Communication is key

Mobile apps concept

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.

Contentious work: a toolkit for the trainee

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Though it is no longer an SRA requirement, all Gateley trainees will be placed in a contentious seat for six months of their training contract. In my case, this was the Commercial, Technology and Media department. Contentious work simply means litigation – or ‘dispute resolution’ to use the more progressive term.

Read on for my take on the skills and attributes a trainee needs to survive, and thrive, when carrying out contentious work.

1. Be thick-skinned

Be prepared for what my supervisor has described to me as ‘the rough and tumble of litigation’. With litigation, the parties are in it to win. Trainees should be prepared for the often frosty tone of the correspondence between the two sides, which is in contrast to the norm in a transactional seat. Remain confident in the face of mere bluster and posturing, but open minded to legitimate criticisms of your client’s position.

2. Practice your poker face

At any court hearing or settlement meeting, your client will have goals and expectations. Don’t give these away. Even if an offer to settle is made which meets your client’s expectations, remain neutral. There may be scope to negotiate an even better deal. Equally, you should give the impression of being unfazed if your client’s goals are not achieved, both for their comfort and as a show of strength to the other side.

3. Organisation is key

You might be thinking, isn’t it always? Well yes, but the stakes are particularly high in litigation. Deadlines really are deadlines, not moveable targets. Miss one, and your client could face cost sanctions or even striking out. As a trainee, your calendar must be organised, with incremental reminders in advance of key dates. Don’t be afraid to remind your supervisor of them – they will likely be balancing a large case load, and expect their trainee to be a diligent assistant who is on top of things.

4. Think outside the box

Trainees in contentious seats spend a lot of time researching points, and bouncing around potential arguments and tactics with other members of the team. Remember, much of the case law that you have studied at university has come about from novel arguments being brought before the courts.

Resolving a dispute can also sometimes require creativity. The parties may recognise the need to settle, but find the idea of making a cash payment to their opponent unpalatable. This can be a sticking point. You should always be thinking of alternative ways to end a dispute, whether it is through undertakings, the transfer of assets, work referrals, licenses, contracts of employment between the parties or any other commercially viable suggestion you can come up with! This is where the much talked about skill of ‘commerciality’ comes into play.

5. Know your privilege from your procedure and prejudice

Finally, we’ve all heard terms like ‘without prejudice’ and ‘privileged’, but do you actually understand the practical effect of each? A trainee should ensure that they are properly informed and, if in doubt, ask. You will be called on throughout your seat to refer to the civil procedure rules and various court guides regarding procedural points. No one expects you to know these off by heart, but a good trainee will build up a familiarity with the rules over the course of their seat so that they know where to refer for answers and can find information efficiently. In doing this, you can become the ‘go to’ person in your team, which should result in more involvement and responsibility which will maximise your training experience.

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

SRA: recent changes relevant to you

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Training Regulations changed on 1 July 2014. These regulations govern the way in which every law firm trains and develops its trainees. The 2014 regulations replace the 2011 regulations.

Previously the regulations provided for a structured training contract with every trainee being required to experience three distinct areas of law including non-contentious work (transactional or advice-based work) and contentious work (for example, litigation or tribunal work).  The new regulations move away from the traditionally structured training contract, for example the references to “contentious” and “non-contentious” have been removed.  The aim is to move the learning, development and education of trainee solicitors in the same direction as the wider profession – that being an outcomes-focussed approach.

What does this mean for you as a trainee under the new regulations?  Ultimately, the qualities, knowledge, attributes and competence of a trainee solicitor will be the focus of your training contract, but what should you look for when you choose your training contract?

Although I’ve completed my training contract  under the old regulations, I have always felt that my learning, development and competence have been the focus which is consistent with the new approach by the SRA – it is possible to combine the two.  I have valued and benefitted from Gateley’s concentration on the development of my skills and knowledge during my training contract but recognise that this has been achieved within the traditional framework and I would caution against straying too far from a fairly structured training contract.

It is Gateley policy that each trainee completes four six-month training seats: one property seat, one litigation seat, one corporate seat and a seat of our preference. This continues to be Gateley’s policy after 1 July 2014 and speaking as a trainee coming up to qualification, I can say that this policy is an important one.

I have completed seats in banking and finance, corporate recovery litigation, residential development and employment. I have had a very varied training contract owing to Gateley’s policy of compulsory seats in a range of disciplines and as a result I have picked up skills, attributes, knowledge and qualities from the different teams I have worked with along the way – the same things the new SRA regulations talk about, all of which will stand me in good stead for my NQ role in our Residential Development Unit in September.

The policy also works for people who are keen to concentrate on a particular field. Another trainee in my year group, Sarah, interested in corporate work has completed a seat in banking and finance, a seat in corporate, a seat in corporate recovery litigation and a secondment to the corporate transactional team in our Dubai office as well as her property seat in residential development. The injection of a property seat into a corporate-focused training contract, in addition to working in a litigation team, has better-prepared Sarah for her role as an NQ in our corporate team in September:

A corporate transaction involves many aspects of the law. Having trained in property and litigation I have a greater understanding of these areas, which means I can bring this knowledge to the table in a corporate transaction. For example, litigation training increases your awareness of risk. It makes you longer-sighted. In a share purchase, when negotiating the relevant documents, my litigation training means I am thinking about minimising and eliminating the risk of litigation from the outset.

It seems to me that the combination of an outcome-focussed training contract with a diverse range of experience is a win-win balance for prospective trainees.

For more information about the 2014 SRA regulations, go to: http://www.sra.org.uk/trainees/training-contract.page 

This blog was edited by Emma Taylor. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Two years as a trainee

2013 New Year clock

Having anticipated the start of my training contract for some time, actually commencing it was a big day. I knew from previous academic and paralegal work that I was interested in shipping litigation, but I was open minded to other areas of practice.

My first seat was in the Employment team.  My first task  was  to undertake  a review of a Captain’s contract for a private yacht based off the Channel Islands. Generally, Employment  is a popular seat as it has a good mix of contentious and non-contentious work. An employment contract is something that  is important to everyone, making this seat extremely  people-orientated. For me, the  highlight of this seat was negotiating a payout for a cohort of employees whilst maintaining their working relationship with their employer going forward.

My second seat was in the Commercial team, training with a partner specialising in Media and Entertainment. I learned the value of business development and commercial awareness thoroughly in the run up to the Cannes Film Festival.

My third seat was a split seat between the Banking & Finance and Corporate teams.  As my first purely transactional seat  I found the pattern of work  a completely different experience. As a trainee in  these teams you are less at the forefront of client interaction and have a more pivotal role behind the scenes, organising documentation and governing conditions precedent checklists (all the matters that need to be in place before a bank is comfortable lending to a borrower). Similarly, post completion work  was very much within my scope of duties. Having said all this I did get a useful insight into how a whole transaction comes together, and how different members of the teams are expected to cover all  of the client’s requirements; everyone has a role to play. This seat  also allowed me to work cross-discipline, usually with the Property team, as well as cross-office,  which meant my internal communication skills were fully utilised.

Finally, my last seat was with the Shipping team and here I was back in a litigation seat running my own case load (fully supervised). Types of work I have been engaged with include defending a personal injury claim sustained on board a vessel, and acting for claimants who suffered damage to their vessel during a winterisation process. Insurance issues are very pertinent in this seat and reporting to several sets of insurers and the insured is an additional element to incorporate.

Overall, my time  as a trainee has had its challenges,  dependent on  how I have found  the type of work in any given department. That itself is the whole point of a training contract, to experience a spectrum of work across a range of specialisms, and to see which of them you are both good at and enjoy. A big part of this process is deciding if you like the contentious or transactional side of law. I knew fairly early on that I really do like the litigation side of the law and working through my training contract cemented my inclination.

As a trainee moving around departments every  six months, you gain experience not just by being exposed to  four areas of law, but socially you build up lasting internal relationships across the firm, which has not only been invaluable but very enjoyable!

This post was edited by Eleanor Scudder. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Trainee to partner – my journey

Career

I joined Gateley as a trainee in 1996. At that time there were 11 partners and the firm had one office situated in Birmingham. I qualified in 1998 specialising in contentious and non-contentious employment.

Since I have joined the firm, it has grown at a rapid rate.  We are now a top 50 national law firm with 740 employees including 151 partners with nine offices across the UK and an office in Dubai supporting businesses in the Middle East.

Why am I still here? 

Gateley has always been a dynamic firm and as it has grown I have had the opportunity to progress my career. It has also had a culture which I have always really enjoyed; we work hard but we do have lots of fun along the way!

I’m still based in our Birmingham office 18 years on and I am now head of the West Midlands employment practice. I am one of the 11 partners in the 40 strong National employment team.  I also sit on the National Operations Board for the firm.

I juggle my role within the firm with having three children (nine, seven and five years). The firm has always been supportive of my desire to continue to progress in my career whilst having a family.  In fact, I was promoted to Partner whilst on maternity leave with my first child in 2004. When I returned to work I came back working four days a week.

I still thoroughly enjoy working at Gateley. The work is interesting and there is a really good social side to the firm.  I cannot believe I have been at the firm for almost half of my lifetime (now I am giving my age away!)  I look forward to what the next 18 years have to bring – I am sure there will be plenty of further developments as we aren’t a firm that stands still for long!

This post was contributed by Victoria Garrad. For more information, email blogs@gateleyuk.com.

Trainee Twitter Q&A

Questions and Answers, Q & A

Following our twitter Q&A session which took place on Monday, we have summarised the tweets below. If you still have an unanswered question, simply comment on this blog post and we will get back to you. 

1. What was the worst question asked in your interview?

What are your weaknesses?

2. What do you think makes a good trainee?

Perseverance. Determination. Personality. Sense of humour. Enthusiasm. Confidence. Common sense. Knowledge of the law – not  necessarily in that order!

3. Does the way you dress influence your chances on an assessment day?

It is important to dress the part but it’s what you do and who you are, not what you look like, that matters.

4. Do you have any advice for success in group work exercises?

Make sure your opinion is voiced but remember there is a right time and a wrong time – don’t say something for the sake of it. Think.

5. What is one thing about your training contract that you weren’t expecting?

The friends I have made.

6. How much responsibility does a trainee have over their work?

It depends on the team you are in at the time – it varies from a lot of independence and expectation, to heavy supervision.

7. How much choice do trainees have regarding the seats into which they are placed?

At Gateley, your first two seats are allocated. In your second year, you can express preferences.

8. What are your working hours like?

It varies from team to team. Corporate focussed teams work longer hours because of the nature of the work.

9. What has been the most nerve-wracking moment of your training contract so  far?

Those first few days spent as a first seat trainee before realising everyone was really nice and really helpful!

10. What is the single most important skill that a trainee should have?

A trainee should be organised and nothing less.

11. I’m terrible at presenting; is this fatal to my chances of gaining a training contract?

No – it might be that you have another quality to bring to the table.

12. What has been your favourite seat so far?

As a second year trainee your third or final seat is your  ‘choice seat’. This means you can have a go at something you are really interested in.