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Meet the lawyer

Thomas Childs

Thomas Childs

University: Sheffield Hallam University
Degree: Business law
Year of qualification: 2020
Position: Associate solicitor
Department: Restructuring and insolvency

What attracted you to a career in law?

I was at a crossroads during my A levels because I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go. I applied to participate in the ‘Pathways to Law’ programme run by The University of Law and from that I secured a couple of weeks of work experience at Burges Salmon in Bristol. Before this, I hadn’t really thought about a career in law, but I really enjoyed the environment and experience. I saw law as a broad and well-respected degree but was keen to focus on the more commercial aspects of law. Having studied business studies at A-level, I was quite commercially inclined, so the university courses that I ended up applying to all involved law with elements of business.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I never really considered becoming a barrister. Although they both involve law, they’re very different jobs. The experience I initially had was in a commercial law firm, which I enjoyed and this propelled me forward to pursue that sort of area. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of advocacy on a day-to-day basis. I preferred the more structured and larger office environment that comes with being a solicitor.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

Towards the end of my degree, I started to research and apply to firms that focused on commercial and business-focused areas of law as this was the area that I had developed an interest in. 

I wanted to know what the firms catered for and specialised in and was keen to start in a larger firm based on the experience I had previously had at Burges Salmon.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

Work experience is crucial for aspiring lawyers. My initial work experience helped me to identify that a career in law was right for me. I also had a two-week placement during the second year of university at a smaller firm in Sheffield and during my third year of university I attended one day of work experience a week at a Sheffield-based firm. It’s important to make the most of these experiences because they open so many extra doors.

In terms of the pressure on students, when you’re at university everyone seems to be applying for summer schemes and training contract places and often you get let down – it can be hard to pick yourself up from these rejections. It’s important, particularly now with opportunities even more limited than normal, to remember that isn’t the only route into law or a training contract. Candidates shouldn’t pigeon hole themselves into a direct training contract route – so many people are going for the same positions so don’t be disheartened. Explore alternative routes into the profession and get whatever experience you can, whether that’s working as a paralegal or an administrative assistant in a law firm.

Freeths’ legal assistant scheme was appealing to me because over the first nine months of your time as a legal assistant you are effectively being assessed on the job for a training contract. This type of scheme means you’re not limited to a two-week vacation scheme or an interview but have the opportunity to properly demonstrate your capabilities.

What do you think made your application successful?

I think the experience I had was valued. I had completed work experience at several firms, including one of the largest commercial firms in the city at the time. On top of this, I believe that I interviewed well thanks to the previous interview experience I had – it’s quite natural to approach your first interview feeling nervous and you may not be successful but the experience is invaluable. I also highlighted a willingness to get involved with social aspects at the firm in my application.

Which departments did you train in?

I started in the firm’s insolvency team, which is the department I had been working with as a legal assistant. I completed two seats in this area – a non-contentious focussed seat and a contentious seat. I then did my final seat in the firm’s corporate and commercial team in Sheffield.

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

We advise on some large restructurings in a variety of sectors, which are always interesting to get involved with. We are also instructed in relation to administrations, which can sometimes relate to large high-profile companies. For example, relatively recently we acted on the administration of a holiday tour operator, which was an interesting job at the time and also quite demanding. As a trainee working on the case, there were a lot of documents involved in the administration process that we had to deal with and assist the team with. We advised on various aspects of the administration including the sale of company assets, which I was involved with. There were then also unique elements to the job such as the fact that the administrators were dealing with the repatriation of customers who were on tours arranged by the company at the time of their appointment. I find that every job in insolvency and restructuring is different and has unique factors to consider.

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

I completed part of my training contract while still studying the Legal Practice Course (LPC) part time. This was clearly demanding from a time-management perspective. Although I had expected this, I think it is easy to underestimate the work and organisational skills required to manage your time while training. Whether you’re studying the LPC alongside your training contract or not, it is hard work – in particular, when you move into a seat that you’re unfamiliar with. At that point all the previous experience only gets you so far.

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

Insolvency and restructuring is a very broad practice area, which is one of the reasons I was particularly interested in this area of law. There are still jobs that come up now that I haven’t come across previously such is the variety of instructions that you receive in this practice area. There are a lot of face-to-face interactions and for this reason, it is a social area of law. There are often fun and interesting networking events that the firm encourages us to attend. In the current circumstances a lot of this has now moved over to phone conversations and video calls due to covid-19.

We also spend a lot of time drafting documents and preparing written correspondence. I would say that both strong written and verbal communication skills are therefore imperative, and I have had plenty of opportunities to develop these skills during my training. For example, we often prepare detailed advice notes, which are often quite bespoke. There isn’t really a standard form of advice that we offer because matters are so varied. That said, it’s not as document heavy as other areas of law, which I have had experience in such as real estate.

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

I most enjoy the social and collaborative environment. There are plenty of opportunities to get out there and meet new people both internally from other offices and externally. Even in the current circumstances, where we have all had to adjust to working from home we are still close as a team and office. We stay in touch with others at the firm and with our clients.

On the other hand, the job can be unpredictable at times and on occasions you might find yourself working through an evening or on a weekend. I do find that it all balances out though and it is part of what you sign up for when becoming a solicitor.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

The fact that Freeths is a large firm with coverage across the country, and it still hasn’t lost the personable feeling within the firm. Importantly, it doesn’t feel like you’re just a number, which I think is quite unique given the firm’s size and the rate it has grown over the last several years. There are lots of social opportunities throughout the year to ensure that offices across the country can network and the firm places a big emphasis on social wellbeing through the wellbeing committee and a number of mental health first aiders. This has been even more valuable in recent times as people have quickly adapted to changes in their day to day life.

The quality of work is also high and of a real variety. The firm works with a number of high-profile clients too. This is exactly the sort of work that an aspiring solicitor would want to get involved in and ensures that the work is both challenging and rewarding.

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

Get yourself out there. Try to secure experience, whatever that might be because it shows your commitment to a career in law. Pick yourself back up if you miss out on vacation schemes or training contracts because this isn’t the only route into the profession. Finally, be open minded about the area of law you want to qualify into – I’m not sure I even knew what insolvency and restructuring was until I started at Freeths. Doing a law degree is one thing but it is very different in practice.

What is the wider culture like – eg, are there sports teams/trips out? Is there a LGBT group, women’s group etc?

There are monthly events to support a variety of initiatives– for example, in October there is lots happening for Black History Month, including talks and online socials. There are also a lot of regular charity and fundraising initiatives, which everyone gets involved with. The firm also has its own LGBTQ+ and allies network known as SHINE.

A lot of the firms’ offices have sports teams that enter local corporate competitions and events. In the Sheffield office where I am based, we have a football team. Before lockdown we would play weekly on a Monday night. The firm has also been taking part in the Corporate Games for the past few years, which involves entering athletes into various sporting events, including cycling, swimming, squash, football, netball and volleyball. This event is held across two days in different parts of the UK each year, with Stoke, Warwick and Coventry being the most recent hosts. As well as good fun, it’s been a great way to meet people from other offices.

What’s been the highlight of the last month at the firm?

My highlight of the past month would definitely be qualifying! As a firm, we received some excellent Legal 500 rankings including my department which moved up to Tier 2 in the insolvency and restructuring rankings for the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

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

From a non-work perspective, I was asked to organise the firm’s participation in the Corporate Games in 2018. This involved coordinating all the firm’s athletes’ participation and arranging accommodation and travel, which was a fairly big responsibility from a social and firm-wide perspective.

What’s your desert island disc?

That’s tough but I would probably say Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication.