Approaching an appraisal

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The lead up to an appraisal can be rather daunting as a trainee, especially in your first seat when you have not been through the process before. However, once you have been through your first appraisal you realise that it is a great opportunity to formalise a feedback dialogue that has been taking place throughout your seat. Whilst an appraisal is very much a personal experience, below are some thoughts to consider when preparing for and undertaking your appraisal:

  • Don’t be afraid to emphasise your strengths. Often trainees are hesitant to admit “I am good at this” in respect of certain areas of their performance. Admitting your strengths doesn’t demonstrate a lack of modestly, but awareness that you have given serious thought to your performance as a whole
  • Feedback is two-way. Whilst it is important to take on board all of the feedback provided by your supervisor, they will also want to know your thoughts on, for example, areas of the law which you feel that you are lacking exposure to. As you may be receiving work from a variety of team members, it is useful for your supervisor to know that you are being given the breadth of work which they would like you to be exposed to
  • Consider the goals that were set in your last appraisal. These can often be forgotten when dealing with the daily realities of your workload. Casting your eye over these goals once a month or so gives you an early opportunity to request work which will allow you to achieve these goals
  • Your appraisal shouldn’t surprise you. Often trainees are apprehensive before their appraisal because they are unsure of what their feedback may be. However, most trainees I have spoken to have found that their appraisal highlights areas of strength and weakness that have already been discussed.

Remember, an appraisal should be a positive process with the aim of helping you to develop. 

This post was edited by Emma Clarke. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

A trainee’s diary: my week

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Varied, diverse, fast-moving – these are just some of the words that can be used to describe the weekly diary of a trainee.

I am a first year trainee in Manchester. I spent my first seat in the Employment department and I have just started my second seat in the Corporate team. Over the last 6 months, I have found that there are rarely any 2 weeks that are the same, and I think that will continue to be the case with my current seat.

Of course there are elements of a trainee’s diary that will always remain the same. Every week will involve: meeting deadlines, being organised, being prepared and ultimately ensuring that you are enthusiastic and pro-active about every task that you are set. However, the tasks you are set and the work you are involved with does change. A client’s instructions can change frequently, which means that the task you were given in the morning can be the complete opposite by the afternoon, this is what makes the work so interesting. Sometimes this can be challenging, but ultimately it really makes you appreciate what a client wants and needs and why it is so important to understand the client’s objectives and provide a tailored service.

The variety of work which you are involved with means that the experience you receive is second to none. Diversity is a standard feature of my training contract and weekly diary; and it is certainly key to becoming a well-rounded and successful solicitor.

Away from our desks, there is a real emphasis on the social side of being a trainee and there is plenty to fill your diary with. The firm encourages trainees to socialise and there are lots of opportunities to get involved with activities to help strike that all important work-life balance. A trainee’s diary often involves: helping to plan future fundraising events for the office charity, sports (many of the trainees play for the office netball team), attending client events, socialising with your fellow trainees as well as trainees from different firms at events such as those organised by the Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group and taking part in organising and attending office socials. Last week saw the Manchester office try their hand at bowling. This was a great event and provided a brilliant opportunity to catch up with friends as well as meet other people in the firm.

As you can see there is a lot more than just work in a trainee’s diary! For me, starting my training contract also meant moving to a new city. My colleagues have been great at showing me the ropes in Manchester and attending as many events as I possibly can means that I am slowly getting my bearings in the city.

If I could offer one bit of advice it would be to get involved with everything, take the positives and learn from every task and fill your diary with as much as possible.

This post was edited by Ffion Brumwell-Hughes. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

The one team approach

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Regular readers of Talking Trainees may have started to spot a pattern in our experiences in training with the firm: despite being located in one office, and in a particular team for each six month seat, we inevitably end up working and interacting with colleagues in the wider firm.

Trainees in Banking & Finance, Tax, and Real Estate have all blogged about their experience of working on transactions with cross-disciplinary teams. This is very much the way that the firm works, and every trainee will experience it during the course of their training contract. This can only work to your advantage during your training, benefiting you in all sorts of ways.

Though you may not have done a seat in a particular department, you may end up working with people from that team on a particular client’s case. For example, whilst in the Corporate Recovery team, I have worked with members of the Construction team on a litigation case. This involved our bank client pursuing a claim assigned to them by an insolvent construction company. I had to consider the construction documents to help formulate our claim, including the building contracts and interim construction reports. Having construction law experts at the other end of the phone to answer my queries and provide their expertise was invaluable, and the background knowledge of this area of law that I have developed is bound to be useful in my future career. If you come across an area of law that particularly interests you, this might even influence your seat preferences moving forward.

In addition, in some seats trainees will find themselves doing work for fee earners in the same team, but located in a different office. Whilst in the Commercial, Technology & Media (CTM) team, I was regularly supervised by members of the team in other offices. In a seat like CTM, where the senior associates and partners tend to have niche specialisms, this is a great opportunity to gain exposure to different types of work. My supervisor had a particular specialism in intellectual property, but I was lucky enough to get regular work from supervisors in other offices who specialise in data protection and commercial contracts, giving me a rounded experience during my seat. Working with others also has the advantage of enabling you to learn from a wide group of supervisors. Each fee earner has particular expertise, and there is something to be learned from each of them.

Finally, the ‘one team’ approach very much goes beyond the time at our desks. The upcoming firm party, which no doubt will warrant a future blog post in its own right, is evidence of this. The entire firm will gather in Birmingham for a get-together, which will be a great opportunity for the trainees to catch up with all the people from across the firm that we have worked with during our training.

This post was edited by Matthew Lappin. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

A day in the life of a Real Estate trainee

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Having enjoyed my Land Law module and opting to take the Advanced Commercial Property elective at law school, I was pretty certain that I would enjoy my time in the Real Estate department and it is fair to say that I haven’t been disappointed.

In London, the Real Estate team specialises in property finance and advising major lenders on the provision of acquisition, development and investment funding. However, there are opportunities to get involved in a diverse range of other real estate work including hotel development, landlord and tenant work, residential sales and purchases as well as assisting the Corporate Recovery team with property auctions.

What to expect

One of the things the Real Estate team prides itself on is the variety and quality of work it gives to its trainees. From day one I was thrown into the mix very quickly, by being asked to prepare a report on title for a lender in the provision of acquisition funding. Under supervision, I was responsible for investigating the title to the property over which the lender would take a legal charge, liaising with the borrower’s solicitors in order to raise further due diligence enquiries, reviewing the draft documentation and reporting back to the lender. The task was a steep and challenging learning curve but it required me to quickly dig out all of those forgotten elements of property law, which I had once learnt a life time ago, or so it felt.

A day in the life of a real estate trainee is varied but can include the following:

  • Preparing reports on title for major lenders
  • Liaising with insurance brokers to obtain title indemnity insurance
  • Research tasks to stay up to date with new laws, regulations and title issues
  • Residential and commercial conveyancing including drafting and negotiating the terms and conditions incorporated into Sale Contracts and Transfers
  • Liaising with and updating clients through regular correspondence and calls
  • Liaising with the Land Registry
  • Dealing with the mechanics of getting documents signed and executed
  • Corporate support work
  • Dealing with post completion matters at the Land Registry
  • Preparing Stamp Duty Land Tax forms
  • Involvement in drafting commercial leases and licences including responsibility for the ancillary documents such as the Landlord and Tenant Act notice
  • Preparing completion bibles. 

Skills required 

Teamwork, the ability to prioritise and very good organisational skills are vital from the outset of your seat in the Real Estate team. You normally find yourself working on several transactions at a time and with numerous people across various departments. Having a good eye for detail and taking a commercial approach to your work are also crucial, clients will expect you to be able to identify the major risks and key issues in a transaction and to then find the right solutions to enable them to achieve their commercial outcomes.

The best bits… 

As well as being fortunate enough to work within a very supportive and encouraging team, I found that one of the stand-out benefits of completing a seat in the Real Estate team is the opportunity it provides to work closely with other departments. During my seat I have worked on transactions involving the Corporate and Banking & Finance teams and there are opportunities to work with the Construction team too, meaning you get to know many more people within the firm and get a glimpse into life in a different department, which ultimately makes it easier to make that transition into your next seat.

The biggest benefit I found, however, is the level of responsibility and amount of client contact you get. In the seat, you are expected to take a very pro-active approach and run your own files fairly independently, under supervision of course, and this means that you are responsible for updating the clients regularly and for all round client care. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Real Estate team and have developed skills during these six months that will serve me well throughout the remainder of my training contract. 

This post was edited by Catherine Hall. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Law in the city

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I always knew I wanted to work in London after finishing university. The bright lights and big smoke are a draw for many, and London seems to have more than its fair share of graduates embarking upon their chosen careers.

This is particularly prevalent in the city, where our office is located. Many London law firms are based nearby, which is handy if you are required to rush out and have some documents signed or attend a completion. It also means that you can meet for lunch with fellow trainees from other firms to compare notes on your training contract experiences.

The Square Mile is the epicentre of legal and economic development in the UK, and it is exciting to work at the very heart of it. Our office is situated right next to St Paul’s Cathedral. In fact, from my desk I have a stunning view of its pillars that I never tire from looking at, I will be sad to give it up when it is time to change seats. The office also has a beautiful roof terrace which looks directly on to the dome of the Cathedral, a great place to host client events and is always a talking point. I am looking forward to some summer events on the terrace this year, such as last year’s al fresco screening of the Wimbledon semi-final.

Whilst I always knew that I wanted to work in London, I was less keen on the idea of working in a huge firm like some of my friends, I was more attracted to a firm with a smaller trainee intake. The London office suits me perfectly as it is relatively small compared to the firm’s other offices, yet has the backing of the firm’s strong national brand and the high quality work which goes with it.

Something that is really exciting about the London office is that it is growing. It’s inspiring to be somewhere that is expanding and, naturally, as a trainee you want to work in a place where you can see yourself qualifying and building a career. I certainly feel that here.

A perk of being a London trainee in a national firm with a regional focus is that lots of clients (even from other offices) come to London for business, so we have the opportunity to meet many of them. I have even been fortunate enough to be taken for sushi in Mayfair and to The Shard for cocktails with clients of the Manchester office.

Something that I definitely envy of the other trainees, however, is the shorter commute that they enjoy in other cities. As London is so vast and the cost of living is so high, many people live outside of town and travel in by train. Even those of us who live in London face an hour of travel before arriving at our desks.

The firm has undertaken a new initiative for this year’s trainees, where my cohort have had the chance to visit each of the firm’s offices. I felt very lucky to call this area my ‘home turf’ when the other trainees came to London, after taking them on a short tour of some of the local key landmarks.

Something that always strikes me with London is how busy everywhere is, on any day of the week. Nowhere is this more true than in the city, where there is a definite ‘work hard, play hard’ culture. There is a lot of socialising after work due to our proximity to some lovely bars and restaurants, including a karaoke bar, but the less said about that, the better!

This post was edited by Rachael Waugh. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Hot topic – Seat selections!

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Seat choices and options is always a hot topic amongst trainees. Overall, the general firm policy is for each trainee to complete four six-month training seats: one Real Estate seat, one litigation seat, one Corporate seat and a seat of our preference.

The rationale behind this is to encourage trainees to develop into well rounded solicitors who are prepared for qualification. No matter which seat you have experience in, you will find that the skills, contacts and knowledge you have picked up through your training will be invaluable, not only in your subsequent seats, but also on qualification.

For instance, I am currently nearing the end of my third seat which is in Corporate. Prior to this I have worked in Commercial and Employment. A large part of Corporate work involves liaising with other departments and relying on their specialist expertise, particularly when completing a due diligence or disclosure exercise. My previous experience means that I have a helpful understanding of the various specialist areas of law and a familiarity with other departments that the Corporate team work with on a day to day basis. One of the most daunting tasks for a trainee in Corporate has to be following up with partners in other departments for work. Not always an easy task, this is certainly made a lot easier when you have worked with them previously.

The firm’s approach to seats also gives you a much broader network of contacts on qualification. As junior solicitors, we are encouraged to develop networking skills externally, but trainees and newly qualified solicitors alike shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of making a name for themselves within the office (in a good way that is)! Referrals are a large part of our daily work and having a varied training contract is a great way to meet as many people as possible. Earning the trust of others will place you right at the top of their list of people to refer work to.

Amongst this structured approach, you are asked for your seat preferences at the end of your first year. This ensures that where possible, you should get your first choice at some point during your training contract and gain a broader experience to help you make informed choices when qualification comes around.

There are a team of people who look after your development at the firm. This includes a dedicated HR officer, a national training principal with local office representatives, supervisors in each seat, a mentor who you are paired with throughout your training contract and a buddy scheme which begins before starting your training contract. This support network offers advice and assistance in relation to your seat choices. Having such a good support network means there is always someone there to listen to you. Because of this you are able to express your seat preferences at an early stage and discuss your options as you progress through your training contract. It is important to listen to the advice of those around you, as their experience and understanding is invaluable.

Your preferences will, most certainly, change as you progress through your training contract. Starting out with a narrow view will only restrict you in the long run. The best advice I can give to anyone thinking about seat choices is to throw yourself into every opportunity, always say yes and embrace whichever department you find yourself in. You will always be listened to and every effort will be made to give you your preference, but you never know which seat may surprise you. We have to leave a little bit up to chance after all!

This post was edited by Katie Porter. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Variety is the spice of life: the CTM department

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They say that variety is the spice of life, and this has certainly been the case during my time as a trainee in the Commerce, Technology and Media (CTM) department. The CTM team act for businesses in a wide range of sectors and industries, from football clubs to waste management. The work carried out by the team includes advising on regulatory and competition issues, supply chain agreements, intellectual property issues, joint venture and outsourcing agreements and much more.

On my first day in the team, I was advised that for the next 6 months I needed to, firstly, think from a commercial perspective and then, secondly, consider the legal position. Commercial awareness is an important skill for any lawyer working at a full service law firm, and I have found it particularly important in the CTM team to understand a client’s business and what their commercial objectives are. As a trainee, you very quickly develop the skill of thinking around a piece of work (rather than diving straight in) and considering how best to achieve the client’s desired commercial outcome.

There is not a “typical” type of client or piece of work, which can be quite daunting initially. This is one of the more difficult aspects of the seat as, due to the breadth of the subject, it is unlikely that you will do the same piece of work twice. Having limited repetition of work means it is imperative to gain as much from each piece of work as possible and to perform to the best of your ability. To illustrate the variety of work that I have been involved in, today I have:

  • Drafted an agency agreement
  • Attended a meeting to discuss a subcontract for the sale of IT and software products
  • Spoken with a new client about terms and conditions for a new garden and landscaping business
  • Advised on the regulations governing the importation of wrist watches.

So what key skills are important in order to be a successful trainee in the CTM team? The documents can be very technical and complex and so attention to detail and good drafting skills are essential. Due to the nature of the work, precedents are of limited use and so I have had plenty of opportunity to build on my bespoke drafting skills. It is also important to be adaptable as I often find that I quickly have to gain an understanding of a new area of law and industry in order to advise a client. A sound understanding of contract law and of course, commercial awareness, are also key skills.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the CTM team. I have had a good level of responsibility and plenty of client contact. I have developed commercial and legal skills that will serve me well not just for the rest of my training, but also for my future career upon qualification.

This post was edited by Clare Swinnerton .For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.