Christopher Knudsen is a trainee solicitor at North Lanarkshire Council, Legal and Democratic Solutions. He is coming to the end of his first seat in Asset and Information and will shortly be moving to a seat in Licensing and Litigation. Christopher studied the LLB and Diploma at the University of Dundee and is due to qualify in June 2018.

How to prepare for an in-house traineeship

An in-house traineeship can offer new and unexpected challenges. I hope to assist anyone starting an in-house traineeship by providing an insight into my experience within the public sector.

A fundamental part of training in-house is having an awareness and knowledge of how your organisation works in terms of structure, service delivery and decision making. To gain a greater understanding of North Lanarkshire Council, I found it useful to research and answer five key questions at the beginning of my traineeship. These were:

1. What is your business structure and what services are delivered?

The structure of local government continues to evolve and as a result there are a variety of ways in which services are now delivered. There is value in learning the range of service delivery when assisting with legal advice as the thinking process is less linear and I have found problem solving to be an essential skill. For example, my first seat primarily focuses on corporate, planning and property, however, the work has ranged from commercial contracts to the public authority dog-catcher. Each day brings new challenges and juggling a diverse workload has helped me to understand the importance of being versatile when working in-house.

2. How are business decisions made and legal instructions received?

The work of an in-house legal team is driven by the decisions of the business. Ensuring a decision has been made through proper procedure and complies with internal and external regulation and legislation is part of everyday work when receiving instructions. I have come to realise this is an integral part of due diligence carried out by the legal team.

3. What are the objectives of your business?

By reflecting on the reasoning behind business decisions, I gained an appreciation of the council’s priorities. For local government, this is determined to an extent by the Scottish Government, but internally the council’s objectives will lie within their business plan. By reading this, I started to understand the role I play in delivering on key issues and priorities of the council.

4. What is your role within the business?

The legal team functions primarily as a support role in the delivery of services and governance. It is clear to me that this high level of legal support to such a large organisation can only be achieved as a result of significant teamwork and cooperation between colleagues, which has been a new and very enjoyable experience. Knowing that help is always readily available has allowed for a hands-on traineeship with greater responsibility in terms of my own workload and dealing with clients.

5. How is your business governed?

My starting point within any legal instruction has always been: is there a statutory basis for proceeding? There is extensive legislation which regulates and delegates increased autonomy to local authorities. An appreciation of the main statutes commonly used has been key in working efficiently. With a combination of both external and internal regulation to take into account, an understanding of when and how each apply provides a good foundation for determining where to start with an instruction.

Through answering these five questions, I find myself in a more positive position to assist colleagues in providing legal advice, support service delivery and recognise how current affairs influence the council at a higher level.

If you are starting an in-house traineeship, I wish you the best of luck!

The traineeship

Finish your legal education by learning 'on the job' working as a trainee under the supervision of a Scots-qualified solicitor. Traineeships last for a period of two years and, after its successful completion, you are ready to apply to take out a solicitor's practising certificate.