A day at the London High Court

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I attended a summary judgment hearing at the High Court in London earlier this year as part of my contentious Corporate Recovery seat. The civil procedure rules (CPR) have an overriding objective to deal with cases justly and at proportionate cost. With this in mind, the rules allow either party to apply for summary judgment before the hearing of the case. This is essentially for circumstances in which one party is confident that the merits of their case alone are so strong and their oppositions so weak, that it is unnecessary to dedicate time and expense to a full blown trial. A summary judgment hearing allows the parties to present their legal and factual submissions to the judge who decides whether the case can be decided at this stage, instead of trial. Parties prepare in much the same way as for trial, they must provide disclosure, submit witness statements and instruct counsel.

The allocation to the High Court in London reflects the substantial value in dispute and of course heightened the feeling of tension. The court room next door had attracted much media attention and was full with reporters. As The Rolls Building is the court which deals with some of the most high profile disputes between businesses, it was not surprising to see a media presence.

The main proceedings of our case had been on-going for some time and as we acted for the claimant, we had applied to the court for summary judgment. Civil litigation is a core module on the LPC, in fact, on the course I was asked to make a summary judgment application as part of my advocacy assessment. There are two limbs that must be satisfied in order for summary judgment in favour of the claimant to be granted:

  1. the court must be satisfied that the defendant has no real prospect of success; and
  2. there is no other compelling reason why the case or issue should be heard at a trial.

Therefore all the goal posts were the same except the values, risk to reputations and grievances were multiplied tenfold.

The hearing was a culmination of much work between us, the client and counsel. Success at trial is of course determined by the merits of the case but the collaboration between the legal team and client is essential. An eye for detail, knowledge of the law and organisation are all key in ensuring that the time in court is as successful as possible.

Being privy to conversations and developments between our legal team, I could identify why and how counsel brought emphasis to certain elements of his submissions and used the supporting legal precedent to bolster his arguments. By the end, tensions were of course raised, as the judge had been coy in not giving any indication as to which argument he favoured, scrutinising each barrister equally. With great relief, judgment was delivered in our favour. It was an occasion for celebration and a moment which made me understand the feeling of triumph that draws people into the world of litigation.

The mechanics of the court system and how cases are brought to trial is all neatly laid out in the CPR. The rules govern each stage and provide a framework for cases to be heard in a fair and efficient way. Whilst this sounds a systematic and orderly approach to managing a contentious situation, the sums in dispute, reputations on the line and hours in preparation formulating a concise argument makes you realise that the formality is masking the greatest human instinct, to win.

This post was edited by Fionnuala Reihill. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Social Club commitments

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As trainees we are tasked with the running of the firm-wide Social Club. The handover from the second year trainees to the first year trainees occurs towards the end of our first seat and we then have a one year term in our designated role. Individually we are encouraged to take on both a local and national role. These roles include: treasurer, events secretary, admin secretary, charity representatives, recruitment representative and trainee induction representative. Our handover took place via conference call with all of the trainees across the offices present. Trainees could then put themselves forward for whichever role they would like.

Locally, the Social Club arranges events within their respective offices. The events take place after work and usually involve an activity such as a quiz night or bowling, with food and drinks often provided. Trainees take the initiative with the organisation and the final concept. We are often able to include a charity element into the events, such as a raffle, which allows us to promote the local charity we support to those present.

These events encourage cross-departmental contact and as the organisers, it is a fantastic way for trainees to communicate and socialise with members at every level of the firm. The national roles also encourage communication between the trainees across the offices, which really helps if you ever need to work from or contact someone in that office.

In Manchester, we had more of a ‘working’ handover. The last event organised by the second year trainees took place in March, so both year groups worked together to organise the event. This enabled us to get first-hand experience of what it involved and by the evening of the event the second years trusted us to carry on their good work.

The next big event in Manchester is the summer BBQ, which as the new local social secretary, I will be taking the reins on (with the help of my very generous fellow trainees of course). The summer BBQ takes place annually but we are looking forward to adding our own unique twists to the event. Social Club events offer a more relaxed atmosphere for socialising with colleagues and now that the baton has been passed, we look forward to many successful future events during our term.

Second year trainee

As a fourth seat trainee, I’ve just handed over my responsibilities in the Social Club. During my time on the Social Committee I was the social secretary for the Birmingham office, responsible for organising office-wide events. Previous events included dinner and drinks at local bars and restaurants as well as a bingo evening and a quiz night. I was also co-events secretary, responsible for organising the Christmas family day for the staff and families of all our Midlands offices.

Being involved with the Social Committee as a trainee is a fantastic opportunity for trainees to take responsibility and develop their skills. Most of the roles offer the chance to plan and organise events, which is perhaps a new experience. This differs from the usual trainee role: ordinarily trainees support more senior fee earners with their matters but in the Social Committee we trainees are responsible for the event. It’s a great chance to show off leadership skills in your particular Social Committee role. Delegation and time management are crucial skills that you learn quickly, as you juggle your fee earning work with the Social Committee.

Hand in hand with this, the Social Committee introduces you to colleagues away from a work setting. It is a brilliant chance to meet colleagues outside of the office and to get to know them better. This is invaluable when changing seats: that first day with the new team is much less daunting when you know a few names and you’ve spoken to people before. It also means that all the hard work you put into organising an event is brought to the attention of other teams: even if you’re not sitting in their department they will have an idea of your capabilities and so it is a good opportunity to make a good first impression.

The Social Committee has been at times fun, stressful and hectic, but overall it’s been a rewarding challenge. I wish the first year trainees the very best of luck taking on their new roles and encourage them to get the most they can from the experience.

This post was edited by Jo Symes and Hannah Edmundson. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

All in a day’s work

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As trainees we are encouraged to get involved in activities outside of the office. Of particular importance to trainees is the junior lawyers group within their region. In Leicester this is called the Leicester Junior Lawyers Division (LJLD). I was initially involved with the LJLD before starting my training contract through attending their events as a student. During the first year of my training contract I decided to take a position on the LJLD committee and became an events officer.

My role as events officer involves organising events aimed to enable junior members of the profession to network and socialise. We aim to hold six events per year for students, paralegals, trainees and solicitors up to five years post qualification experience who either live or work in Leicester. These events include the flagship annual ball and quiz. The events also include a free careers seminar to enable attendees to get some recruitment tips for applying for a training contract and progressing their career into post qualification.

Organising the events allows me to practice valuable skills for a solicitor such as:

  1. Negotiation – with a limited budget we always want to get the best price for the venue, food, drinks and entertainment
  2. Keeping a record of bookings and issuing invoices
  3. Networking, I have built up valuable links with other junior lawyers in my region and also with local businesses who we contact for event venues or sponsorship
  4. Team work, last year I worked as part of a team of three events officers, this year there are five events officers. I also work alongside the rest of the committee, in particular the treasurer to ensure payments can be made as necessary
  5. Time management. As you can imagine fitting the role alongside being a trainee can be demanding but being organised and planning ahead to ensure LJLD commitments are done with plenty of time ensures there is little need for the role to create stress or become unenjoyable.

I really enjoy my role as events officer on the LJLD. It is a great opportunity to meet other juniors in a relaxed and social atmosphere.  Being a trainee in  a smaller office, the LJLD provides an opportunity to share experiences with my peers. In addition these events offer an opportunity to develop relationships with others in the profession who I will undoubtedly be working with throughout my career.

This post was edited by Fiona Grocock. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Who’s who: a guide to key roles in a law firm

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A law firm, like most other organisations, is made up of a number of personnel and teams. I remember being asked the difference between the managing partner and the senior partner once in a training contract interview and not being able to articulate the difference. The key to understanding how a law firm operates is understanding the different roles within a firm.

Senior partner 

The senior partner would be colloquially known as ‘the boss’ and holds a similar position to that of a chief executive. The senior partner will usually chair key partner meetings and be the overall face of a firm. Senior partners have a lot of responsibility by way of setting key targets for the firm, ensuring targets are met and also being responsible for any complaint procedures. They normally do this alongside fee earning too, which makes the senior partner a very busy lawyer.

Boards 

It is normal for law firms to have a number of boards or committees that meet to set and review agendas for a firm. These are typically management boards or committees that meet to review and implement a law firm’s vision and monitor the progress being made. These will normally be comprised of partners, finance director and other unit heads.

Units and unit heads 

You will often see on law firm’s websites and brochures how law firms are internally categorised by departments or units. These are often along the lines of property, business services, banking & finance, transport etc. All of these are of course dependent upon a law firm’s particular practice areas. Each of these departments will often have a head of unit (normally a partner) who has overall responsibility for their unit or team. These partners can also be known as managing partners. 

Training principal 

The training principal is a member of a firm that all trainees will get to know very well. The training principal is (normally a partner) responsible for the training given to trainees over their training contracts. There are certain requirements that must be met by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which the training principal is also responsible for.

The teams 

A law firm would not be able to function without the various networks of teams that support them. These can be the junior fee earners (such as paralegals, trainees and solicitors) or the more senior fee earners (associates, senior associates, legal directors and partners). It is important to note that all firms will describe roles differently. For example, at Gateley, upon qualification a newly qualified solicitor will be referred to as a ‘solicitor’ whereas other firms in the market place will describe newly qualified solicitors as ‘associates’.

A law firm is also dependent upon a whole range of other teams such as, secretaries, security teams, IT, HR, marketing, communications, business development and facilities. It is important to realise from a very early stage how many different teams are needed to build a successful firm.

Hopefully this blog has given you an insight into the various roles involved in a law firm (and there are many more than described in this blog). These roles are used for purely structural reasons, to give efficiency and clarity within the business. As you can see, there are a vast number of teams (including non-solicitors) without whom a law firm would not be able to function.

This post was edited by James Miller. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Top tips on how to approach an interview

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As the summer recruitment season approaches, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and nervous, however the key to approaching this is to be prepared.

In the midst of everything else going on in your life, interview preparation can sometimes fall down your list of priorities but preparation is essential!

My top 5 tips are:

1. Know your application – this may sound obvious, but knowing your application inside out will help you to, not only feel at ease in any interview, but it will also show the interviewer that you are confident in everything that you have written.

2. Confidence – it is natural to feel nervous, it shows that you care, I certainly felt nervous attending interviews. The key to nerves is to turn them into a positive, don’t let your nerves get the better of you. Yes I know, I can hear you saying that’s easier said than done but… when you walk into your interview push your nerves to one side, and remind yourself why you are there – you want the job and at the end of the day, you are the person best placed to show the interviewer what your skills are and why you deserve the job.

3. Be yourself – something which I maintain is so important is that you should always be yourself. Firms are looking for candidates who they can ultimately leave in a room with a client and know that they will represent the firm well from day one. They also want someone who they can work with on a day to day basis, so don’t be afraid to show your personality. Being yourself also helps you to relax and feel at ease, helping to leave those nerves at the door.

4. Think about what you can offer – have another look at the job description and your application, have a think about the type of questions you may get asked and how you would answer them. Start thinking about some examples of situations you have found yourself in that really show your skill set and how you would fulfil the role. Make your past experiences relevant to the position you are applying for.

5. First impressions really do count – dressing the part almost always gives you confidence, be friendly towards everyone that you meet and always arrive on time. Plan your journey to the interview in advance.

Finally, remember that you have been invited to interview because your application stood out so be confident in your own ability and good luck.

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

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.