Trainee solicitors, law students and those considering a career in law often ask me what it is like to be a solicitor. It is never an easy question to answer because every day is so different but, after my first year as a fully-fledged qualified solicitor, I thought now would be a good time to share my experiences –
Having completed my training contract with Hay & Kilner, I qualified as a solicitor in our Commercial Dispute Resolution Team in March 2017. The last six-month “seat” of my training contract was in Dispute Resolution and I knew that contentious work was the kind of work I wanted to do upon qualification. So, I was thrilled to be offered a role in that team on qualification!
The transition from trainee to newly qualified solicitor was a smooth one, helped by the fact that I had already spent 6 months working in the department, into which I had qualified. I had already begun to take the lead on some files, with supervision by partners, so that when I qualified I continued working on those files and acquiring more of my own.
At Hay and Kilner, trainees are given quite a lot of responsibility and autonomy during their training contracts, so the transition to qualified lawyer wasn’t as much of a daunting prospect as it could have been!
The main change on qualification was that I had financial targets to aim for in terms of chargeable hours attained and fees billed. This brings an added focus to your work. Not only do you have to be aware of where your files are in terms of the progress of the case but you also need to be aware of the costs that have been billed, to give regular cost estimates to clients and to be aware of the work in progress accrued on matters.
The working life of a newly qualified solicitor can vary considerably but being able to use your initiative whilst also knowing when to ask for help are essential attributes for any newly qualified solicitor.
Commercial disputes is one area where you really get to “practise the law” – I deal with contract, tort, trusts and property matters on a daily basis. I very much enjoy the variety, which keeps me on my toes as I rarely find myself doing the same kind of work from one day to the next.
As well as being intellectually capable, you have to be very organised, be able to deal with pressure and be highly reliable for clients, some of whom are in very high pressure (and sometimes wholly unexpected!) situations. Clients are entrusting you with the responsibility of filing documents within Court deadlines so having measures in place to make sure you don’t miss deadlines is very important. You also have to be able to work as part of a team and be able to work collaboratively with others to come up with a strategy. Commercial awareness is a big part of the job and being able to see the bigger picture, rather than getting bogged down on detail, is also an important skill.
It’s difficult to describe a typical day as the work we do is so varied! Compared to life as a trainee, there is a lot more client contact and drafting correspondence, whereas as a trainee I was more involved in supporting the team in carrying out legal research and preparing draft documentation. As an assistant solicitor, you are more in control of your work load and have more independence in how you manage the work.
I have had opportunities to develop my advocacy skills at the local county court in making applications on behalf of clients or defending applications made against clients. I have conducted an examination of a witness before a Judge which was particularly challenging, as English was not the witness’s first language and an interpreter was needed for the hearing. We don’t just deal with cases that end up in court, a large part of our work is acting for clients in settlement negotiations, which is where commercial awareness and negotiation skills are needed most.
Outside of the office and the courtroom, business development plays an important role in all solicitors’ careers. We are encouraged to network strategically and enthusiastically in order to build relationships with current, potential clients and referrers. I am part of the Firm Development Group made up of our trainees, assistant solicitors and associates who meet once a month to discuss our business development activities and organise get togethers with our contacts. It’s a chance to catch up with our contacts and do something fun. Our previous events have included pizza making, wine tasting and beginners’ golf! It also gives us the chance to influence the decisions made by the firm, and to make our own suggestions for the development of the firm.
My advice to students interested in pursuing a career in law is to find out as much about the job as possible to ensure it is the right career for you. Being a lawyer has many rewards but it does require a lot of hard work, perseverance and the ability to cope well under pressure. Try to find a firm that you love working for and that will make the transition from trainee to solicitor a much easier one.
For more information on any of the above please contact Sara Malik, or call 0191 232 8345.