University: University of York
Year of qualification: 2018
What attracted you to Mills & Reeve?
When deciding where to apply for training contracts, I focused on firms which I thought would have a culture in which I could develop and thrive, rather than the size of the deals they did. Having a high level of responsibility as a trainee and being part of a smaller trainee intake were important factors because, based on my experience of learning in small groups at university, I knew it would allow me to have more time dedicated to my development, to be more involved in projects rather than being given discrete tasks. I knew that I would develop more as a trainee and lawyer in that kind of environment. Being in a culture that wants you to learn and not just do a job is the most important thing when you are starting out.
The six-seat training system was also attractive and was not something offered by many firms – I had no legal background so wanted to experience as many areas as possible. The six seat system signifies how much the firm values training and giving trainees the best foundation from which to decide the right path for them.
How much legal work experience did you have?
I had already done a couple of placements with regional firms and a City firm before I did a summer vacation scheme at Mills & Reeve. However, the amount of legal work experience you have is not overly important, in my opinion. Legal work experience can show you what a lawyer does and help you understand if you are interested in the career path, but it won’t give you the skills you need. Before I joined the firm, my best work experience was waiting in a restaurant because it taught me skills that I still utilise every day like how to build rapport with people and how to think outside of the box to solve problems.
What was the training contract like?
I secured a training contract off the back of the vacation scheme and was sponsored through my GDL and LPC. I spent the first half of my training contract based at the Birmingham office as one of four trainees, taking an active, meaningful role in a range of interesting transactions across seats in real estate and insurance disputes. I also managed to do a client secondment which was an amazing experience.
For my fourth seat, I was keen to work in the projects team after speaking with a friend of mine at the firm who had explained the type of work he did. As the projects team is based in Cambridge, the firm facilitated my whole move from Birmingham, helping me to find a place to live and paying for my accommodation – the firm supports and encourages trainees to move around offices a lot more than it used to which is great for development and experience. Cambridge was just as supportive and welcoming as Birmingham and I really enjoyed the seat, so much so that I ended up completing a second seat in projects and ultimately qualifying into the team.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
I’m part of a small and close-knit team which focuses on government infrastructure projects. These schemes are major planks of government policy, so you often see them in the news – one of the reasons that I find this area so interesting is how heavily linked it is with the political world. Although you are, in simple terms, more of a commercial lawyer and spend a lot of time drafting and negotiating contracts, you also need good knowledge of a broad range of areas, including tax, employment, construction and real estate issues. Projects also has lots of its own nuances and there is a lot of project management and co-ordination of moving parts involved. There is no typical day or week in the projects team – the variety is a key part of the appeal – but the work always involves becoming immersed and embedded with the client with lots of calls or meetings followed by drafting or reviewing contracts. You become an all-round advisor to the client and an extension of their team.
I first became interested in law because I liked the idea of helping people to achieve what they need to deliver, as well as being involved in negotiations and having to find solutions to problems, and the projects team has all three so was the perfect fit for me.
What are the clients like?
The department has two main types of work, with team members working across both areas. Government work is the first – the team does a lot of work for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Department for Work and Pensions and the Maritime Coastguard Agency. This side is about facilitating public private partnerships to deliver large scale government projects for national infrastructure – from emergency services to aircraft or ships for the MoD.
The other main type of work is project finance. We advise universities and private funds on their investment plans in student accommodation. Student accommodation has become a valuable alternative investment opportunity for pension funds and other investors looking for long term returns.
Have there been any recent highlights for the team?
We recently delivered a contract for a new support helicopter ordered by the MoD, which was completed during lockdown. We initially became involved just to review the contract being awarded to the contractor but ended up producing a 60-page report on issues with the contract, which resulted in us being asked to help deliver a complete redraft. This involved me reviewing the MoD’s ‘statement of requirements’ – a key document setting out the government’s needs for the contract – and spending many days and weeks in Bristol, working directly with the client. On top of being incredibly interesting and fulfilling to work on, the service we provided on that deal directly led to the team being awarded work on another contract.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
At M&R, you are given the freedom to take on as much as you can handle and run with things, but you always feel supported so you know you can ask questions or get supervision when you need it. M&R people are really friendly and will always help when the pressure is on, so it’s a great environment to work in.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
People skills are vital – that doesn’t mean being an extrovert, it just means being able to build a rapport and find common ground with people quickly. This is also important with people you work with both in and out of the firm, your colleagues need to work with you every day, so be easy to work with!
Thoroughness is essential – you need to be willing to go the extra mile. When your brain says “I can’t be bothered to do that, it’s probably fine,” you need to push through that and make sure everything is covered. Clients need you to think for them and ensure that there is nothing they have missed or not fully thought through.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Don’t get downhearted if you get rejected – it happens to everyone.
Don’t just talk about law – have interests outside of the field, show that you have a personality.
Work out what you are looking for from the firm you will train with – think about the sort of law you find most interesting and the environment in which you are likely to thrive.