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Meet the lawyer

John Garland

John Garland

University: Liverpool John Moores University
Degree: Construction management
Year of qualification: 2017
Position: Solicitor
Department: Projects and construction

What attracted you to a career in law?

I left school at 16 and did an apprenticeship, so I was originally an electrician by trade. Before I decided to make a career change and train as a solicitor, I was an electrical project manager for refurbishment and new-build construction projects. Project management is a very useful transferable skill, which I have been able to utilise on transactional-type deals during my training contract and in my current practice.

After 15 years in one industry, I made the leap because I wanted a new challenge in a profession with changing commercial drivers. I was once advised to “get paid for what you know rather than what you do”, which seems very wise – that may have fed into my decision a little as well.

Why solicitor not barrister?

The client contact, advisory and problem-solving aspects of working as a solicitor really appealed to me. I felt that my background in construction and engineering suited that style of working, where there is an emphasis on ascertaining the issues and then advising on potential solutions. I considered the Bar but, from my perspective, I felt that being a career changer and having taken a non-conventional academic route presented a higher barrier to entry.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I started searching in 2012. I was looking to join a top-50 firm, but beyond that, my shortlist of these firms was pretty much made for me because I did not have A levels – most of the firms at the time ruled me out simply on that basis. Trowers & Hamlins leaped out of my shortlist as a firm of the right ethos and culture; particularly the focus on total quality management principles, such as organic growth and service delivery. I knew it was a place where I could utilise my transferable skills to thrive and enjoy a new challenge.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

My previous career experience had provided me with a variety of transferable skills and that played a big role for me. I was also able to gain some formal legal work experience by completing a vacation scheme with Trowers. I spent two weeks in the Manchester office before ultimately being successful in my application for a training contract. Trowers was my top choice and the first firm I applied to, so I was very fortunate to be successful straight away.

It was important for me to gain some experience before I committed to the career change. I think the vacation schemes are extremely valuable, because as much as a vacation scheme is a chance for the firm to assess the candidate; it is also a chance for the candidate to assess the firm. The two weeks I spent with Trowers were invaluable and really cemented my desire to work at the firm.

Which departments did you train in?

My first seat was in our housing and regeneration team, my second seat was with the banking and finance team, and my third seat was with the projects and construction team. I spent my final seat in litigation, which was a mix of commercial and property litigation work.  

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

The list of newly qualified solicitor vacancies is released around two months into trainees’ final seats. There is then a formal process where trainees submit a CV and cover letter to up to two departments they want apply to qualify in. The interviews are usually with the regional team’s lead partner and the national head of department. The interviews are formal in nature, but less formal than you would face as an external candidate in a typical job interview.

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

I wish somebody had told me how hard it is to deal with seat rotation. During the first four to six weeks of a new seat, you feel unsure about what you’re doing. This was such a strange feeling for me after working in one industry for so long where I knew what I was doing on a daily basis. Finding my feet in a seat and then moving on and having to start all over again was the most difficult aspect of the training contract experience for me.  

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

My role varies a lot as I work on both contentious and non-contentious construction matters, so typical days for me are rare. Some examples of the types of contentious work I do include financial disputes between employers and contractors and latent defects where something has gone wrong after the construction project has completed.

Examples of the non-contentious side are negotiating commercial contracts for large development deals, usually using standard forms of contract such as JCT or NEC, and wider project support work such as performing due diligence on site acquisitions, share purchases and asset transfers. 

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

I most enjoy the variety in my work from day to day and week to week. Barely any week is the same, and sometimes every day in any given week can be completely different.

I would say that if there is a downside to law, it is the wider profession’s inherent resistance to change and its slowness to adapt to modern working practices. Having said that, I believe that attitudes have really started to shift over the last couple of years, and Trowers in particular has taken a lead in this which has been great to see.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

From my personal experience as a career changer, Trowers stands out because of its diversity. The firm regularly offers training contracts to people who have not taken the traditional route of going straight onto university after their A levels. I work alongside quite a few career changers, which really helped me to settle in when I joined.

How is the work/life balance at your firm?

Generally I would say it’s very good – particularly in how flexible the firm is towards people’s needs. For example, I’m an early riser, so if I’m particularly busy, I would rather start work earlier and finish at my usual time rather than stay late – and the firm is perfectly happy to both accommodate that and recognise it also. There have been a few evenings where I have been in the office until around 9:00pm, but I could probably count those occasions on one hand. In terms of weekends, I have been in the office on one Sunday so far, which is pretty good in three and a half years.

What is the wider culture like – for example, are there sports teams or social events? Is there a LGBT group, women’s group or other initiatives?

Yes, we have Trowers Include which promotes diversity and equality throughout the firm with training and other events/seminars with external groups, as well as an in-house LGBT+ group.

More generally, there are plenty of opportunities to socialise including an annual ski trip, which is popular. There are also sports teams and other initiatives going on at office level – for example, in the Manchester office we have a weekly football social and play cricket in the summer.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

I’ve always wanted to go to South Africa and see the big cities and go on safari, but the main thing I want to do while I am there is to go cage diving with Great White Sharks.