Emma Clayton


University: Cardiff University
Degree: Law LLB
Year of qualification: March 2017
Position: Solicitor
Department: Corporate

What attracted you to a career in law?

Based solely on the fact that I have always been quite good at essay writing in exams, I decided to select A-level Law as an option. After really enjoying my studies in this area, I opted to do a straight law degree at Cardiff University.

It wasn't until I got to university that I really began to consider law as a serious career option. Although I had completed some criminal work experience during my A levels, I had quickly realised that this was not the area of law for me.

While at university, I began to appreciate that there are many different areas of law available in which to specialise. I also liked that a career in law would be intellectually challenging and constantly changing.

Why solicitor not barrister?

During my A levels, I undertook a week’s work experience at a local court, which enabled me to observe the roles of both solicitor and barrister in action.

While both career options were of interest to me initially, I quickly realised that it was solicitors who were involved in the matters from start to finish. I wanted a career which required a lot of people skills to develop lasting professional relationships and therefore opted to focus on becoming a Solicitor.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

As I was not sure which area of law I wanted to practise in, I decided to apply to large regional firms which offered a wide variety of trainee seats.

I had previously undertaken work experience in a small high street firm and also attended an open day at a silver circle firm in London, and based on these experiences, I felt that I wanted to find a 'middle ground'.

Ashfords was the ideal choice for me, as it offers high-quality work with a national presence, but also seemed like a laid back, friendly place to work. With this in mind, I applied for a vacation scheme and a paralegal job following my graduation from university. I was fortunate enough to be offered a paralegal job in Ashfords' real estate team, before being offered a training contract a few months later.

How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?

I had the usual non-legal work experiences behind me before applying for a training contract, which were all from part-time job positions I had held while at college and university. In addition, I had obtained legal work experience at a court, a small high street firm and in a large City firm.

My non-legal work experience enabled me to develop my communication skills and, without realising it, my commercial awareness as to how businesses work. My legal work experience was also extremely important, first and foremost to ensure that I did genuinely like the career I had chosen! Secondly, I was told by a careers adviser at university that my CV should 'tell a story' about why I was applying to that particular firm.

Through my legal work experience, I was able to explain why I had decided on a career as a solicitor, then why I had opted to apply to large regional firms, rather than high street or City firms.

What do you think made your application successful?

At the time, most of the application questions for Ashfords' training contract were competency based. Growing up, I had always been keen on sports, which was reflected in my extra-curricular activities. This, along with my non-legal work experience, meant that I was able to demonstrate several key skills in the written application stage and also during the assessment centre itself.

I was also able to demonstrate my knowledge of how a law firm works, the issues that could occur on a day-to-day basis and most importantly, show that I was prepared to deal with such issues through my past experiences.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in the construction team. After working as a paralegal in real estate for a couple of years, this was a massive culture shock for me!

I did my second seat in restructuring and insolvency, before moving to corporate for my third and final seat. I qualified into the team using my 'time to count' paralegal experience in March 2017.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

During my time in the insolvency team, I was given the opportunity to run several small debt matters from start to finish. I was required to draft proceedings, undertake without prejudice settlement discussions and carry out the usual pre-trial steps.

Once judgment was awarded in our client's favour, I was then given the opportunity to try out my advocacy skills at the local county court in order to obtain a charging order. This was a great experience and it was good to get the chance to try out my LPC advocacy skills in a real court environment.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

Around January and July each year, the second-year trainees will get an email from HR listing the NQ positions available.

Interested applicants are required to submit a covering letter and a CV, then are interviewed by the relevant partner and a member of HR. The interview consists of several set questions, which are the same for all candidates, along with a few questions specific to the relevant team and area of law. Shortly following the interview, applicants will be told whether they were successful.

What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?

I wish I knew that it is very normal to feel out of your depth and at times, quite incompetent. It is a steep learning curve after each seat rotation, not only from a legal perspective, but also because you have to start from scratch with people that you may not have ever met before.

However, after a couple of months in each seat, you slowly start to settle in and realise that you know what you are doing more and more on a daily basis.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

My work in the Exeter office tends to focus on share and asset acquisitions and corporate reorganisations. In a typical day, I would usually be involved in drafting or negotiating a share or asset purchase agreement. I therefore have a lot of client contact to ensure that the legal documentation reflects the agreed commercial deal, as well as to advise on the particular risks for the client during the transaction.

As each company and client is so different, my days tend to be quite varied, which is perfect to keep me on my toes!

Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.

I recently advised a client in relation to the sale of shares in their company. As the client was not very experienced in acquisitions, I had a lot of contact with them, discussing regularly the share purchase agreement and the meaning of its various clauses.

This particular matter was notable as I was able to take the lead on the deal, negotiating with the buyer's solicitors in relation to the various legal documentation. I also had to liaise with our employment and real estate teams throughout the deal, as the target company owned commercial property and employed several individuals.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

I love that each matter I work on is so different and that my career is intellectually challenging. I also like that in corporate, you have to work regularly with other teams in the firm, which enables me to meet and work alongside a number of colleagues in different departments.

For me, the least favourite thing is probably the stress. Unfortunately, being a perfectionist tends to be a common characteristic of solicitors and this, coupled with the fact that you are constantly being challenged and trying new things, can sometimes increase your stress levels!

How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?

Juniors at Ashfords are encouraged to network as much as possible. However, we are not pushed to do so – our supervisors realise that as NQs, our main focus is getting to grips with the area of law we have chosen to qualify into. That being said, there are several networking events in the Exeter area which I tend to get involved with.

In particular, Exeter Young Business Club (XYBC), which was started by Ashfords' trainees several years ago, brings together young professionals in the immediate area for events every few months. I also help out at and attend external training and seminars whenever possible.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Contrary to what others may say about regional firms, Ashfords has an excellent client base, which is reflected in the high quality of work that we deal with. That being said, the firm has a very friendly, laid-back feel, where a good work-life balance is actively encouraged.

In addition, after working at Ashfords for a few years, it's great to work at a firm which is constantly trying to be better for its staff. A couple of years ago, the firm started culture and value sessions, which enabled staff to feed back to senior staff about their experiences at the firm. Any areas of improvement identified during these sessions have been considered and addressed by HR and the partners.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

While your studies are extremely important, to have a career in law, you have to be a well-rounded individual with excellent communication skills and commercial awareness. Budding solicitors should ensure that they have extra-curricular activities and work experience under their belts so that they can demonstrate these vital skills.

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