Vault Q&A: Trainee Solicitor, Freshfields
Title: Trainee Solicitor
Department/Division: Structured Finance (for past two weeks). The training contract lasts for two years and within this time you move around different departments within the firm. At Freshfields you have to work in each of the corporate, finance and litigation departments for at least three months. The Law Society requires that you get a mix of contentious (work related to some form of litigation) and non-contentious work before you qualify. You also get the chance to work in the firm's other departments. I am actually qualifying into the tax department in September.
Number of years at firm: Almost two years.
Number of years in current role: Rotation into a department is three months per seat. It's quite a flexible progamme and you can generally tailor it to cover those areas of practice you are most interested in. For example, I spent six months in tax because I really enjoyed it. One of your basic three seats will normally extend to be a six-month seat. I spent six months in corporate, three months in litigation, three months in competition and six months in tax. You may start off in a three-month seat but you are usually given the option to extend your time in that department if you enjoy it. As part of your training you can also be seconded to a client to work in their legal department, or go on a secondment to one of the firm's international offices. It happens very often -- you can go away for up to six months. My secondment was at BAA.
Degree (s): Bachelor of Arts (Law) and a Master of Law (LLM) from the University of Cambridge. In my LLM, I focused on international commercial litigation, international banking and financial law, competition law and the law of restitution.
How did you first decide to enter your industry?
It had always been a career ambition since I was young. There are other lawyers in my family. I really enjoyed my law degree so I decided to pursue it further.
What first attracted you?
Being around members of my family who were working in the field, or friends of my father. I admired those people and wanted to be like them. I've always liked arguing and debating so that side of me made me even more interested in pursuing a career in law.
What are the typical education requirements?
You need to complete a law degree or a law conversion course, which you need to undertake if you've completed three years of another non-law degree and decide you want to switch. In addition, you need to complete a one-year legal practice course (LPC). The law degree is focused on the theory of law, whereas the LPC focuses on the more practical aspects of being a lawyer.
In England, you can go down one of two routes: you can either be a solicitor or a barrister. A barrister spends most of his time litigating (and preparing for litigation) in court whereas the solicitor has a more advisory and transactional role. There is a distinction between what each does, although there may be some overlap. To be a barrister you need to have a law degree (or take the conversion course), followed by the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) (which lasts one year). After completing the BVC, an aspiring barrister must undertake a pupillage at a barristers' set of chambers.
What skills and/or experience are important for success?
Analytical skills are a must. You need to be sensitive to fine distinctions because each situation you are faced with is different -- you often need to be able to draw out subtle differences. You should have the ability to cope with a lot of information and keep up to date with constantly evolving laws so you also need to be able to juggle between practicing and learning at the same time.
What is the typical career path in your industry?
Some would start with an undergraduate law degree, go on to the LPC and then get a training contract at a law firm. An alternative route would be to start with a non-law degree, complete the conversion course, then the LPC and then finally start a training contract.
What is the best part of your job?
There is something new happening all the time. It's an every-day battle to keep up to date with developments and I find that really exciting. When working in a city law firm such as Freshfields you are surrounded by incredibly bright people and you've got to raise your game to succeed.
What is your least favourite part of your job?
I'd say my least favourite bit is the administration side of it. There's a lot of admin as a lawyer, such as filing, copying and keeping records.
How relevant is your education to what you are doing today?
I find the basic knowledge you gain at university really useful. I did my LLM out of interest; an extra year means you gain more knowledge. But I also did it in areas where Freshfields specialises so it does help with what I'm doing today. Having said that, once you start practicing, what you are doing is three or four levels above what you have learnt at university in terms of complexity -- there's a very steep learning curve.
Can you offer any advice to graduates seeking a career in your industry?
They need to be sure they want to do this, as it's a very demanding job. Each person has his own reasons for entering law; just be certain you're sure before going into it. If it's the right thing for you, then it can be very rewarding.
What is something unusual that they might not know?
If you're a law student, there's quite a big jump from being a student to being a practitioner. The difference is that you start to see the value of what can't be taught at university or on the LPC, such as relationship skills, which are really important as a lawyer. The way you portray yourself is not something you can necessarily be taught.
What is your best perk?
You do get taken out to very nice lunches and dinners! As a trainee you don't get a chance to go to sporting events and the like, but once you qualify as an associate there are definitely great perks, such as tickets to rugby or football matches whilst entertaining clients. Travel is another perk -- being part of an international law firm offers travel opportunities, both for international conferences and whilst advising multinational clients.