Harry Potter party!

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This year saw the return of the traditional and highly anticipated firm wide party. For many this is the crown of the Gateley social calendar and all involved were concerned to ensure it was bigger and better than the last, which was held in Manchester a few years ago. The party is a way for the partners to show their appreciation for the hard work of staff across all of the offices, and a chance for everyone to get together for some much-needed revelry.

A strong Harry Potter theme prevailed throughout the evening, the venue was decorated with flags, floating candles and great hall-style benches. The entertainment included lookalike actors from Harry Potter and an owl handler, not forgetting the smaller details such as test tube shots of ‘Polyjuice’ (amongst others) and house scarves which were given to each guest. Everyone was also treated to a champagne reception, three course meal and a live band.

As trainees (or house elves, as we were otherwise known), we were involved in collating responses, organising coach travel, decorating the hall and meeting and greeting the staff arriving at the hotels and the venue on the night. This meant that we were party to all of the insider information about the event (which was kept as a surprise for most staff) and had to exercise discretion when frequently asked by our colleagues for the details in the run up to the party.

The excitement amongst the offices was palpable as the party approached. As well as being a morale booster, it was great for those new (and old) to the firm to get the opportunity to meet and get to know staff from other offices and departments. Being able to put a name to a face makes conversations much easier when you need advice from a different specialism or are spending the day in another office.

This post was edited by Alison O’Kelly. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

One down, three to go

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Looking back over the last 6 months as a first seat trainee there’s been some challenges, some confusion and a touch of pressure, but there have also been triumphs, relief laughs and lots of socialising.

Let’s not sugar coat it, your first day as a trainee in an unfamiliar office, meeting dozens of new people and engaging in actual legal work with real world effects and implications is daunting to say the least.

My first seat was Banking & Finance (an area of law where I had no previous experience) in the Manchester office. The Banking & Finance team are an extremely friendly and helpful bunch who made my transition from student to trainee as smooth as possible.

At first it is easy to get a little overwhelmed and you can feel that you are more in your team’s way than there to help them. I’m pleased to say that this doesn’t last long and the more challenges that are put in front of you, the better you become and the faster you improve. You’re not expected to walk through the door as Harvey Spectre, you are there to learn. As long as you are enthusiastic, proactive and learn from your mistakes that’s the main thing.

I am amazed at how far I’ve progressed over the last 6 months in terms of my legal knowledge, ‘commercial awareness’ and general confidence in the office environment. There is a fear that with each seat rotation you are starting from scratch. To a degree that is true, especially if your new department is radically different, but the skills I picked up in my first seat have helped me feel comfortable in my second seat much quicker.

Some examples of things I have done in my first 6 months as a Banking & Finance trainee are:

  • From early on in my seat (actually my very first day as it happens!) I was invited and encouraged to join the Banking & Finance team at networking events. Similarly all Manchester Gateley trainees are members of the Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group. Through this membership we had a fantastic winter ball at the town hall where we got to meet trainees from a wide range of firms across Manchester, numerous cocktail evenings, comedy shows and a particularly useful inter-professional social where we met other non-lawyer young professionals
  • Late nights in the office are very much the exception rather than the norm. I worked late to attend a completion meeting on a job that had been building for a good couple of years. The experience was exciting and intense. The energy within the team is great when so many hours of work are finally coming to a head and you have multiple parties all trying to get everything signed up as efficiently as possible
  • I planned and attended the Christmas party for the Corporate, Banking & Finance and Tax teams. We had a fantastic Thai meal followed by a lots of drinks ending in a karaoke bar in the heart of Chinatown. The firm runs lots of charity events and trainees can get involved in helping to organise these. The firm also holds social club events including bowling nights, pie and ale nights and pub quizzes.

Some highlights of my first 6 months include: getting lots of client interaction through attending and helping out with numerous completion meetings (thankfully not all late at night); and towards the end of my seat I was able to run some of my own smaller files (under supervision of course).

Overall my first 6 months has been an at times challenging, but a very rewarding experience with a good amount of fun involved too!

This post was edited by Lewis Peck. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Love of the law

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Throughout a law degree students are encouraged to evidence every legal point with the relevant legal precedent being either the key case or the statute. I remember spending hours pouring over textbooks trying to formulate ways to help me remember key cases for exams. I left university conscious that Donoghue v Stevenson, amongst other cases, would forever be ingrained in my memory.

Cases and statute

So far, during my training contract (now that I have every legal database at my fingertips), I have never been asked by a client to evidence an answer with a legal precedent. The majority of our clients want us to provide them with a solution to their problem, not provide them with legal principles from previous cases. Our task as solicitors is to find that solution and deliver it to our client in the most efficient way possible. As trainees, one of the main lessons we are taught is how to apply the law to our clients’ circumstances rather than to explain how we draw our conclusion. Even when given legal research tasks by fee earners, the focus is often on the answer, not the background to how you got there. Obviously your answer does need to be evidenced in these tasks, so this is one area where insight into cases and statute comes in handy.

Time management

Time pressures are tight in the working environment and it is important to consider the commercial impact of our decisions rather than solely the legal implications. I feel that some of the key skills to successfully completing your training contract are learning how to manage your workload and learning how to manage people’s expectations. As a student you are essentially the master of your own destiny, whereas as a trainee solicitor your actions must reflect the best interests of your client, the good of the firm and usually the team you are working with. Trainees are encouraged to assist all the fee earners in the department to ensure variety of work; success in your seat will depend upon your ability to manage the matters you are assisting with.

Networking

During my degree I was given very little insight into the importance of networking. This is a large aspect of being a trainee solicitor. We are encouraged to go to firm events, departmental events, events with other young professionals, just to name a few. Social interaction is very important as professional and personal relationships are enhanced by face to face contact outside of the office.

Solicitors need to be personable and approachable, not just to clients but to everyone both inside, and outside, the profession. An emphasis is placed on the importance of networking with other young professionals; someone who you meet early on in your training contract could be a client in the future. I find that being able to put a face to a name makes communication a lot less daunting.

CSR

As employees of a law firm we are the face of the firm wherever we are. Giving back to the community around us is a massive part of the firm’s ethos. We spend a lot of extracurricular time volunteering and fundraising for our nominated charities.

Love of the law is what drives you to choose your degree and career path but once you start your training contract you will quickly learn that there is so much more trainee solicitors need to offer.

This post was edited by Hannah Edmondson. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

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.