Two of the most challenging, but rewarding, experiences of my life so far include reaching the 4,000 metre summit of Mount Kinabalu in Borneo and becoming a mum. My life of life as a trainee solicitor is another example.
Prior to becoming a trainee at Jacksons, I worked as a Paralegal within their Residential Conveyancing department. This atypical route into law contrasts with the traditional option of University directly to commencing a Training Contract. Indeed, many trainees at the firm have undertaken work experience and/or paralegal work prior to commencing their training contract. The benefits of this option include allowing you to decide if a firm fits your chosen career path and building on practical skills you will require as a trainee solicitor.
As many law graduates will appreciate, the opportunity to qualify as a solicitor or barrister is highly coveted. Having decided to become a student again at 38, juggling studies with motherhood and working full time, my ultimate goal was to secure a training contract. Many advised against it, citing age and existing commitments, but thankfully, Jacksons were open to those with a less conventional route into law and my Training Contract commenced in March 2018.
My first seat was in Litigation – an essential element of any training contract. My initial thoughts were that this was a difficult area of law, full of novel cases that required copious research, culminating in a contentious battle between the parties. The reality was slightly different. I discovered that I was able to draw on skills I had acquired from my previous career, spanning account management and customer relations. This assisted me greatly in dispute resolution, prolific both within Litigation and Employment Law, my second seat. Though dispute resolution inevitably entails a compromise between the parties, I discovered that resolving matters out of court does save uncertain outcomes, stress, time and expenditure. It is also expected by the courts, who publically penalise those who unwittingly fail to respect the rules.
Navigating the labyrinth of protocol was greatly assisted by the Litigation and Employment Law solicitors I worked with through training. I was encouraged to have a go at resolving issues raised by clients independently, raising questions when unsure, the latter being actively encouraged by Jacksons, with feedback to consolidate learning following tasks.
Working within contentious seats has not been without its challenges. Respecting court deadlines is the bedrock of any successful case. I discovered that sometimes, even despite daily reminders, some clients don’t produce the requisite information demanded by the courts on time, leading to applications to strike out. This also illustrated to me the importance of ensuring cases are updated so acting solicitors/fee earners can see any progress and take action accordingly.
Working as a trainee at Jacksons has also given me the opportunity to develop my advocacy skills by attending court. One example included acting for a Claimant whose Defendant dissolved into floods of tears at the hearing which I believe was an effort to extend proceedings. This experience exemplified that doing the right thing doesn’t equate to doing the nice thing and that the duty of any solicitor is always towards your instructing client’s best interests.
Presentation skills is another area I have developed during my time at Jacksons as a trainee. One exciting project involved working with existing trainees to present a workshop to a group of sixth form students with the High Tide Foundation, a charity providing young people with insights into career opportunities. Presenting to Human Resource professionals was another project I was participated in with the Employment Law Team as part of their regular “Day in the Life” workshops. This helped me appreciate the kinds of daily issues encountered within industry regarding employment law, how to avoid them and available solutions.
My present seat is within Residential Conveyancing Department where my journey began. This seat is in stark contrast to my previous two in that I am not advising clients on disputes but am assisting them in purchasing what is likely to be their biggest asset. Whilst this area of law is different, I am enjoying assisting clients achieve their goal of home ownership.
The ability to communicate and manage client expectations has been a skill relevant to all the seats I have done. Allowing clients to vent before moving on to discuss the available options to them has helped discharge many contentious cases and is something I have drawn on from previous experience. Empathising as opposed to taking things personally has greatly assisted in such cases.
Another important part of trainee life includes attending networking events. These help trainees to develop essential networking and business development skills needed for practice. Business events at Jacksons include our TS18 monthly seminar in Teesside as well as the Secret Tower in Newcastle. Though I think most people can feel apprehensive about walking into a room full of strangers, attending these events meant I had the opportunity to meet clients whose cases I was working on. This provided me with a better insight into clients’ objectives as well as how their school run / drive to work had been that morning.
As well as being a trainee, I also sit on Jacksons Charity Committee, raising funds for local causes. Trainees also take an active role in assisting work experience students and attend local career fairs at schools and universities. These activities have been highly rewarding and illustrate that Jacksons aren’t just about fee earning.
So, as with the earlier examples at the beginning of this blog, has life at Jacksons been a key life challenge? Undoubtedly. In the same way iron is made into steel, Jacksons forge their own trainees into the resilient solicitors of tomorrow.