Craig Smith trained with Dundee City Council from 2017 to 2019 and is currently a solicitor in the commercial team at East Dunbartonshire Council. He undertook the accelerated LLB and DPLP at the University of Strathclyde, graduating from the LLB in 2012 and the Diploma in 2013. Law is his second career.
During my LLB, I think like a lot of students who intend to go into the profession, I assumed that a law firm was the only place to get a training contract and that’s certainly where I aimed my applications when I was confident enough to apply.
Like a lot of graduates, I didn’t walk out of my diploma course and into a trainee position. For a while, I stopped applying and built up experience through placements, volunteering and working in support roles, which helped me work out what areas of law and kinds of work did and didn’t interest me. This is why, in 2017, I was one of the 12% of trainees in Scotland who undertook their traineeship in-house.
So what’s it like to train in-house? In a word, varied.
In-house places are available across both the public and private sectors and in organisations of all sizes. My traineeship was with the superb legal team at Dundee City Council. Like many councils, Dundee splits its legal services into a litigation and licensing team and a commercial team, and I spent my time in the commercial team, rather than move through a rotation of seats as you might in a large private firm.
Exactly what work I undertook was often dictated by the needs of the organisation. However, that’s no bad thing, as the scope of legal work undertaken by a council’s legal team can be incredibly broad. This is to be expected when you think about the many 'hats' it can wear, including being a commercial landlord, a large employer, property developer, enforcement agency and provider of public services. I gained experience of everything from commercial contracts, conveyancing and construction/infrastructure work to housing, public events and transport issues.
The nature of in-house work provides some excellent experiences for a trainee. Your clients are your colleagues and you spend a lot of time working alongside them and getting to know their needs. This certainly helped me develop my communication skills, learning to not just give textbook legal advice, but advice that was accessible, effective and pragmatic.
In-house teams can often be quite small. The team in Dundee was only 16 solicitors and four paralegals, and I found this gave me a chance to work closely with and learn from all my colleagues. It also meant that, from day one, I was a working member of the team, contributing to its success.
The small size of the team also provided me with a chance to get involved in areas of work, such as large civic development projects, that I might not have seen training elsewhere. In-house solicitors will often work closely with senior decision makers within an organisation and I was lucky enough to sit in on meetings that helped me develop my understanding of how large organisations reach their strategic, operational and commercial objectives.
I would urge anyone looking for a traineeship to consider going in-house. It gave me great experience: working directly with clients, being involved in a broad range of areas of work and learning to deliver advice efficiently. It also gave me a fantastic level of job satisfaction, as I saw the work I’d had a hand in make a tangible difference to the organisation and the people it worked for.