Charles Russell Speechlys
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University: University of York
Year of qualification: 2015
Department: Construction and infrastructure
What attracted you to a career in law?
I always wanted to do law, but I also wanted to study history and stay a student for a bit longer! I was attracted to being a solicitor by the promise of varied work, lots of different ways in which I could use my legal qualifications, and an analytical and challenging career.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I wanted really good training, with structured advancement through the training contract and beyond, and a close-knit, well-respected and friendly firm that had blue-chip clients. At that stage, I didn't know what sort of law I wanted to specialise in, so I wanted a firm with a variety of practice areas. I had done a lot of research and Speechly Bircham [Speechly Bircham and Charles Russell merged in 2014] stood out as a firm that offered the full spectrum of services ranging from major corporate to private capital clients, combined with a personal and supportive atmosphere. The sheer depth of expertise and experience was very appealing.
How much work experience did you do? Why is it so important?
I did vacation schemes at several different firms in addition to Speechly Bircham LLP, including SJ Berwin and Ashurst. They were all beneficial, because all three were very different in terms of culture. In that way, vac schemes can really help you to work out where you do and don't want to work. You also get to see what lawyers do every day; lots of students say that they want to be lawyers, but personally, I didn't know what lawyers did on a day-to-day basis. You also get a chance to be involved with real work and watch people in action. The lengths that the lawyers go to get you involved also says a lot about the firm and how you would be treated as a trainee.
Which departments did you train in?
I was in construction, banking, commercial litigation/intellectual property, and on secondment to a large design and engineering company. The secondment was brilliant - everyone should do one. I learnt so much; I was thrown in at the deep end so it was a bit scary, but I am much better at my job as a result. Among other things, you learn how a business is run and their commercial demands and priorities, and that the business you are working within can be just as demanding as in a private practice/client relationship.
Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.
I was involved with the judicial review between Coventry Football Club and Coventry City Council, centred on a loan from the council to the company that owned the football ground. It was very high pressured and tense, and there was a lot of local press coverage - it was all very interesting.
On a separate occasion, our team was brought in to assist on a matter of financing a construction of a data centre in the City. Originally, the client came to Charles Russell Speechlys for legal advice on telecommunications, but the remit was soon extended to encompass banking, corporate, tax, real estate and construction. Together we formed an integrated team of 10 cross-practice lawyers and with our joint expertise we were able to ensure a favourable outcome.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
We were the first round of trainees to qualify post-merger and the process was relatively formal. We had to send a CV and cover letter to the departments we wanted to join, followed by an interview with the department head(s). I was very pleased to get my first choice in construction and infrastructure.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I do both contentious and non-contentious work, which is quite unusual. On the non-contentious side, I am involved with: drafting, including schedules of amendments to building contracts, warranties, negotiating appointments with professional and design teams, and liaising with clients. On the contentious side, the department does all kinds of dispute resolution, including adjudication, arbitration and mediation. I might find myself advising clients when they haven't been paid, or if they want an extension of time, or if they're being pursued for funds. The mix makes you better at both sides - for example, if you're involved with litigation that centres on poor drafting, you end up very conscious of not making the same mistakes in your own drafting!
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
The thing I enjoy the most is working with interesting people every day, and not just lawyers - also architects, quantum experts, engineers and more. It keeps it fresh and interesting, and you learn loads about the industries you work with.
I guess nobody loves billing, but it has to be done.
How involved are you with business development (BD) and promoting the firm?
We are definitely encouraged to be involved with BD as trainees. There are various young professional networks, which the firm is part of, and client secondments are a great way of solidifying existing client relationships. There's also no holding back on junior staff going to client meetings and so on.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
There is inward emphasis on organically growing staff, so it's a very supportive environment, with lots of time and effort expended on making sure that trainees get the best from the experience. The partners go out of their way, especially when you're under pressure, to make sure that you're supported, learning and progressing. I've experienced that as a trainee and an NQ. The firm also launched its "Skills Academy" about six months' ago, which is an all-encompassing and varied programme, both in terms of technical and commercial training.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
- Keep an open mind about what part of law you want to specialise in. Get some hands-on cross-sector experience, set clear professional goals and play to your strengths.
- Be proactive and engaged in the industry: read trade publications, follow discussion forums and attend relevant networking events - it will all come in useful one day.
- Be yourself - this is a people business, and your personality and communication skills play a huge part in your ability to integrate yourself seamlessly into an established team and to develop a long-term client relationship.
Go to Charles Russell Speechlys's website