible, with litigants pointed to available sources of legal advice where pertinent.

I also support the corporate disputes team where, rather than managing lower-value disputes, I assist more senior members of the team with the preparation and progression of high-value, complex disputes in the Court of Session. This has given me invaluable experience of instructing Counsel, and I have benefited from opportunities to sit in on both a debate and an evidential hearing.

One thing all Brodies trainees share is a spot on our court rota. The firm operates a rota system for its trainees, scheduling them to appear before Sheriffs at procedural hearings on a weekly basis. This gives all trainees, regardless of their sub-team, a fantastic opportunity to gain advocacy experience at Sheriff Court level. Through the court rota we also gain exposure to actions and procedures outside our own specialisms, such as sequestration hearings, personal injury procedure (in the Sheriff Court) and summary procedure.

Whether you think you’d love the cut and thrust of advocacy or that you’d prefer the careful, tactical negotiation of an extra-judicial settlement, litigation is varied and has something for everyone. Even if you decide that a career in litigation isn’t for you, a seat as a litigation trainee is invaluable.

During my time as a litigation trainee my commercial awareness has developed immeasurably, helping me to advise clients on commercially sensible approaches to settlement negotiations. I have also become more independent, confident and ethically aware. In the life of a litigation trainee, every day’s a school day. That, in itself, is the best preparation for life as a qualified solicitor.  


 

April 2015 - Andrew Gibson

Andrew Gibson is one of our new trainee bloggers. He’s one of three trainees from Brodies LLP who’ll be contributing to the blog. Andrew obtained his LLB from the University of Stirling (studying abroad at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide) and his Diploma from the University of Strathclyde. He is currently working in the firm’s Corporate department, having completed seats in Commercial Services, Personal & Family and Personal Injury Litigation. Andrew began his traineeship in 2013 and is due to qualify as a solicitor in July 2015.

Preparing for your PQPR

I’ve got my seventh PEAT 2 Quarterly Performance Review (PQPR) this week. My recent preparation has involved familiar reflection and self-assessment. I suppose it may be viewed as my last PQPR; sort of. The eighth will technically be my final review, but I imagine that this will be slightly different given that my traineeship will be in its final few days. When you get to this stage it could be easy to feel that you’re simply going through the motions – getting the formality out of the way quickly so you can concentrate on other things.

However, the PQPR is not only great for assessing how you’re performing, but also an opportunity to identify development needs and, for want of a better phrase, blow your own trumpet.

That’s why I’ve decided to take a look at the PQPR in this blog.

Preparation

The review will be between you and your supervising solicitor. At Brodies we also have a third attendee – this spot is filled by the senior partner with overall responsibility for our trainees and a member of HR on an alternate basis. Each review is based on the Law Society’s PEAT 2 Outcomes: professionalism; professional communication; professional ethics and standards; and business, commercial, financial and practice awareness. There’s a form you’ll prepare beforehand and submit after the review.

See full details of the Outcomes.

I’ve found that it’s useful to keep a track of the work that you’re doing on at least a weekly basis. Although the time flies, you can experience and achieve quite a lot in three months. It may be that everything isn’t instantly visible to your supervisor, so it’s a way to make sure you don’t miss any good examples of your progress. The Law Society’s PEAT 2 record (an online tool for trainees to quickly note the work we’ve been doing) is an ideal way to do this.

Imagine going through a busy spell as your PQPR is fast approaching – your preparation will be much more efficient if you’ve kept a regular record of your progress. I’m a big fan of copy and paste.

The PQPR

Your supervising solicitor will have sought feedback from all of the colleagues you have worked with over the quarter. You’ll both have considered the evidence of your performance and your development needs. This will form the basis of the discussion. My tip is to draft a pretty thorough form – it can be a useful prompt during the meeting!

I was very anxious before my first review, but there was really no need to be. There will be discussion of your progress, praise (hopefully…), constructive feedback and an identification of your development needs. If you are prepared and confident that you have been working towards your objectives and PEAT 2 outcomes, the meeting can be a great boost.

Post-review

You’ll leave with a skip in your step confident in the knowledge that you are well on track. That’s the hope, anyway. You will be graded as performing ‘above the standard required’, ‘to the standard required’ or ‘below the standard required’. You should also leave with specific objectives for the next quarter and a clear idea of where you need to improve.

As an aside, at Brodies our PQPR review forms formed an important part of our NQ recruitment process. We had to submit all of our forms when we applied for roles. I used the forms to remind myself of what I’d done well – examples for all of the competency-based questions you can think of should be in your review forms! Taking the time the complete them properly will prove to be well worth your while.

 

February 2015 - Andrew Gibson

Andrew Gibson is one of our new trainee bloggers. He’s one of three trainees from Brodies LLP who’ll be contributing to the blog. Andrew obtained his LLB from the University of Stirling (studying abroad at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide) and his Diploma from the University of Strathclyde. He is currently working in the firm’s Corporate department, having completed seats in Commercial Services, Personal & Family and Personal Injury Litigation. Andrew began his traineeship in 2013 and is due to qualify as a solicitor in July 2015.

Qualification time

Sarah and I will both be qualifying as solicitors in July this year. The seven-year (minimum) marathon has entered the home straight. You may not be surprised to hear that our minds are now consumed with thoughts about what comes next. It’s an exciting but disconcerting time for us all. As you know, the traineeship is a two-year fixed term contract – now we’re on the hunt for our first permanent job.

We’re also carefully considering what area of law we want to qualify into. It is common to see particularly focused roles popping up in large commercial firms. Even in smaller firms, many NQs will now restrict their practice to one general area from day one – civil litigation, conveyancing, or criminal defence, for example. That makes this junction a very important one. The prospect of choosing what you want to do for the rest of your career is something I have found very daunting!

Each year many of the larger firms will establish formal NQ recruitment plans, taking into account departmental demands and the vagaries of the market. The number of opportunities that will arise and the practice areas where NQs will be most in-demand is something that is impossible to predict with any great certainty. However, it is clear that the market has picked up in the last couple of years following the economic downturn. It is widely known that NQ retention rates across Scotland and the number of external opportunities arising have increased of late. Whilst I found myself hunting for a traineeship at a comparatively bad time, it seems that 2015 may be a good time to be looking for an NQ role.

Roles will be released to internal applicants first. I obviously don’t know the ins and outs of the internal processes at individual firms, but HR departments will control the process, assess applications and conduct the communications. A representative from HR may also interview you, along with the partner whose team you are applying to join. Just like at traineeship assessment days, expect competency-based questions. However, at this stage it is hoped that we’ve actually learned something during our training, so while technical questions may have been missing from the interviews you’ve done to date, they should be expected in an interview for an NQ role.

Lots of smaller firms don’t have the luxury of an HR department, meaning the whole process will be controlled by the recruiting partner. Confirmation can come closer to the end of the traineeship and may not involve any interview. However, I am not the best person to advise on this.

Many firms will also accept external applications. There are some advertised at Brodies already. The Law Society of Scotland’s dedicated job site - www.lawscotjobs.co.uk – is a good place to search for vacancies, as is Scottish Legal News. Speculative applications (a CV and targeted covering letter) are also a good way to secure the role you’re looking for – I know of lots of people who secured their NQ job in this way when no vacancy was ever advertised.

By the time I come to write my next blog, I will (hopefully) have a clearer idea of what my future holds. As daunting as the process is, that is quite a satisfying thought.

 

January 2015 - Karen Cossar

Karen studied both her Undergraduate Law Degree, and her Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, at the University of Glasgow. She has returned east to Edinburgh and is now a trainee at Pinsent Masons.

Recently, I, along with the other trainees who started in the firm with me, hit a milestone. We had survived three months of our traineeships, and more importantly, were half way through our first seat. This meant one thing – the slightly daunting thought of a mid-seat review. The Law Society of Scotland requires trainees to have a review with their supervisors every three months at the very least, and the outcomes of these reviews are documented on an online portal. Preparation for this review  - it wasn't anywhere near as scary as I had imagined - meant thinking back over the last three months. It sounds like a cliché, but I cannot believe how much I have learnt and developed.

Three months ago, the thought of starting as a trainee filled me with fear. I promise you that this is an entirely natural feeling. I felt like my previous jobs in retail hadn't prepared me for life in an office, and anything I had learnt during the LLb and Diploma had been long forgotten after a summer spent in the sun enjoying everything the Edinburgh Festival had to offer.

Thankfully most of these fears have since disappeared, and those many hours of note-taking at university have come back to me. Over the past three months I've really enjoyed the first half of my seat in the Employment team, and I feel I have already learnt a huge amount.  So, here are my top tips for surviving your first few months of life as a trainee solicitor:

1. Ask questions. Always. It’s much better to ask and to clarify a situation before throwing yourself into a piece of work before discovering that you've misunderstood the instructions and have wasted half your day. Trust me, I've been there.

2. However, remember that your colleagues also have work to do. There is no such thing as a silly question, but there certainly is a silly time to ask it. Make sure that whoever you are speaking isn't frantically trying to hit a deadline before you hit them with questions regarding the interpretative differences in legislation. They will thank you for this, and will be more likely to want to help you later on.

3. Write everything down. When receiving instructions, you're unlikely to remember every detail. Notes mean that you don't need to wrack your brains later trying to remember that important tip that must be contained in the document you are attempting to draft.

4. It's much harder to work at a messy desk. I realise I'm sounding like my Mum, and this is perhaps a case of 'do what I say and not what I do', but it is amazing how much time you waste looking for papers on your desk when it's filled with every document from every matter you've worked on during the past week. Or month in my case.

5. If you make a mistake, tell somebody. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is expected that as a trainee that you will make more than others. So when you discover that you've sent that document to the wrong tribunal, spelt the parties' names wrong or forgotten to enter a case number, make sure to tell someone quickly. These mistakes are rarely, if ever, fatal, and can be rectified if caught quickly.

I'm really looking forward to writing a trainee blog over the next two years as I experience the highs (and undoubtedly lows) of my traineeship. Hopefully something of what I say can provide you with an insight into the life of a trainee solicitor.

 

January 2015 - Sarah McKeeve

Sarah obtained her LLB and Diploma from the University of Glasgow. After commencing her traineeship with Brodies in July 2013 with eight months in Glasgow’s Personal & Family team, Sarah flew her Glasgow nest to undertake a seat in the firm’s Edinburgh-based Corporate team. Now working in the Edinburgh’s Business Disputes and Asset Recovery (BDAR) litigation team, she looks forward to qualifying as a solicitor in July 2015.

Changing seats: ‘moving on up’!

A belated happy new year to everyone from all here at Brodies! I hope that you have all had a great start to your 2015.

In November, I was considering where in the firm I wanted to go for my third and final seat. Fast-forward a couple of months and I am now coming to the end of my second month as a trainee in our Business Dispute and Asset Recovery (BDAR) litigation team. This was my first choice, and I am absolutely delighted.

Like many of the experiences which trainees face, seat moves are intimidating. However, I think that switching teams and regularly leaving my comfort zone behind is a key way in which the traineeship has helped me to develop as a person, and as a lawyer.

Before you go: things to remember 

  • The seat allocations are out – you know where you’re going, and it's easy to start to focus on what comes next. Don't fall into this trap! You're still part of your existing team until you move on, and your final impressions as a team member will be even more important than your first. Keep your head in the game; now’s your chance to show your team what an asset you could be as an NQ later on.
  • It is likely that one of your fellow trainees will be following in your footsteps, and the way you leave your seat will be fundamental in shaping the start of      theirs. Think about your handover well in advance. Keep your supervising solicitor in the loop with what you’re doing and prepare a good, detailed handover note. Set out background facts where appropriate and let everyone know what needs to be done to take the matter forward.

Joining your new team: survival tips

The challenges of moving teams are obvious, and extend far beyond knowing which desk to sit at. However, there’s no need to be afraid.

  • Firstly, remember that trainee rotations are a regular and familiar fixture in your firm. Most, if not all, of your qualified colleagues will have experienced it themselves. The Brodies BDAR teams in both Edinburgh and Glasgow have been fantastic at putting me at ease. They’ve made clear I shouldn’t sit and panic, or worse – take a stab and get it wrong, they’d all much rather I asked a question. So remember – you’re new, and nobody expects you to know everything.  Those around you are there to help; don’t be afraid to ask ’silly‘ questions or to seek      support. Also remember that your predecessor trainee is on hand. If you don’t feel comfortable asking one of your new team members, use a lifeline and phone a friend. 
  • Hard as it may seem, try to hit the ground running. Pick up the last trainee’s handover and find out what your supervisors want you to deal with. Your new colleagues will want to see that you’re organised; that you’re eager and willing to get started and that you’re not shy of taking on new tasks. 
  • It seems obvious, but make an effort to get to know the people you’re working with. If your colleagues know you, they’ll be even more ready and willing to help you. Not only that, but they’ll also trust you more and you’ll be exposed to better work. Importantly though, this will also make your seat much more fun. All work and no play makes Trainee a dull girl or boy!

 

 

Letitia Longworth is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. Originally from York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St. Andrews, and her Graduate LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh. She is six months into her second seat with the Personal & Family department

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