Author: Thomas Wright
- What were your motivations for pursuing a traineeship/career in commercial law?
When I first started university, I knew that I ultimately wanted to go into practice as a solicitor but, at that stage, I hadn’t yet decided on the field. My desire to pursue a career in commercial law came later, following my own research into what such a career would entail.
There are many career paths in law and the hardest thing is finding what is right for you. I enjoyed the academic study of law, but there is a big difference between answering a question in a university exam hall and practically applying your legal knowledge to a client’s needs and expectations.
The function of a solicitor in a commercial firm isn’t limited to just the law. Commercial solicitors need to be aware of the wide range of factors which influence their clients’ businesses, with their legal expertise factoring into a more generalised business-advisory role. For me, this hybrid role was the ideal combination of my skills, attributes and interests.
- How did you find the application process?
In my experience, most firms have fairly standardised processes for both vacation scheme and training contract applications. I tended to find it quite hard to detail my achievements and skills on online application forms. However, with practice, this became easier as I became more confident emphasising the important attributes I possess.
I was also quite worried that I didn’t have enough legal experience to set me apart from an obviously competitive field. As it turns out, firms highly value the experiences you have had outside of law, meaning part-time jobs, hobbies etc. are big selling points. I had customer-facing experience from part-time employment in a hotel and I was able to demonstrate the transferability of the skills I had developed to a career in the law.
Assessment centres can be quite nerve-wracking, but with good preparation this doesn’t need to be the case. These occasions are about the firm finding out whether you are right for them; but it’s also about you finding out whether the firm is right for you. I thoroughly enjoyed the assessment centre for my firm and walked away feeling confident that I’d done a good job. That won’t always be the case and, if you are unsuccessful, you should always ask for feedback so you can learn from the experience!
- What does a typical day involve for you as a trainee? How does it vary?
I am currently completing my first seat in our Real Estate team and, to be completely honest, it’s quite difficult to describe a ‘typical’ day because each day is genuinely different. So far, much of my focus has been on gaining experience through drafting a variety of legal documents. For example, I was recently working on a draft of a complex Licence to Occupy in relation to a wind farm development site. It was challenging, but I enjoyed being able to contribute to an important project!
There have also been days spent entirely on helping to get transactions over the line and following up afterwards. A good example would be a 3-year long aparthotel development project where I was responsible for dealing with the completion deliverables, including the registration of documents, submission of tax returns and payment of tax due, all of which involved client exposure.
My firm also has an excellent support structure which includes a bank of paralegals, many of whom are imbedded across our divisional teams, who assist with the more routine components of transactions, freeing up even junior fee-earning trainees like myself to work on more complex work.
- What are your long-term career aspirations?
Right now, I’m focussed on taking as much as I possibly can from my traineeship. I want to have a genuinely rounded experience so that, by the end of my 2-year training contract, I’ll have a much better idea of the area of commercial law in which I want to practice. We’ve recently been advised of our forthcoming seat rotation and I’m off to Finance next so I’m making good progress!
After that, I want to deepen my experience, demonstrate competence and build my reputation. Professional specialism is something that will come in time, but I want to keep my options open by dual-qualifying and gaining some experience working abroad.
Finally, longer-term aspirations of advancement in any firm will require me to demonstrate value to the business. This is something I’m looking forward to working on, especially in the modern legal profession where traditional career paths are less prevalent, and a new range of skills and attributes is required for commercial solicitors to succeed.
- What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing a traineeship in a commercial firm?
Firstly, when you’re applying, don’t scattergun! It might seem really easy for someone who already has a traineeship to say, but it really was the biggest mistake I made when first applying to firms. That’s because you end up just churning out answers to application questions for every firm you can think of, rather than focussing your research and responses on those firms that genuinely interest you.
Secondly, if you’re fortunate enough to get through to any form of assessment centre/interview, just be yourself! It’s really easy to get caught up worrying about what firms want to hear, especially if you’re panicking about not having a traineeship or vacation scheme lined up. Ultimately, what your assessors want to see is that you’ve done your homework on the firm in question and that you would be a good fit within their team.
One final piece of advice would be to not get too disheartened if you aren’t successful with your applications, especially if it feels like your peers are receiving offers and you still don’t have anything. Don’t panic! Take advantage of any application workshops, firm open days and go speak to the recruitment teams at the Law Fair! It’s a hard slog, but with the right level of effort, I guarantee that you will find something that’s right for you.