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Meet the lawyer

Meenakkhi Bhattacharyya

Meenakkhi Bhattacharyya

University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Classics
Year of qualification: 2021
Position: Associate
Department: Private client – tax, trusts and succession
Pronouns: She/her

What attracted you to a career in law?

I always found the idea of a career in law exciting. I like the fact that it can be a good mix of client-facing work as well as problem solving. Being a lawyer is quite an analytical job, and you are always working to identify the right solution for each client, which is an aspect of the role that I believed would really suit my skill set.

Although I have always wanted to be a lawyer, I chose to complete a classics degree because I was aware that it is quite common to transition into the profession without having studied law. It was also important for me to study another subject I was really interested in and passionate about before pursuing a legal career.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

After graduating, I completed the Graduate Diploma in Law straight away. During this period, I considered the areas of law I found interesting and frequently volunteered with the Citizens Advice Bureau. From this, I discovered that I enjoyed working with individual clients. This helped me narrow my search, so I began focusing on law firms in the City that offered private client work. I knew I still wanted to work within a big law firm, but one that offered this particular aspect of work that you don’t often get in many big City firms.

During my research, Charles Russell Speechlys kept coming up. The firm’s work and ethos encouraged me to apply. In particular, the focus on maintaining the personal and connected nature of the firm, while constantly developing to provide the very best for the large variety of clients, was an exciting prospect. I was then fortunate enough to secure a vacation scheme with the firm. These are excellent ways for aspiring lawyers to work out whether a law firm is the right fit. I saw the ethos they spoke about on their website in action – it’s an incredibly collaborative atmosphere. In addition, although I was confident that I would eventually want to become a private client lawyer, I also wanted the chance to try out other areas of law and Charles Russell Speechlys’ full-service firm offering enabled me to do that.

What do you think made your application successful?

The volunteering and work experience I was involved with before applying boosted my confidence and confirmed that I knew what I wanted from a career in the legal profession. Law firm recruiters can tell when candidates are clearly making applications to hundreds of firms without really identifying what they want from a firm and a career in law. I like to think that my research and understanding of what I wanted, and how my skills fitted in with that, helped me to secure the role.

Which departments did you train in?

Private client (tax, trusts and succession), immigration, corporate tax and commercial real estate.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

During our training contract, we complete four six-month seats. In the last of these rotations, a list is made available that includes the seat choice options in which the firm has decided to offer jobs. Trainees are then required to write a cover letter and CV which focuses on the experience we’ve had in the seats and what we’ve contributed to the firm during this period.  

This is then typically followed by an interview with partners from the team we are applying to. I found out whether I had been successful about one month later.

From experience, aspiring lawyers should start thinking about the department you want to qualify into fairly early into the training contract, while also keeping an open mind. I found it helpful to start doing things that would help build my portfolio and keep my commercial awareness up to date.

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

I wish I had known how friendly and supportive the teams were going to be, and that they are all aware you’re a trainee so you’re there to learn. To get the most out of the training contract, ask all the questions you have and take every opportunity to learn from the experience.

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

A task that is quite common in the team I work in, is working to draft clients’ Wills – this involves clients explaining what their estate currently looks like and that they’re looking to future proof their estate. Following a partner or more senior associate taking the instructions from the client, it will then be my job to draft the Will in line with these instructions. There is often a document called the Letter of Wishes, which often sits alongside a Will and it would be my job to draft this as well. As the process progresses, I would be involved in drafting the lasting powers of attorney and then helping prepare these documents for signing.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

For me, it really is the people. I never really appreciated how important it is for the people you work with to be friendly and cooperative, but it is something I now really value because of how significant it is to the firm itself. The collaborative aspect of the firm is partly due to the areas we work in – the nature of our firm and clients means we work with people across different teams on many of our matters.

The people are genuinely one of the firm’s greatest assets, which does translate to the clients; they know they can trust the firm’s lawyers to provide the fullest and most well-rounded advice.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

There are a wide range of skills that are important in becoming a successful solicitor – these include the ability to keep learning and stay on top of any changes or trends. The law is changing constantly so you must stay up to date and be open to continuing to grow as a lawyer.

Communication is also a key skill but one that will develop over time. It’s important that you take the time to learn how to communicate clearly and think about how best to make a piece of information accessible to your clients.

What is the wider culture like?

The firm is keen to promote every aspect of diversity for which we have four groups:

  • Gender;
  • LGBTQ+ and Allies;
  • RBE; and
  • CAPability.

Alongside this, we also have an environment group.

One of the great things about working for a firm like Charles Russell Speechlys is that people from all parts of the firm are supporting the work that these committees are doing. In particular, the firm encourages trainees to get involved with these committees and play a part in the firm’s development

In the diversity and inclusion groups, we are committed to celebrating the variety of people who work here and ensuring the atmosphere is inclusive for everyone. There are often film nights or talks that highlight one of these diversity strands and it is great to see people engaging with these themes.

I have recently taken on the role of co-chair of the Religion, Belief and Ethnicity (RBE) committee, which I have been involved with since I was a trainee. Within the RBE committee, we are currently focusing on improving recruitment processes. We have recently hosted two events with a few key players in honour of Black History Month, where we discussed diversity and in particular the lack of ethnic minority representation in the legal profession. The firm is keen to initiate these conversations throughout the year.

The wider workforce within the firm is also great at promoting pro bono, which is something I have been quite involved with throughout my training contract and now that I have qualified. The firm has some amazing pro bono initiatives, including a regular advice clinic for a local legal centre and we are currently working on a number of disability benefit appeal claims with the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.

More recently, we have also partnered with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants with six other law firms to help victims of the Windrush scandal claim compensation. Having lawyers involved in helping make the claims and facilitating the process makes a large impact on this process: I am on the pilot team helping with this and it is a really worthwhile and rewarding experience.

How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?

I communicated with clients mostly via email and a few video calls here and there; part of my training took place during the covid-19 pandemic so there were very few in-person meetings, so I perhaps didn’t get the same opportunities I might have had in previous years. Now that offices are open again, I can already see that in-person meetings are beginning to take place more and more. As an associate, I am learning how to play a more active role in the meetings, which has been exciting and a new challenge.

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since joining the firm?

Some of the exposure I had to clients and complex deals as a trainee was incredible. As there is a relatively small trainee intake at the firm, you tend to work quite closely with partners and associates who are often leaders in their field. I have been given the chance to get involved with aspects of work that I might not have had the chance to do until much later in my career.

What’s your signature dish?

A type of Indian sweet, which I had previously only been able to buy in certain Indian shops. Lockdown cravings meant that I spent a lot of time perfecting how to make this sweet and I’m now feeding it to all my friends – now that we can host people again!