University: University of Southampton
Degree: LLB Law with European Legal Studies
Position: Trainee solicitor
Department: Commercial litigation
What attracted you to a career in law?
I started thinking about a career in law towards the end of my education, after initially considering studying politics or sciences. On taking an interest in the legal sector and realising my strengths lay in my written and communicative abilities, I realised this was the field that would suit me most.
The legal profession’s focus on communication, problem-solving and analysis matched the skillset I had been building upon during my school life and degree – and the fact that you need to be both methodical and adaptable in approach, given that the law evolves continually, appealed to me too.
Why solicitor not barrister?
As a junior, I wanted to start out in a structured and collaborative legal environment. Barristers often operate more remotely in their daily workload than solicitors, whereas I liked the idea of starting my career by rotating across different teams, where I could learn directly from seniors. I also preferred the broader range of fields available to choose from in a full-service commercial firm, as opposed to joining a more boutique chambers.
How did you decide which firms to apply to?
Given that I hadn’t decided from the outset which speciality I was leaning towards, I applied for full-service commercial firms where I could try out a range of seats before deciding where to qualify. I also targeted firms recruiting smaller trainee intakes, as I wanted greater opportunities to interact with clients, take on more case management responsibility and build personal relationships with senior lawyers – which might be harder to come by as part of a big batch! In addition, I looked for firms with a strong reputation for both established success as well as growing prestige, and so applied with these factors in mind.
How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?
I took on legal work experience throughout the course of my undergraduate studies, spending a couple of weeks each year with local law firms and trying out a variety of different areas. A range of work experience is crucial, as it gives you the chance to make sure that you are well-equipped for the job both academically and personally, as well as providing a helpful flavour of various areas of the profession if you aren’t yet sure where you might like to qualify.
What do you think made your application successful?
I think it was a case of our values aligning. I knew I was prepared to work hard in a firm that could offer high quality work, but that it was also important for me to have a healthy work-life balance. A key factor was also my preference to work with like-minded, personable lawyers who would ensure my training was a challenging but enjoyable rather than intimidating experience, and these values seemed to fit with those held at Stevens & Bolton.
Which departments did you train in?
During my first year, I sat with the real estate and corporate/M&A departments. I’m currently in my third seat working with the commercial litigation team.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
Trainees rotate around four different departments over two years. During your second year, once you have an idea of where you might want to qualify you can chat to the relevant teams and supervisors – and if retained, you will qualify into that department as an associate subject to the vacancies available. The firm’s usual approach is to retain as many trainees as it possibly can.
What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you now do?
One key thing I have appreciated during each seat is how important it is to be able to adapt your working style depending on who you are working with. This can be a challenge, especially if you have come straight out of education, haven’t worked before or are more used to working independently – but when working under direct partner supervision or within a team of many different fee-earners, the ability to adapt to your colleagues’ varied working styles goes a long way, and is also invaluable in terms of honing your own style and developing good practice habits.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
As a junior (and currently a newbie to contentious work), I enjoy having a go at everything for the first time – particularly once I complete a piece of work, receive feedback, then when similar work comes back around get the satisfaction of greater autonomy and familiarity with tasks which previously seemed daunting.
An ongoing challenge is maintaining my workload and capacity efficiently, a crucial skill both for the benefit of the team as well as myself – and probably one that is a work in progress for most juniors or fee-earners in general!
How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?
Trainees are actively encouraged to get involved with a wide range of the firm’s business development and networking opportunities and corporate social responsibility initiatives. Despite the challenges of covid-19, the trainees are looking forward to attending our first Virtual Law Fairs over the coming weeks – and a lot of us have been busy producing the firm website’s weekly topical articles.
What makes your firm stand out from the rest?
The high quality of the work and exciting clients we engage with, at more accessible rates than a lot of our competitors, have long been the firm’s strongest distinguishing features. Many of our partners are ex-City leading specialists in their fields, and it is not often you can find these all under one roof – so while based outside the City, we can offer top tier legal advice with fewer City pressures.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Give serious thought to your values both as a professional and as an individual before applying. You really do give yourself a better chance by having thoroughly done your research about your targeted firms, than by approaching the application process as a ‘quantity over quality’ exercise – which, while seeming reassuring, can often end up wasting both parties’ time. It is important to be confident about what you want from a firm, and there are such a diverse range out there that you will find one that is right for you.
What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
So far so good in commercial litigation! But similarly to corporate/M&A, contentious work can follow periods of intense highs and low, given the importance of meeting court deadlines and the nature of any disputes-related work where clients are eager to get their matters resolved. As long as you are interested in what you are doing, prepared to work hard and make occasional sacrifices here and there, work-life balance as a trainee has not proved too challenging to manage just yet – I still have time to do everything I want to do.
What is the wider culture like?
Corporate social responsibility is a big focus at the firm, and the trainees tend to take an active role in running our many fundraising events and firm-wide initiatives – recently including an extensive range of lockdown Zoom quizzes and socially distanced walks! There are also many different firm societies catering for most hobbies including sports teams, a book club and our very own choir.
We recently ran a promises auction, where anyone in the firm could contribute particular tasks or promises in order to raise funds for our various supported charities. The trainees have promised our services for a year to one lucky winner, where every month we surprise them with a treat ranging from baked goods, prosecco or taking on a task that they have been putting off...
Describe the firm in three words.
Collaborative, conscientious and driven.
How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?
Throughout my various seats I have been encouraged to develop my client communication skills from an early stage (with support from supervisors always at hand), both in person and via email, telephone and conference calls. As a junior I always find it beneficial to get the chance to understand directly from the client exactly what they are looking for from a commercial perspective, before trying to translate this into a legal solution.
What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since joining the firm?
Deal completions were always an exciting highlight of my transactional seats, but now in commercial litigation I am looking forward to experiencing my first hearings, led up to by months of skilled negotiations and case preparation.
What’s been the highlight of the last month at the firm?
The easing of the UK’s covid-19 lockdown has meant that a degree of normality re-entered our professional lives, allowing us to head back into the office (with extensive safety measures in place) and enjoy a collegiate atmosphere once more after months of remote working. Particularly as a trainee, it’s been nice to be around more experienced lawyers again taking everything in!
Where is your dream holiday destination?
Currently Japan, as there’s such a variety of scenery, culture and food I want to learn more about.