University: Clare College, University of Cambridge
Degree: Politics, psychology and sociology (BA)
Year of qualification: 2019
Department: Projects and construction
What attracted you to a career in law?
My parents are accountants so I liked the idea of working in a professional environment. I also knew that I always wanted to work with words not numbers. I had various work experience opportunities as a teenager and each one confirmed my initial thoughts: law was the right career for me. It suited my skill set and what I enjoyed doing. Due to the nature of client-facing work, no two days are the same. There's always a new problem to solve or a different personality to work with.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
Partly location – I knew I wanted to work in Cambridge or London – but largely breadth of practice area. During my Legal Practice Course I enjoyed some diverse modules, from family to private acquisitions, so I knew I wanted a training contract that offered the opportunity to do both personal and more commercial sides of law. The six seats at Mills & Reeve was also a bonus!
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I secured two one-week legal work experience placements and one other vacation scheme before being accepted on Mills & Reeve’s vacation scheme. I'd also worked as a kitchen assistant in a care home.
Work experience helps you to stand out and answer questions on the application and interviews with more than just stock answers. The more examples you can choose from, the easier it is to evidence skills that recruiters are looking for. If you don’t have legal or office experience, you're just as likely to have used interpersonal skills or dealt with a difficult situation working in a pub (or a care home) as you're in an office environment.
What do you think made your application successful?
The time and effort I put in at each stage. It’s important to give each application the time it deserves. The more effort you put in, the more prepared you'll be. If you know you're walking into an interview prepared, you're more likely to have the confidence to keep the inevitable nerves under control.
Which departments did you train in?
I did six seats during my training contract: health disputes, projects, construction, real estate, commercial disputes and finally a run-in seat in construction. They were all enjoyable and I gained a breadth of experience as they each had a slightly different style to learn from. No matter what team you're in there are always transferable skills to develop.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I cover a wide range of work because I originally qualified as a construction lawyer but now do a mixture of transactional construction and complex commercial projects for government departments.
There’s no such thing as a typical day which is one of the aspects I most enjoy about the role. That said, there are a few key tasks that I complete each day.
Normally I start by checking my emails and working out any priorities. This is then followed by an internal team catch-up (or several across different matters) to prepare for any client calls or meetings. I work closely with a few clients on large complex deals so there's often an update call with the client to discuss progress on the transaction, receive any new instructions, run through drafting amends and to discuss the approach to take with other parties involved in the transaction.
Finally, as I work on transactional matters, it would be rare to get through the day without any drafting, whether that's free drafting or moulding a precedent document/clause to work for the specific project I'm working on.
Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.
I'm currently working on the procurement of the new search and rescue contract for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
I have a varied role and so far have worked closely with the partner to draft the contract and the procurement documents. Going forward, I'll be supporting the client with its evaluation process and in contract negotiations with bidders. This will involve attending meetings with bidders and the client, and providing written and verbal advice to support the client in all elements of the procurement.
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
As a junior you're encouraged to start building your business development skills early, whether that's being active on LinkedIn, attending local or virtual business development events or strengthening positive relationships with clients to win repeat work.
In the projects and construction team, trainees will also often assist with preparing tenders to government clients.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
Emotional intelligence is key. Anyone can be a good solicitor but it's crucial that you can understand others and work out what motivates them. This is important when working with colleagues, clients and to understand the approach of the other side whether you're negotiating a deal or acting on a dispute.
Excellent attention to detail, being able to process information and focus on the key issues is also important. Often as a junior you're the person in the team who knows the details of a case, so being able to pull out the relevant documents or points in calls or meetings shows you know the facts and issues even if you're still learning some of the law and skills.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Keep persevering. It's competitive and you'll receive rejections but use these as an opportunity to learn – to understand what works well in interviews and on applications and you'll find a better fit eventually.
Be open-minded about what type of law you want to pursue. More often than not the area of law you enjoy studying may not be what you like in practice and vice versa.
What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
'Balance' is the key word here – sometimes it’s heavily weighted towards work but other times life comes to the forefront. There's no ‘jacket on chair’ (or online on Teams) culture. That said, we're a client-facing business and if there are client needs then you're expected to provide excellent client service, which will be out of ‘contract hours’.
However, if you have personal commitments, whether that’s going for a run before work or meeting friends for dinner, teams at Mills & Reeve are respectful of your life outside of work and will encourage and support you to do the things you enjoy.
What is the wider culture like?
The firm offers lots of ‘extra-curricular’ activities, there are groups to join for most sports, several networks to support the firm’s work on diversity and inclusion, wellbeing activities and a strong push for getting involved in charitable events. Mills & Reeve has a charity week every season, which often involve bake sales, competitions, riddles and photo submissions.
Does your department largely work independently, in support of another department or is it routinely supported by other departments?
It’s a mixture of all three. Sometimes it's just our team working on a deal, while other cases involve providing support on a wider transaction and sometimes we receive specialist tax or intellectual property rights advice from other teams.
How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?
It varies by team but generally client contact is regular. I was communicating directly with clients by email and phone in all my seats. I found that attending in-person meetings were more common in contentious seats but now that meetings are increasingly on Zoom/Microsoft Teams, trainees in projects and construction tend to attend several virtual meetings with clients each week.
Where is your dream holiday destination?
I’m currently planning my honeymoon to Hawaii (covid-19 permitting), so that’s top of the list. Although anywhere in the sun sounds good after the past few years!