Doing our bit – my role and responsibilities as charity representative

Coins in a jam jar

Trainees are encouraged to get involved as much as possible in the social and charitable aspects of the firm. In the second year, this means taking on one of a number of roles and responsibilities. This year I chose to take on the role of charity representative for the Manchester office.

Charity fundraising is a massive part of the firm’s ethos. Each financial year, every office votes to elect a charity to support for the year. For example, the Manchester office is currently supporting the Alzheimer’s Society. The aim is to raise as much money as possible for the charity through a number of events, raffles and sweepstakes.

The type of events we organise are extremely varied; everything from bake offs that would make Mary Berry proud, to cocktail evenings where the partners show off their mixing skills, and even pie and ale nights – the list is endless!

As well as supporting our local office charity, we also have fundraising initiatives which run across all of the national offices including monthly dress down days, the giving tree initiative for Kids Out (where last year the firm donated over 100 presents to refuge children) and a candy cane delivery service at Christmas.

We also support our colleagues in their own personal fundraising efforts. This year our colleagues in Manchester have raised money for a number of different charities such as: Walking with the Wounded, Everton in the Community, Liverpool FC Foundation, Cancer Research and the North Wales Cancer Appeal.

Although I am the charity representative for the Manchester office, we all work as a team in order to raise as much money as possible for our charity. In each office there is a local charity committee which a number of people are a part of from across the office, as well as an overall firm CSR committee. It simply wouldn’t be possible to plan all of the events without the support of the charity committee.

Every second year trainee is elected into a role carrying some added responsibility. As well as charity rep, some of the other available roles include; social secretary, TIN representative (for supporting the vacation placement students) or treasurer on the social committee. Organising fundraising events often gives the trainees a chance to catch up, socialise with and meet a number of different people from across the office.

Last weekend saw a team of 26 people from the Manchester office take on the Alzheimer’s Society 10k Memory Walk around Heaton Park. In total, £1,391.00 was raised to date with sponsorship still coming in!

Overall being the charity rep tests your organisation, time management and communication skills. There are always deadlines to meet and tasks to be done, however taking some time out to raise money for such a worthwhile cause is always rewarding.

This post was edited by Ffion Brumwell-Hughes. For more information, email

The difference between RDU and Real Estate


Many trainees start their contract knowing that they will have to complete a seat in either Real Estate or Residential Development Unit (RDU), the question is, what is the difference?

Residential Development

The name really is a giveaway. RDU work with house builders and service the process from the acquisition of bare land to plot sales. The department acts as a one stop shop for clients, who want to build and sell their units as quickly and hassle free as possible.

One of the attractions of working in this department is that you can see the project from a computer generated plan to a fully functioning development, which is a rewarding process.

As a trainee you can be completing ‘due diligence’ such as an investigation on title which can be likened to fixing together a jigsaw and involves reviewing title deeds, old agreements and often dusting off some pretty old plans. Or compiling a legal report which outlines the issues that need to be addressed prior to building on the site, for example, how easily can the phone mast in the middle of the site be moved?

Throughout the development process, trainees can be accompanying the client on site visits, drafting infrastructure agreements and arranging indemnity insurance. This seat appeals to those practical minded and pragmatic individuals who can focus on the technical detail whilst also seeing the bigger picture.

Along the way you pick up a fair bit of technical jargon and lingo – you’ll never look at a new build again without thinking ‘I wonder where they’ve put the electricity sub-station – or where does the sewer discharge’?

Real Estate

Real Estate is a broad term and encompasses a wide range of property transactions. As a trainee you may sit with a team with a particular focus (for example, development, real estate finance or retail and occupiers). Whichever team you sit with you will likely find yourself getting stuck into various drafting task: contracts, leases and transfers are common, and you may even have the opportunity to work on larger documents such as an agreement for lease on a large development site. On a real estate finance task, you will work closely with the Banking & Finance team and assist with reviewing titles and drafting reports to the bank about potential issues with the property that is to be charged. Regardless of the type of real estate work you do, one guarantee is that you will spend plenty of time completing applications to the Land Registry!

One of the most rewarding things about working in the Real Estate team for a trainee is that the team deal with a high volume of files. Therefore trainees will often be able to run small matters under supervision. By the end of your seat, you should expect to have mastered the ‘Formula B’ exchange by telephone, and you will likely have taken a leading role on some smaller matters through to completion.


Both teams offer trainees great transactional experience with lots of client contact. Whilst the subject area and the principles drawn upon are largely the same – the two departments are driven by their client’s differing commercial objectives. All clients rely on us to fully understand their businesses aims, for example – house builders obviously prefer to build in the summer months whilst retailers are under the Christmas period pressure, so we, as legal advisers strive to ensure the client knows we are working towards their goals. As a trainee in a property seat, you will learn to appreciate and really put into practice that all important and enigmatic term ‘commercial awareness’.

This post was edited by Fionnuala Reihill. For more information, email

Law in Nottingham – the regional experience


With London being the goal for many aspiring lawyers, it can be easy to miss the opportunities available at regional offices. As a trainee in the firm’s Nottingham office, I have had a chance to experience everything that a smaller city can offer.

Office environment

Regional offices, as you would expect, tend to be smaller and I have found that this has led to a comradely working environment. In an office where everyone knows everyone, it becomes a lot easier to approach people for help, or to get involved in office events/committees.

From a trainee perspective, this has been invaluable for me, allowing me build a positive reputation more easily and to quickly adapt to the feel of the firm and working life in general.

Variety of work

Being a full service commercial law firm, the firm works across a broad spectrum of sectors. By working in a regional office, I have found that I have been able to work on a wide range of deals, varying in both size and complexity.

A smaller legal market, like Nottingham, predominantly deals with smaller transactions, both in value and scale. As the turnover of these transactions can be fairly quick, it is easy to get good experience on a number of deals. For example, during the course of my 6 month corporate seat, I was given the opportunity to project-manage different parts of the acquisition process on a number of occasions. The quick turnaround meant that I was able to work on all aspects of the sale and purchase chain, rather than having to focus entirely on a particular area.

That being said, I have also been able to assist our London and Birmingham offices on other transactions, getting a feel for the larger processes involved in those markets and the different approaches necessitated by the longer time-frames and money involved.

Legal community

One of the great things about working in a smaller legal market is that you quickly get to know the other professionals in the area. This can be incredibly useful when negotiating the finer points of a contract, as you are able to have a realistic conversation with the solicitor on the other side as it is highly likely that you will know them.

It also makes it easier to get involved in the legal community you work in. The local junior lawyers division will quickly be full of familiar faces, making it a great platform for networking, and there are more opportunities to get involved should a committee role appeal to you.

Overall, I have loved working in Nottingham. A smaller office has been a perfect fit for me as it has provided me with ample opportunities to broaden my experience and skills.

This post was edited by Matthew Flint. For more information, email

Top tips for new trainees


The wait from receiving your offer letter to actually starting your training contract is a very long one, eventually the day will arrive and you will officially become a trainee solicitor. In order to help you along your way, we’ve asked our current trainees for some of their top tips for making the right impression and ensuring you get as much from your time as a trainee as possible.

1. Carry a pad and pen with you at all times!

You never know when someone is going to give you an instruction or some useful titbit of information, so always be prepared, pen in hand. No matter how good your memory may be, you will inevitably end up forgetting some minor but crucial detail three days later, if you don’t write all the necessary information down as soon as you can, you always have something to refer back to.

Writing instructions or taking minutes of meetings has the added bonus of making you think about what you are writing down and consider whether you understand it, which allows you to clarify any issues or questions you have there and then.

2. Try and find out the answer yourself first…

Lawyers are extremely busy people. While everyone remembers what it was like as a trainee and they don’t expect you to know everything, you’ll probably find that you could answer your question yourself with a bit of research or common sense. As a trainee, you will have a lot of research tools at your disposal; make sure to use them when it is appropriate to do so.

3. …but don’t be scared to ask questions

Gateley prides itself on being a friendly place to work and fee earners have a wealth of knowledge which they will be happy to share with you. If you have done some research and still don’t know the answer, or are unsure of the instructions you’ve been given, don’t be scared to double check with someone. People would rather you quickly clarify a point with them than spend hours trying to figure it out yourself, but remember, they will be impressed that you have gone to the effort of trying to find out the answer by yourself first.

4. Seize the opportunity

Enthusiasm is key for any trainee. The more enthusiastic you are, the more opportunities you will gain, which will be invaluable to your development as a lawyer. Observe the habits of other lawyers at client meetings and conference calls to glean as much as you can, and read up on files to increase your understanding of what’s going on. The firm also runs many training seminars, both generally and by practice area, which will help you learn as much as possible. The more you see and experience, the better a lawyer you will be at qualification.

5. Socialise

Gateley is a sociable firm with lots of events on, and trainees are encouraged to attend as many of these as possible. In fact, as we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, often the trainees get involved in organising the events themselves! Social events give new trainees the opportunity to mix with people from different departments, which is useful should you ever come across them in a work context. There are also lots of opportunities for trainees to socialise outside the firm; most cities where the firm has an office have junior lawyer groups which hold frequent socials. Attending these events is a great way to get to know your peers. Networking is a big part of a lawyer’s career, and the more social you are as a trainee, the earlier you will be able to develop this key skill.

6. Enjoy it!

Starting your training contract can be a daunting experience, but you will soon settle in and relish the challenges you are set. Your first year will fly by; trust us, we’ve been there!

Finally, Good luck!

This post was edited by Catherine Donnelly. For more information, email

5 top tips for surviving the GDL

Helpful tips

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is a year-long conversion course for non-law graduates which results in obtaining a qualifying law degree. Whilst many students are intimidated by the prospect of studying the GDL, this blog post aims to make your experience as straightforward as possible. I recently completed the GDL, having previously worked as a paralegal at the firm and have been offered a training contract to commence in 2016, and will begin studying the LPC in September this year.

1. Be organised

The study method on the GDL consists of lectures and workshops. Whilst lectures are similar to those at university, GDL workshops involve reviewing ‘homework’ activities and completing activities in groups, such as problem questions. Given the high volume of group work involved, it is important to plan ahead to ensure that all workshop preparation is completed, and to avoid being underprepared in class. Keeping a diary of any important dates and deadlines is another useful way to manage the large workload.

2. Practice makes perfect!

Throughout the GDL your work will commonly be assessed by problem questions. Typically you are given a fictional client scenario and you must use your knowledge to advise the client. At university I was used to writing essays, and therefore initially found it difficult to adapt to problem questions. However, weekly participation in workshops provides the opportunity to tackle problem questions in a group before reviewing them with a tutor. There are also plenty of past-exam papers and sample answers available on the intranet, which are particularly helpful for revision.

3. Make the most of the resources on offer

Students can make the most of any of the resources offered by the careers centre. Students can also attend any workshops and skill-sessions which focus on relevant topics to assist with obtaining a training contract and improving your skill set.

4. Get stuck in!

Outside of the classroom, mooting (or mock trial) competitions provide the opportunity to prepare and present a fictional case in front of a ‘judge’. Other popular extra-curricular activities include pro-bono work, which involves working with members of the community to raise awareness of and provide advice on a range of legal issues. All of these activities help to give an edge to vacation scheme and training contract applications, and improve important legal skills.

5. Start revision early

Ultimately, keeping on top of workshop preparation and coursework throughout the year will ensure that you have a good set of notes to use for revision, and enable you to begin your revision as soon as possible. Regular mock examinations may also seem demanding, however they provide the opportunity to get to grips with exam-style questions and prepare you well for coping with the main examinations in the summer.

This post was edited by Emily Driver. For more information, email

Final seat, two teams!

Two business people assembling blank white jigsaw puzzles with doodles

For my final seat I have been split between the Employment department and the Private Client team. There is not a specific split, for example the beginning of the week in Employment and the second half of the week in Private Client. The department I work with on a day to day basis is dictated purely by workloads. I could be moving between tasks for the two different departments throughout the day, or alternatively I might spend the whole day working on matters specific to one department.

My role as trainee solicitor in the Employment team also involves cross office working with the wider Midlands team. When I am working with fees earners in the Birmingham or Nottingham offices allocation and supervision of work is often carried out over the phone or via email. However, one day per week I travel to the Nottingham office to sit and work with the team there. Face to face interaction is invaluable whilst training, and indeed as a qualified solicitor. For this reason, on occasion, I have also travelled to the Birmingham office .

You’re probably wondering if working between different offices and different teams is difficult to manage… whilst it is a challenge, as a final seat trainee I have built up the requisite skill set, throughout my training contract, to effectively prioritise my workload and enjoy the variety of work and experience . After all, doing a split seat means I build up experience in five different departments, rather than the four departments as is the norm for trainees at the firm. This fulfils one of my main aims as a trainee, which is to get the widest experience possible in order to prepare me for my career as a solicitor.

So, what skills are necessary to manage a cross office and cross department seat?

1. Excellent organisation and time management skills

This is necessary in order to keep on top of the matters I am working on and ensure that the requisite deadlines are met. I keep a task list of the work I have been asked to complete which is ordered in terms of priority. I update my task list daily. When work is allocated it is important to ask for the deadline for completing a task to ensure I can properly prioritise my workload. I keep my diary up to date to show when I am working in another office or attending a meeting. In addition, I find adding key dates to my calendar provides a reminder of when I need to complete or carry out a certain task.

2. Be vocal and pro-active

Workloads vary depending on how busy the two departments are. If I am not busy in one department then I let the other department know that I have capacity. On the other hand, if I am feeling overwhelmed I also need to speak up. This is where having a task list is invaluable because it provides a quick reference point for my supervisor to see what I am working on. Working between departments means that there is not the awareness, as I have found between fee earners working within a single department, of what work I am being asked to do and what deadlines I am working towards, so it is my responsibility to manage this.

In addition to the two skills mentioned above, the normal skills required of a trainee solicitor apply such as attention to detail, being a team player, adopting a commercial approach and, perhaps most importantly, demonstrating a positive and enthusiastic ‘can do’ attitude.

This post was edited by Fiona Grocock. For more information, email

What is the professional skills course?

Office table with flower, blank notepad and coffee cup

Many people leave the LPC with the impression that they have completed all of their studying and all that remains between them and qualification is their training contract. This is not true; the professional skills course (or PSC as it is more commonly referred to) is a compulsory SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) requirement pre-qualification. The SRA will not admit an individual unless they have successfully completed the PSC.

The PSC is designed to further develop the professional skills learnt on the LPC once trainees have had some experience of using them in practice. It is therefore broken into a range of different subject areas and should be spread out throughout your training contract. For example, my PSC was spread out throughout the first year of my training contract. It is more practice focused than the LPC, and encourages you to consider how the skills being taught can be applied to everyday working life, where the work can at times be high pressured.

The PSC is broken down into a number of compulsory and elective modules, which cover different areas of law. The three compulsory modules are:

  • Advocacy and Communication Skills – which involves conducting a factual analysis of a case, practising presenting opening and closing speeches and the examination of witnesses
  • Client Care and Professional Standards – which involves identifying and dealing with matters of ethics, professional conduct and client care, as well as practical matters which were not dealt with in much detail on the LPC such as fees, undertakings, time management and developing ways of working with others
  • Financial and Business Skills – which looks at what financial advice can and should be given by lawyers, and the possible criminal sanctions of not complying with these requirements, as well as providing an overview of the financial services industry and the characteristics of different types of investments.

Each of these modules take place over a number of days. For those of you who danced out of your last LPC exam celebrating that you would never have to do an exam again, unfortunately there is actually a written exam to assess financial and business skills. It is fairly straightforward though, so provided you do some preparation you should be fine.

Gateley choose your elective modules, and this year we were required to take:

  • Acquisitions and disposals of shares
  • Commercial Property- Sales and Purchase Transactions
  • ADR and Mediation
  • The Skilled Negotiator.

As discussed in a previous blog post, the firm’s policy is that trainees should complete a Corporate, a Real Estate and a Contentious seat (as well as a preference) during their training contract, and these electives correlate to the required seats. Therefore they offer a useful reminder for those who have already had experience in the relevant seat, and provide a good background to those who have yet to complete it.

Trainees take the PSC course together on the same day, so it is a good opportunity to catch up with the trainees in the other offices. It is easy to delve into the daily workings of your training contract and forget that you need to take as many training opportunities as you can. The PSC gets you into the habit of continuing your legal education and skills development, which is crucial to your career development.

This post was edited by Catherine Donnelly. For more information, email