It’s Halloween! The scariest moments of our training contracts so far…

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Everyone has heard of the gruesome tales, more commonly referred to as ‘trainee mishaps’, that invariably follow every intake. In honour of Halloween, we asked some of our first and second year trainees to tell us about the scariest moments of their training contracts so far!

As a trainee, some of the new tasks you are faced with on a weekly basis are rather daunting. Supervisors have high standards and often the tasks set won’t necessarily relate to anything you will have covered on the Legal Practice Course. It is therefore vital as a trainee that you can listen, adapt and keep a cool head in the workplace.

That said, everyone feels the pressure at some point and here are some of our trainees’ more challenging moments so far:

  • blocking a partner’s credit card by typing in the details wrong
  • accidentally chasing payment of a bill that hadn’t been sent out
  • taking a client to get something signed in front of a notary, but going to the wrong office and consequently having to jog together across the centre of Birmingham
  • leading an internal training session by video conference to the national team
  • holding up the completion of a matter until every page was checked in front of the parties
  • managing the expectations of multiple fee earners and prioritising tasks when everything is important
  • running two residential property purchases that needed to complete the day before Christmas
  • flying to Dubai to undertake a Corporate seat secondment
  • organising the Christmas party!

Inevitably, the trainees’ scariest moments involved some practical realities, legal necessities and the odd mistake, but it is also important to remember that starting a new job, in an unfamiliar environment, brings about many challenges.

Everyone knows that trainees aren’t perfect, and no one expects them to be, but so long as they ask questions, have a go and let their supervisors know if they do make a mistake, training contracts provide trainees with the experience they need to go out and forge a successful career post qualification.

For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

The big transformation: Law Society Admissions Ceremony

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After a long period of studying at university and law school, followed by an intense two year training contract, it’s time to transform, like Pinocchio, into a real boy (or girl). And by that, I mean a solicitor. An important step in this transformation is attending the Admissions Ceremony at the Law Society in London. It’s not a necessary step for qualification but it is such good fun that it would be a shame to miss it.

Much like your university graduation, this is a fancy occasion. You will step through the gates of the Law Society, a building that has been at the centre of the legal world since 1832, and get ready to walk across the stage to collect your practicing certificate. Not only that, but you’ll get to listen to an inspiring talk by the President of the Law Society about the promises of your future career.

Your family and friends can attend too, so tell them to bring their cameras, because there are a great number of places to get your photo taken.  You can pose on ornate staircases, in front of stained-glass windows, on balconies, in the library and many other remarkable settings that will make an impressive dent in the family albums. So make sure you show your good side and smile!

I loved my Admissions Ceremony. The highlight for me was getting to nose around the Law Society library, which was amazing (I freely admit to being a geek!). After the ceremony, the new solicitors and their guests are also invited to a snazzy drinks reception, including free fizz and some rather tasty mini pastries and cakes, which allowed us to toast the occasion in style.

If you are contemplating whether or not to attend your Admissions Ceremony then I hope this has convinced you to go. It’s an important occasion to mark and you should be very proud of your achievement.

Finally, some top tips for the day:

  1. some of your family or guests may shed a tear or two of pride, so take tissues;
  2. make sure you are having a good hair day as there are lots of photo opportunities;
  3. take your time when going across the stage, savour the moment, and remember to stop at the end of the stage long enough for your family to get some pictures (I was told off for rushing off the stage!); and
  4. you have worked incredibly hard for this, so relax and enjoy!

This post was edited by Gail Whyte. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Which route is best?

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The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and approaching law from a non- law discipline

Q: Does it matter whether I studied law at university or not?

A: No.

There is no defined route into law. Whether you study law at university or subsequently at law school you will develop key skills that you will require during your training contact.

Coming from a non-law background has its advantages and disadvantages. You may have a broader range of knowledge, but this is not necessarily legal knowledge. Equally, you may have studied the key areas of law more recently than a law graduate. In either case, you are not going to have complete legal knowledge by the time you start your training contract and it is very likely that certain areas of law will have already changed from when you studied them!

Although legal knowledge is important, it is also important that you possess other attributes such as common sense, commercial awareness and work ethic. A sense of humour also helps along the way! You can develop these skills whether you have studied a law degree or not and you should try to apply them once you put your legal knowledge into practice.

There are a wide range of degrees, law schools and universities amongst the current trainees. Each of these routes is just as viable as the next.

My experience

I studied History at university and then went on to study the GDL and Legal Practice Course with absolutely no prior legal knowledge. The GDL is an intense course but covers the seven key areas of law in one year: contract, public and administrative law, tort, criminal, equity and trusts, land and EU.

I always anticipated that I would want to convert to law at some stage, but I opted to pursue this after university. I do not feel like I have had an easier or more difficult trainee experience as a result.

My training contract has been a learning curve from both a legal and a non-legal perspective. Each department has its own separate training programme which is designed to help trainees settle into the team. There will always be areas of law that you have not experienced before, mainly because law is non-exhaustive and ever changing!

I have found that it is easier to view your academic study and training contract as continuous personal and practice development. This will begin to provide you with increased understanding and experience that you can take with you to qualification and beyond.

Your choice will ultimately depend on personal preference and circumstance – it’s getting there in the end that counts!

This post was edited by Harriet Eales. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Ready to start the LPC?

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After finishing university, and possibly the GDL, the LPC may be your last hurdle before entering the world of work. With a wealth of academic experience behind you, many will approach the LPC in a tried and tested way. However, the following are a few top tips aimed to ease your progress through the LPC and help you get the most from the course.

Work! (unsurprisingly)

This first tip shouldn’t be particularly ground breaking, but it is crucial nonetheless. The LPC involves a lot of work, much of which will be new, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. The remedy to this is time management.

Some may advocate studying from 9am to 5pm, treating it like a working day. Others may suggest spreading the work out over a longer period with frequent breaks. The key point, however, is that the nature of the LPC will require you to work continuously. The sheer volume of content you will cover means that cramming is impossible; it is a marathon, not a sprint (to borrow the most clichéd analogy in the book). By working steadily throughout the year, the workload becomes comfortably manageable, and the top grades within reach.

Approach it with the right attitude

It is easy to feel impatient with the end in sight. Some of you may just want to go straight into work – but make the most of the LPC!

While not every module that you study will be in an area of law that you envision yourself practising, take what you can from it as it will be good experience for the future.

The breadth of areas covered in the LPC means you may feel the things you deal with on the course barely scratch the surface of what you will do as a trainee. However, many of the skills you will pick up are extremely transferable. Whether it’s familiarity with a particular provision in a share purchase agreement, or drafting tips for when dealing with a lease, any help will be eagerly welcomed in your life as a trainee.

Go for a distinction

It is surprising how many students will say they are working towards a merit, or simply a pass, particularly if they have either a good degree result or a training contract offer already. This is definitely the wrong approach for two very obvious reasons.

Firstly, any number of factors can affect performance on exam day, and the loss of a few marks when aiming for the 50% grade boundary can mean failing an exam. Secondly, an impressive LPC result may be the deciding factor when offering a training contract place, embodying the ‘hardworking’ and ‘high achieving’ buzzwords that fill everyone’s applications.

Socialise

Whilst it is important to work hard, and focus on your studies, you shouldn’t overlook life outside of the LPC. Aside from providing you with some respite, getting to know your fellow students better can pay dividends in the future. They may end up working on the other side of non-contentious transactions, and knowing them can help ensure a smooth working relationship.

With these tips in mind, the last thing to say is enjoy the LPC. You will definitely look back fondly at it when settling in to the beginning of your training contract!

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

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.