University: University of Cambridge
Degree: History of Art (with Modern and Medieval Languages)
Year of qualification: 2019
Department: Construction litigation
What attracted you to convert to law?
Choosing an arts degree means that you aren’t pushed down a single, obvious career path, which, while liberating, can present its own problems. I spent the year after graduation doing internship after internship in pursuit of a role which satisfied me intellectually while allowing me to put my transferable skills to use, such as written communication and critical thinking. I did work experience in publishing and PR before realising that law ticked those boxes.
How did you decide where to apply for a training contract?
I started by researching various law firms using free resources like LawCareers.Net and attending law fairs at the University of Law and BPP. Trowers stood out immediately for its presence in Malaysia – it was the first foreign law firm to gain a licence to practise in the country. I have family in KL, so this appealed to me from a personal perspective, coupled with Trowers' historically strong presence in the Middle East which gives trainees the opportunity to spend a seat in the UAE, Oman or Bahrain.
How much work experience had you had? How did you present your non-legal background in your application?
I had no formal legal experience when I applied for the vacation scheme at Trowers, but I had developed soft skills through non-legal work experience and theatre producing at university which helped me develop project management, pitching and teamwork skills. Attending a vacation scheme at the firm was also hugely beneficial – it's a fantastic opportunity to see inside a firm and get to know its culture and ethos, as well as show your interviewer that you are motivated towards a career in law. I loved my vacation scheme and was even more enthusiastic about converting to law after spending two weeks experiencing a range of domestic and international work in the real estate and energy and natural resources teams.
That said, I would recommend legal work experience in any form. After securing my training contract, I spent a couple of weeks doing informal work experience with a local family solicitor and got to accompany the solicitor to witness wills and go to a family court. I was grateful for that experience: while it was fascinating work, it ultimately helped me identify what areas of law I was interested in.
Which departments did you train in?
I started out in the real estate team, which is where most trainees begin their time at Trowers, as commercial and residential property are at the heart of the firm’s business. My second seat was in our international corporate team in Dubai. The variety of work on secondment was fantastic – I did everything from banking to private client and assisting on a multi-jurisdictional arbitration in the construction team. I enjoyed the latter a lot and was excited to join the construction litigation team for my third seat back in London, where I eventually qualified. My fourth seat was in the planning and environmental team, which was also really interesting, with a mix of contentious and non-contentious work.
How does the qualification process work at the firm?
The list of available roles is released at the beginning of the fourth seat, and trainees submit a cover letter before interviewing with their preferred department. There is a competitive element, but trainees tend to be open with each other and everyone usually has a good idea of what they want by that stage, so it’s not as intense as it first sounds, and the process tends to be speedy. It is possible to apply to qualify into a team that you didn’t sit with during your training contract, but most people tend to qualify into a department they have already experienced.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
It may sound clichéd but in construction litigation there is no typical day: there are different timeframes to adhere to depending on the type of matter you are working on. As construction litigators, our schedules are not only ruled by court cases that can run for years, but also by adjudications, which are more intensely paced 28-day processes which you have to respond to quickly. When I’m working on a court case, I have a good sense of what my calendar will look like, but with adjudications it is less predictable.
Housing is a key focus at Trowers, meaning that we do a lot of work for Registered Provider clients and local councils across the different departments – for example, I’m currently working on a court dispute for one of the London boroughs. Another key aspect of the team’s housing work is advising on fire safety matters, particularly in relation to cladding used on high-rise residential buildings following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. So one day I might be preparing instructions to a fire safety expert and another day I might be researching a case from a hundred years ago for an appeal.
What are the clients like?
The construction litigation team’s clients include the whole range of parties that can be involved in construction disputes: developers, employers, contractors and subcontractors. It's an interesting sector in that the work can be highly technical but the parties and construction industry are by their nature down to earth. On one day you might be hunched over a desk, liaising with counsel over a tricky point of law; on the next you might be on site wearing a hard hat.
How has the covid-19 pandemic impacted the team’s practice?
Construction was one of the most heavily affected sectors at the beginning of the pandemic and we were kept busy advising clients on the rules for construction sites and how to interpret them. This type of work has continued as the situation has evolved.
The pandemic has also impacted the team’s work from a practical perspective. For example, on one of the matters we are working on, attempts to carry out building inspections in preparation for the court hearings have been made more difficult because residents, understandably, don’t want to let building inspectors into their homes during a pandemic.
What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?
I like the sense of camaraderie and community that comes with working in a strong, close-knit team. Alongside that, the intellectual fulfilment I get from analysing cases and points of law and the thrill of working on big-ticket court cases remains a big attraction of the job.
As a non-law graduate, I do miss the arts, but creativity is also an important part of being a litigator – you need great writing skills to produce persuasive pleadings, for example.
What are the social and extracurricular sides of the firm like?
Trowers is very strong on this front. We have multiple groups to join such as the LGBT network, the Race, Ethnicity and Heritage network, which I’m active in, various book clubs and a committee which examines the firm's approach to sustainable policies. There are also sports teams – although I’m not remotely sporty – and on the musical side, there is the firm choir, which in ‘normal’ times has concerts throughout the year, including a Christmas carol service at St Giles Cripplegate in the Barbican.
What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?
Getting a 2:1 is, of course, vital, but definitely don’t spend all your time at university in the library. It's also important to get out there and join societies so that you can develop transferable skills – and have fun!
Attending as many law fairs and open days as you can, even virtually, is my other key recommendation. This applies even if you have already graduated - you should still be able to attend your former university's law fairs or access careers advice. Speaking to trainees and recruiters will give you an insight into the firms that you would only otherwise get through a vacation scheme, which is really useful for applications.
Where is your dream holiday destination?
Aotearoa, New Zealand! I spent four days in the jungle in Colombia on qualification leave and it was one of the best things I've ever done. I'd want to do the four-day Milford Track hike to the Sutherland Falls as well as a detour to Hobbiton, as a massive Lord of the Rings fan.