Keisha Phippen


University: University of Birmingham
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: September 2016
Position: Associate
Department: Commercial

What attracted you to a career in law?

I have always had an interest in the law and carried out various work experience from about the age of 15, including spending time at a magistrate’s court, which piqued my interest. I also went to an event called LawLink at the University of Nottingham, which offered an insight into a law degree and the subsequent career opportunities that might be available after graduation.

Why solicitor not barrister?

Once I gained an understanding of the difference between the two, I felt that my skill set was better suited to becoming a solicitor. In addition, I felt that solicitors developed more of a relationship with their clients, which was important to me.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

While I was at university, I attended law fairs in order to meet representatives from different firms. I felt that I gained more from interacting with people from the firm as opposed to simply reading about the firm online. I used various student guides, including TCPH and Chambers, to gain a further insight and found it useful to have a wide variety of information in one place. The student guides were especially useful for identifying firms that specialised in practice areas I was interested in. I was also keen on applying to national firms with exciting client lists including household names. I also looked particularly at firms that recruited a smaller trainee intake, as I felt that this would be beneficial to my own progression and development.

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

Although I didn’t complete a vacation scheme at Shoosmiths, I carried out one formal vacation scheme and a period of informal work experience at two different regional firms. This was a good way to get a sense of what things were really like day to day. My work experience also helped me to determine the size of firm that I thought would suit me – both firms were quite small, so I aimed for something a little bigger.

Which departments did you train in?

It is a four-seat system at Shoosmiths, and my first three seats were in commercial, real estate and employment. My final seat was split into two, with three months in corporate and three months on a client secondment. The secondment was fantastic and one of my career highlights. I really enjoyed working alongside the client and experiencing first hand the way in which they worked. My experience helped develop and enhance the way that I dealt with clients when I came back to the office. It also helped me to further develop my commercial awareness, in regards to the way a business works and the support that a business expects to receive from their lawyers.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

At the end of February, the entire trainee intake from each office meets up with the graduate recruitment team for a morning of presentations about the qualification process, including details on deadlines and interviews. We were also provided with an initial indication of where the firm believed that jobs might be available in September, to ensure that trainees were as well informed as possible. A formal job list is then released in April, and trainees have one week to let graduate recruitment know which positions/locations they’re interested in. You’re then invited to interviews and soon thereafter, you find out whether you’ve been successful. Graduate recruitment is keen to make the process as smooth as possible; it can be a stressful time, but I found the team to be very reassuring, honest and open. I felt that they wanted all of the trainees to be prepared and realistic about their options.

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

That the trainee experience is a ‘work in progress’, and that even at the end of the two years, you’re still constantly learning. It’s OK not to know everything and while the training contract provides trainees with a wealth of skills and experience, learning is something that never stops, particularly upon qualification.

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

Our commercial department is broad in scope, and I haven’t yet begun to specialise. Day to day I’m involved with drafting and negotiating standard documents, such as non-disclosure, confidentiality, franchise, and supply of goods and services agreements. I’m also involved with acting for an automotive manufacturer, which requires me to draft a number of sponsorship and ambassadorship agreements with high-profile individuals. It is really satisfying to see some of these agreements in particular come into fruition, especially when they receive press coverage.

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

In regards to Shoosmiths specifically, I really enjoy working alongside a supportive team that are good fun, intelligent and inspiring. I am fortunate enough to be exposed to some fantastic work that I get to see through from beginning to end, rather than dipping in and out as trainees have to do.

The only downside is that the workload can sometimes be unpredictable; you might make plans and then have to rearrange them. However, this is the nature of a career in law –flexibility is key!

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

Trainees are encouraged from the outset to get involved in business development. One means of doing so, is participation in the ‘New Friday’ initiative, which trainees are responsible for running. This is a young professional networking event that the trainees organise to take place every three months, in collaboration with a couple of other local sponsoring businesses. It’s a great way to get to know lots of other young professionals at a similar stage in their careers. We’re also encouraged to attend a variety of external networking events. Ultimately, networking is a crucial skill required within a legal career, therefore, the earlier that the skill is developed, the better you will become.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

First and foremost the culture at Shoosmiths stands out from that of other firms. It is a very open and supportive culture. We also sit in an open-plan environment, and we’ve recently adopted agile working, so that individual team members now have the ability to move between different teams to facilitate collaborative working. The firm also actively promotes a healthy work-life balance –when a team is busy, we are expected to put in any hours required, but if the workload is not as great, we’re encouraged to go home on time. There are also a lot of social events which take place at Shoosmiths, affording the opportunity to develop personally as well as professionally.

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

Try to secure legal work experience to give you a better idea of the sort of practice area or type of law firm that might suit you. However, if you can’t get formal work experience, try to attend insight evenings or open days and talk to people at the firm. Don’t discount the value of general work experience; make the most of what you have! For example, if you have worked in a restaurant, you will have a number of transferable skills, such as time management or communication skills. Such transferable skills can also be applied to a legal career.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

I would love to spend some time travelling South East Asia and experiencing some of the beautiful culture, history and sights that places such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Thailand islands have to offer.

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