A future trainee’s guide to Corporate Recovery

Info

1) What is Corporate Recovery?

The Corporate Recovery team deals with companies in financial difficulties. When this occurs, the management, shareholders or creditors of the company will look to take  it down one of several insolvency processes. The most common processes are liquidation, administration and receivership, but there are many others and each have their own objectives and specific rules. For example, the administration process aims to rescue the company by returning it to financial health, whilst a company voluntary arrangement allows the company to strike a deal with its creditors to ensure they are at least partially paid back.

In the Corporate Recovery team, it is often the case that we are not acting for the ‘company’ in financial difficulty, but are instructed by insolvency practitioners (IP’s) who manage the company’s insolvency process. For example, when a company is going into liquidation, a liquidator is appointed who will instruct on all matters that require specialist legal advice.

2) The Corporate Recovery team are split into two: contentious and non-contentious

Contentious work, very simply put, is when parties are in dispute and, in order to resolve the dispute, they can negotiate, arbitrate, mediate or litigate.  Insolvency law provides many scenarios where it is necessary for the liquidator to bring an action against the failing company. As a trainee, you might be involved in actions against directors which will involve assisting in compiling the evidence and liaising with the IP. Trainees often get experience of emergency injunctions, where we seek to make a company comply with the Insolvency Act. I have already helped prepare for and attended such a hearing, which for me is the ultimate example of ‘law in action’.

You’ll not only be applying insolvency law, but will also be ensuring that your work complies with the civil procedure rules. This is great experience for a trainee, allowing them to gain exposure to both litigation and insolvency law.

3) Non-contentious work is ‘transactional’

The non-contentious team is focused on appointments and sale transactions. Trainees can expect to see the full spectrum of both processes. When a company shows signs of financial distress, a bank may ask us to complete a security review. This involves carefully analysing facility, security and property documents to look for any deficiencies in the bank’s ability to enforce its security (attention to detail is key), drafting court forms and supporting statements to appoint administrators or petition the court to wind up the company. This is often at short notice, so the ability to work under pressure is crucial – and be prepared to make the dash to court to file!

Finally, if when working with the IP, you will help draft and negotiate sale agreements and ancillary documents to sell the business as a going concern, or its assets, for the benefit of the creditors. A trainee will need to familiarise themselves with what is acceptable in a sale by an IP, which contrasts with that which is typical in a transaction completed by the Corporate team.

4) We often act for the same clients

Working in the Corporate Recovery team often involves working with the same IP’s. This allows for the development of close client relationships. Working closely with the same clients is considered an advantage and much is done to invest in client relations. The world of insolvency, in general, recognises the importance of knowing individuals both professionally and personally. In fact, there is a Midlands restructuring society which organises a large variety of social events, and the emphasis on client relationships is definitely something I have enjoyed as part of my seat. From netball matches to quiz nights and networking evenings, life as an insolvency solicitor allows for the opportunity to be sociable and to get involved in the wider business community.

5) As a trainee, there is a great level of responsibility

As a trainee, the work I have been given is varied and interesting and there is an emphasis on research – in order to comply with the Insolvency Rules, we need to know how the law interacts with each particular set of circumstances. Before coming to the seat, I understood in theory what corporate recovery involved, but as insolvency was only a small element of the course on the LPC, I can now see that it has many different angles. The team is supportive, acknowledging that insolvency law is not always clear cut, and there is always someone around to answer my questions.

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

Trainee transitions: how to make the most of your supervisor

Expert advice

As a prospective trainee, the moment you discover which department you are joining for the first seat of your training contract, you begin to anticipate who your first supervisor will be for the start of your legal career. This is the person who greets you on that first nerve-racking day and who will provide you with the support and guidance for those initial six months as a trainee solicitor. You will undertake four six-month seats which means having four different supervisors; the importance of developing such relationships cannot be emphasised enough.

You will find that every supervisor works differently. Some take a very hands-on approach, observing and managing your day to day workload; this is always beneficial in your first seat whilst you are finding your legal feet. Others are more relaxed, giving you space and a greater responsibility to manage your own day (while still checking in to make sure you’re on the right lines). In the same way that you adapt your work to the needs of a client, you will find that you adapt your work to the needs and style of your supervisor or any of the other members of the team. You must learn how they work and tailor the work you do according to their expectations.

Go ahead… take advantage! 

It is also vital to utilise your supervisor; make the most of them! They are your first port of call when it comes to any important questions you may have and are an invaluable source of knowledge. Your training contract is largely about absorbing as much information as you can about the different practice areas, the legal arena and the various clientele that your firm engages with.

Feedback is a two-way street 

As well as overseeing your work, part of your supervisor’s role is to guide and support you. They will provide you with feedback as you progress through your seat and most will conduct unofficial reviews in addition to the formal mid and end of seat appraisals. These present a great chance, as a trainee, to explain how you feel you are progressing in relation to the work you are involved in and to provide feedback to your supervisor on your overall time in the department.

Keep in touch 

When you come to the end of a seat, it is always a good idea to stay in contact with your supervisor. During your rotations you’ll be amazed at how much overlap there is between departments and you’ll find yourself picking up the phone to a previous supervisor to work through a query as part of a matter in your new team. In this way, before you even realise it, your previous supervisors will be helping you develop inter-departmental relationships and networks that will greatly assist you in your future legal career.

For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

In-house vs. private practice: on secondment

iStock_000044793758_Small

One of the attractions for me when applying to the firm was the potential for secondment during my training contract, and I have been lucky enough to be the first ever six month secondee in the legal team at Everton Football Club.

When on secondment in an area of business you have a passion for (in this case, luckily for me, football) you can take a real interest in the application of the law to the daily goings on of the business. You can also begin the secondment with some basic knowledge of the legal challenges you think that business faces.

However, nothing prepared me for the breadth of potential legal issues facing a football club due to the unique nature of the football industry, both on and off the pitch. For example, whilst most businesses regard their employees as central and vital, there cannot be many types of business reliant on the success of 11 employees for 90 minutes and where those employees can be bought and sold!

One of the benefits of secondment is that no two days are the same and the type of work you are exposed to varies widely. So far, I have been involved with commercial matters such as brand enforcement, drafting sponsorship/partnership agreements and commercial image rights agreements. I have also been involved in regulatory issues, such as FIFA and Premier League regulations, player compensation and Youth Academy matters. You need to gain the confidence to transition between these extremely different areas of commercial law and regulation and it is a steep learning curve.

Being directly within the business whilst on secondment also allows you to see how the input of the legal team contributes to the success of the wider club. You can see how having intimate knowledge of the area of business you work in, along with legal expertise, can contribute to how commercial contracts are formed, and in turn contribute to money to buy and train future players for (hopefully) success on the field. For example, in regards to corporate hospitality, football clubs have a unique function in only having a small window on match day before and after kick off to serve customers. Commercial contracts regarding food, entertainment, cleaning and serving staff all have to reflect this and normal ‘hospitality’ type contracts would not be fit for purpose.

When on secondment you also see the interaction of different departments and differing laws and regulations first hand. You can see how a fairly straightforward sponsorship agreement with an alcohol company may encounter difficulties when playing in certain EU countries where the advertisement of alcohol is not allowed. This affects what players and staff can wear and how the club promotes the alcohol brand. Therefore, contracts must be tailored towards this and it is up to the legal department to ensure all the bases are covered.

Secondment is also a balancing act of differing interests but this contributes to me becoming a more ‘well-rounded’ lawyer. For example, perhaps a player will want to wear a certain brand of clothing for a photo shoot which is not the same as the club’s sponsor/manufacturer. You need to research Premier League rules, player’s contracts, image contracts, sponsorship contracts and how they all interact. You must learn to balance both these legal and regulatory issues along with commercial interests, commercial ‘awareness’ and plain old common sense.

Secondment, in any area of business, allows you to experience law from the client’s end of things. If you become experienced in how a client receives advice and wants answers to be presented, this can only assist you as a solicitor on returning to private practice.

There are, of course, elements of private practice and being ‘back at HQ’ that you miss. For one, I now value more than ever the contribution of legal secretaries and paralegals to creating documents and assisting with projects as legal secretaries do not exist in-house. Also, simple things, like paginating documents or having access to certain law specific systems, are available at the firm but not at a football club.

There is added pressure in-house as you are (literally) the face of the firm within that business and, while wanting to show off your own ability, that will also reflect on the firm. Individuals in-house may also see ‘solicitor’ in your job title or email and are unaware that you are training and how a training contract works. You may, therefore, have work land on your desk that is beyond your level, but it is a skill in itself knowing your limits and when to seek assistance.

There is also the legal training support structure and experience of a 2 year training contract within the firm that a football club or most businesses do not have or require. However, everyone at Everton has been extremely helpful in assisting with my transition into the club and the commercial team back at the firm have always been on hand to help with any questions.

A bit like Romelu Lukaku, I feel I have experienced and contributed a great deal during my ‘loan’ period at Everton and exceeded my expectations on joining the club. I have much more to experience during the secondment but I hope to apply the club’s motto ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’ on my return to the firm and in any future employment in the area of sports/football law.

This post was edited by Conor Hannon. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Commercial awareness

iStock_000034769450_Small

Commercial awareness is regularly referred to as a necessary skill for a career in the legal profession yet, at the same time, those aspiring to become lawyers are often uncertain about exactly what it is. The key is to develop commerciality and be able to demonstrate it rather than worrying about the definition.

What is commercial awareness?

There is no single definition of commercial awareness. It encompasses understanding different businesses and the wider context in which they operate – who are the customers, competitors and suppliers of the business and what opportunities and challenges does it face in the marketplace in which it operates?  You should also understand what commercial law firms do and how they interact with other city players.

Why is it important?

By developing commercial awareness you can tailor advice and solutions to your client’s business and predict the long term impact of any action taken. As a solicitor it is important to be familiar with your client’s business’ aims in order to provide advice that is both beneficial and cost effective. To achieve this it is also necessary to understand the market your client operates in.

How to show/develop commercial awareness

This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to develop and demonstrate commercial awareness, but it will hopefully provide you with a few ideas to get you started:

  • Keep up to date with the news and think about the wider context when reading articles, for example: the opportunities and risks to the parties involved; whether it broke new ground; the long and short term implications; and what the role of the solicitor was.
  • Develop an understanding of different types of businesses. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Part time jobs, albeit often not in a legal discipline, can provide an understanding of how that business operates. It’s even as simple as taking an interest in, and asking questions about, the businesses or sectors that your friends and family work in.
  • Get a head start whilst studying at undergraduate level. As a trainee it is necessary to make the transition from learning and understanding the law to offering solutions and practical advice. It is not often that clients take an interest in cases and statute. Whilst studying, you might see things in the news to which you can apply the legal principles studied during your degree.

Remember… commercial awareness is a skill that you build up over time and even as a trainee and qualified solicitor you will need to continue to develop it.

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

How to impress at a law fair

potential level conceptual meter

Whilst it might be tempting to go around every law fair in the country collecting giveaways and brochures, that on its own won’t help you on your way to securing a training contract. However, a good impression at a law fair, combined with a strong application, might. Here are some tips for making the most out of attending a law fair.

Make a good first impression 

Law fairs give firms their first glimpse of who you are, so try to look professional. Think about what you are going to wear; first impressions count. You don’t need to rush out and buy an expensive suit, but do try to dress appropriately.

Do your research 

The best way to impress at a law fair is to prepare in advance. Law fairs are your chance to meet the people who currently work at the firm, so think about who is going to be there before you arrive and plan accordingly. Most universities publish an exhibitor list prior to the big event; take advantage of this and plan which firms you want to talk to. This will avoid time wasting and help you come across as more focused and organised.

Usually law firms bring a mixture of trainees and HR representatives. Before the event, it is important to consider what you want to learn about each firm. Are you going to find out what day to day life is like from a current trainee? Do you have questions about their training contract? Do you want to learn more about the application process? Another good tip is to mix in facts about the firm with your questions to demonstrate your knowledge of that particular firm.

Ask the right questions

Try and ask intelligent, well thought out, questions. Avoid guessing. If you don’t know much about a particular firm  be honest and try to learn what you can about them. Questions about planned growth in terms of office location or areas of work are a good start.

Avoid making embarrassing mistakes: a friend of mine once asked a full service commercial firm how they felt about legal aid cuts affecting their criminal work. As you can imagine, the question wasn’t particularly well received, and could have been avoided by following my previous tip, research!

Market yourself 

Try to be friendly, keen and informed. See the law fair as the first step in the application process. A good performance at a law fair may mean the firm remembers you when the time comes to make an application. Also, be genuine. Ultimately, if you are not being yourself when talking to a firm they then probably aren’t the right fit for you.

My trainee journey started when I met trainees and HR representatives at a law fair in Manchester a few years ago. The relaxed, friendly conversation I had with the trainees at the event made a strong enough impression to lead me to apply to Gateley.

This post was edited by Lauren Newbury. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

A taxing time?

tax time

Trainee life in the tax department 

They say that tax doesn’t have to be taxing. Clearly whoever coined this phrase has never been involved with navigating the murky waters of tax legislation.

Tax is the third seat of my training contract and was my first choice for where I would move after corporate. I was very proactive in relation to my seat choice, as I knew that Tax hadn’t had a trainee in a few years. If there is a specific area of law that you’re keen to experience, I would definitely advise that you speak to members of that team, your mentor and HR, as I did, to make people aware of your interest. At Gateley personal career development is taken very seriously and accommodating seat choices affect this policy. I even expressed an interest in tax on my training contract application, so it’s never too early to mention it.

I expected tax to be challenging but it has surpassed even my expectations. The law is complex, constantly changing, covers every topic you could possibly conceive and is split across a variety of legislation and case law. It most certainly is not for the faint-hearted.

I have spent time working on everything from VAT and SDLT to tax on interest and stamp duty, working with corporate, real estate and construction. In my experience, this is the seat where the action is, where I have worked with the most other departments and where the diversity of work means I am constantly challenged.

I’ve also had a wide variety of tasks. Admittedly, with so much to learn there has been a lot of research (and I mean a LOT) but I’ve also attended a conference with counsel, drafted letters and tax indemnities in agreements, helped generate material for pitches to prospective clients and created presentations for internal training.

The only downside to there being so much to learn is that it can feel overwhelming at times and as if you’re back at university doing lots of revision. The team are incredibly supportive and happy to talk through their approach to an issue. Although it may seem like there’s a huge amount that I don’t yet know this is only to be expected in a subject that touches on every aspect of daily life. One of the most important things to learn in a tax seat is that it is more useful to be able to find solutions to tasks and have a thorough and methodical approach than it is to instinctively know the answers. After all, the answer you already know may have changed in the time since you were last asked the same question. And with tax changing all the time, this is also a seat where you can become the most knowledgeable person in the team on a topic. For example, the new theatre tax relief applies from 1 September 2014 and having researched this I know more about it than some more senior members of the team and have even written an update for our media clients. In tax there is a real opportunity to take responsibility and add value to a team, above the level that may be expected elsewhere.

Whether or not I qualify into tax, I have gained invaluable skills that I will take with me into my next seat and beyond, along with an appreciation of when there may be a tax issue that requires specialist knowledge. So although tax is taxing it’s also very interesting and rewarding.

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