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Meet the lawyer

Tara Smith

Tara Smith

University: Brunel University London
Degree: LLB law (with professional placement)
Year of qualification: September 2020
Position: Solicitor
Department: Real estate (investment and development)

What attracted you to a career in law?

Funnily enough, my interest was sparked by family members telling me I had great negotiation skills! I’m not sure if this was a compliment to a 13-year-old, but I ran with it. I was fortunate enough to get work experience very early on, which cemented this interest. I really enjoy my job – I’m given the opportunity to learn new things, find solutions to problems every day and work with people.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I didn’t consider becoming a barrister because I much prefer the collaborative environment of a commercial law firm.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I was fortunate enough to gain work experience in different types of law firm. This exposure allowed me to compare the working cultures and representations of diversity between them, two factors that were very important to me. This led me to focus on mid-sized firms with a significant real estate offering.

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

I worked at my local Citizens Advice, which taught me the importance of being organised, patient and resilient. I undertook shadowing work at CMS and a vacation scheme at Simmons & Simmons. My most valuable experience was my one-year professional placement at Mischon de Reya LLP as a real estate administrative assistant. It allowed me to get to grips with the mechanics of a law firm, and the structure of real estate deals. I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

What do you think made your application successful?

I believe it was because I was able to fully demonstrate how my experiences would produce a great lawyer. This went beyond work experience, it included life experiences that exemplified my resilience and determination.

Which departments did you train in?

I started out in real estate, within our housing and regeneration team, and my second seat was within the commercial property sub-team. I was very fortunate to work in both teams, as property and placemaking is at the heart of everything we do. My third seat was in our employment team; this was also brilliant experience as I was given the opportunity to work on litigious matters with a huge human element – you don't get much of that with bricks and mortar. My final seat, undertaken in the peak of lockdown, was in the construction litigation team, which was very enjoyable! It gave me a different perspective on real estate and boded well with my interest in development work.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

I think Trowers & Hamlins’ process is similar to other firms – a job list is sent to fourth-seat trainees during their final seat; if there is a role in the department you wish to qualify in, you make a formal application and then you interview for the role.

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

Don’t be too concerned with metrics at this stage. Work hard and learn as much as you can while you are junior. Seek to understand why you do what you do. What is the logic behind the process, what are you trying to achieve? This foundational understanding will make you a great lawyer.

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

The aspect of my career I enjoy the most is the problem solving. A deal that completes smoothly and void of any challenges can be boring. Of course, I don't wish for challenges on my deals, but I do enjoy when I can identify issues and resolve them before they become issues for our client.

I also love the variety of the work. Our large real estate offering means I’m able to work on commercial lettings for a landlord one day, sell a block of flats another day and purchase an investment portfolio the next.

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

My firm is very keen on pushing junior lawyers to get involved in business development. We are often invited to networking events on behalf of the firm, or asked to assist with corporate social responsibility schemes alongside our clients.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

We have such a diverse range of talent, which I love. It makes the job much more exciting when you can meet different kinds of people with a plethora of specialist knowledge areas.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

Organisational skills, and both the desire and creative ability to solve problems.

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

It will require a lot of determination and perseverance to get there, from exams to applications, but the skills you develop on the way will make you an excellent lawyer.

What is the work-life balance like at your firm? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

I’m part of a minority in various ways, but one of the most significant differences I represent is being a trainee with not one, but two children. I started my training contract willing to sacrifice everything to ensure I put my best foot forward, but this wasn’t necessary. Of course, there have been many times I have worked late, but generally speaking, the hours are very manageable – for instance, I have only worked two weekends, in my three and a half years working with the firm.

How often as a trainee were you communicating directly with clients (calls, attending meetings)?

As a trainee I had lots of experience joining client calls, where I led on the title due diligence. This was empowering, as it showed that the associate I was assisting trusted me to do the work and communicate it to the client.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Home renovation programmes! They’re pretty often luxury properties, but I love getting inspired on ways to spruce up my own home.