Stevens & Bolton LLP
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University: University of York
Position: Second-year trainee solicitor
Department: Client secondment
What attracted you to a career in law?
During both school and university, I used to be heavily involved in the debating circuit. I had the opportunity to participate in a range of competitions and really enjoyed the methodical process of forming arguments and finding solutions to problems. Therefore, a career in law seemed like a natural step for me.
Why solicitor not barrister?
I completed a few mini-pupillages and it seemed to me that there was less of an emphasis on client contact when you’re a barrister. Counsel generally seems to interact with solicitors more than with the client. As a solicitor, I will have the opportunity to work closely with clients and provide them with legal advice based on a foundation built on a real understanding of what they want from their business.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
I applied for training contracts in the final year of my history degree and my knowledge of the legal world was probably quite limited at that point. I did my research and targeted a handful of firms, including a few City practices and a regional firm – Stevens & Bolton. I was looking for a firm which emphasised the quality of its training, where I would have the best chance to become a really good lawyer.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
Prior to my vacation scheme, I had worked in the City for a few months which allowed me to understand how corporate environments work. Every company has a different culture and so I applied for the schemes to see what it was actually like. At Stevens & Bolton, I sat in real estate and was exposed to the kind of work that I would be later doing as a trainee. Moreover, through a variety of seminars and lunches, I was able to appreciate the firm’s warm and friendly culture.
What do you think made your application successful?
The danger in vacation scheme and training contract applications is that it’s easy to assume that all the questions are the same from firm to firm. To some extent they are of course – every firm wants to know about your skills and experience – but it’s essential to tailor your answers to the firm in question to convey a genuine and specific interest in that firm, which you can only do with research.
Which departments did you train in?
My first seat was in commercial, which was followed by corporate. I spent my third seat in intellectual property (IP) and I’m now on a client secondment for my fourth seat. When I return to Stevens & Bolton, I’ll have two more seats prior to qualification.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
The firm advertises the NQ roles available and trainees approaching qualification submit applications for the ones in which they are interested. There is then an interview process.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
Very simply, it’s really OK not to know everything at this stage. As a trainee, I’ve frequently thought: “Oh, I should really know this”, but sometimes there just isn’t a clear-cut answer. As long as you show initiative by trying to find the answer, you’ll be on the right track. There’s also no shame in asking for a little more guidance if you’re unsure of something.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
As mentioned already, I really enjoy the exposure to clients. Understanding how a business works and what I can do to help its growth is really rewarding. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two court cases during my training contract and I was able to assist counsel and talk to the clients. I feel like I’m doing real work rather than just paperwork.
In terms of what I least enjoy, it’s probably the unpredictability of the hours. You’re not always able to control when you can leave the office because you’re never sure when work will come in – but that’s just part of the job!
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
I’m part of a scheme called Guildford Junior Professionals, which was set up by Stevens & Bolton in 2015. We run events every two months, to which we invite people from other law firms and businesses, as well as Guildford residents, so it’s a really good networking forum. I’m also part of a team of three who will be taking over the running of the scheme when the current person steps down, so I’m definitely making the most of the extracurricular opportunities that the firm provides.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
I think it’s the fact that you can walk into a partner’s office and ask for a chat about a piece of work. From what I have heard about some other firms, partners tend to be a bit removed from the trainees, but at Stevens & Bolton most of our supervisors are partners and it’s the partners who regularly give us feedback, which makes for great training and also enables us to build good working relationships.
What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?
Commercial awareness is very important. Prospective trainees should always have good legal knowledge and academic training, but you can’t be a good lawyer without the ability to apply that knowledge in your client’s interests when looking at a contract or working on a deal.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Take your time on tasks. One thing that I have occasionally been guilty of this year is letting my keenness to be efficient lead to a few silly errors. Not all tasks are super-urgent, so as a trainee it’s much more important to take your time and make sure that you have got it right.
What’s your desert island disc?
I’m going to go old school with Craig David, Born to Do It – he’s making his comeback right now, so I think I’ll lend him my support!
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