A guide to appraisals…

Exceptional Rating

For many junior lawyers, the first professional appraisals that we will ever experience will take place during our training contracts. The idea of spending an hour discussing your performance with a supervisor can feel rather scary (and reminiscent of receiving a school report) at first. However, once you know what to expect, appraisals can become a valuable tool to steer you in the right direction as a trainee.


As the old saying goes… ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’. Don’t worry; you are never going to ‘fail’ an appraisal. However, like many things, good preparation beforehand will ensure that you get the most out of the process. It may also help to calm any nerves that you might have.

Both you and your supervisor are required to complete a form to assess different aspects of your performance in areas such as commercial awareness, written communication and your ability to work with others. Although completing the form can seem daunting, it is actually a useful way to remind yourself of some examples of your achievements during your seat (of which there will be many!), and is a good opportunity to reflect on areas where you could improve. Don’t be afraid to write positively about instances where you feel that you have performed well.

No surprise there!

Trainees often worry that they are going to receive unexpected comments in an appraisal. This is simply not the case. You will have regular catch ups with your supervisor, both formal and informal throughout the course of your seat, which is a good way to get on-going feedback.  A few days before the appraisal meeting, you will also exchange appraisal forms with your supervisor so you will both be aware of everything that will be raised.

This also allows you some time to reflect on the objectives that your supervisor has set for the future and to consider how you might try to achieve these.

Two- way feedback

The appraisal meeting should be a two-way process. Your local training principal will attend and they will encourage dialogue between yourself and your supervisor. Your supervisor is not only providing you with feedback on your performance thus far, they will be keen to hear about which skills you feel that you need to develop and particular areas that interest you.

Use it

Make the most of the appraisal process by making constructive use of the feedback that you are given. Revisit the objectives set in your first appraisal regularly. They will help keep you on track throughout your training contract and will most definitely help you prepare your next appraisal form!

The second one is not nearly as scary- I promise!

This post was edited by Rachael Waugh. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

New beginnings

Leeds Town Hall

I joined the firm’s Leeds office in March 2012 as a paralegal in the Corporate Recovery team following completion of the LPC and a string of paid and unpaid work placements in the legal sector.

At that time, the office had only been open for 3 months and had just 6 members of staff – all in the Corporate Recovery team. I was still searching for the fabled training contract.

Fast-forward to November 2015 and I’m the first trainee solicitor in the Leeds office. The office now has over 30 members of staff and the following practice areas:

  • Corporate Recovery
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Residential Development
  • Corporate
  • Regulatory
  • Commercial Real Estate.

The office has also recently become a German Consulate!

I am currently sitting in the Corporate department, although in a small office everyone knows each other and I still chip in when other departments need help. A lot has changed since I joined, both personally and to the office – and to the firm, for that matter. The firm is the first UK listed law firm. Very impressive stuff!

As a city, Leeds boasts an enviable reputation as one of the UK’s key legal centres, and with a diverse economy and a highly sophisticated legal market it is a great place to experience as a lawyer to be. As the office grows, so has my exposure to all the benefits working in this city has to offer.

My experience with Gateley is fairly unique: I joined a brand new office at a firm which has a fantastic record of growth, even through a recession! I’ve worked closely with lawyers who are experts in their fields and also experienced the BD/marketing events that come with the opening of a new office.

There has also been the opportunity to get involved with some cross-office working, with the ability to refer work to our specialist departments in other offices ensuring that we have quickly established ourselves in the Leeds legal market as a full service law firm.

Overall, by working in the Leeds office shortly after its conception, I have been able to work in an adaptive and dynamic office. This has been a great learning experience, as I have been able to witness first-hand how a law firm responds to client demand (a bit more commercial awareness never goes amiss). The recent move to our fancy new premises has been an added bonus too!

This post was edited by Martin Barnes. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

FAQs with our trainee officer

Questions and Answers, Q & A

As the graduate, trainee and HR officer at Gateley, I often attend law fairs around the country, meeting students and discussing the opportunities available at the firm. I have compiled a list of some of the questions we are frequently asked, and my honest answers to them:

What can I do to make my application stand out?

Firstly, you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons, so whilst I appreciate you would like your application to be appealing, it needs to be so because you’ve clearly put some thought, effort and research into your responses; rather than anything too eccentric!

If you can, I would recommend that you try and keep away from quoting too many statistics. Quoting our annual turnover, for example, may show that you have indeed done your research, but without context, it won’t answer the question posed. Try to focus on what that statistic means in reality to you as a potential future employee of the firm and why that is significant.

Try to let your enthusiasm show. If you are enthusiastic about something, it instantly helps your personality and passion come through on an application.

And finally, always make sure you read through your application a number of times before you submit it, to double and triple check you have referenced the correct law firm(!) and that your spelling and grammar is accurate throughout. An application without any errors stands out for the right reasons.

What qualities do you look for in a future trainee?

We look for candidates that have proven intellectual ability, enthusiasm for the law and the ability to form strong working relationships. We don’t have a detailed set of criteria as we appreciate that we have a very diverse client base and as such, we need to have lawyers with an equally diverse skill-set.

Does it matter if I haven’t got any previous legal work experience?

Not necessarily, there are numerous transferable skills that can be gained from other part time jobs or holding positions on university societies and clubs. It’s good to be proactive and to get involved in as much as you can that may well benefit you in your career. Whether that is Treasurer of the Law Society, your pro bono experience or a Saturday job at the local pub, all of these roles can give you valuable transferable skills. Make sure you are aware of these skills and voice them when you’re writing your application or preparing for an interview.

What do you enjoy about working at Gateley?

There are a number of things I enjoy about my role and working at Gateley but (cheesy as this may sound!), one of the key aspects has to be the people I work with, and come into contact with. Everyone is friendly and approachable, and more importantly, happy to help if you need assistance, regardless of the office they work in or their role.

Having such a supportive and collegiate working environment makes me passionate about my role and more importantly, passionate about promoting Gateley to students who will hopefully be the future partners of the firm.

Do you have different closing dates for people that are at different stages of their education?

No, however students who apply to us will need to at least be in the penultimate year of their law degree and the final year of a non-law degree. Beyond that, we don’t have any separate processes or applications to follow; we welcome applications from anyone that is committed to pursuing a career in the law, whether they are still at university, studying towards their GDL or LPC, holding paralegal positions or looking to change career to the law.

The closing date for our Summer Vacation Placement is the 31 January 2016 and the closing date for receiving training contract applications is 31 July 2016.

This post was edited by Dawn Gillard. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Halloween is coming… biggest fears for future trainees!

Happy Halloween pumpkin

With Halloween fast approaching, some people’s biggest concern is how to carve their pumpkin. However, as solicitors to be, our trainees have had slightly more pressing issues to worry about…

Most of us are familiar with the occasional frights that accompany starting a new job. Being a trainee solicitor is no different and you can often find yourself faced with daunting and time-sensitive tasks, some of which can be out of the ordinary and are difficult to prepare for.  It is inevitable that dealing with such tasks can be quite a fearful experience. We asked some of our trainees to tell us about the biggest fears they have encountered on their training contracts so far. They included:

  • Running to the other side of Birmingham to deliver a key piece of evidence to the Employment Tribunal at very short notice
  • Dealing with clients on the telephone
  • Getting involved in an urgent and fast paced completion at the last minute
  • Speaking about property law in front of hundreds of architecture students
  • Advocating on behalf of a client
  • Prioritising tasks set by different fee earners, and knowing when to decline work given to you as a result of a heavy workload
  • Submitting documents to the High Court with only minutes to spare before a limitation date
  • Helping organise social events that employees from the entire firm would be attending
  • Witnessing and sending a file of documents in London for a completion in Manchester the same evening.

As you can see the biggest fears our trainees have experienced are extremely varied and have arisen from a range of difficult legal issues, time management problems and a fast-paced working environment. But many of these fears are inevitable for trainee solicitors in their training contracts, and its completely understandable to be nervous about them.

Everyone knows that starting a training contract is daunting, and it is the same for every trainee solicitor. Experiencing the occasional fright can teach you invaluable skills, and you can’t develop without stepping out of your comfort zone.  Showing enthusiasm and a willingness to solve problems for the team will go a long way towards conquering the fears experienced coming into a training contract.

Remaining calm, using initiative to come to a workable solution, knowing when to ask for guidance or feedback and learning from mistakes are a few of a number of ways our trainees have told us they have conquered their fears encountered so far; becoming better trainees in the process. Remember not to worry, there is always a solution to any problem; except maybe over carving your pumpkin!

This post was edited by Thomas Fardon. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Completion meetings – the role of a trainee

Trainee completion

Trainees in corporate seats will already be familiar with the phrase “completion meeting”. But for those not yet in the know, what is it?

In short, a completion meeting is where documents are formally signed or “executed” by the parties involved. This type of meeting usually involves all of the parties to a transaction physically meeting in one place to finalise all of the documents involved. However, a completion meeting can also take place in separate locations; these completions can be described as a “split completion” with different parties signing documents in separate locations with their respective solicitors present. Documents are then usually sent by courier to be signed by the other party involved, although in some circumstances the parties may sign different counterparts of the same document instead.

I have attended a number of completion meetings during my training contract so far, which have related to the sale and purchase of various businesses.

My main tasks have been:

1. Arranging documents in a meeting room so they are ready for signature by the client in the easiest way possible;

2. Meeting clients and dealing with any queries they might have;

3. Assisting colleagues and clients during the meeting;

4. Taking a note of the meeting;

5. Reviewing disclosure documents (which can be electronic or in hard copy);

6. Recording the time that board minutes are signed and filling out any other necessary details;

7. Witnessing documents (most firms will have an address stamp you can use which will save time when you have a lot of witnessing to do!);

8. Arranging for documents to be couriered/scanned across to the other side;

9. Creating a “Bible” of documents (electronic or hard copy record of signed documents) and circulating this among the various parties.

Completion meetings are an excellent and exciting experience for any trainee to be involved in. These meetings give trainees the chance to meet clients and assist at a crucial stage in a transaction, and are often fast paced and ensure you get a real flavour of life in the Corporate department.

A glass of champagne after a successful completion isn’t unwelcome either!

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

Getting the most out of a law fair


Whilst law fairs can seem a daunting experience, they are a fantastic opportunity for students to get an insight into a wide-variety of law firms in a short amount of time. For some people (like me), it might be the first time you speak to trainees or members of graduate recruitment teams, but they could work for the firm that you ultimately obtain a training contract with. Here are some top tips to help make the most out of law fairs and the information you gain from them.


Research is the first key element to enable you to make the most of your time at the law fair. Preparation is crucial to any task as a lawyer, and it is important that you do some prior to attending your first law fair.

Start by looking at the list of firms that will be attending, and decide which firms are best for you to focus your attention on. It may help to consider some of the following questions:

  • What practice areas does the firm focus on?
  • How large is the firm?
  • Are you looking for a firm with regional focus, or a larger international footprint?
  • How many trainees do they recruit?
  • Where are they based?

Once you have an idea of which firms appeal to you, I would recommend that you browse each firm’s website and social media platforms, look at articles in the legal press about the firm, and peruse the information available in Chambers and Partners. They will all provide useful background knowledge on the work culture and ethos of the firms, and can arm you with the information needed to make a good first impression with the firm’s representatives. Websites like Lex 100 and Chambers Student Guide can also give a useful insight into trainee life at the firm.

Think about what you want to take away from your visit and what you want to find out about each firm you talk to.

The first impression

You’ve done the research and now it’s time to meet your chosen firms and ask those all important questions.

Remember it’s a first impression for both parties, so dress smartly. Stay focused, and approach exhibitors on your own, not as part of a stationary-raiding hoard! You should try to be as approachable and well-informed as you can, and try to turn your single question into a conversation.

It’s important to be aware that something said at a law fair may well be remembered by the firm’s representative, so try to ensure it’s for the right reasons. But likewise, you might want to include something that was discussed with someone from the firm, on your application form, if it has made an impression on you.

What sort of questions should I be asking?

The fair is a perfect opportunity to ask those questions that you can’t find answers to elsewhere, so try to have a few ready which you can use to open a conversation and build on them. Avoid asking questions which could be answered by reading the graduate recruitment page on the firm website, so it looks like you have done your research!

It’s also important to remember that firms will send a mixture of people to a fair. You will usually find trainees and graduate recruiters, but you might also come across newly qualified lawyers, and sometimes partners. You should tailor your question to the most appropriate party.

A good place to start is with a conversation with a trainee. They would have been in a similar position to you only a few years ago. You might want to ask them how they arrived at the position they’re in, and establish what it’s really like to work for that particular firm. Remember: questions that are specific to the firm make it clear that you have done your research and are the best way to demonstrate your genuine interest and create the best possible impression.

After the fair

The law fair has wrapped up, you have enough post-it notes to last you a life-time, and a more accurate view of your chosen law firms, so how does the information gained at a law fair help?

You can now distinguish between the firms you can see yourself working at, and the ones that aren’t for you.

The smart questioning and active listening at the fair means you should have wider knowledge of the firms you’ve come across so you can really tailor any applications.

Be sure to make notes when you’ve returned home as first-hand conversation with a trainee or HR representative can give much more context to your application for a vacation scheme or training contract with a particular firm. It’s important to remember that in larger firms the HR team will review the application first, so this can help make it more unique.

Make the most out of the law fair as it can help you to create the best possible impression, and maybe grab a training contract at your dream firm.

This post was edited by Oliver Woodhouse. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Commercial awareness: what is it and how do you develop it?


Anyone applying for training contracts at a commercial law firm will already be aware of the importance of demonstrating commercial awareness. While the basic skills most graduates require to begin a professional career, such as good communication or the ability to listen effectively are relatively easy to identify and demonstrate, commercial awareness can seem like a vague concept and therefore can appear daunting for an applicant to demonstrate.

The following points should hopefully shed some light on this topic and give you some tips on how you might demonstrate an understanding of the elusive ‘commercial awareness’.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness can be simply defined as staying up-to-date on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world.”

Knowledge of how ​businesses make ​money, what ​customers want, and what problems there are in particular ​areas of ​business.”

From a quick internet search these are two definitions of commercial awareness. Although they appear quite different at first glance, clearly there are some key concepts that underlie both definitions:

  1. Commercial awareness is keeping ‘up to date’ with the business world.
  2. It requires an understanding of how developments in the business world can impact a business and the industry in which they operate.

How can you develop it?

Commercial awareness is best developed through first-hand experience. Working for a business and seeing business decisions on a day to day basis is the best way to develop your awareness. Even working in part time jobs (it doesn’t have to be in the legal industry) can help you develop this skill, if you are considering how the business is conducted and what factors contribute to its success.

You should also develop your awareness by keeping up to date with the business and financial news. Scanning the headlines of news sites in the morning and/or evening takes 5 minutes, but can be very useful in keeping up to date with developments within the national and international business world as long as you are considering the implications of such developments on businesses.

From a regional perspective, sources such as The Business Desk, which collate and distribute daily email alerts covering business news for the West Midlands, Yorkshire and North West are very useful.

How can you demonstrate it?

Application forms for vacation schemes and training contracts will not normally ask you outright to demonstrate that you have commercial awareness, but when applications are being reviewed, you will definitely need to show evidence of this.

When reading application forms, look for those questions that lend themselves to expansive answers in which you can demonstrate commercial awareness.

Likewise at interviews or assessment days, use applicable up-to-date stories to demonstrate to assessors that you are commercially aware. Also ensure you draw on the up-to-date information you have gained from reading the news, or keeping an eye on any legal industry updates.

Successfully obtaining a training contract, let alone a vacation scheme placement is becoming increasingly challenging. Once you are in practice, lawyers must ensure that they provide advice that is not only legally sound, but is practical and tailored to the clients’ wider business needs. This can only be achieved through the lawyer’s use of commercial awareness. Develop the skill as much as you can now, and it will help you not only at interview, but throughout your entire career.

This post was edited by Ashley Neville. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.