Gavin Smith, a first-year trainee at Standard Life, explains some of the different features of an in-house traineeship.

What it’s like to do an in-house traineeship

There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ trainee solicitor, despite the clichés. They aren’t all from families with connections to the profession. They aren’t all educated at fee-paying schools. In fact, I don’t even work for a law firm because I am an in-house trainee solicitor with Standard Life in Edinburgh.

My hope is that this article can help lift a little of the fog surrounding working in-house, particularly for those currently in the process of applying for traineeships. Being an in-house solicitor is very different from private practice.

What’s different?

For a start, the application process was completely different. While, in my experience, most law firms (but not all!) still rely on a traditional interview system when recruiting trainees, I was offered my traineeship after a thorough assessment process which included employees from the firm watching the way I worked in a team as we carried out an exercise so they could gauge how well I got on with others. This really made me feel as if they knew me, at least a bit, and the effort they take to get to know you before you even start really makes you feel comfortable.

Having eventually reached the start of my traineeship, it has also become clear that I will be entrusted with a significant amount of responsibility even at this early stage. Although I only started a few weeks ago, on most of my tasks I am doing all the substantive work myself before passing the work on to one of the solicitors to mark up and sign-off on. This is a luxury that won’t be afforded to many first-year trainees, but it definitely means you learn quickly.

My first seat is in pensions. A month ago, I knew absolutely nothing about them. However, being the only trainee in the team, I’ve been passed a lot of work and it’s incredible how quickly you can learn – and are forced to learn – in this situation, particularly when you are pushed outside your comfort zone on a daily basis.

Getting to know your business

Your organisation is also your only client and you need to gain an intricate knowledge of how the business functions so that you can apply your legal skills effectively. What the business wants and what it needs from its legal department can often be very different things. Often, what seem like routine business decisions are complicated by the need to find out exactly who bears the risk, whether the risk is worthwhile for those it affects and so on, which adds a unique element to in-house practice. If you told me I would be doing this before I started, I’d have had no idea what you were on about!

The benefits of training in-house at a large company

Moreover, there are also many benefits to being part of a big company. As an in-house trainee, you are also part of the wider graduate scheme so I have been able to attend the full programme of graduate events, which essentially are events organised to help you to get to know your fellow graduates, the company in general and some of the staff. At our two-day graduate conference - an event which takes place about a month after you start - some of them took time out of their schedules to speak to us about how the business operates, while others told us about how they managed to get to where they are in their careers – one of the speakers told us about how within ten years of starting as a graduate he was working as head of Standard Life Investment’s office in Boston.

Amongst all the excitement of beginning my first seat, I was left in little doubt what the most important task during my first seat would be. An important bit of research, perhaps? Working on a big project? Turned out it was all of these at the same time – my biggest job was to organise my team’s Christmas party…

I’ve never been much of an organiser so this is going to be tough for me – I’ve been to a few Christmas parties in my time and I know how high the expectations can be!

We’re keen to support and promote the value of in-house traineeships. Whether you’ve been an in-house trainee yourself or your organisation has offered traineeships, if you have an interesting story to share please contact Beth Anderson, Head of Engagement for In-House Lawyers.

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.