Gateley Plc… what does that mean for a trainee?

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It is fair to say that it is an exciting time to be a trainee at what is now Gateley Plc. On Monday, 8 June, we became the first UK commercial law firm to float on the stock exchange, with shares in the firm being admitted to trading on AIM (‘Alternative Investment Market’).

The implications of floating have already been considered on our Talking Business blog, and you may have read about it in the graduate legal press. But what are the implications of floating from a trainee’s perspective?

The ownership

The traditional law firm model involves partners investing money into the business in return for sharing in its profits, with other staff being purely salaried. The advent of ‘Alternative Business Structures’ shifted the goal posts a little in this regard, with some firms opting to bring senior non-lawyer staff into their partnership structure. Converting to a Plc and listing on the stock exchange turns this model on its head entirely.

All staff at the firm now own shares in the company, and thus own part of the firm and share in its profits and its capital growth – even trainees! On admission to AIM we were given shares and had the opportunity to buy more. On an ongoing basis we are of course able to buy more shares on the market and there will be share schemes introduced for staff.

For trainees, this is particularly relevant. A trainee who embarks on a long term career with the firm can hope to build up their shareholding over time as a reward, in addition to their salary, for their hard work and loyalty. Under the traditional partnership model, only equity partners share in the firm’s profitability. The Plc model opens up this possibility earlier, and more widely.

The brand

The Gateley name has been featured prominently in the national press, and further afield, in recent weeks. As a trainee, you are inevitably judged alongside the reputation of your firm, and there is no doubt that the Gateley brand has been enhanced in the market place. Though other firms are likely to follow, the firm will be remembered as the first one to take the plunge and go public. Being associated with a forward thinking firm that is unafraid to be a trailblazer within the legal market is a very positive thing.

The future

One of the main advantages to trading shares on the stock exchange is the opportunity to raise capital from public sources. Capital is the key to growth, allowing the firm to invest and acquire. The firm has a reputation for making smart investment decisions, boasting impressive growth over the past ten years despite the economic downturn. No doubt this will continue, and our investors are clearly confident in the firm’s future success.

One crucial aspect is the firm’s ambition not only to provide legal services, but to expand into other complementary business services. As the legal market continues to undergo rapid change, the firm seeks to be become a legal services business offering complementary services to clients alongside our traditional legal offering. A question that is constantly posed in the crowded legal market place is how can a firm differentiate itself and ‘add value’ for clients? This is one answer to this question.

As a trainee due to qualify into Gateley’s corporate team in September, it is reassuring and exciting to know that I am part of a firm whose future is bright.

But it’s also business as usual.

Despite the excitement surrounding the float, it is fair to say that day-to-day life at the firm remains largely unchanged. Our employer has changed to Gateley Plc (having gone through a ‘TUPE’ transfer, providing a real life example of the much talked about topic on the LPC Employment elective!), and our email signatures have a different name at the bottom. However, the heart of what we do remains the same – we continue to concentrate on providing an excellent service to our clients.

Similarly, the firm’s ethos remains the same, including in respect of trainee recruitment and development. This week I had my last mid-seat appraisal. There is no doubt that my confidence, skills and ability have improved dramatically since commencing my training contract almost two years ago. I have no doubt that the Gateley Plc trainees of the future will enjoy the same support, and have the same experience.

This post was edited by Matthew Lappin. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Sports roundup

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Gateley trainees are encouraged to be active and participate in activities and sporting events away from our desks. Life as a trainee can be challenging and the firm’s sporting opportunities provide a great way to blow off some steam.

Football and netball are the firm’s core sports. The Birmingham Trainee Solicitors Society (BTSS) run leagues for both sports in Birmingham with weekly fixtures in addition to separate cup competitions. The equivalent societies in other cities, such as the Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group, offer similar opportunities. As well as keeping fit, this is a great way to meet and get to know trainees from other firms. There are also one-off tournaments held regularly – the Birmingham football team recently represented the firm at a local tournament raising money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital. As football captain it is my responsibility to liaise with other trainees to organise fixtures, book a pitch and to arrange travel to and from the venue. 

In Birmingham, the BTSS also runs a mixed gender summer sports trophy with events spread throughout the year. The events range from bowling to volleyball and include everything in between. Gateley won the tournament last year and proudly collected the trophy at the end-of-year BTSS ball. The first event of the tournament this year, dodgeball, was thoroughly enjoyed by all despite a disappointing elimination in the quarter final.

In the summer the Midlands offices hold an annual rounders tournament. Employees from Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham travel to Edgbaston to compete, socialise and (hopefully) enjoy the nice weather. This event is organised by trainees, which involves organising coach travel, hiring the venue and booking umpires.

A number of offices also offer other summer sporting opportunities such as cycling and cricket. I even had the opportunity to play in an indoor cricket tournament against clients from a number of different businesses. The experience of meeting clients I worked with regularly, in a less formal setting, was valuable as I got to put faces and personalities to the names I was regularly working with.

A lot of the firm’s sporting opportunities also have a charitable element. Recent examples of Gateley staff raising money for charity include mountain climbing, skydiving, marathon running and boxing. These are great ways to raise awareness and money for our nominated charities.

Clearly trainee life is not all about sitting behind your desk. Hopefully the firm’s teams can bring back some more trophies this year.

This post was edited by Joseph Evans. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

How to get the most from a summer vacation placement

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As we approach the summer vacation placement season, it is important to continue the hard work applied when filling out applications and attending interviews to ensure you get the most out of your placement. Here are a few tips to help you prepare.

  1. Talk, talk, talk. Try to talk to as many members of the firm as possible to find out about the firm’s existing clients and culture. Information you gather from informal discussions might help set you apart from other candidates and will help to build a full picture of the firm you’re applying to. Not forgetting that by talking to as many people as possible the firm will get to know your personality too.
  2. Be a team player. Make yourself useful to the team where you can, offer to assist with any tasks which you feel comfortable with (but don’t forget to push yourself). Offering to make a cup of tea for the team won’t go amiss either.
  3. Be yourself. Don’t try and be somebody you’re not. Chances are if you are trying too hard to fit in with a firm they won’t be the right fit for you and vice-versa.
  4. Relax. Try not to be nervous. You have already successfully completed the interview and application stage so have confidence in yourself. Try to come across as interested and enthusiastic – it will be noticed.
  5. Join in. Try to go to as many events as you can and meet with current trainees to understand what day to day life is like for us.
  6. Impress where possible. Ask questions and use your initiative.
  7. Be prepared. Look smart. Take a pen and paper with you to every meeting.
  8. Attention to detail. Make sure you turn up on time, read every piece of written work thoroughly for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
  9. Finally, try to enjoy yourself and make the most of your vacation placement.

This post was edited by Lauren Newbury.  For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

A day at the London High Court

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I attended a summary judgment hearing at the High Court in London earlier this year as part of my contentious Corporate Recovery seat. The civil procedure rules (CPR) have an overriding objective to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost. With this in mind, the rules allow either party to apply for summary judgment before the hearing of the case. This is essentially for circumstances in which one party is confident that the merits of their case alone are so strong and their oppositions so weak, that it is unnecessary to dedicate time and expense to a full blown trial. A summary judgment hearing allows the parties to present their legal and factual submissions to the judge who decides whether the case can be decided at this stage, instead of trial. Parties prepare in much the same way as for trial, they must provide disclosure, submit witness statements and instruct counsel.

The allocation to the High Court in London reflects the substantial value in dispute and of course heightened the feeling of tension. The court room next door had attracted much media attention and was full with reporters. As The Rolls Building is the court which deals with some of the most high profile disputes between businesses, it was not surprising to see a media presence.

The main proceedings of our case had been on-going for some time and as we acted for the claimant, we had applied to the court for summary judgment. Civil litigation is a core module on the LPC, in fact, on the course I was asked to make a summary judgment application as part of my advocacy assessment. There are two limbs that must be satisfied in order for summary judgment in favour of the claimant to be granted:

  1. the court must be satisfied that the defendant has no real prospect of success; and
  2. there is no other compelling reason why the case or issue should be heard at a trial.

Therefore all the goal posts were the same except the values, risk to reputations and grievances were multiplied tenfold.

The hearing was a culmination of much work between us, the client and counsel. Success at trial is of course determined by the merits of the case but the collaboration between the legal team and client is essential. An eye for detail, knowledge of the law and organisation are all key in ensuring that the time in court is as successful as possible.

Being privy to conversations and developments between our legal team, I could identify why and how counsel brought emphasis to certain elements of his submissions and used the supporting legal precedent to bolster his arguments. By the end, tensions were of course raised, as the judge had been coy in not giving any indication as to which argument he favoured, scrutinising each barrister equally. With great relief, judgment was delivered in our favour. It was an occasion for celebration and a moment which made me understand the feeling of triumph that draws people into the world of litigation.

The mechanics of the court system and how cases are brought to trial is all neatly laid out in the CPR. The rules govern each stage and provide a framework for cases to be heard in a fair and efficient way. Whilst this sounds a systematic and orderly approach to managing a contentious situation, the sums in dispute, reputations on the line and hours in preparation formulating a concise argument makes you realise that the formality is masking the greatest human instinct, to win.

This post was edited by Fionnuala Reihill. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Social Club commitments

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As trainees we are tasked with the running of the firm-wide Social Club. The handover from the second year trainees to the first year trainees occurs towards the end of our first seat and we then have a one year term in our designated role. Individually we are encouraged to take on both a local and national role. These roles include: treasurer, events secretary, admin secretary, charity representatives, recruitment representative and trainee induction representative. Our handover took place via conference call with all of the trainees across the offices present. Trainees could then put themselves forward for whichever role they would like.

Locally, the Social Club arranges events within their respective offices. The events take place after work and usually involve an activity such as a quiz night or bowling, with food and drinks often provided. Trainees take the initiative with the organisation and the final concept. We are often able to include a charity element into the events, such as a raffle, which allows us to promote the local charity we support to those present.

These events encourage cross-departmental contact and as the organisers, it is a fantastic way for trainees to communicate and socialise with members at every level of the firm. The national roles also encourage communication between the trainees across the offices, which really helps if you ever need to work from or contact someone in that office.

In Manchester, we had more of a ‘working’ handover. The last event organised by the second year trainees took place in March, so both year groups worked together to organise the event. This enabled us to get first-hand experience of what it involved and by the evening of the event the second years trusted us to carry on their good work.

The next big event in Manchester is the summer BBQ, which as the new local social secretary, I will be taking the reins on (with the help of my very generous fellow trainees of course). The summer BBQ takes place annually but we are looking forward to adding our own unique twists to the event. Social Club events offer a more relaxed atmosphere for socialising with colleagues and now that the baton has been passed, we look forward to many successful future events during our term.

Second year trainee

As a fourth seat trainee, I’ve just handed over my responsibilities in the Social Club. During my time on the Social Committee I was the social secretary for the Birmingham office, responsible for organising office-wide events. Previous events included dinner and drinks at local bars and restaurants as well as a bingo evening and a quiz night. I was also co-events secretary, responsible for organising the Christmas family day for the staff and families of all our Midlands offices.

Being involved with the Social Committee as a trainee is a fantastic opportunity for trainees to take responsibility and develop their skills. Most of the roles offer the chance to plan and organise events, which is perhaps a new experience. This differs from the usual trainee role: ordinarily trainees support more senior fee earners with their matters but in the Social Committee we trainees are responsible for the event. It’s a great chance to show off leadership skills in your particular Social Committee role. Delegation and time management are crucial skills that you learn quickly, as you juggle your fee earning work with the Social Committee.

Hand in hand with this, the Social Committee introduces you to colleagues away from a work setting. It is a brilliant chance to meet colleagues outside of the office and to get to know them better. This is invaluable when changing seats: that first day with the new team is much less daunting when you know a few names and you’ve spoken to people before. It also means that all the hard work you put into organising an event is brought to the attention of other teams: even if you’re not sitting in their department they will have an idea of your capabilities and so it is a good opportunity to make a good first impression.

The Social Committee has been at times fun, stressful and hectic, but overall it’s been a rewarding challenge. I wish the first year trainees the very best of luck taking on their new roles and encourage them to get the most they can from the experience.

This post was edited by Jo Symes and Hannah Edmundson. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

All in a day’s work

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As trainees we are encouraged to get involved in activities outside of the office. Of particular importance to trainees is the junior lawyers group within their region. In Leicester this is called the Leicester Junior Lawyers Division (LJLD). I was initially involved with the LJLD before starting my training contract through attending their events as a student. During the first year of my training contract I decided to take a position on the LJLD committee and became an events officer.

My role as events officer involves organising events aimed to enable junior members of the profession to network and socialise. We aim to hold six events per year for students, paralegals, trainees and solicitors up to five years post qualification experience who either live or work in Leicester. These events include the flagship annual ball and quiz. The events also include a free careers seminar to enable attendees to get some recruitment tips for applying for a training contract and progressing their career into post qualification.

Organising the events allows me to practice valuable skills for a solicitor such as:

  1. Negotiation – with a limited budget we always want to get the best price for the venue, food, drinks and entertainment
  2. Keeping a record of bookings and issuing invoices
  3. Networking, I have built up valuable links with other junior lawyers in my region and also with local businesses who we contact for event venues or sponsorship
  4. Team work, last year I worked as part of a team of three events officers, this year there are five events officers. I also work alongside the rest of the committee, in particular the treasurer to ensure payments can be made as necessary
  5. Time management. As you can imagine fitting the role alongside being a trainee can be demanding but being organised and planning ahead to ensure LJLD commitments are done with plenty of time ensures there is little need for the role to create stress or become unenjoyable.

I really enjoy my role as events officer on the LJLD. It is a great opportunity to meet other juniors in a relaxed and social atmosphere.  Being a trainee in  a smaller office, the LJLD provides an opportunity to share experiences with my peers. In addition these events offer an opportunity to develop relationships with others in the profession who I will undoubtedly be working with throughout my career.

This post was edited by Fiona Grocock. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Who’s who: a guide to key roles in a law firm

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A law firm, like most other organisations, is made up of a number of personnel and teams. I remember being asked the difference between the managing partner and the senior partner once in a training contract interview and not being able to articulate the difference. The key to understanding how a law firm operates is understanding the different roles within a firm.

Senior partner 

The senior partner would be colloquially known as ‘the boss’ and holds a similar position to that of a chief executive. The senior partner will usually chair key partner meetings and be the overall face of a firm. Senior partners have a lot of responsibility by way of setting key targets for the firm, ensuring targets are met and also being responsible for any complaint procedures. They normally do this alongside fee earning too, which makes the senior partner a very busy lawyer.

Boards 

It is normal for law firms to have a number of boards or committees that meet to set and review agendas for a firm. These are typically management boards or committees that meet to review and implement a law firm’s vision and monitor the progress being made. These will normally be comprised of partners, finance director and other unit heads.

Units and unit heads 

You will often see on law firm’s websites and brochures how law firms are internally categorised by departments or units. These are often along the lines of property, business services, banking & finance, transport etc. All of these are of course dependent upon a law firm’s particular practice areas. Each of these departments will often have a head of unit (normally a partner) who has overall responsibility for their unit or team. These partners can also be known as managing partners. 

Training principal 

The training principal is a member of a firm that all trainees will get to know very well. The training principal is (normally a partner) responsible for the training given to trainees over their training contracts. There are certain requirements that must be met by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which the training principal is also responsible for.

The teams 

A law firm would not be able to function without the various networks of teams that support them. These can be the junior fee earners (such as paralegals, trainees and solicitors) or the more senior fee earners (associates, senior associates, legal directors and partners). It is important to note that all firms will describe roles differently. For example, at Gateley, upon qualification a newly qualified solicitor will be referred to as a ‘solicitor’ whereas other firms in the market place will describe newly qualified solicitors as ‘associates’.

A law firm is also dependent upon a whole range of other teams such as, secretaries, security teams, IT, HR, marketing, communications, business development and facilities. It is important to realise from a very early stage how many different teams are needed to build a successful firm.

Hopefully this blog has given you an insight into the various roles involved in a law firm (and there are many more than described in this blog). These roles are used for purely structural reasons, to give efficiency and clarity within the business. As you can see, there are a vast number of teams (including non-solicitors) without whom a law firm would not be able to function.

This post was edited by James Miller. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.