As with private practice, the commercial sector can benefit from providing traineeships, as is demonstrated by Standard Life, which has done so for many years

As reported in the November Journal, this year’s ILG conference featured a thought-provoking panel session on in-house secondments, placements and traineeships.

Some very relevant input from the Society, RBS, Scottish Government and Standard Life made it clear that large organisations taking on in-house trainees and offering secondments or placements substantially gain from the experience and opportunities for business and personal development, as do the individuals concerned.

I spoke to one of the panelists, colleague Gill Rust, who is in charge of our UK in-house training and secondment programme, to find out more.

Full range

Standard Life’s Edinburgh-based Group Legal Services division currently comprises 79 staff, made up of 41 solicitors, seven lega analysts, five in-house trainees, three seconded private practice trainees, and 23 technical and support staff, which is equivalent to a mid-sized private practice firm.

The company offers exacting two-year legal traineeships in Edinburgh, with all the support and training required to gain the necessary skills and experience and to meet the Society’s PEAT 2 requirements, as well as the trainee’s own development needs.

Gill commented: “Taking on trainees has been a great success. Not only have we been able to ‘grow’ our own talent and embed our trainees in the business and culture of Standard Life, we have been able to offer development opportunities to our more senior lawyers and allow them to take their first steps into management by mentoring and supervising our trainees.

“The trainees themselves have the benefit of a tailored traineeship and being part of the Standard Life graduate programme. A number of trainees have been kept on at the end of their traineeship, and the experience they can bring from working throughout Group Legal enhances the service we can provide to our customers.”

In Edinburgh, Standard Life has taken on in-house trainee lawyers for nearly 20 years, many of our former trainees now holding senior or management positions. We offer our trainees experience of our business in all of the in-house legal areas, including pensions, life, commercial, international, dispute resolution and investments. We also currently offer a six-month trainee exchange with one of our external private practice law firms. This provides real opportunities for our trainees to see what life is like in private practice, and the trainees seconded to us from external law firms get to understand our business and how in-house legal teams work.

Our executive-sponsored graduate programme provides our in-house trainees with access to a large range of training, support and networking opportunities throughout the wider business. They have a unique opportunity to gain insight into both commercial and legal sides of the company and understand the business, which means they are much better placed to make the pragmatic, business-based decisions required of an in-house lawyer.

Structured support

Fresh from her film clip appearance shown at the ILG conference, I spoke to Laura Ellis, one of our second year in-house trainees. She confirmed: “I’ve loved my in-house legal traineeship so far, including the external law firm secondment I’m on at present. I look forward to returning to Standard Life, where I hope to stay on as a newly- qualified solicitor.”

Our trainees are also given a breadth and depth of work that ensures they gain the vital skills and experience to take on a qualified solicitor’s role. They are given responsibility from an early stage, which ensures they play an important role in the legal teams they are supporting, while gaining the necessary experience to take their legal careers to the next stage.

In the UK, we have, on average, five in-house trainees at any one time, which means that there is a greater chance of being chosen for opportunities as they arise, such as attending law fairs, presenting to the graduate programme or helping at our Standard Life plc AGM.

All our in-house and seconded trainees have a trainee supervisor within each seat of their traineeship. This not only provides support for the trainees, but offers management and development opportunities for our qualified lawyers looking to further their own career opportunities. With our secondees, we can build relationships at all levels with our external law firms and their staff.

As an employer, not only can we support the legal profession and graduate employment by giving opportunities to new starts, but the trainees we take on can add real value to our in-house legal teams. Every year the calibre of our trainees increases, with them being able to get quickly up to speed on legal issues and our business as well as offer fresh approaches and ideas. We have had very positive feedback from our internal business customers, as well as our legally qualified and support staff, on the quality of our trainees. Although Standard Life can never guarantee future jobs for trainees, our traineeships offer opportunities to see each other “in action” should positions arise.

Secondment benefits

Murray Douglas, one of our second-year trainee solicitors, commented: “I am on secondment from Pinsent Masons. My secondment within Standard Life’s dispute resolution team has allowed me to build ongoing working relationships within the business, given me the responsibility and independence of managing my own work matters, and enhanced my decision-making skills. The work is interesting and challenging and has offered a great insight into how a legal team within a major financial institution operates. I would thoroughly recommend a secondment should the opportunity arise!”

As we know, the in-house sector currently comprises 25% of our profession, but provides only 9% of traineeships. I am strongly of the view that all larger organisations should try to provide in-house legal traineeships and secondments if at all possible. My top five traineeship tips in this connection appear in the panel.

Our in-house trainees and secondees are the future of the in-house legal profession, and by investing our time and resources now, our profession in general, and the in-house sector specifically, can only thrive and benefit greatly.

Graeme McWilliams' five top tips for in-house traineeships

1. Integrate your traineeships into your organisation’s own graduate programme if you have one.

2. Collaborate with external law firms to offer your in-house trainees an external law firm seat as part of their traineeship, and take a seconded trainee in exchange.

3. Develop your existing lawyers by giving them opportunities to supervise and work with the trainees.

4. Vary the experience of your trainees by moving them around the different legal areas in your organisation as much as you can.

5. Improve your trainee programme by regularly gathering feedback from your trainees, lawyers and support staff.


The Author
Graeme McWilliams, legal adviser, Standard Life, Edinburgh is a member of the Society’s In-house Lawyers’ Group, IP and Technology committees and IP accreditation panel. This article, and the opinions or comments within it, are those of the author and contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Standard Life Group or the Society.
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