Ross O'Donnell is currently a first year trainee within the Court Department at TC Young Solicitors in Glasgow. He studied both the LLB and DPLP at the University of Strathclyde, and graduated in 2019.
Life as a Court Trainee is truly fascinating.
As someone once told me, the trick is to be able to keep many plates spinning at any one time. Now, some nine months since I first walked through the doors at TC Young’s busy Court Department, I could not agree more.
The experiences that I have gained and the opportunities that I have had to develop my advocacy skills have been second to none. Even though I am still at an early stage in my legal career, I now regularly appear in Summary Cause and Simple Procedure hearings across various courts. On any given week at Glasgow Sheriff Court’s heritable court, I may, for example, appear in around thirty cases in a day. Whilst I have always possessed a desire to work within litigation, I could not have imagined that I would have been provided with such excellent practical experience at this stage in my training.
All traineeships require a trainee to demonstrate the range of skills that they have learnt during the Diploma. Each practice area will have attributes more commonly applicable to that area and this is also true of a court traineeship.
In my experience thus far, I have found that it is of paramount importance to be organised, to be able to meet deadlines and to manage a large volume of cases at one time (remember, the spinning plates). You are also required to thoroughly prepare your cases, work together with your colleagues and think quickly on your feet. One of the most valuable skills I learnt from recent CPD is to also spend time reflecting on your court appearances, noting not only what you did well, but more importantly what you can improve on.
On the day of court itself, there are the obvious considerations to be mindful of. These include the tone and volume of your voice, good eye contact and, of course, stamping out any bad habits. For me, I found out early on in my appearances that I am guilty of wanting to hold a pen during my submissions.
However, probably the primary concern for most trainees appearing in court (at least it certainly was for me) is dealing with the nerves. What I would say is that, even in my relatively short time of appearing, the more that you appear the better you become at controlling your nerves. A crucial piece of advice that I was given early on was that the nerves never truly disappear completely; it is all about how you best manage them.
Whilst such a traineeship undoubtedly improves your 'court' skills, I have learned that many of these skills are entirely transferable to other practice areas. For instance, in a court traineeship, you will draft legal documents, regularly communicate with clients, and you may also be involved in negotiating. Similarly, the traineeship presents opportunities that you may not ordinarily anticipate – I recently prepared and attended client training exercises, worked closely with an Associate Solicitor in preparing an Ordinary Court Proof, and have had the opportunity of attending court with Counsel.
For those interested in a court traineeship, there are various opportunities out there that provide useful preparation. For example, university mooting societies are a great way of becoming more comfortable with speaking on your feet, presenting a persuasive legal argument and familiarising yourself with court language.
In addition, work experience with a law firm is excellent practice for coping with deadlines and being able to prioritise important tasks. Even more simply, it is amazing how much can be learnt just by going along to a court and watching cases.
Following the Law Society’s recent changes to admission, enabling trainees to apply for admission after three months of training, hopefully many more traineeships can provide the opportunity for court appearances from an early stage.
For anyone interested in a court traineeship, my advice is absolutely to go for it. I can honestly say that it is a fantastic, rewarding experience and it provides great opportunity to develop an array of skills.