Case study

Trainee solicitor — James Pike

James studied a law University of Birmingham before completing the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP Law School in Leeds. He's now a trainee solicitor at TLT

Why did you decide on a career in law?

I was always very interested in the problem-solving aspect of being a lawyer. In school I enjoyed humanities subjects such as history and English literature, and found that I liked to investigate issues and come to logical conclusions.

Based on this I was able to secure some work experience at a firm in Leeds and found legal work engaging and rewarding.

Tell us about the legal work experience you gained while at university.

While I was at university I was fortunate to gain experience at some law firms and also in-house legal departments, seeing the different roles that they play in providing advice and working towards solutions to legal problems.

I also took on pro bono work with my university, and later law school, interviewing people who couldn't afford legal advice and providing letters of advice addressing their problems. This was extremely rewarding and a great opportunity to pick up the 'soft skills' of communicating with clients which are crucial for solicitors- both obtaining clear information and instructions from them, and giving clear, comprehensive advice.

You completed a vacation scheme at TLT. What did this involve?

On my vacation scheme I sat with the general commercial team, assisting with general tasks and learning about the wide variety of work that they perform.

It also involved a number of networking and socialising opportunities, which were a great way to learn more about the firm and the people who work there, helping me to figure out if the firm was right for me.

There was a strength-based interview at the end of the week, with questions about my strengths and weaknesses, interests, and experiences.

How did you get your training contract?

I went through the conventional process of vacation scheme applications (which took a lot of trial and error), assessment centres, my vacation scheme at TLT and being offered my training contract following that. I was offered my training contract a couple of weeks before my final law degree exams, which definitely gave me some extra motivation.

What's a typical day like as a trainee solicitor?

As a trainee you get the opportunity to work with lots of different people in a variety of different areas, meaning every day you can be doing something completely different. I am currently sitting in the tech, IP & data team (which obviously covers a wide variety of legal areas), so what I do in a day can vary between design or trademark litigation and negotiating software agreements.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy that every day can be different, presenting new challenges and new opportunities to learn. I also really enjoy being able to contribute to high-profile and interesting legal matters. For example, during my corporate seat I worked on some fascinating transactions, including a public company fundraising. As a trainee solicitor you are often in the room for key business decisions (while people at trainee level in other occupations might not be), which can feel very rewarding.

What are the challenges?

Some particular challenges you face as a trainee are taking ownership of your own workload (and running your own cases in some litigation seats), which can be quite daunting and overwhelming at times. However, I've found people are always happy to give advice on matter management and also help out if you're struggling.

Another challenge I've had to overcome is learning to prioritise urgent work (which can be quite difficult when everything is urgent) and understanding the big picture when you're in charge of one small aspect of a project. Being able to manage expectations and take on the right amount of work to complete tasks within given deadlines is a skill that can only really be learnt through practice.

What three qualities are important in a solicitor?

  • A good understanding of the sector or industry your clients work in, and the challenges and opportunities they face, is very important. It isn't enough for lawyers to just know the law - being able to apply your legal knowledge to your client's particular situation and business area is crucial to providing the best possible advice.
  • Creativity is also an often-overlooked quality that is valuable in a solicitor. As the situation for each client is different, it's not possible to have one answer even when the problem may appear to be the same. You have to be prepared to be flexible in finding the best possible solution, and creative in putting it forward.
  • Honesty and openness are really important in legal practice. As a trainee you're expected to make mistakes, but you're also expected to be open about them and ask for help when you need it.

What are your career ambitions?

While I would like to be successful in the legal sector, I'm not 100% sure what shape that success would take at this stage. I think it can be beneficial to not tie yourself to one thing and keep your eyes open for opportunities.

So far in my training contract I've worked with some amazing partners at the firm who are great to work with and seem to know everything about their area of expertise - just to get to that point would feel like a real achievement.

Law is a competitive industry. Give three tips to help trainees stand out.

  • The first tip I would give is to have some interests outside law that make you stand out. In my training contract interview I was asked what interesting non-legal topic I had learnt about recently. Firms are looking for intelligent trainees, but also interesting and diverse people who can work in a client-facing environment.
  • Being proactive and showing initiative is also really valuable. If you spot an opportunity to help and identify a task on a project that you think you could take ownership of, putting yourself forward really shows you’re eager to be involved and passionate about the work.
  • Be approachable and enthusiastic. A large part of being a lawyer involves soft skills like communication, listening and interpersonal skills. Having a positive attitude and being friendly with others (including colleagues and clients) can really help with this.

What advice can you give to other aspiring solicitors?

It took me a lot of attempts to get a training contract offer, and the whole process was very demotivating at times. One important piece of advice I would give to an aspiring solicitor would be to just keep going, don't get disheartened by rejections, and you'll get there.

As firms get a large number of identikit applications for training contracts and vacations, one bit of advice I would give would be to really research the firm you're applying to and try to link what they do into your own interests and experiences. Don't worry if this means you make fewer applications- quality is better than quantity.

Another thing I would say is don't be afraid to explore alternative routes into the profession. Recent developments like the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and the growing popularity of legal apprenticeships mean that the route I took isn't the only way into the legal sector now, and if I was applying for university courses or legal jobs now I would definitely be looking at these as well.

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