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.

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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.