Charles Russell Speechlys

Krishna Mahajan
Charles Russell Speechlys

Charles Russell Speechlys

University: School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London
Degree: Social anthropology and linguistics
Year of qualification: 2017
Position: Associate
Department: Contentious trusts & estates

What attracted you to a career in law?

I always wanted to be a lawyer but decided to study a non-law degree (social anthropology and linguistics) to try and learn a different field and mind set. I wanted to be a lawyer, initially, because I loved to argue! As I did more work experience and learnt what a lawyer actually does, I found that I wanted to be a solicitor because of the varied work and the prospect of being able to use my legal and non-legal knowledge to make a difference in our clients’ lives.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I wanted to be a solicitor because I enjoy the client-facing side of the work that we do. One of the main aspects of being a solicitor that drew me in was working as a member of a team and as part of a firm.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I started my career at Charles Russell Speechlys as a secretary while I was studying my GDL part time in the evenings. Having worked at the firm for a little over two years, I knew that I wanted to train there. I started off as a secretary in the commercial team, but I had a real interest in private client work, especially family and trusts. I knew that the firm was a leader in these sectors and that was very appealing. At a full-service firm, I knew that I would have the opportunity to do a secondment and gain experience in other practice areas. The depth of expertise and experience within the firm was very appealing, as was the friendly, collegiate atmosphere which I had already experienced.

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

As I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age, I started work experience from around 15 years old in a high street firm. I really enjoyed the work that the firm did (family law, private client and contentious probate) and the type of the clients they had. I also wanted to experience a larger firm and did a couple of weeks of work experience in a magic circle firm and a large corporate firm in Chicago. I found that although I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a larger firm, corporate work just wasn’t for me. I did a summer placement in a large City bank in my final year of university, which reinforced my desire to work in a bigger office but not to specialise in corporate law. Work experience was important for me because it gave me an insight into how teams work, how firms can be and what it actually means to be a lawyer. Being a lawyer, especially a trainee, isn’t all super injunctions and glamour, but the sense of satisfaction that you get when you see your bundles being used in court, or your figures referred to in a reported judgement (and the Daily Mail!) is pretty great!

What do you think made your application successful?

I think that it is important for applicants to get their personality across in their applications. While at university, I did dozens of applications which, when I read back, sounded nothing like me (now or then!). I think that’s why I was unsuccessful in all of them. For my application Charles Russell Speechlys, I took the approach that someone reading it may have come across me in the office, at drinks or in the lift and was likely to know that I didn’t have a burning passion for corporate shipping deals, or wouldn’t use words such as “thereafter” in my daily life. I tried to get my personality across, which can be quite tricky to do but I think that it sets apart your application.

Which departments did you train in?

My seats were contentious trusts and estates, tax trusts and succession (in Geneva), family and real estate. I was fortunate enough to have a more private client focused training contract and enjoyed all of my seats, especially my time in Geneva. Any type of secondment is worthwhile and I found living abroad and being in a smaller office to be a great experience.

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

I was involved in a high-profile estate dispute where we acted for one of the defendants. My role was to do a detailed analysis of the claimant’s bank statements and finances to ascertain whether her claim for a high level of maintenance had any standing. This involved itemising every entry on her bank statements for a period of 5 years including holidays, shopping sprees and amazon orders! My analysis supported our defence and was used during the trial.  It was really exciting to have my figures relied on in court and in the final reported judgement and the media news reports too.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

We have a relatively formal application process. A list of available jobs is published and we have a month or so to submit a covering letter and CV outlining why we want to join the department and what work we’ve done throughout our training contract. For most departments, including mine, there was then a formal interview with the department head and another member of the team.

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

Despite having a small insight in to what to expect as a trainee, I found myself getting very frustrated that I didn’t know everything at the start, for example, I wasn’t very familiar with litigation procedure in practice or how to draft technical letters of advice. I know now that this is normal. Trainees aren’t expected to know everything and there is always someone to ask for help!

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

I work in contentious trusts and estates, which is a team within our litigation department. The work that we do crosses into general litigation, family law, private client and some financial services work. Our cases include probate disputes, capacity issues, professional negligence and breach of trust. We act for individual clients and professional trustees depending on the nature of the claim.

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

I most enjoy working with people. I have the opportunity to work with really interesting people every day, including members of my team, other lawyers and our clients. No day is the same and it keeps things fresh.

I guess nobody loves billing, but it has to be done.

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

As trainees and now as a junior, we are encouraged to be involved in BD initiatives. For example, when I was a trainee, we had a junior networking event where we all invited two contacts for wine tasting. In Geneva, I organised a trainee networking event with trainees from Swiss firms as well as another English trainee. There are always networking events that we are encouraged to attend, varying from team to team.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

As a firm, we are focused on people and their growth. I am now in my seventh year the firm and I have been encouraged and supported at every stage and role that I have had. The firm spends a lot of time and effort making sure that trainees get the best from their two years. The partners acknowledge that stress levels can be high and ensure that you are supported and that you are growing as a lawyer. The recently launched Skills Academy provides broad training to make us leadings lawyers, but also rounded individuals.

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

Keep an open mind about what area of law you want to specialise in. There are so many niche areas of law that we don’t know about until we have had some hands-on experience.

Network as much as you can. If, like me, networking doesn’t come easily to you, keep at it. Go to university/law school events - the Law Society has a number of talks with networking after, as do individual legal societies.

Be yourself. We work in a people business and your personality, communication skills and attitude are what will bring in and keep clients.

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