The Gateley way: our training programme

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If you are reading this blog post, chances are you’re considering a career in law. The traditional route to qualification as a solicitor is through the completion of a training contract, and no doubt you will apply for training contracts at multiple firms. Indeed, in the current market, it would be naïve not to. But do you know exactly what you are signing up for? The name may be the same, but every training contract is different. Here is a trainee’s perspective of how we do things at Gateley.

The big picture

My training contract is for two years and it began in September 2013. During the two years I will complete four six month ‘seats’. To describe the concept of ‘seats’ in layman terms, this means spending six months working in four different departments across the firm. In each department I have a designated supervisor, but work with all fee earners in the team.

Appraisals

In each seat I receive two appraisals – halfway through and at the end. Both my supervisor and I complete an appraisal form, which allows us to reflect on my performance in different aspects of the job. By receiving regular appraisals I am able to identify things that I do well, what I need to focus on and the skills I need to develop. Evaluating my progress is crucial for ensuring that I develop over the course of my training contract, and have the skills needed to become a qualified solicitor at the end. 

Seats

I have completed two of my mandatory seats – a corporate and a contentious (litigation) seat. I am also required to complete a property seat. The rationale behind this is to encourage trainees to develop into well rounded solicitors who are prepared for qualification. It would be difficult to achieve this by spending all of my time in one niche area of law. I have come to realise that there is huge overlap between seats, so even if I were to qualify into corporate, having a working knowledge of commercial contract law would be hugely beneficial. At the end of my first year I was asked to give my preferences for my seats in my second year, and I am now sitting in my first choice, Corporate Recovery.

Professional Skills Course (PSC)

Information about the ‘PSC’ course is a popular question asked by students at law fairs and incoming trainees. In short, it is a mandatory requirement for qualifying as a solicitor to complete, and builds on the knowledge developed during the LPC. The firm arranges and funds our completion of the course, which we do as a firm-wide trainee intake. PSC sessions are therefore not only informative, but also a great opportunity to catch up with friends from other offices.

Other responsibilities

As a trainee my job certainly does not begin and end at my desk. I am the trainee charity representative for my office, head up the office social club, attend networking and client events and, of course, get involved with social media efforts such as writing this blog!

The skills that can be developed from organising a social or getting out of the office and meeting clients are every bit as important as being technically proficient at legal work. The firm appreciates this, and trainees are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.

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

Trainees and business development

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The summer sun may have gone for another year, but the business development (BD) calendar is just beginning to heat up as the run up to the busy Christmas period begins. The BD side of being a trainee is one of the things that gets largely overlooked in the academic setting of university and law school, but is vital to the success of your career in the long run.

What is BD?

Carry out an internet search of the term ‘business development’ and you will get a whole host of complex sounding definitions. This is unsurprising, as it is a whole industry in itself and, at its most complex, an academic discipline. In layman’s terms, BD is about getting out into the marketplace and building relationships with different people and businesses. In turn, it is hoped that they will be a source of business for you and your firm at some point in the future.

Why is it relevant to a trainee?

Trainees are not expected to generate work of their own. Therefore, you may be thinking, what interest does a trainee have in BD?

Firstly, as is always the case with being a trainee, you need to learn the skills behind successful networking, a vital part of BD. Some people feel naturally comfortable walking into a room and talking to a set of complete strangers. For most of us though, it can seem like a daunting task at first. Practice makes perfect, and it is best to learn these skills and build your confidence early on. As a trainee you can develop your skills over time – starting in an easier setting such as networking with other junior lawyers or young professionals, and building right up to talking to senior clients at firm events. You also need to learn how to develop a relationship. Let’s say you’ve struck up a rapport with someone at a networking event – what is your next step? A LinkedIn invite, an email, a coffee? Fear not, we have a dedicated BD team who can help, and you will build an understanding of the correct course of action with experience.

Secondly, the relationships that you start to build now could pay dividends in the future. Remember that just as the trainee solicitors of today are the associates and partners of tomorrow, the same applies to the current crop of junior bankers, surveyors, accountants, insolvency practitioners and so on. Getting to know your peers from other industries now will reap rewards in the future, and facilitate the building of strong relationships.

Thirdly, including junior members of staff such as trainees at certain events can be essential. ‘Team on team’ events are common, where the members of an office or department will have drinks with a team from a client or potential client e.g. a bank. Trainees make up an important part of our offering, and these types of events are a great chance to make connections with both junior and senior professionals in that other team. You may even have an organisational role, helping to ensure that the event runs smoothly.

Finally, networking is fun. The type of events that you can get invited to are varied, ranging from quiz nights, ale trails, white water rafting, drinks, concerts, days at the cricket and just about anything and everything in-between! You also shouldn’t forget that, just because someone is a client, it doesn’t mean they cannot also be a friend and attending events is a great way to expand your personal, as well as professional network.

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

Socials insight

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Gateley has a reputation for being a very friendly and sociable firm. And having been here for a year now, I have to say it is well-deserved.  Although work is of paramount importance and is naturally the primary focus, there is also a social side to the firm. This can come in many forms and injects a real sense of community into the firm.

Office socials 

Office led socials play a significant role in the firm’s social scene. There is a social committee which is formed of a mix of fee earners; from partners’ to trainees. Being a member of the social committee is a great way to meet and work with colleagues from a number of different disciplines in a more informal setting. It is also rewarding to give back to the rest of your colleagues by helping to plan and execute the events.

The socials take place throughout our English offices. In Birmingham, we recently held a very successful Bingo night where tapas and drinks were also on offer. It was a great way to introduce the new trainees to their colleagues who were all spending their first two weeks in the Birmingham office as part of their induction programme – a few drinks and a game of Bingo was ideal to break the ice and meet the new faces they will be working with.

Past socials have included summer BBQ’s, rounders competitions, quiz nights, and good old fashioned dinner and drinks. A major benefit of having trainees on the social committee is that fresh ideas are suggested with each new trainee cohort, ensuring that no two socials are the same.

Department and client socials 

Departments also hold and organise their own socials. These events are smaller by their nature and will typically involve evening drinks at a local venue or a bite to eat. These social events differ from the larger office socials where invariably you catch up with friends from different departments. Here, the emphasis is building a strong collegiate atmosphere between the colleagues that work together day to day. It keeps the team happy and builds long lasting working relationships.

There will also be client focused socials. These can be either organised by clients or by Gateley for our clients. Recently, I attended a cricket tournament with my supervisor that was organised by a client. This was a great opportunity to meet the clients I had been working closely with and other industry figures too, presenting the opportunity to develop my understanding of the marketplace.

The social scene at Gateley is vibrant and diverse, being a real mix of small and large events. They all serve a purpose, whether it is to build relationships internally or externally, or simply, after a long week in the office to wind down and chat with your colleagues and friends.

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

From law school to practice – the trainee transition

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The move from studying at law school to being a practicing trainee solicitor can be a daunting one. This is particularly true if, like me, when starting your training contract your experience of working at a law firm is limited to vacation schemes. Fear not – help is at hand. Below are some of the things that I have learned and wish I had been told before starting my training contract this time last year.

Focus on getting the little things right

One of the best pieces of advice that I received early on in my training contract was to take my time and make sure that every piece of work I handed to a colleague was completed to the very best of my ability. You might be thinking, that sounds obvious! However, the academic study of law focuses the mind on technical legal knowledge when in fact, early on, it is more practical things like accurate spelling, punctuation, presentation and attention to detail that are more important. Prove that you can be trusted to do the smaller jobs correctly, and bigger things will soon start coming your way.

Thrown in at the deep end?

There is an element of this at the beginning, and indeed throughout, any training contract. You should expect to be taken out of your comfort zone – this is how you learn. Remember, the goal is to come out of the other end a qualified solicitor who has the confidence and is equipped with the skills to do the job. Don’t forget though that as a trainee, you will have a heavy support network behind you, and you should never feel as though you are drowning. If you need help – ask for it. The supervision you receive and the work that you are given will be directly linked to your experience and confidence – don’t be afraid that you will be out of your depth.

Corrections, Corrections, Corrections

If you are aspiring to be a solicitor, then chances are you are used to being a ‘high flyer’ with a string of strong academic results and extracurricular success under your belt. You could be in for a shock though, and find that your time as a trainee is the first time in your life where not everything you do is at an ‘A’ grade standard. Do not panic or become demoralised – this is normal. The important thing for a trainee is to learn from their mistakes. The first time that you write a letter or draft a board minute, a flurry of red pen is inevitable. So long as you take the feedback on board  you will be well on your way to developing into a solicitor.

Enjoy it

It is easy to get caught up in the demands that being a new trainee brings, but you shouldn’t forget to enjoy yourself. This is what you have worked for throughout university. The start of your training contract will open up many new opportunities to get involved in socials, charity fundraising and networking events. Take advantage of these – you are only a first year trainee once! Before you know it, you will be into year two and your mind will suddenly be looking ahead to the next big milestone: qualification.

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

The September shake-up: all change

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September is a time of transition for the junior members of the firm. A new intake of trainees will be joining, the current first year trainees will be moving into the second year of their Training Contract and final seat trainees will take up their new roles as newly qualified solicitors.

For the new trainees, years of academic training will finally be put to practical use. It is a daunting time, not only because you realise that learning the theory of law is only half the battle (at best!) but because even simple tasks can be tricky.

I remember the first time someone asked me to paginate a document – I headed straight to Google.

It is also a thoroughly exciting time for a first seat trainee as everything is new. Client meetings, new colleagues, running smaller matters and getting to know the rest of the trainees and team members were all highlights for me. I encourage  new trainees to throw themselves into every opportunity that is presented to them, be it a social event or a piece of work that initially appears beyond their ability.

The transition to a second year trainee brings new challenges. As a second year, you might be expected to manage a first year trainee or paralegal, which means organising your own workload and that of a colleague. It is also thoroughly rewarding when you look back over your first year and realise the progress that you have made and the further progress that can be made in the year to come. Thoughts inevitably turn to qualification and where the best fit may be for you within the Gateley family.

Arguably the step up to a newly qualified solicitor is the biggest jump of all. Although still supervised, the loss of the ‘trainee’ title increases the expectations of others, and yourself, in respect of your abilities.

Overall, September is an exciting time for the firm. New matters start to come in after summer, trainees bring a new dynamic to the teams which they are placed in and socials take place around the firm to welcome new recruits. Whilst everything may be ‘all change’, it is certainly for the better.

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

Communication is key

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As a trainee you will work closely with our support services teams, which incorporate Accounts, HR, IT, Administration & Facilities, Marketing, Business Development and Communications. This blog post will provide you with an insight into the role of the Communications team and, more importantly, give you an idea of how trainees get involved. 

Working in conjunction with the firm’s Marketing and Business Development functions, the Communications team plays a central role in ensuring that the firm’s brand messaging, news and events are conveyed in an accurate and consistent way, both internally to employees and externally to clients, contacts, peers and intermediaries.

This is achieved via a range of digital and traditional PR and communications platforms. As seen below, there are many such platforms, allowing the firm to reach as many stakeholders as possible.

Comms

On any given day, the team will be: drafting and distributing internal newsletters and external press releases; liaising with partners from various teams to develop communications plans, editorial and blog material based on their areas of expertise; liaising with journalists from regional, national and international publications to secure coverage; and interacting with key influencers, clients, contacts and prospects via the firm’s blogs and social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why is Communications important?

Communications is a vital function for several reasons. Internally, effective communications ensure that each fee earning unit and support service team is reading from the same page. It is almost impossible for the firm to successfully promote itself to external audiences when, internally, staff do not know the firm’s vision – “a leading national law firm with strong regional emphasis“.

The vision – a summary of what a company intends to become – provides employees with a sense of ownership of the firm and creates a common goal for everybody to work towards. It also helps to create a positive company culture – the ‘Gateley way’ of conducting oneself and doing business. This culture radiates to external parties and enhances the firm’s reputation further.

Communications is an exciting area in which to work. As the ways that people communicate with each other evolve, so does the discipline. For example, in recent years, individuals and companies have embraced social media as a tool to interact with one another. As a result, we are increasingly using platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs to interact with these audiences. This is where our trainees come into play.

Trainees assist the Communications team in creating and publishing content for this blog, and other departmental blogs. They are also responsible for providing the Communications team with relevant and timely tweets relating to CSR activity, networking events or sports competitions in which they are participating. In addition, trainees get involved with filming video podcasts, providing an insight into life at Gateley. If you haven’t done so already, you can view these videos via – http://talkingtrainees.gateleyuk.com/videos/

It doesn’t stop there…Trainees also provide the Communications team with CSR updates and events they have attended for the firm’s internal newsletter and for external press releases.

Don’t worry though, as a trainee you are not expected to be a Communications expert. You are simply asked to ‘communicate’ with the team to ensure that internal and external stakeholders are informed about topics of interest. Internally, this allows each employee to feel knowledgeable and involved in firm activities. Externally, it communicates brand messaging and exciting firm news and events to third parties.

Finally, Communications is not only vital to the firm but is also beneficial for trainees wanting to progress their careers quickly. Being a good communicator is a key attribute for successful lawyers and the skills developed whilst working alongside the Communications team are invaluable for career development.

This post was edited by Michael Ashworth and Katie Martin. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Life as a Corporate trainee

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Working in the Corporate team means that no two days are the same. Before embarking on a seat in the department, it is easy to assume that your role will consist of filing forms at Companies House and sitting in endless completion meetings. But in truth, there is much more to it than that.

All of our trainees will tell you that in Corporate you hit the ground running and are involved in large projects from day one. When a transaction takes off, trainees assist with due diligence and disclosure which includes tasks such as: running data rooms, marking up disclosure letters and conducting a ‘page turn’ with your counterpart at the other party’s legal representatives. A page turn is used to verify that both parties have the same documents.

Having completed the initial due diligence and disclosure, as a trainee, you will often be asked to review parts of the sale and purchase agreement or, on a smaller transaction, you may possibly even draft a short form agreement. As the transaction progresses and negotiations get underway, additional documents must be drafted in order to facilitate the deal. Trainees are usually asked to produce various types of documentation, from minutes and resolutions to Companies House forms and share certificates in order to assist completion of the transaction.

The work undertaken in the Corporate department is very diverse; one day you may be drafting documents for a small partnership and the next you could be reviewing documents for a plc. The variety of work greatly aids your learning and helps you to build your understanding of corporate law as a whole. As a trainee, you soon realise that one of the most important qualities of a corporate  solicitor is to understand the client’s business and therefore be able to provide them with commercial solutions as and when the need arises.

We have a large Corporate team, whose wealth of expertise and experience ensure that the job gets done effectively and efficiently. Working in the team allows you to get really stuck in, to learn and ask questions as you go along and to understand the nature of each transaction. You are given the opportunity to attend client meetings and are often tasked with updating the client on progress or answering their general queries.

The work is challenging, yet enjoyable and interesting and with plenty of people to support and encourage your learning, a seat in the Corporate department is a must!

This post was edited by Amy Jones. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.