Louise McGuinness’s three months in private practice exposed her to the world of client service – and awakened an interest in a different area of law
Housing Association Ltd (GHA) mainly involved litigation, with exposure to conveyancing, procurement and data protection. Being offered the opportunity to work with GHA’s external solicitors meant I could experience private practice and see other aspects of GHA’s business. The exchange programme is offered to each GHA trainee as a means of broadening their experiences during their traineeship and of sharing knowledge between the GHA and MacRoberts teams.
Being the sole trainee at GHA, I was looking forward to working with other trainees. As one of two trainees in the employment team I could discuss issues with someone who was new too. The added benefit was being able to speak to the previous trainees who were in the employment seat as they could give me a heads up on what to expect. Such a warm welcome from the firm helped me settle into the new environment of private practice.
During my first week at MacRoberts I had the opportunity to attend the employment appeal tribunal in Edinburgh with one of the partners. It inspired my interest in employment law – the technical analysis of the case impressed me, as did the partner’s flair for legal argument, striking the balance of being prepared and thinking on his feet. I enjoyed seeing the hearing conducted by the judge and two lay members, as I am used to appearing at cases which call before a sheriff only – this experience at the EAT enlightened me to a different dimension of litigation. Looking back at that morning in Edinburgh, I would never have thought that at the end of three months, I would have successfully negotiated a settlement with the solicitor who had been acting on the other side that day. The coaching I gained, along with the freedom to put it into practice, was brilliant.
The differences between in-house and private practice took time to adjust to – new client calls, money laundering checks, feeing – all of which are second nature to most trainees but which for me were less familiar. I was exposed to the type of work GHA would instruct MacRoberts to deal with. This helped me appreciate what areas of the law are outside the ambit of GHA’s legal team and why it can become necessary to instruct external solicitors. My training at GHA has primed me for being able to deal with miscellaneous queries, which can range from rent arrears to data protection, so it was enjoyable, perhaps even a luxury, to concentrate solely on employment law.
Throughout my secondment, I was part of a team which was buzzing with heavy caseloads and deadlines fuelled by their strong commitment to their clients’ needs. This meant I had the opportunity to provide assistance in a variety of employment scenarios, contentious and non-contentious. I assisted with an English civil appeal court case, a great opportunity to be exposed to another jurisdiction. Completing research for solicitors to aid tribunal preparation meant I began to pick up knowledge on many different areas of employment law – disability and race discrimination, contracts of employment, compromise agreements, and equal pay. During my secondment the statutory dispute resolution procedures were repealed, so the whole team was learning about new procedures and transitional arrangements at the same time as me, which was a comfort!
I was also able to attend MacRoberts’ employment seminars. Seeing a large volume of clients at both the Glasgow and Edinburgh functions made me realise why we were quite so busy. I enjoyed seeing the success of these and meeting the clients, who ranged from large public and private organisations to individuals – all with their unique queries and needs.
By the end of my three months, I realised that one of the attractive aspects of employment law was that it was constantly evolving – barely a day passes without being exposed to new decisions from the EAT and appeal courts. I hope that one day I can combine my practical litigation experience gained at GHA with the practice of employment law. The secondment opportunity sparked a new found interest, and to that end I am very grateful to have had the experience.
Eye opener, and an affirmation
Aaron Lyons found his in-house placement provided exposure to his intended specialism, along with a different type of teamworking I was first advised that I was to be seconded to Glasgow Housing Association’s in-house legal team back in January. I was delighted to get the opportunity. I knew the previous trainee who had been selected to do this and all the reports from her were excellent. I was keen to get involved in more court work and often saw the Association’s agents at court. I was impressed by the work they did and the impact it had around Glasgow and the benefit to their residents’ lives. They were extremely competent on their feet and I was keen to gain that sort of experience and learn from them.
My appetite for court work had been fuelled by six months in the Commercial Dispute Resolution Group at MacRoberts, where I had the good fortune to be allowed to attend court quite regularly and get involved in some very interesting cases. While the further experience I gained in court with GHA was invaluable to me, I was also given an active role in Second Stage Transfer (SST). This was the transfer of high numbers of property from the central body, the GHA, to various smaller housing associations across Glasgow. The in-house SST legal team, led by Anne Mackenzie, submitted hours of work to the project, engaging with other internal departments and negotiating expertly with external organisations to complete the massive sale. I had experienced work in commercial property at MacRoberts but not quite on this scale, so I was very pleased with my level of involvement.
In respect of the court side of things, the guidance I received from senior solicitor Maura Browne saw me progress from handling a few options hearings, to attending the summary and small claims courts, at first supervised, then unaccompanied after a few short weeks. I was also grateful for the opportunity to conduct my first proof in my first month, none of which would have been possible without the help and support I received from the legal team at the GHA, headed by Julia Henderson. A group of people who began as my colleagues quickly became my friends.
My time at GHA reaffirmed my decision to specialise in contentious litigation, something I had always wanted to do since I started university. It is very relieving to realise your career path is living up to all your hopes and all that time, energy and now redundant hair follicles have all been worth it.
I’m not sure if I had any real pre-conceptions of in-house solicitors compared to private practice, beyond a slight sense of isolation. At MacRoberts there are hundreds of us all focused on providing a service to our clients and all in a position to support and help each other; I always felt an in-house solicitor was on their own and would feel the pressure of being an organisation’s only link to the legal world. However, my time with the legal team at GHA showed me how a small group of lawyers can work together to create an infrastructure secure enough to support a large organisation’s legal requirements. The team spirit and work ethic would rival the most successful of private firms and was something I was very pleased to have been a part of.
I gained so much from my three months with the GHA and was even permitted to shadow the Neighbour Relations Team for a few days, giving me a unique understanding of just how enormous the task of providing and promoting a safe community for tenants in social housing really is. I would recommend the experience to anyone, in particular a junior lawyer who may find their career shaped by the opportunity.
I enjoyed my time at the GHA immensely, and while I was sad to leave, I had the good fortune to move back to MacRoberts and into the Employment Group, where I eventually became a newly qualified solicitor at the beginning of September. I have no doubt that the valuable experience I gained at the GHA will continue to help me deliver the excellent client service that my present position demands.
In this issue
- The equality, diversity and discrimination agenda: change and challenge ahead
- Justice on the green front
- Let the light in
- Needs of the family
- Reality on the West Bank
- Outside of the box
- Effective philanthropy
- Case for the defence
- Taking on the system
- Same rules for all?
- The benchmark
- Law reform update
- From the Brussels Office
- Appreciation: David Hector MacNeill
- Halfway to the Big Bang
- The same but different
- Five steps forward
- Ask Ash
- Preparing for disaster
- Rules a-changing
- Fair competition
- Time on whose side?
- 40 days and 40 nights
- Hear the grown-ups
- Problems of transition
- Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal
- Website review
- Book reviews
- Life on the other side
- Never waste a good crisis