Law City Trainee Q & A;Bates Wells

1. Why Law and Why Bates Wells?

I got interested in law towards the end of my degree (I studied English). I wanted to do something challenging and stimulating intellectually, but also needed a career in which I felt I could make a positive social contribution. Law fits that description very well: you get a window into more walks of personal and professional life than you would in most other sectors and have an opportunity to help remove the kinds of obstacles that many individuals and organisations couldn’t deal with otherwise.

I chose Bates Wells because it embodies the way I think law should be practiced. Legal expertise should be a tool for enabling positive change, and Bates Wells does more than perhaps any other firm to approach the law in this way.

2. What were the challenges of securing a training contract.

What I found challenging was the level of research needed. I only felt comfortable applying to firms once I had researched them thoroughly and understood their specific culture and offering, which made it difficult to apply to firms in the numbers that some people do! I think in the end I made six or seven very tailored applications.

3. Describe a typical day in the office?

Every day is different! On some days, I may have one or two very big pieces of work which take up a full day (drafting an advice letter to a client if the advice involves reviewing a lot of documentation, for example, or preparing a research note on something unfamiliar). Other days are more broken up: I may have smaller cases to project-manage or more minor applications, research, or legal documents to prepare, and move between different matters every hour or so.

4. What are your usual working hours?

I’m in a transactional seat at the moment, which means my hours are pretty good most of the time with an occasional bottleneck if a transaction is coming to an end. On most days, I work from 9.30am until around 6-6.30pm. During busier periods I will work later, but I haven’t yet had to work later than around 8.30pm.

5. What seat are you currently sitting in and what are your responsibilities

I’m in Real Estate. So far, my responsibilities have included things like drafting legal and other documents (leases, contracts, deeds, reports to clients, and so on) as well as carrying out legal research into specific issues. On some matters, I have a more day-to-day role, corresponding with the client and any other parties, preparing and submitting forms and

applications, and generally looking after the progress of the case from start to finish (obviously under supervision!).

6. What is the most interesting thing about your role?

So far, my favourite task in Real Estate has probably been title investigation. This involves obtaining all the documentation on a property (usually from the Land Registry) and inspecting it to see if any aspect of it (past or present) may cause a problem for a potential buyer. The documents can be a fascinating little piece of history, and occasionally you discover something weird or wonderful about how a piece of land or a building has been used.

8. What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about being a trainee solicitor?

When I was considering training as a solicitor, conversations with other prospective trainees often seemed to involve an assumption that a training contract meant spending two years as a kind of bag-carrier, working all hours and having orders barked at you by your supervisor. I can’t say for sure that this isn’t true in some firms, but can happily say my experience has been nothing like this!

I have also come across assumptions that your work as a trainee will either be very administrative with no responsibility, or impossibly demanding from the start. Neither assumption is true. In reality there is always a mix of more and less challenging work, and I have been really pleased by how much control I have over the level of responsibility I am given as I progress.

9. What is the working environment like at the firm?

The working environment is great – there is an open, unstuffy atmosphere and I tend to feel I can talk and raise questions as easily with the partners in my department as I can with the newly-qualified solicitors. This is especially helpful when (as now) most of the firm is working from home – you don’t find yourself worrying about who you can bother with a question.

10. Can you explain how you found the transition from being a law school student to a trainee solicitor?

I was a paralegal while I went through law school, so have been experiencing the contrast between professional and academic legal work for a while. The biggest difference, which I have found challenging since starting my training contract, is that most legal issues are much messier when dealt with in practice than law school can make them seem. There are no “standard” transactions in practice and there will always be some aspect of a matter that will make things more complicated than they might have been. Importantly, though, you don’t have to tackle that transition alone – the more junior solicitors around you have all been through the same thing very recently and will want to help.

11. What is one piece of advice that you would give to prospective trainee solicitors?

Both when applying for training contracts and during them, be honest about what you don’t know as well as about what you do. In the context of an application, being upfront about the gaps in your knowledge and experience and how you would like to address them will convince firms that your interest in this path is genuine. As a trainee, it will help those around you give you the support you need, either by explaining something to you or by signposting you to where you might find things out, which will always be more helpful and efficient for everyone than keeping quiet.