Hill Dickinson LLP

Kate Fawell-Comley
Hill Dickinson LLP

Hill Dickinson LLP

University: University College London
Degree: Law with French Law 
Year of qualification: 2017
Position: Associate
Department: Healthcare

What attracted you to a career in law?

I loved studying law, in particular being able to apply the law to situations and the problem-solving that entails. I wanted to be able to convey my own knowledge of the law to assist others in understanding their rights and obligations. I also enjoy the wide and ever-changing nature of working in law – it keeps you on your toes!

Why solicitor not barrister?

That was a difficult decision for me as I loved debating and mooting at university. One of the reasons I enjoy my area of work, however, is that there is significant opportunity for advocacy. Our team do our own advocacy at inquests and many members of the team have obtained their higher rights of audience. I’ve already had the chance to attend costs and case management conferences and pre-inquest review hearings and conduct advocacy. I enjoy being able to combine this with direct client contact and the building of client relationships that comes with being a solicitor.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I have held an interest in healthcare law for some time; however I also wanted to work for a firm which had a breadth of practice areas and was very commercially-focused. The size of firm was also very important to me; I valued being part of a trainee cohort which was large enough to have a good support network, but small enough to really be known and gain recognition within the firm. This is of significant value on qualification, with strong retention rates and a good support network within the firm being real plus points for me.

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

I had a couple of weeks of work experience at law firms, including my vacation scheme at Hill Dickinson. I also worked for a summer as a legal intern for a large charity while I was at university, so I had a mix of in-house and law firm-based experience. It’s really important to gain practical experience of what it’s like to be a solicitor as it is not the same as studying law! This will come across in your interview and application forms.

What do you think made your application successful?

Alongside my legal work experience, I had a lot of voluntary experience both legal and non-legal which I think added real merit to my applications. Not only did it show that I had a range of skills applicable to my future career, it also showed a bit of character and that I’m someone who can work alongside other people well. I also did my research and only applied to a few firms for training contracts, ensuring I knew exactly why I was applying to each one, and putting time into each application.

Which departments did you train in?

I completed seats in insurance litigation, health litigation and healthcare. I also had the opportunity to complete a client secondment at a large NHS trust and gained in-house experience working on a variety of healthcare matters, both contentious and non-contentious.

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

While on secondment at an NHS trust, I was involved in a high-profile Court of Protection matter involving a potential withdrawal of treatment from a patient in a minimally conscious state. I had to liaise with trust solicitors, clinicians and members of the patient’s family in respect of an application to the court, and was also present at best interests meetings at the trust to take notes and feed back to the trust’s solicitors. This was an emotive and complex matter involving many different people, and attracted attention in the media.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

While there is a formal process for applying for NQ jobs, in my intake we all knew where we wanted to qualify and that there were opportunities for all of us. This meant the process was pretty informal and just involved a chat with our supervisors and the trainee committee.

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

To make the most of the whole experience; be it legal work, networking, training or other experience. Everything is good for your learning and preparation for life as an NQ! And not to be hard on yourself; you’re a trainee for a reason. So long as you are learning from things and don’t make the same mistake twice, that’s what matters.

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

I specialise in healthcare law. My work involves a mix of health litigation – clinical negligence cases – and healthcare advisory, including inquests and Court of Protection work. I don’t really have a typical day as my work is really varied. On a weekly basis I might attend a pre inquest review hearing at various locations or a Court of Protection hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice – being in the London office means I am often called upon to cover such hearings for my Northern colleagues. Back in the office I might be involved in preparing statements and reviewing disclosure and records ahead of inquests. On the clinical negligence side I have a case-load of pre-litigated cases where I liaise between NHS Resolution, one of the firm’s largest clients, NHS trusts and experts, preparing reports identifying the likely prospects of defending a claim. We’ll often also receive a whole host of ad hoc requests for healthcare regulatory and advisory advice, frequently surrounding issues of capacity and consent.

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

I attended a five-week long homicide inquest on behalf of a client, which was attended by legal representatives for mental health trusts, acute hospital trusts, the police and probation services. This was a great opportunity to see the various legal reps at work and to have insight into a complex coronial matter. I was reporting directly to the client, a large national body, and was involved in drafting written representations to the coroner prior to the conclusion of the inquest.

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

I most enjoy the variety of what I do; no two days are ever the same. I also really enjoy the ‘human’ element of what I do which you don’t really get in some areas of law. In terms of ‘least’ I would have to say the unpredictability - it’s hard to plan a day in advance as often urgent matters will come in. That’s a part of this kind of work though!

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

Very much so. A large part of what we do is about offering training and update seminars to our clients which I’ve been involved in organising and have presented at them as well. I’ve also been involved in the delivery of articles on recent cases or updates to healthcare law in client newsletters. My experiences on client secondment mean that I have social connections with a large number of clients and this has led to business development opportunities such as attending a large NHS trust’s annual staff awards ceremony.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

Definitely the people. I call a lot of my colleagues close friends. There is no closed door policy and I feel comfortable approaching anyone within the firm, regardless of seniority. This is also something I feel is reflected within the firm's leadership.

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

Make the most of every opportunity you get. Apply for open days and work experience, formal or informal and when you’re there make sure you’re showing enthusiasm, obtaining contact details and asking questions! Secondly, be yourself - don’t be afraid to show your personality. At the end of the day firms want to employ someone they can work alongside and who clients will like too! Finally, work hard. Applying for training contracts is a long game but being a solicitor is a hard job and requires dedication and commitment.

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