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Meet the lawyer

Joe Cooper

Joe Cooper

University: University of Leeds
Degree: Law (LLB) 
Year of qualification: 2018
Position: Associate
Department: Commercial litigation

What attracted you to a career in law?

I studied law at university as I wanted to study something new. I really enjoyed my law degree and law as an academic discipline. After that, I wanted to see how the law worked in practice so I decided to train as a solicitor. I was attracted to the idea of a career where I could apply my brain to interesting problems and use the skills I gained to provide a service to others.

Why solicitor not barrister?

At university the solicitor route was sold to me as the option for those who wanted to work as a part of a team, rather than on their own as a self-employed barrister often does. I very much enjoy working as part of a team and with people from across the firm. 

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I wanted to train at a firm where I could have a great deal of responsibility and a good amount of client exposure from the get go. For that reason I chose firms that promised those things. I was also attracted to firms with a small intakes of trainees where I wouldn’t be one in one hundred and would have the opportunity to stand out.

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

After university I spent a week at a large commercial firm, a week at a small commercial firm and a week in an in-house legal department. The latter was particularly useful, as I spent a day with the firm that the in-house legal department outsourced its work to. That allowed me to see the solicitor-client relationship from both sides. I then took a full-time role doing legal work for banking clients when I graduated.

The importance of the experience was twofold. First, there is such a variety of firms out there that it’s vital to have some idea of what type of firm/chambers you think you are suited to – you are going to be spending a lot of time there.

Second, it’s important to understand the reality of a career in professional services and the personal demands it places on you to deliver the responsive service that clients are paying for.

What do you think made your application successful?

I made sure I took the time to write a well thought out and tailored application, ensuring that I evidenced with experience everything that the firm said it wanted to see. I was working full time in a legal position at the time I applied and had just left to teach abroad for a while, so I think I stood out from the crowd a little. My job had also given me some good experience of client service to draw on and talk about at interview.

Which departments did you train in?

I started my training contract in Hill Dickinson’s inquest team and undertook a full-time secondment at an NHS trust as part of my first seat. I then moved office and spent six months in the firm’s professional risks department in Liverpool defending claims against architects, engineers, solicitors and other professionals. In my second year I did seats in commercial litigation (where I ultimately qualified) and property finance.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

The process tends to be relatively informal – jobs are advertised to the trainee cohort who can then put forward their CV. Due to the firm’s small intake, there isn’t often competition for jobs. If there is, the firm carries out an interview process.

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

There will be things that you think you have done wrong that were not wrong at all, they just weren’t perfect. Lots of things that seem important as a trainee are ultimately inconsequential. People will tell you if you’ve actually done something wrong, and it can usually be fixed.

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

As a commercial litigator my expertise is in bringing about the resolution of business disputes. Many disputes can be resolved through correspondence, discussions, meetings or mediation, but often enough it proves necessary for the parties to litigate for one of them to get what they want.

A typical day involves drafting letters, discussing litigation strategy with colleagues and dealing with the various stages of High Court litigation. That could be the preparation of pleadings with counsel, running a disclosure exercise, preparing witness evidence or preparation for trial, among other things.  

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

The thing I enjoy the most about being a litigator is the variety of the subject matter of the disputes we deal with, alongside the mix of clients we get to work with. We have an enormously varied client base and I have dealt with disputes across sectors including financial services, pharmaceuticals, pensions, healthcare, aviation, marketing, retail and more. It keeps things interesting.

Sometimes tight court deadlines can cause stress, but that’s just part of the job.

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

I have been involved in business development from an early stage in my career. I undertook a secondment early on in my training contract and have done a further full-time secondment since qualification. Being seconded requires you to be an ambassador for the firm and gets you involved in thinking about new ways of bringing work in from both existing and new clients. I am also involved in the development of a number of products and in delivering training to clients.

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

It often takes a long grind to be awarded a training contract or equivalent with a reputable firm. It’s important to persevere but also to be realistic – you need to make sure you put yourself in a position where you can evidence what it is that firms say they want, whether that’s academic grades, work experience or particular competencies.

What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

In my experience, there is a mutual understanding within the firm that you will put in the long hours when that is necessary but not when it isn’t.

I usually work between 8:30am and 6:30pm, and I perhaps do a couple of hours’ work on a Saturday two or three times a year.

There have been prolonged periods of working long days when dealing with a particularly sensitive or high profile case, but the quality of work on offer at those points has always made that trade off worthwhile.

Does your department largely work independently, in support of another dept or is it routinely supported by other depts?

Our team works with a large number of departments across the firm, mostly within the firm’s Business Services Group and Health Group. As we deal with a variety of disputes, we often require input from specialists with expertise in probate, pensions, healthcare or employment law. Similarly, we often work on disputes for the clients of other departments, so we get to know a large number of our colleagues that way.

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

Along with my team, achieving a settlement on a high profile dispute after six months of expedited High Court litigation and receiving a magnum of champagne from the firm for my efforts!

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

Being trusted to run my own High Court litigation for clients from an early stage in my career.

What’s your desert island disc?

On the Beach by Neil Young.