Two years on: My top tips for trainees of tomorrow

tips-copy

Prepare early

It is useful throughout your university education to keep thinking about what areas of law you have an interest in, and whether or not you would like practical experience in these areas in the future. However, some areas that you enjoy academically may be starkly different in practice and therefore an active use of your university careers service mixed with research into appropriate firms that practice in the areas you are interested in, as well as undertaking vacation schemes or relevant legal work experience will all help to give you direction to enable you to decide what type of firm and training contract is for you.

Be open minded

You may have a set view of the seats you would like to experience when undertaking your training contract, but this may not always go according to plan. If you get allocated a seat that you do not necessarily want, embrace it, give it a go and you never know you might end up loving it. I was in a similar position when I was allocated Corporate Recovery as my third seat, it turned out to be the best thing for me and I am due to qualify into Insolvency Litigation in the coming weeks.

Understand commerciality and be commercially aware

Commercial awareness is not just reading the newspaper, it is trying to understand what clients want to achieve, how their businesses work on a day to day basis, and what we can do to help them. What may be the best legal option for a business may not always be the best commercial decision in reality. For example, when negotiating a commercial contract, it may be appropriate to give certain indemnities that from a strictly legal sense may open the company up to extra liabilities down the line. However, commercially, the acceptance of the indemnities may be worth the risk to the company if it will enable the deal to be done. You need to be able to explain the legal position and advise accordingly from a commercial point of view whilst also balancing the commercial needs of the company from your understanding of what they want to achieve. Think about potential issues a company may face in terms of the market, their brand and relevant governmental/legislative changes that may affect things. All these factors may affect the commerciality of a legal decision.

Get involved, grasp every opportunity

Remember it is not all about work. Be open to any opportunities that present themselves throughout your training contract and attend as many events as you can from social events and young professional networking events, to work and client specific opportunities. Building a social relationship with your colleagues and professional peers is important and a part of you fitting into the culture of any firm and building contacts for the future.

Take everything in your stride, criticism is good

Your training contract is an opportunity to learn and you need to remember that you are not expected to be perfect, far from it, but you are expected to try as hard as you can at each task that is given to you. Constructive criticism will help you be a better lawyer so take it in and learn from it. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification if you are unsure of what to do, it is always better to speak up with plenty of time than to complete a task incorrectly and have to rush to rectify it close to a deadline.

This post was edited by Jenna King. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Interoffice socials

Grilling at summer weekend

Life as a trainee is all about learning. It goes without saying that the focus is very much on the law and developing the commercial insight to thrive as a practicing solicitor. However, a key step in this process is learning to cultivate a working relationship with your colleagues, whether they are in different departments or different offices.

The best way to do this? Socials.

Midlands Rounders Tournament

The Gateley Midlands Rounders Tournament is a yearly social held between the firm’s Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham offices and is a great chance to meet people in other offices, share some food and drink and play a game of competitive rounders.

Harborne Cricket Club has always been the venue of choice, being the stage for a sporting event like none you’ve ever seen… since primary school… with a bar and BBQ, the settings are perfect for a catch up and it provides you with an opportunity to meet colleagues who you’ve worked with on a particular deal but might have only ever spoken to via e-mail or telephone.

This year, I was responsible for organising the Midlands Rounders Tournament. It was an excellent opportunity to work with a variety of people from our Birmingham and Leicester offices, and with the help of other trainees, partners, secretaries and our Accounts team, we were able to ensure the day was a success (although not enough for Nottingham to win the tournament). By working with colleagues from such varied backgrounds, I was able to get a glimpse of personal working styles and was given a chance to project manage in a more relaxed setting.

East Midlands Summer BBQ

The Nottingham and Leicester offices share a close working relationship, their location and coverage of the East Midlands market providing great opportunities for different departments to work closely together. To celebrate both this and a shared love of all things barbecued, the East Midlands Summer BBQ was created.

This year, it was held in the beautiful village of Wymeswold, starting at the Nottingham office’s senior partner’s house. After a few drinks and a warm welcome from Andy’s border terrier Ruby, colleagues headed to the Windmill Inn for the highly anticipated food. A quick quiz meant that we raised some money for the office’s nominated charity, the Alzheimer’s Society, with everyone then enjoying the beer garden and the summer sun. The informal nature of the social was a great chance to get to know my colleagues better, and it is at events like these that you feel part of the firm in the widest sense.

Interoffice socials have allowed me to build up greater rapport with a variety of people, given me an insight into life at the other offices, and have meant that I feel welcome wherever I go within the firm. It’s amazing what a few BBQs and drinks can do, isn’t it?

This post was edited by Matt Flint. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Why I chose Gateley

Picking different apple

Before an interview:

I first heard about Gateley at a university careers fair. After doing my initial research it became clear that the firm is widely recognised and has maintained a strong commercial reputation from day one. When I was applying for training contracts the recession was finally coming towards an end, it was still a tough environment for any business to flourish and yet Gateley was continuing to grow, with new offices opening. The training contract being offered by the firm seemed to be well-structured, diverse and stable with lots of opportunity to learn and grow as a junior lawyer.

Vacation scheme:

After applying online in my third year of university, I was offered a place on the vacation scheme in the Leicester office for 2 weeks in the real estate and employment departments. I was warmly welcomed by the friendly Leicester team from the first day and was offered a great deal of support throughout the 2 weeks. It didn’t take me long to realise that the staff are diverse, charismatic and hardworking, and I wanted to be a part of it. The work that I was delegated was interesting and challenging and gave me not only a good insight into daily life as a lawyer, but also gave me the opportunity to work hard and show the best of me.

Assessment day:

After the vacation scheme, I was invited to the assessment day where we took part in group tasks and an interview. The day was professional, enjoyable and well-structured and the atmosphere was a lot less tense and intimidating than I had experienced at other firms’ assessments days. Fellow interviewees were more approachable and friendly and it was evident that the firm were looking for ‘all rounders’ which appealed greatly to me. The questions asked and the topics explored during the day were relevant and challenging, giving us all a good opportunity to reveal our strengths and shine.

For a 2015 applicant:

This is an exciting time for the firm. We are growing and as detailed in our post last week, have just floated on AIM. For a junior lawyer, there is a lot of opportunity to progress.

As a trainee, we are given interesting, large scale work to do and are provided with the best platform to grow intellectually and socially. There is the opportunity to work on matters with colleagues from the different regional offices, and within the local office. I’m enjoying my training contract and would recommend the firm to those looking for a dynamic, challenging and well recognised training contract.

This post was edited by Gemma Kotak. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Contentious vs. non-contentious

istock_000006219729_small (1)

I am a first year trainee half way through my second seat, Commercial Dispute Resolution (CDR) – a wholly contentious seat. What do I mean when I say contentious? Well contentious work relates to disputes between parties, often involving court proceedings. This is in contrast to non-contentious or ‘transactional work’ in which parties, while having perhaps separate agendas, are often aiming to achieve the same goal. For example the sale/purchase of a company or property, or entering into a commercial contract.

It is no longer the case that the SRA requires trainees to undertake both contentious and non-contentious work during their two year training contract but Gateley (quite rightly in my opinion), believes it is valuable for their trainees to experience both types of work. This is to allow us a wide breadth of experience making us more effective future solicitors, and helps us to decide what kind of department we want to eventually qualify into. Even for non-contentious lawyers it is helpful to know the contentious/court procedure and how your work could potentially be scrutinised if there is a dispute further down the line.

My first seat was in the Banking & Finance department, a transactional seat, so moving to CDR was a bit of a culture shock at first as there are some key differences between the two styles of work.

Timescale and deadlines

In a transactional department most of the deadlines for pieces of work are dictated by your client or the other party to the transaction. This can mean you have a long period of time  working on an issue which is not time sensitive to the parties but, conversely, there can be very short periods of time for important issues to be agreed. In contrast the pace of dispute work is largely determined by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which sets out strict time periods for each aspect of the court process and even provides guidance on the time scales for pre action steps and correspondence. As a result in contentious departments you have a more rigid and predictable timetable of work.

Communication with ‘the other side’

Having come from a transactional seat where communication with the other side’s solicitors is professional but friendly and relatively open, it was unusual adapting to the contentious style of correspondence. For example, dispute correspondence is rarely personal and is addressed to and from the firms of solicitors rather than individuals. Wording has to be carefully chosen as the other side will be looking for any weaknesses, inconsistencies or errors in your arguments and concepts like ‘without prejudice correspondence’ and legal privilege come into play.

The work

Transactional seats can be very diverse in their range of clients and the specific facts, motivations and objectives of the transaction, but most deals tend to follow a similar structure. There is a separate department for each type of work (for example Real Estate, Corporate, Pensions, Banking & Finance) which provides the most effective service and expertise for clients. CDR, in contrast, covers a wide range of disputes including Commercial, Corporate, Finance, Employment, Real Estate, Construction, Contentious Probate and Sport.

The majority of the work done in contentious departments can consist of:

  1. Research and fact gathering.
  2. Advising clients on the merits of their case.
  3. Corresponding with the other side to reach a resolution and corresponding with the court if we can’t.
  4. Drafting, filing and serving statements of case (particulars of claim, defence, reply etc).
  5. Preparing witness statements and expert reports.
  6. Instructing and briefing counsel.
  7. Attending hearings.
  8. Attending mediations in an attempt to reach an amicable settlement.
  9. Ultimately enforcing any judgement post trial.

I have already been involved in all the work described above and there are also tasks such as disclosure and preparing cost budgets that are regularly undertaken by trainees.

This post was edited by Lewis Peck. For more information, email blogs@gateleyplc.com.

Gateley Plc… what does that mean for a trainee?

Gateley_PLC_Full_Colour_CMYK_72dpi

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

iStock_000015512981_Full

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

tips-copy

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.